Nat Novak

Nat Novak: The Art of Making Things

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Our Guest Today: Nat Novak

Nat Novak is a studio manager, a maker of all things at Brand Content, an agency based in Boston. He and I met at Arnold Worldwide in 2013. In the years I have known Nat and while we worked at Arnold, we were both running around the office just like everyone else. From time to time, we would slow down our footsteps to have meaningful and philosophical conversation. I always wanted to capture those moments and glad we finally did.

Nat is not only interesting to talk to, but he is also a bit superhuman in my mind. He can make anything, from any material, with his bare hands.

When I first set foot at Arnold, I witnessed the Black Submarine, designed and built by Nat for young children to play with during a Halloween party a few years ago. The agency decided to keep it in a prominent spot despite the crowded office space we have in Downtown Boston. In fact, whenever there are clients and new hires visiting the office, the Black Sub was a treasured destination.

Nat builds complex units with raw, simple materials. A good example is the “skull” he constructed with used razor blades. For Jack Daniel’s (one of Arnold’s clients), Nat designed and completed a leather case to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday.

I jokingly said to Nat that if we were stuck on a dessert island, he would help us escape quickly.

Working with Nat Novak is an eye-opening experience. He teaches us how to be open-minded, creative and human. He reminds us to always ask the question, why? what is the problem we are trying to solve?

In this 45-min episode with Nat, he unveils and deconstructs his entire creative process. If you are a parent, I’m sure you can learn a few things from Nat on how parenthood has positively influenced the way he thinks.

To learn more about Nat Novak, please visit his website at:

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Intro 0:00
Welcome to the Feisworld

podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:18
Hi, everyone, welcome to another episode of the face world podcast. And this is a regular interview format, oh face world. Today’s special guest is not Novak. And to be honest, I’ve been dying to release this one. You will find out very soon because NAT is a studio manager I met at Arnold and he is a Maker of all things. Since then NAD has left the agency and begin to pursue a new career at brand content, which is a small agency based in Boston. Not reminds me very much of my grandpa. So my mom’s father, who was also a Maker of all things. And I remember when I was still in grade school, and he would ask me what I wanted, it couldn’t make anything. I wanted a desk, a chair a shelf, and he will return them back to me within a couple of days. And after that very assignment who asked me what what else do you need. And in this past two years, I have no Nat and while we both worked at Arnold, I found the two of us running around the office just like everybody else. But suddenly, we will slow down our footsteps and have a meaningful human existence level conversation. And I always wanted to capture those conversations and glad we finally did that. Here’s why I found not to be not only interesting, but also a bit super human, he can make anything. This episode is one of those rare opportunities for me to invite you to listen while browsing on face The link is available. If you’re listening via Lipson or on your iPhone or Android app, simply flip over to description or perhaps you are already on face world. When I first set foot at Arnold, the first stunning creation I witnessed was the black submarine designed and billed by NAT for young children to play with during Halloween a few years ago. So at Arnold, like many other agency during Halloween will invite employees kids to come play at the agency. And this black submarine looks like a spiky ocean animal or some sort of robotic shark. And in instantly captivated my eyes time and time again. And in fact, whenever there are clients and new hires visiting the office, the black sub was a treasure must visit a must stop. So net build insanely complex units. Well, he also uses raw simple materials and in the blacks UPS case, it’s just purely cardboard boxes. And we’ll also go over this crazy skull he constructed using only razor blades. I jokingly said that if I were stuck on a desert island and not really needs to be there, be around and build a ship to save all of us. And I mean it. That’s who he is. Working with NAT is an eye opening experience for me to say the least, which we’ll discuss in great details in this episode. Nat teaches me how to be open minded, be creative, be human. He reminds us to ask the question why? What is the problem we’re trying to solve? From making things using cardboard boxes to creating a leather case for Jack Daniels to celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday net, deconstructed his creative process in our 45 minute interview. If you’re a parent, I am sure you can learn a few things from that on how Parenthood has further influenced and in many ways enhance his creative process. If you enjoy this episode, as always, please consider sharing with families and friends and show social media or simply via email. And leave us a star review which only takes seconds or brief texts review on iTunes. I believe the new iPhone app is making this very easy without you even leaving the app. Otherwise, please google iTunes phase world podcast and that will take you directly on the landing page. Thank you so much. And without further ado, please welcome NAT Novak to the phase world podcast.

Hello. Welcome to face roll podcast and then Nova.

Nat Novak 5:06
Thank you. I’m very honored to be here.

Fei Wu 5:09
Thank you, I, I feel like, you know, half an hour ago, I felt like this conversation is going to be the essence of my podcast, because part of what I’m trying to do in 2016 is to teach other people how to have these conversations, it sounds like teaching someone how to walk or run, which is such a given,

Nat Novak 5:26
I would generally very much agree with that. I mean, what is what I admire about what you’re doing, is trying to show somebody that a hammer can’t just be a hammer, it can also exist as seven or other tools, seven or eight other tools, that if you just look at the context correctly, quickly, you change your point of reference, and orientation, and then your opportunities for use of that tool just exponentially increases. You know, that’s what I really find interesting about your podcast,

Fei Wu 5:55
oh, thank you. I think when I hear real time, like live feedback from people, it really gives me that boost of why I’m doing what I’m doing. And to me, you know, like I mentioned last week, even even if the content is meaningful to a single person, if all you you’ve ever listened to that one episode, and that’s enough for me. And I think constantly in today’s day and age, we look at statistics, how many likes we got how many shares. But I think that’s kind of arbitrary compared to sort of the the real connection, you know,

Nat Novak 6:30
while you’re talking about, you know, very top line learning versus very deep, meaningful, tea based understandings, specifically about whether or not somebody has a deep, guttural sense and wants to dive further beyond the context of just top line knowledge, they can pick up very readily from any of the search engines or social media.

Fei Wu 6:51
And also like, or out of convenience, I think that this conversation is something I wanted to have for a very, very long time. And, and I think, you know, we had a very brief moment to work on a project. And the requirements change several times. And I think so many people in this agency find you and your work to be so interesting. But everybody’s waiting for that moment. It’s like, gosh, only if I could just work with that on the project. You know, well,

Nat Novak 7:20
I think part of that is, you know, getting beyond the constraints and figure it out figurative limitations of departmental resourcing. It’s really about identifying people that have the potential to augment the outcome in a very positive manner, and trying to find people that aren’t afraid to get uncomfortable, and being comfortably uncomfortable with not knowing what the answer may be. And that’s what I like about working with you, you’re, you’re not so rigid in your viewpoints. It’s okay to have bantering back and forth, to truly get to an understanding of what you’re trying to solve. It’s not a matter of here’s my solution executed, it’s, here’s my problem, let’s talk about it. And that really changes the dynamics of what I hope to bring to the table. In many instances,

Fei Wu 8:08
I found our interaction on a particular project you’re describing I wish there were more is that I was able to learn so much in a conversation of, you know, 510 15 minutes, if you remember, we’re trying to find the right material to kind of construct the kind of package the Google Cardboard, what I loved is you start naming these materials. And I just, I just, you know, in a meeting, I was like, Wow, I’ve never heard any of those terms before, I don’t know why certain materials, rather than cardboard box will react to the glue a little bit differently, and how certain materials can actually go through the number wears, will expect at a certain event. So you’re thinking ahead of time, and explain to us like just how differently, you know, these materials can work. And to my mind, it’s like, how do you I mean, how do you even know, where do you learn all this information from? Well know what work with,

Nat Novak 9:01
for me it’s all about in the materials are very, very interesting and curious, because again, it’s much like what we talked about earlier, taking a hammer, can you take a hammer and use it for different purposes. So it’s learning all these different materials and exposing yourself in a multitude of different facets. Now, sometimes they’re just through journals, sometimes there’s trade publications, sometimes it just through conversations or or through factory tours that I do on my own. So they’re constantly I’m constantly looking to learn and learn and learn, and try to have dialogues and conversations and start more and more meaningful. Just general roundtables about like, how do you plan on using this? You know, is it a full material is the real material I mean, I’m thoroughly fascinated by some of the technology that’s being developed over at MIT with the folding technology, where you can essentially through treating certain materials in a certain manner, it can actually construct itself so self building boxes or whole entire architectures, just by treating certain materials in a certain fashion.

Fei Wu 10:02
Um, is that gentleman’s name Schuyler by chance, the

Nat Novak 10:05
names very, very familiar, I’d have to look back at my notes to see if that’s, in fact, his name.

Fei Wu 10:11
Uh, yeah, I remember he’s kind of those kind of like, young guy blondish and I remember his name because I feel like Skylar is such a, you know, unusual name definitely

Nat Novak 10:21
unusual. I think for me, it’s, it’s tried to look at that. And is there a way to gain more value by using different material types and or thinking about using different materials based on what your intended use is banned? Or for that matter, looking at strange and alternative methods of getting to the end result? Because there may be a way to circumvent all of the hard work, it just requires a lot of rigor of thought.

Fei Wu 10:43
You mentioned a factory tours. Yeah, I hear that correctly. What? Which ones? Have you gone to what what? What is that, oh,

Nat Novak 10:52
there’s a bunch of different ones, the glow brand recent articles, but essentially about people who are interesting manufacturing manufacturing processes. But it’s been something that’s been of particular interest to me, since I’ve been very young, the GM, GM cars used to operate a print plant in I believe it was Framingham. And I remember my father taking me and a couple of my friends over there to do a factory tour. But it was very interesting, because you could see the methodology behind how somebody set up the plant and the rigors that individuals have to deal with, but also how one person’s effect has a potential to exponentially increase and look and alter somebody else’s job down the line. So it really helped inform me about having to really deeply think about the problem you’re trying to solve, I believe Benjamin Franklin said it, it should be something only 10% of your total effort should be in perspiration. All the rest should be in preparation. So ultimately, you know, most of your thoughts should be really exerted upfront, really clearly defining what you’re trying to solve really clearly looking at and analytically. Just barraging the problem, keep talking. It’s okay. barraging thoughts, and really trying to push and push and push and ask why and why, why until you get to a really small granular level. And then from there, it’s very easy to find a solution at just about execution after that. Yeah.

Fei Wu 12:28
There’s one, you know, for my listeners there, I’m going to post a list of pictures, and certainly your website as well, I appreciate that. Yeah, you have unlike, you know, unlike other like other guests, and that is the best, it’s not what I meant. But you have so many physical products to show. And I think a theme of our conversation today is about building being a maker of being a builder. And to me, that’s so fascinating. It’s something that I always enjoyed doing when I was a child, but something they also gave up on. So early on, you know, there’s right now we’re just pecking away on a laptop. And I don’t remember the last thing I build. But the first thing I saw coming to Arnold, about two years ago joining the company, the first thing I saw, and I never asked why and there’s no description was this thing we are pulling up we’re looking at it’s called the Black sub.

Nat Novak 13:19
So essentially, we were tasked with coming up with a child’s party theme. And it was like 20,000 leagues under the sea. And this was kind of delving into some of the design trends that were going on during that time period where we had very crystallized and very geometric patterns that were coming out and coupled with, you know, looking for an opportunity to create a structure that children can interact with, in a very physical way. So from there, what I ended up doing was looking at what we had, which was a plethora of foam core, and creating a looking at historical technical drawings of the HMS Nautilus as well as several other around the 1850s type submarines and semi submersible vehicles because it’ll lended itself to the idea that you have multiple plates that are all welded together or fit together and jointed in a very interesting visual manner. So from there, it was very easy for me to go ahead and create a technical drawing and augment things to allow children to really interact with that space.

Fei Wu 14:25
This thing is awesome. I love how you describe in such a scientific way. I feel like this is like the symbol of Arsenal though whenever I’m sure whenever we had an intern or visit our young or old, I would drag that person and then this thing disappear from our sixth floor and I don’t know where it is now

Nat Novak 14:42
actually, we segmented 18 inches off of this thing and it’s actually up on a shelf so it’s it’s formulating was about six feet tall. So we had the segment about 18 inches off the bottom reweld the whole thing back together with hot glue as well as several other structural supports and then is just up there for kind of a display display purposes.

Fei Wu 15:03
This thing is so cool so many times, I just want to, like walk inside, but I wasn’t sure if this is for clients and I didn’t want to destroy it and have witness around me. But it looks so cool. And then I read the description like all four kids, I guess small kids could fit in and play around and explore.

Nat Novak 15:22
Right. And that’s, that’s so so much of what you do as a child is you want to have visceral experience, it needs to be about space and time and touching and tactile experiences. And that’s something that we tend to lose over time, we get drawn into the idea that it’s just to D, on a flat screen and or on a smartphone. I mean, thankfully, you’re starting to see things coming up with VR and augmented reality where it’s becoming an augmented world, certainly, but it’s becoming more interactive and more immersive than you’ve ever seen in the past where everybody had to go to a portal that’s either a laptop or, or a touchpad and, or a smartphone, and everything’s just on a flat surface. Whereas you can physically go in, you can work with things, you can break it, it’s okay. And it’s not something like you see here on a machine on a computer screen, which you can’t interact with, you really don’t get the depth of field, you really don’t get the ability to touch and, and understand how something works.

Fei Wu 16:24
Yeah, I mean, to me, this is I personally, I mean, even to say that as a digital producer, personally, I’ve never really gone into the virtual reality side of things. And I’ve been to trade shows and enjoy a 15 second experience. And I you know, to me at trade shows are typically very boring. So that’s usually the highlight of my experience there. But the the idea of touching a physical thing, I do see things as it is with your naked eyes. And to be part, you know, I’m not trying to I guess I’m struggling with a word here, just be be part of that experience, gonna immerse yourself in something.

Nat Novak 17:02
That’s also a reaction we’re seeing within society. I mean, so many people are gravitating towards crafting, crafting, and having things that are well made and having an actual person associated with that, there seems to be a reaction that people are wanting to have more of a personal relationship with an item. It may not be in all instances, certainly, you’re not going to go ahead and get somebody to cobbled every single pair of shoes that you have, but you may have the experience of having a cobbler that may fix a pair of shoes that you bought elsewhere and are crafting a specialty pair. Likewise, with a pair of gloves, you know, pair of jeans, custom jeans and or other things that you may have in your house. How did it

Fei Wu 17:45
make you feel when the little baby party and many of our co workers got us a one to four or five year olds? How did it make you feel when they kind of see the thing and then rushing into it?

Nat Novak 17:59
I wasn’t there at that actual day, but I know the feeling well, I have two small children my own and you know, that sense of wonder, that sense of awe, and they just don’t have any pretense about it. You know, it’s just something for them to experience. And it’s so wonderful to see their willingness just to jump and run and smash into things occasionally, you know, things get damaged, that’s fine, but it’s easy enough to repair. And most of the time, they’re just trying to figure out in their heads, how does it work? What am I supposed to do? How does it exist? It’s not like typical pieces of art, where you have a velvet rope in front of you, this is supposed to be something that you’re experiencing.

Fei Wu 18:36
So you have a little boy and a little girl? How many things have you built for them? Are you like the best dad ever?

Nat Novak 18:44
I wouldn’t say I’m the best dad, I’m very fortunate that my wife and I live on a farm. And because we live on a farm, it’s trying to inform them of the things that they get to experience. You know, my son was very much mechanically inclined, I try to encourage that as much as possible. Because it really creates a personal relationship with I understand how this works, not just how it’s made and the material types. But how does it work? Do I know the difference? Why I’d use magnesium over aluminum? And we’re starting to have those conversations, how old is he? And years old? Wow. So for me, it’s why do you use them or third material? Do you know the properties of the material? There are certain times when you can take an Augment material for particular use whether it’s going to be in a particular caustic environment. And we have those conversations now. Do I think that it’s all sinking in? Probably not. But at least it’s a conversation that’s trying to inform how he’s thinking. You know, case in point, he probably has more time on my backhoe than I do. Because it’s trying to teach him how to understand hydraulics. How does it work? How can you I amplify your, the amount of work that you’re doing by implementing different uses of equipment. And how do you think about how you use certain things?

Fei Wu 20:11
Because he has this such, it sounds funny, unusual exposure to your expertise and daily practice? And do you see that he could be excelling in certain subjects in school or is excel in certain ways that he’s thinking

Nat Novak 20:28
that is, it’s been commented on me by several teachers that his problem solving ability is probably that of a high school student. Oh, my goodness. Now, he does struggle with other things due to his dyslexia that he unfortunately inherited from me. But again, tech creates just a different way of looking at the problems. I mean, you have to learn your ways around doing things and how he doesn’t school is sure he has his struggles. But it also creates a unique opportunity on how he sees the world is different than what an average learner would run into, because he’s having to problem solve around just to get in line with everybody

Fei Wu 21:06
else. So interesting. So you’re living on a farm where approximately wouldn’t have to give out an exact address. But what which town?

Nat Novak 21:17
That’s what my wife and I own? Our small farm in Hanson? Yes, southeast Massachusetts, just southeast of Brockton.

Fei Wu 21:27
Wow. Do you so you live on a farm? Do you have any like row any

Nat Novak 21:32
proof so we don’t. We have produce on the farm, we have a few apple trees, we grow a few small things just from personal consumption. But this is predominantly livestock. So my wife and I have two horses on the farm a bunch of chickens

Fei Wu 21:45
we got that’s awesome. So

Nat Novak 21:49
also, what we’re trying to teach the kids is, you know, you’re oftentimes today, many people don’t learn to have personal interactions with people. And this is something that I’ve taken note of prior to having kids, it’s everybody’s down in their electronics, not really paying attention paying attention to the feedback people are getting, because they’re not paying attention to people’s facial features and emotional reactions. The good thing about growing up around large animals is you have to be paying attention 24/7 Are they flaring your nostrils? So their ears pointed back? Where are they looking? What is the body functions, how are their feature is going you have to be attaching this if you don’t, you’re going to get hurt from horses from horses, but this quickly translates into a human experience where he can start paying attention very on a very granular level to people’s behaviors. And notice the difference between what they’re saying and what they’re doing. And also take away how emotionally they’re doing as well. And as a result, he is very much emotionally aware of where certain people are at. I believe that’s augmented because of his experience with animals.

Fei Wu 22:56
It’s fascinating. I so funny, before this conversation, I didn’t realize we had farms Massachusetts, I was so person my personal experience, you know, moving from Beijing. I don’t know when was the last time for me to see like an animal other than just, you know, a pet like little puppy or a cat. Ever, ever. And I remember traveling to Europe for the first time when I was like late 20s. And I remember in Holland and seeing the cows and just like, they’re just, this is having a good time. They’re like part of the society and, and then, you know, the timeline kind of travels back and forth. But as you as I mentioned before, I went to high school in Maine, and for Thanksgiving, I had nowhere to go. And of course a classmate took me in and in her house up in northern part of Maine. It they’re like 11 horses, all different breeds. And they’re like seven dogs, three cats. I don’t even know how I went to sleep for a straight week. But it was so

Nat Novak 23:56
cool. Well, it’s it’s a it informs a completely different experience. And it should be said that small scale farming is entirely different than agribusiness and or large scale farming. You know, I’ve been fortunate also in my life to experience what it means to be on a New England farm versus Mid Atlantic farm of moderate size to some of my mother’s family ran a relatively large farm in western Minnesota as well. So experiencing all of those different aspects of farming also informs a different manner of thinking, you know, how you solve a problem here may not be elsewhere as well. So I think that all of these things are culminating, at least for me personally, and recognizing that there could be more than one solution, and then oftentimes wants to drive that conversation of what you’re trying to solve. Because there are many different solutions and they all could be correct or one could be correct at the same time that is wrong for that particular application.

Fei Wu 24:54
Very, very open minded. I’m moving this towards you. I just realized we I’m so much louder than you are. Whenever we had a hallway conversation, I just assume because it’s hallway or being respectful, I didn’t realize are, I’m such a shout or

Nat Novak 25:10
Oh, no, no, no, by all means, I mean oftentimes is, I think it’s just who I am as an individual. And based on the situation, you know, it’s typically conversational things tone it down a little bit. And that’s just who I am. Oh, it’s

Fei Wu 25:24
cool. And I, you know, I’ve known you for two years. And it had been a while before we actually worked on the project together. And I think very hard about going back when we kind of looked at each other grabbing coffee, and all of a sudden start talking about, like, delving into the mysteries of human existence, sort of a conversation repeatedly. And it’s interesting, I think there’s such a deep underlying connection among us human beings. And there is that connection of things that not only interest us, but truly matter the most to us. I feel like every time we have a conversation, there’s just there’s so many things that you’re thinking about that often I find that others might not necessarily be thinking about or making a priority, or think, oh, that could be a waste of time at work, I can impact I can influence that I can change it, what are some of the things that you’re thinking about these days, the topics that interest you?

Nat Novak 26:25
For me, they’re they’re very much varied. You know, for, for me, it’s trying to be as aware as I can of the surroundings that are that are that I’m involved with on a very large percentage of my day. You know, I constantly have to look, for instance, at my home about not only are the projects that I need to get on, but also can one positively impact the other and cascade and cascade and cascade and have a multiplying effect. Time and time again, just you’re like here at work, it’s, you know, trying to encourage the make the making of physical things, and not to think of a computer as the only solution. But to see it as a tool that can certainly make things better, but not be the only solution that’s out there. And oftentimes, that requires conversations. Now, one of the things that I like about this space that we’re in is it’s truly is open, but it doesn’t always encourage conversations. So is there an opportunity either to create pieces of ephemera of the culture here that can potentially be waystations, throughout the agency, to kind of encourage conversation and dialogue, because I’m very much interested in the idea of double entendre, how, how one thing could be multiple things at the same time, as well as how people bring their own beliefs and prejudices, whether they be positive and or negative, towards a set of problems and or a visual object, you know, constantly trying to push that dialog and trying to look for ways as an individual to push push those conversations, because it’s in having those conversations, that you learn more about individuals where their passions lie, and where there could be a possibility to work together in the future, because you never know what you can learn from somebody else.

Fei Wu 28:23
One of the biggest challenge I experienced in the past 10 years of my professional life is I think it’s very challenging. As you know, full time employee where we spent a lot of hours commuting, then we’re at work, I’m not sure if you feel the same way. But the ability to lie down is impossible, right? I think, first of all, we get to lie down on the ground, I try like stretching and doing some exercise. And we have a lot of foot traffic here. So it’s very, it’s almost creepy. Whereas in my old company, there’s like just an empty area, and then bunch of our co workers just decided that’s going to be for a meditation purpose, or, you know, like one of those seven minute workout. I mean, everybody has seven minutes. If you could just build a nap pot or something for us, that will be so

Nat Novak 29:08
great. Well, there’s such an opportunity to I mean, I just look at the space and in my opinion is not fully utilized. There are some great airy spaces that have the potential to really do things that are transformative for the culture here. And to extend beyond the context of, you know, is there a physical use, but can this breed a larger good for the agency and culture that’s within these walls? I mean, for this, because it’s constantly evolving, like, people are coming in, they’re going out, you know, I look at culturally the fact I was reading an article earlier that in 2015, that there are more millennials in the workforce currently, than any other age demographic. So things are changing very, very rapidly. And, you know, something that’s on my mind currently is how does the space evolve for the need? To the individuals that inhibit the space at any given time, because things in advertising and exponentially fast rate, right? So there’s an opportunity to really look at things differently.

Fei Wu 30:11
Such as, like, what are some of the, I mean, one of the ideas that you can’t, I thought it was brilliant, we started talking about out of the blue again, is because we are in so we create such silos, it’s not just our agency alone, but nearly every medium to big sized corporations, you’re doing this your job and is here your responsibilities are these, you know, these are the articles and things that you should be doing learning and listening to, and, and I, you and I, you kind of inspire this idea of what if we just literally randomly assemble people from different departments and make them solve for something.

Nat Novak 30:50
While part of that, as well as realize that, you know, oftentimes, we’re creatures of habit. And, for better or worse, most humans look for the least amount of effort to get any given thing done. If you recognize that as a trait of humanity, you need to find a way around that problem. And to trick your brain into thinking outside of that, you know, I truly believe that we can become a more robust, more vibrant community and offer more value as an ad agency, if we can, at least for periods of time, whether it be shorter intervals and or longer intervals, depending upon how the problem needs to be solved. Group individuals and clusters and then disseminate that information back out. It’s almost like your barrel aging people to ideas, and different parts of the agency, there’s such an opportunity to increase learning and, as a direct result, make people aware of potential problems that they may have had no context or understanding of before. And by doing that, you may actually get some interesting solutions that you wouldn’t have necessarily had beforehand, because people wouldn’t have been aware of that. Either. If it’s through primary interaction and or through secondary osmosis, where you’re getting people that just happened to be in proximity, to hearing a conversation, to be aware of it enough to think about it. So often, it’s you’re surrounded with your peers with a particular problem that you’re trying to solve. And by exposing people even if slightly to different environments, you may actually get more return, you may get more involvement. And as a result, you actually may see client or sorry, employee happiness actually expand in the positive direction,

Fei Wu 32:27
just there just this past few minutes, I realized, if I were to be stuck on a desert island, I really want you to be there. Because I mean, I literally just went through the list of my friends and people I know in the agency, it’s like, who is the most likely to cut down trees and build a boat to rescue all of us. And that boat could be a size for two people or rescue 300 people, I feel like you could just you could do that. And what I mean by that is, I think what you what you said, makes so much sense. And there are certain risk tolerance that you know, a company or an individual or team are comfortable with. And I feel like the tolerance in my in my eyes are just, it’s almost unacceptable, meaning that doesn’t Excel us or doesn’t propel us to try anything new.

Nat Novak 33:16
Well, that is true to some extent. But we’re also right reaching a point where the paradigm of employing individuals and the salaries that are paid to them is going to overtake the reluctance to engage them in different forms. If you really look at how much it companies are paying to employ individuals, it has to at some point in time set some of them free from the confines of these vertical structures. What that will look like, I don’t know. Because I truly don’t. I’m not a good prognosticator about what the future is, but I am somebody who does get a visceral feeling, I do have a feeling that things will have to change to get more value out of all of your employees. And part of that also means knowing them personally, you know, do I know about you and and who you are as a person and things that truly excites you. And and although you are excitable, there are certain things that in touch in touch phrases, that once you mentioned them, they actually you can see viscerally change, your facial features, your body language, all of those different things and you get super excited and super jazzed and into those conversations and as to why because oftentimes they lead to better conversations in the future. And like this past week, we just ended up trading different articles about different interesting things that are being evolving so quickly.

Fei Wu 34:48
I have all them open right now. And it’s you know, and that part is I was going to add to just how do you identify when people is truly interested? fascinated or driven by certain things or ideas, for me that the secret weapon is actually the recording the audio itself, you instantly tell at the beginning when people are walking up to each other. You know, in this case, we’ve known each other for a long time with some of my other guests at the beginning, they’re very reserved. They’re great people very accomplished, but they’re talking to me for the first time, I’m no stranger to them. They don’t know anything about me. And typically 510 minutes in and they start to warm up, then when certain topics come up, they are so there’s such like a visceral

Nat Novak 35:33
reaction in the conversation, whether it’s somebody’s taken back, Justin, yes, I get what you’re talking about, or yes, this is what I want to talk about more deeply, because it has implicit meaning on who I am as an individual. You know, it’s it’s truly amazing to see when those conversations truly happen like that. And they should be treasured. Because, you know, when they do happen, oftentimes people will want to come back and trade in those ideas and have more deeper conversations almost nine times out of 10. My experience has been, when you have those type of conversations, it may be a year, it may be even three years, but typically somehow in the world confluence of the world, you end up having another conversation about an unrelated topic, I thought about this and send it to you, or, or somehow you’ll see somebody in the news and go, Oh, yeah, I thought about this as well. And you get back in touch with somebody.

Fei Wu 36:23
Yes, exactly. And then you kind of feed on each other’s ideas as well, once you find that connection, and one fascinating observation from me, you know, as a friend to you is, I have been a follower of student of Seth Godin for many, many years. And the way he speaks the way he presents, and there’s one thing he says he repeats, it’s almost his own tagline, you know, is that, uh, here, I made this, you know, and he talks about the the bravery of creators, inventors and artists that to actually make something in this case, he means making a physical product, writing something blogging about something or, you know, podcasts and just put it out there. And I realized everything I’ve seen about you related to you, there’s a, there’s a physical representation, you know, your website is your website. And then there’s just the product kind of sprinkled around the agency, and God knows what you make outside of the agency. And I said to myself, was like, wow, that’s, I mean, that’s not only skills, but to actually make it and then put it out there. And I want to, you know, for example, the skull that’s actually made out of razor blades. It’s just the things that you feel like you dream up, right? We all have dreams, and then I usually just go to work and then forget about them and not, you know, so what is it like for you to kind of transform your thoughts, your dreams into like a physical

Nat Novak 37:55
thing? What do you know, I’ve always heard it that said that the artist is trying to explain what they see in the world out there. And I’ve really found it to be true. You know, how it manifests with individuals, whether it be the artist, be a craftsperson, and or an artist, you’re just trying to find a way to communicate with others, about the truth that you see, who may not be the truth that lasts forever, but it’s the truth that you see at the moment. And for this, this was just a quick sketch. For me, using used materials, you know, I tend to gravitate to reusing and the reused and how do I get more value out of it? As an individual, because oftentimes, for me, it’s learning about new opportunities based on somebody else’s thought. And trying to take it and push it even further. This was just happened to be around de the dead. And I was like, okay, I can do something that’s kind of interesting and a little bit dangerous. And

Fei Wu 38:53
I was thinking about that, how do you put all these you? I mean, are they yours?

Nat Novak 38:58
I work, I work in the studio. So I use a lot of knives all the time. So these are snap off blades. And we generate as a collective of people inside the studio probably about, I don’t know, maybe about four or five pounds a year. And we have to dispose of them. So otherwise, it would just be regular trash. For me. It’s they’re very interesting in Angular, and they have the potential to repeat patterns very differently. So for me, it’s just looking at them separating them and using them in a non traditional function because that’s really what I use every day. It’s Can I invent this and see this in a very different way or just change the relationship? i It almost looks like a jewel to some extent. But once you come closer and realize that it’s actually nice, people are almost taken aback with Wow, this is awesome. And to me, that’s exciting to see.

Fei Wu 39:48
One thing I realized I missed about the close office environment where we were at the Prudential Center versus here, Downtown Crossing Boston. We have completely open space even our president has a regular desk just like everybody else, is when I walked into your studio, your office a couple of years ago, and I just felt like, wow, I want to see this guy’s the treehouse you built for your kids. Because it’s literally to me that’s like this mysterious Treehouse, except that it’s probably much bigger than Treehouse, or there’s like physical products. And there, I’m going to pose a lot of these pictures. If I, you know, to share as people, this could be an episode where I want people to actually look at the webpage as they’re listening and just be browsing for however long they want, and go back to it. But there’s just so many paintings. I mean, there’s so many things, I’ve just look somebody like it is like, like, Are you kidding me? Like, almost make you feel that you could do it? You thought of it, but you didn’t actually do it? You know, there are layers of cardboard boxes, you know, like this one? I think this is just

Nat Novak 40:54
the phone corporate depth of field. It’s a lot of playing around. I mean, some of it is just, you know, playing around with the ideas and concepts. And you know, how does it manifest and a lot of it is self training. It’s like, okay, I know how laser cutters work. I’ve used them in the past. But what if I do it by hand? Can I get the same level of precision? It’s almost, you know, man versus machine? And? And can you make something with slight imperfections that may actually be more beautiful than something that’s so exactly perfect.

Fei Wu 41:26
Not everything has to work is something deeply profound. I learned from Josh Green recently is trying something and give yourself a break and say, This doesn’t have to work. This might fail. And that’s okay. Do you think like for your creation, for your line of work? Do you remind yourself constantly about that? Or how do you condition yourself,

Nat Novak 41:49
not everything is going to work out? I mean, I’ve had plenty of experiences where you’ll do it and it just it’s not the level of exacting perfection that you want and or the standards of excellence that you personally hold? And I think that’s, that’s part of it, it’s part of it is determining what you think is great. And are you living up to what that greatness is, and sometimes you’re gonna create something, and it’s just not going to be there. And it’s okay to trash it, burn it and destroy it. Just have fun with it. And sometimes it’s a learning thing that can just amplify the next experience, you know, did you take something away from it? Did you try something and it just didn’t work? Okay, well, that’s a dead end. That’s great. I know it’s a dead end, well, I can now take that. And next time I run into a similar experience, I know that I need to go a different way. And the great way is, the great thing for me is, it just further informs where there are opportunities to move forward. And whether further informs whether or not opportunities to move forward. And it’s just constant exploration. You know, for me, it’s mulling things over my head, I should do this, I should try this, I should take my stores and caches of different things and try to build something different. And I’m constantly egged on by my sister and or wife just to do something and create just because to me, it feels like I have to get it out of my head. Because I want to make room for something else.

Fei Wu 43:12
Have you thought about if money isn’t a subject of concern? And what would be a team or you by yourself like a dream project to work on that could be impactful and have meaning to you? What would that look like?

Nat Novak 43:29
There’s so many manifestations of that, personally, that, you know, for, for me, it’s for certain problems that I really find interesting. The idea of decentralized power, in terms of the context of energy generation is truly interesting to me, because how it manifests itself, in different parts of the country has different looks and feels and different solutions, you know, is the idea that no one size fits all makes a lot of sense. I mean, in the town that I live in the water table is exceedingly high, which lends itself to geothermal power, or just geothermal heating, you know, the potential for using that. And let’s say, Nevada just isn’t going to exist, but the potential for either solar or wind power to generate different solutions does exist. It’s the idea of that No, one size fits all. But by the same token, I’m thoroughly fascinated as well as people’s personal experiences in generating art and creating art. And it’s trying to explain your different existence and experiences. And can you expose them to different things? I’m very fortunate that my daughter is very interested into art and into that experience. So we do spend some time going over and like, what are you thinking, how do you see this? How can you see differently, and she’s definitely opened my eyes to seeing things in a very different manner than I’ve entered into conversations. Either visually, like she’ll draw something and I’ll draw something on top of it, and she’ll draw something on top of what I drew and it just works. but it just, it’s an interesting exploration. Because I think as a child, you’re not afraid to fail. Whereas, as an adult, you tend to have experiences that make you resistant to failing.

Fei Wu 45:14
I like what you described of you drawing on top of our drawing. Because I, you know, I, you probably saw on my Facebook updates, a passion I have with my mom or something like our shared interest to teach a little kids how to draw. And we use regular we use markers, we teach them more American style drawing, we also teach them what are color painting. And the interesting part is the fact that your daughter allows you to draw on top of for drawing is actually kind of not always a given. Because what I noticed the difference between Chinese kids and American kids or American kids are very, at times, you know, they, they’re, you know, they have certain pride. And then I like the confidence like, this is my work, and I’ve put it out there. But then we realize the initial resistance and struggling my mom being a Chinese art teacher to say, Hey, let me show you there’s a much better way to go about this. Well, let’s try this technique, you will see the difference in the section some of the kids I think is, you know, Carol Dweck will call them the fixed mindset, if they really struggle, they don’t want their painting to be touched. They don’t want to see a different way to approach certain things. Whereas we started to shift their intention. And I’ll explain to them my mom is doing this and why their work is so super valuable, you’re

Nat Novak 46:26
essentially coming up with the idea of critique, you know, the idea of critique isn’t to tell you that you’ve done a bad job, the idea is how you could do it better. You know, how do you internalize that how you could do it better to take that as self defeating as I didn’t do that great software. And as a result of getting dressed down as a result of that? Or is this an opportunity to say like, this was an experiment, there was a shortcoming, certainly, but moving forward and try to build on what I learned this is a better way of achieving an end goal. Sometimes that manifests in physical experience, whether it’s, you know, somebody nugget, achieving a specified goal of a certain amount of time, but oftentimes, it’s enhancing the learning potential moving forward and amplifying people being aware and self aware, much, much quicker. You know, I get the idea that people want to say I have ownership and complete ownership, but there’s no truly new idea. It’s just twisting old days over and over again. And I don’t believe that my ideas are new by any sense. I just tried to take my own personal experience and infuse that into them.

Fei Wu 47:41
I see you not as just an individual artist, because given your position here, given the number of people who are influenced by you here, I consider them as your pupils of almost, you know, learning from you daily. And now you have your kids. So you know, your son’s 10 years old, I remember him being much younger, for some reason. And then now you’re also learning from each other, it’s

Nat Novak 48:03
very important to realize is that, you know, oftentimes in American society, we’re taught that because somebody has a position and or age, advanced age that their ideas are best, though, it’s not to say that their ideas are best, because they’re either have an advanced position and are older and age, it’s just to say that they see it in a certain different way. I hope that, in the end, there’s discussion and dialogue, because it should be about what it is best for that particular application. And it could be that one instance, it works. And another instance, it just doesn’t work. It really shouldn’t be about having a conversation about what we’re trying to solve. And being open to hear that your ideas may not, in fact, be the right solution for a particular application. And I’m okay with that.

Fei Wu 48:56
And I would also urge to say that we need to keep asking that question throughout the project is not to derail the team. But oftentimes, there’s only one that doesn’t, it’s not asked at all, or it’s only once at the very

Nat Novak 49:08
end, it should be a clarifying statement throughout, is this what we’re trying to solve and trying to peg it against? The problem we’re trying to solve? So oftentimes, it’s not we get so hyper focused on this is the only solution that we’re going down, as opposed to is their way of taking it and moving and pushing it for. I truly believe it’s how you get to great is to constantly question and push and prod and push and ask why and why and why and why. And as a parent sometimes like I can attest to having that question asked why 5000 times in a row can tend to be a little bit grating. But in the end of the day, they’re trying to wrap their brains. Specifically I’m talking about my children, wrap their brains around why? It’s not that they reject the answer that you give you that you’re giving to them, but they’re trying to have a more concrete In understanding of why this is the best, or why known has to be no, they’re looking for you to fully commit to that solution. And I believe that that’s the way we should be working here at work is you should be constantly asking why is this the right solution? Why is this the right application? Are my actions the right actions? Can I do it better? Why isn’t this working? You should be asking why why? Why all the time?

Fei Wu 50:25
Maybe answering my next question. But as a parent, I love the parenting themes. And just, I love kids, I hope to have kids one day and and if there’s anything you would love to leave to your children, the people you love the most in your life, that is not money. What is that thing that you hope to, for them to carry on with be part of their spirit to part of who they are?

Nat Novak 50:49
thirst for knowledge. I mean, I saw that from my grandma, mother to my mother, I saw that my, from my mother to me, as he that for me to my children, it’s just that it’s hard to explain. It truly, it gets into who you are as a person and becomes infectious you can’t stop becomes almost a necessity, like oxygen, you have to continue learning and exploring and looking and searching and just constantly wanting to be more than who you are. And, and to fully have a more open mind

Fei Wu 51:23
unexpectedly emotional when we start talking about these things. And, and I see that it’s almost a desire, not just for your kids, but how you influence how we influence the people around us is to have an open mind. And this is like a really good way to end the podcast. Is there any way ask this question? Is there anything that I haven’t touched on that you really would like to talk about? Because

Nat Novak 51:50
I think the only thing that’s really starting to really enter into my consciousness, and I’m doing more and more reading this is the idea of this AI based solutions that so many people are entering into shortcuts. For truly having meaningful dialogues with individuals, I was reading a recent snippet, essentially about a new technology, which is a Bluetooth piece of technology that you strapped to your person. And essentially, it’s constantly just listening to conversations all day long. And it can actually produce words at the end of the day and piece of peoples of influence and what you’re saying. So it’s doing compounding of of your dialogue throughout an entire day. So you find the fact I find it equally fascinating and equally frightening at the same point in time. It’s not to say that I think technology doesn’t have the ability to make us better. But oftentimes, it prevents us from having the things that matter the most, which is discussions and dialogues amongst ourselves.

Fei Wu 52:48
And also kind of not taking things out of context, either. You know, there was a TV show, I believe it’s on Netflix, I’ll send it to you after it’s a series of six TV episodes. And it’s a British show. So there’s only just six and seven, like the 20 episodes, American shows. And there’s one about that, what have you have a chip installed, like in the back of your neck, and then everything you You see, there’s a video captured. And basically, it’s about how it ruins the marriage of this like a lovely couple about, they can freely access, like things have happened in their lives, without them being you know, each, each other being present. Like there’s an evidence and there’s you can trace back to it’s

Nat Novak 53:31
very important to understand that I mean, the context of conversation and dialogue is oftentimes lost. I mean, case in point texting, oftentimes you’re not able to read the visual cues, conversations over a smartphone, you’re not getting that full context that is really necessary to be able to understand, you know, is this person being cynical? Is this person just trying to be straight? You know, you lose that context. And it’s so very important to having conversations.

Fei Wu 53:56
Yeah. And Skype and Google Hangouts are great, but for my podcasts, I feel like it’s it’s kind of a toss too. Sometimes it works really well. Some days, it doesn’t work quite as well. That’s quite a struggle for both of us. You can really see, it’s

Nat Novak 54:15
nice to all the gestures, you know, you see, you see if somebody’s fidgety, if they’re breathing heavy, you lose that definitively, even across Google or Skype or any of the conferencing software that are out there.

Fei Wu 54:30
Yeah, it’s better than nothing. But this is such a fascinating story. And there’s thank you so much for being just so honest and transparent and giving me having just the same conversation as when the recorder is turned on. So

Nat Novak 54:47
thanks very much for having me.

Fei Wu 54:54
To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes. Wherever is a face That is a e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links or other tools and resources you can also follow me on Twitter at face world until next time thanks for listening

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