Season 3
39 Minutes

E97 | Leon Segal | In Praise Of Expanded States Of Consciousness

Leon Segal, Ph.D. is an innovation psychologist. As a founder of Innovationship, Leon helps organizations, teams, and individuals to imagine and design their futures. His vast expertise in the innovation field includes helming an IDEO office and teaching at leading institutions around the world. Innovationship’s slogan is "Strategic Innovation made personal."

Originally from Israel, Leon's work is informed by an eclectic past that includes being a pilot and a saxophone player. Leon's decades-long interest in psychedelic-assisted therapies has led him to partner with other psychologists, guides and healers in the Jamaica Grief Retreats which foster the expression of grief and healing for parents who have lost their children. Consciousness and creativity are threads that weave through every facet of Leon's work and life.


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Leon Segal  00:00

I was at NASA then I joined a big innovation firm called the ideal. A lot of work there. And the more I did work with innovation and creativity, the more I realized that the human factor of innovation, a psychology of innovation, is the key thing. projects come and go. technology comes, there’s always new technology, etc. But how do people learn to express themselves in a creative way in their own unique creative way? And how do organizations get themselves structured in a way that increases their potential for innovation?

Achim Nowak  00:48

Hey, this is Achim Nowak, executive coach and host of the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. If life is a five act play, how will you spend your FOURTH ACT? I have conversations with exceptional humans who have created bold and unexpected FOURTH ACTS, listen, and to be inspired. And please rate us and subscribe on whatever platform you are listening on. Let’s get started. I am delighted to welcome Leon Segal to the MY FOURTH ACT podcast. Leon is an innovation psychologist. As a founder of innovation ship. Lyon helps organizations teams and individuals imagine and design their future. As I’m reading this and think to myself, like how cool is that? Innovation ship slogan is strategic innovation made personal. Leon has a vast expertise in the innovation field and has practiced and taught at leading institutions around the world, originally from Israel, Leon also partners with other psychologists, guides and healers in the Jamaica grief retreats, which foster the expression of Grief and Healing for parents who have lost their children. Welcome, Leon.

Leon Segal  02:15

Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Achim Nowak  02:17

I’m so glad you’re here. And just as I was reading the introduction, which I wrote, you know, from your materials, I was getting excited about the conversation. So before we start, I’m always curious, when you were a young boy growing up or a teenager, and you know, people always ask us, What do you want to be? What do you want to be? What do you want to be? Like? What were you thinking about?

Leon Segal  02:44

You know, when I was very young, I’d say up to the age of 12 or so, I wanted to be a vet. loved animals grew up with dogs. And it felt to me like a really beautiful place to be working with animals. That kind of changed, I started playing music, played clarinet, then moved on to the saxophone, and spent a few years really thinking about, you know, maybe I’ll be a saxophone player, I was looking up very much love jazz, you know, John Coltrane, people like that were really what caught my heart. But like every Israeli teenager, the kind of inevitable joining the military at the age of 18 was looming in front of me. My father had been a pilot in the Second World War and then helped kind of build these were the Air Force. And so I started thinking, okay, when I, since I’m going to the military, I’d like to be a pilot. So I ended up doing that.

Achim Nowak  03:56

Uh, you did? Yes. For how long were you apart,

Leon Segal  04:00

I spent six years full service in the Israeli Air Force, and then did a few more years of reserve duty until I moved here and started this other career. So all in all, probably about 10 years.

Achim Nowak  04:17

What’s something pleasurable that you remember? There’s Island.

Leon Segal  04:24

I really learned to love the night skies and the moon. Yeah, I was flying, what are called Cobra helicopters. So we did a lot of low level flying at night in the moonlight, and that, that is so much fun. And just and the truth is flying helicopters is great because it really connects one with the earth. We’re not up at 50,000 30,000 20,000 feet. We’re truly flying at 25 feet and we can learn anywhere and shut the engine and go and sit and make a cup of coffee. So I really learned to love the country more the countryside, and the earth.

Achim Nowak  05:12

It sounds incredibly romantic to me as you speaking. But the other place I went and my thoughts is, you know, when you fly that low, you have a incredible perspective that we don’t have on the ground. And and if I want to make a transition to psychology and innovation, which is also about sort of creating different perspectives and views on things, right. In my mind, I was connecting those. How did innovation emerge as something that you said, Gosh, I want to pursue that.

Leon Segal  05:45

First of all, again, as part of being a pilot, the other thing that I really developed an appreciation for was collaboration. And the importance of, in the end, it’s all about people, you can have machines, and you can have systems and all of that. In the end, it’s about people. My father, after having been a pilot, he was an architect. So I was always into design design always interested me. My mother worked a lot with human development and movement. She did something called the Feldon Christ system. Yeah. So I grew up appreciating both design and human behavior. And so it was clear already in the Air Force, I was made in charge of making changes to the cockpit of the helicopter based on the needs that showed up as we got better and better at flying. So that’s where that germ was, you know, planted and started evolving.

Achim Nowak  06:54

But in the spirit of talking about innovation and transformation, the germ is, resonates with me, my I’m the son of an architect, so I grew up with architecture, you made a big change, you know, you you could have been a commercial pilot, you could have had all sorts of careers as a pilot. So in the spirit of our conversation, you commit it, this is what I hear to truly actively investigate something else described as the moment where you went, you know, I think I maybe want to go back to school, and I want to study this, and I want to go on a whole other path.

Leon Segal  07:29

So I was working as a consultant in the aviation industry, worked with bell helicopters in Texas, Texas Instruments, and so forth. And then realize that, if I continue, I can become a big expert in a very narrow field. And it felt like, I need more, and I want to know more. So at age 28, I left my kind of consulting and music, I kept studying music in parallel, and went as a freshman, undergraduate to the University of Illinois, to the psychology department, because, as I said, and this is true until today, in the end, it’s all about people. So I wanted to understand people more. So I went and ended up getting a PhD in cognitive psychology, with a focus on what’s called human factors, which is how people interact with their environment. And that led me to, I got a grant from NASA to come out to California to design cockpits for future airplanes and spaceships and do that kind of work, which for me, was really, how do we design things to make it easier and more productive and effective for people to use them?

Achim Nowak  08:59

That’s such a wonderful example. And so many dots connected and just that like kind of work that you’re describing. What I’m curious about because you describe yourself as an innovation psychologist, and we’re talking about it. So I did some research because I said, I’ve never heard of an innovation psychologist. So let me see how big of a field is that? And then I went, I’m not finding a lot did Leon Segal just make this up? Talk to us about that description and the meaning of that description for you.

Leon Segal  09:33

So first of all, I absolutely made it up. Let’s get that one clear. You know, the more I work, I was at NASA then I joined a big innovation firm called the ideal. A lot of work there. And the more I did work with innovation and creativity, the more I realized that the human factor of innovation, the psychology of innovation, Action is the key thing, projects come and go. technology comes, there’s always new technology, etc. But how do people learn to express themselves in a creative way in their own unique, creative way? And how do organizations get themselves structured in a way that increases their potential for innovation? So, again, the psychology was interesting for me. So I said, you know, that’s those moments in life where you stop and say, What do I actually do? Yeah, you know, and rather than say, I have a PhD in this, and I used to be a pilot, and I love music. It just, I’m an innovation psychologist, and stuck.

Achim Nowak  10:48

It totally makes sense to me as you talk about it. The moment we hear innovation, I think all of us have an idea of what that is. So I’m not hunting for a perfect definition of it. I’m curious about you, since you have a business called Innovation ship. What does innovation mean to you?

Leon Segal  11:08

So you know, first of all, I agree with you, the word is almost like a Rorschach test. That’s right, we all have our own interpretation. To me, it means something new, that answers a human need, that nothing else has answered before. So it has to do with the need, because there’s creativity in in painting, and art and all of that. To me, the word innovation is very much associated with building new tools or things, material things that provide a an unanswered need to people, you know, granted Picasso innovated and painting. And you can go to the whole world of art and music and all of that and see that, but to me, it’s very much and also because of my background, and the work I do that has to do with answering human needs that have not been answered.

Achim Nowak  12:17

I’m an executive coach and being corporations. I’ll talk about innovation, but we don’t really innovate. Why, based on all of your expertise, is it what gets in the way of organizations innovating the way they claim they would like to

Leon Segal  12:36

the one thing that gets in the way is just statistics. It’s like innovation. We can’t look at every little thing and say, Oh, wow, you know, this is such an innovative hamburger kind of thing. And, and people do that, you know, it’s like, there are two essential elements that an organization needs. The one is what I call the grassroots the bottom up part of it. And that is the skills and tools for people to be able to express themselves creatively and explore new possibilities. So that’s the bottom up part, the people who actually do the work. The top down part comes from leadership. Leadership has to provide permission, and incentives for people to truly explore, which implies people should be able to fail, people should be encouraged to experiment. That is usually the organizations that I work with. If things aren’t moving along the way people expected. You have to look at leadership, it really start over because I believe people have an innate, not only desire, but also an innate right to express themselves creatively in a unique way. That, you know, if you write an article about a particular topic, and I will write one on the same topic, we’ll each express ourselves in our own unique way, which is the beautiful thing about collaboration, right? Organizations need to provide the conditions for that kind of unique creativity to emerge. And innovation itself happens, you know, small change by small change, we do many changes and improvements and refinements. And then if we’re lucky, there’s a kind of what the physics people call a phase shift. You just you jump to another place. And that’s when innovation occurs.

Achim Nowak  14:54

A word from your sponsor, that’s me. I invite you to go to the website. associated with this podcast, fourth, you will find other equally inspiring conversation with great humans. And you will also learn more about the my fourth act mastermind groups where cool people figure out how to chart their own fourth acts. Please check it out. And now back to the conversation. I’m curious, based on your years of expertise and the different organizations you’ve engaged with, if you can you share a story with us of one that you go they they didn’t do it perfectly, but they got it right. They wanted to innovate and the leadership was there. And at some point, it led to the that phase shift?

Leon Segal  15:51

Well, you know, I was asked to join a panel of seven international judges. When Google launched their first Google phone, they did what they called the Android competition. And they just invited creative people from all over the world to suggest apps that can go on Google’s first Android phone. And it was amazing. First of all, it was an honor and a pleasure to be part of that cohort of judges truly from all over the world. And it was almost like a, a military operation. I was living in Israel at the time. And I got this courier who brought me a locked laptop to my house and made me sign documents. And I had to at the end, I didn’t have to destroy it. But I had to send it back to Google, etc. But it was amazing to see the creativity of people from all over the world coming up with ideas. And one of the big ones that came up was what they call that the time they were developing this thing called taxi, which was very new, which was you walk out of a meeting anywhere in the world, you press a button called taxi, and a taxi shows up. And at the time, this is we’re talking early 2000s. This felt like a very innovative thing. So what Google did was they sourced the world, and said, We’ll give $50,000 to anybody who comes up with a good idea. And I think that was very successful. I also have a favorite story of an organization that didn’t do it well, which I think is always very educational. Because you know, and this is a very well known company called Kodak, which you and I growing up, Kodak was kind of the benchmark for, you know, excellence in imaging. And Kodak came to ideal where I was working at the time in the early 90s. And they saw the digital revolution approaching. And they said, what’s this thing called Digital? Can you help us think about it? So we spent almost a year on an amazing, really, you know, ideal put together this truly kind of super team of psychologists, designers, engineers, and came up with six amazing concepts for the future digital camera, and presented to Kodak and actually Kodak move the team that spent a lot of time with us in San Francisco developing these concepts. And there were things there that came out only 20 years later in digital cameras, we really saw the future and presented to the Kodak team itself, with a few senior people went back to Rochester, New York and presented it to the board. And the board said, This is really nice, but we make our money from paper and chemicals. So let’s not do that. And then three or four years later, they came running back to IDEO and said, Remember those concepts you did for us? Could we do that, but that was too late already? For them.

Achim Nowak  19:33

I know a lot of people who serve on boards and I have an appreciation for boards but my sense is I’m generalizing now that many people are asked to be on boards because of historic past successes in business models and systems that are inherently not innovative. And how do you then become a board that actually foster something that may be separate from the past? Just accomplishments of the people on the board, right?

Leon Segal  20:03

Yeah. How do you do that? That’s a great question.

Achim Nowak  20:06

I want to float a word by you that feels like a little trendy and buzzy in the last 20 or 30 years. But I have friends who have played with this when it comes to personal transformation. And the world is called it’s called reinvention. What are your thoughts about that word? When it comes to personal change? Do you prefer transformation? How do you apply the word innovation to a personal process and journey?

Leon Segal  20:35

I believe that any personal growth is a creative process. Any good therapist, a good therapist shouldn’t be sitting there giving people advice. A good therapist needs to open up a safe space for a person to explore their own creative solutions for whatever challenges they have, or whatever aspirations they have. Something I didn’t mention is that in the past 30 years, I’ve been always very interested in expanded states of consciousness. I’ve gone down to Mexico and studied the indigenous work that they do down there with mushrooms. I’ve studied other cultures, other countries, and how people have used whatever techniques that could be breathwork. And it could be different substances, to expand consciousness. And I’m bringing that back to reinvention. Because on a personal level, what people are looking for, is to expand their consciousness so that they can see new possibilities. And that’s a very creative process. It’s almost like I make you know, if you see somebody go and do a session with psilocybin mushrooms, it’s very similar to getting a team and brainstorming about an AI solution for a particular problem. What the person gets from a session is a bunch of options of look at the possibilities. And then of course, the work is just like, after a good brainstorming session, the work is always, here are all these great ideas. Now, what do we do? How do we integrate that into our personal life?

Achim Nowak  22:33

So let’s play with expansion of consciousness a little bit, I adore that phrase, and without going to all the details, but I remember the late 80s, I spent six weeks in the Arizona desert, I had some mind expanding experiences. In that part, as part of it, I had one very, very, very distinct vision. I was on a version of a vision quest, and I kept seeing this white a White House, on a cliff, overlooking an ocean. And to me, this wasn’t a Freudian dream, it was immediate felt like this is a very concrete house. And six months later, I lived in a white house overlooking the ocean on an island of Tobago, which at the time, I didn’t even know how to find on the map. I’m not going to tell the whole story about how I got there. But this isn’t, I’d love

Leon Segal  23:21

to I’d love to hear it sometimes.

Achim Nowak  23:24

This is how we got there. You mentioned mushrooms and other hallucinogens, I would say that’s the correct word. You mentioned breathwork. For me, you know I have a history of over 30 years of practicing Hinduism chanting really transformed me with other people cellularly changes my consciousness of where I am. What are some other ways in which people can change their consciousness or play in that space that come to mind for you?

Leon Segal  23:57

So first of all, on an individual level, people do this all the time, just instinctively, there are people. One of the things when I start a workshop with a group of executives or a design team in a company, I asked each person what is your creative, it superpower? Or how do you get into your creative zone? Some people go for a run a long run, they love that. Some people wake up early in the morning and sit and meditate. Other people sit late at night with a glass of wine. I mean, each person has found their own way and creative people work on this to expand to give themselves the optimal conditions for expanding their consciousness. Now there are things so today there’s there’s a concept that I’ve developed called free storming, which is personal brainstorming with the use of cannabis. Cannabis is becoming legal. Yeah. So wherever it’s legal There is a structured process based on the process of design thinking that with the use of cannabis, it’s a 90 prescribed 90 minute kind of session in which and people have to understand that, you know, cannabis is a consciousness expanding substance, if it’s not used, I have someone who was working with me and said, Oh, you’ve taken cannabis from being recreational to being re creational.

Achim Nowak  25:32

Yeah, beautiful.

Leon Segal  25:33

So what’s important is the intention behind it. If you use it in a, again intentional way, it can really be a great tool. So free storming is my kind of response to saying I don’t want to deal with things that are outside of what the law allows. But cannabis is now becoming more and more accessible. And people are feeling comfortable talking about the fact that they use it. And for bigger things. The reason I’m flying down to Jamaica, which you brought up earlier, is that in Jamaica, psilocybin is the site and mushrooms are legal. And so this grief retreat that we’re doing down there will be using psilocybin to help parents enter a state in which they can process their grief in a deeper and more that kind of way.

Achim Nowak  26:31

I’ll get to Jamaica in a moment. I just I’m so fascinated by the word free storming in. So where my mind went is Do you free storm for yourself? And do you have clients who you take through a free storming process?

Leon Segal  26:48

Yes, yes to both I Freestone for myself, I have clients I take through but there’s also a pre recorded 90 minutes, it’s like, you know, this guided meditation as I call it guided ideation. So you can get a video that will guide you through 90 minutes, and you can at the comfort of your own home whenever you want. Sit and do a free storming, kind of solo brainstorming session around anything in your life. It can be around work, it can be around your relationship, how do you help your kids better with their homework, you can redesign your house using it, it really is just a, a creative platform.

Achim Nowak  27:39

We were introduced by a mutual friend, Paul’s Eleazar. And he knew that I would be very interested in the grief retreats as part of what you do. And I, I am. I mentioned to you already that when I have a 90 year old mother, 98 year old mother right now, and my brother committed suicide 23 years ago. And I don’t think my mother had the place or the support to properly grieve that loss. And and it’s been a really feel like it’s been a wound in her heart that she with other support would have just possibly been an opportunity to move forward in a different way. Absolutely. So as you would you describe to our listeners who you serve, and the Jamaican repeat rates? And how because you have collaborators, how did you all cook this up? I’m just really curious.

Leon Segal  28:39

I’ll say it started. There’s a community of professionals who are therapists, psychiatrist, and people who been trained in work with hallucinogens, or I’d say consciousness expanding substances. And from that community emerged, the need based on the knowledge that these kinds of states are very helpful. To work with grief, I’d say it’s very closely connected to there’s a lot of work being done with people with PTSD veterans with PTSD. There’s maps, the organization was doing now a worldwide kind of above board, use of MDMA for use with PTSD. So it’s very well known that this can really be helpful. So this group said, Where can we do this, that it will be legal. So we’re inviting grieving parents right now? From the United States to come down to the retreat, and they will spend a week there together with them. doing many different things. There’s breath work, there’s artwork is a lot of processing, and also use of psilocybin mushrooms to create opportunities for deeper healing.

Achim Nowak  30:14

And if you were to describe reactions or responses after going through their process from some of the parents, how do they, what are some ways in which they describe what they have experienced?

Leon Segal  30:29

Yeah, it’s quite powerful and very, very moving. To hear the parents, you know, they, some of them have had the experience of actually, their child coming and sitting with them during the session, and reassuring them, that everything is fine. They’ve, it’s opened for them for the future, a hole in the sense channel of communication with the child that still lives in their heart. And it also, as we know, these substances, what they do to us, they give us a bigger perspective, in which life and death are just a small part of the cosmic drama that we’re all experiencing every day. So there’s a place of really being able to expand and include much more than this particular time where we’re spending in our material bodies, these 8090 years, there’s more to this. And once we expand that way, death of the body itself isn’t such a hard thing to accept.

Achim Nowak  31:42

As you are at a certain place in your career, and in your life. We talked earlier off recording about the beautiful place where you live in Northern California. Do you think of the future for yourself? Do you contemplate things that Oh, I’d like to do this as well? How to use the word strategic that we talked about? Are you strategic about the future? Or do you let it emerge? How do you contemplate what’s next? Or what do you say? No, to? Because I Yeah, I’m good at this, but I’ve done it before, I don’t want to do it anymore. How do you navigate these things?

Leon Segal  32:22

Yeah, you know, I, I’m strategic in the sense that, you know, I see I’m blessed to be very healthy. So I’m not thinking about, you know, any stopping at any point. Everything is very exciting for me, I have definitely a longer list of things I’d like to do, then time to do them. I love and I’m going deeper and deeper into doing a lot of very deep individual work, primarily, as you know, being an elder. I love working with people who have been blessed to be successful, and are looking for something meaningful to do in their life. And here in Northern California, there’s quite a few, although they’re all over the world. And it’s wonderful to be able to create the space for people like that, who want to really shift their direction in their fourth act, and to allow them to be creative and find in themselves something meaningful to do because we all look around and say the world needs people who are doing meaningful stuff. There’s more. There’s so much going on, that there’s a lot to do and these processes of coaching and guiding these people are very rewarding for me.

Achim Nowak  34:00

Well, you so compellingly just describe what this entire podcast is about and what I know that folks are listening to us are contemplating. I remember when I turned 60, and I just written three books. And I realize I don’t want to work for any external accomplishments any more any more success. I don’t want to climb in traditional ways. I’ve done enough of that. And then all sorts of other things happen because we do things for a different reason, right? Which is fine so beautifully. So let’s maybe wrap up with this. There may be listeners who are going to say that Leon said that so beautifully. And I do have maybe aspirations or desires that have been buried for a while. But maybe it’s too late or maybe it’s too late. Much work to pursue these and do I really want to put effort into those things or, you know, the kind of doubt around embarking on a major departure shift, even though it’s talking to us from inside? What thoughts might you have for somebody like that?

Leon Segal  35:19

You know, if, if we’re going out to truly explore, there is fear that comes up. And fear isn’t bad. Fear is great. It just tells us what we need to be looking out for. But there’s also the excitement that sometimes we miss, translate as being fear, I say, you know, find a way to get the support you need. Because we live our lives on our own. But we’re not alone. We grew up in tribes, we need the connection with people. And there are people who can provide for you conditions, where you can really show up in your fullest. So it’s really important to again, be open to getting the support you need, but also have the conviction to look around and think of the next generations and look at what’s happening with the world. And to say, I don’t want to just sit here as a spectator. I want to do my best in whatever area I can. So that I can look around and smile and say, I express myself.

Achim Nowak  36:45

In the spirit of reaching out for support, I already talked about innovation ship. But where else would you send our listeners who are curious about you and want to learn more about you? Where Where can they find you, Leon?

Leon Segal  36:59

So first of all, to be true to my saying that what’s important for me is a personal connection. People should reach out to me personally, it’s Leon at innovation So happy to do that. And there’s free storming, which is also a place where you can get access both to me but also see more about free storming itself and some other things that I do in this arena of expanded consciousness and creativity, and personal innovation.

Achim Nowak  37:45

Thank you for that. And just thank you for thank you for the gift of this conversation was such a pleasure for me.

Leon Segal  37:53

Thank you too. And I hope we have more either online or offline. But just looking forward this. I’m very curious to I realized you’re interviewing me, but I’m ready to have a list of questions for you. Yeah,

Achim Nowak  38:06

good. I have an open book. But well, that will be for a continuation. So in the meantime, goodbye for now.

Leon Segal  38:13

Goodbye for now. Thank you.

Achim Nowak  38:18

Like what you heard, please go to my fourth And subscribe to receive my updates on upcoming episodes. Please also subscribe to us on the platform of your choice. Rate us give us a review and let us all create some magical fourth acts together. Ciao


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