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Episode 8

Leadership, blockchain, and the future

After spending 20 years as a correspondent for CBS News, CNN, and more, Daniel Sieberg worked as a senior marketing manager at Google, overseeing a team that fostered innovation on the editorial side of newsrooms. Now, he's transitioned into the blockchain space, co-founding a startup named Civil. With such a diverse range of expertise, Daniel has plenty of wisdom to share on tech, marketing, and the business world at large.

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Daniel Sieberg



Kyle Nordeen

In this Episode:

  • Why authenticity is so hard when you're in the public eye
  • How Imposter Syndrome holds us back from doing our best work
  • What marketers can learn from the "after-action debrief"


  • As a leader, it's easy to feel like you're supposed to know everything.

  • There's a lot of opportunity for marketers to learn from failure.

  • Opening yourself up to vulnerability can pay significant dividends.

Episode Transcript

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Kyle: Thank you everybody for joining us today. I have a very special guest here with Daniel Sieberg from Google. How are you doing?

Daniel: I’m doing well, thanks. And I should say I am formerly of Google. I left about six months ago, relatively recently. And I am now a co-founder to start up called Civil, but yeah, happy to talk about Google, anything before that, and Civil as well.

Kyle: Absolutely. Thank you for joining us. And it actually kind of does lead me into it just to even kick things off a little bit. If you could tell us a little bit about yourself, your professional background, and then kind of also tell us about Civil, and like how everything’s going?

Daniel: Sure. So I spent about 20 years working in news, mostly as a reporter and correspondent, covering science, technology, space, environment, sort of everything wrapped in that kind of a model. And then I went to join Google about seven years ago, helped to build a couple of teams there that were fostering innovation on the editorial side of newsrooms, so thinking about data and storytelling. I was working with the marketing side of the house and got a chance to travel around and meet a lot of journalists.

And so I was sort of less as a working journalist and more thinking about sort of the future of journalism and innovation and how that was gonna unfold, and left Google about six months ago to helped co-found Civil, which are sort of the elevator pitch for Civil is it’s a decentralized marketplace for sustainable journalism. To be clear, it’s not launched yet but we’re very close to that, and built on blockchain technology. So we’re gonna be launching a Civil token along with our Civil platform. So lots to unpack with those terms, but I’ll kind of leave it there.

Kyle: Cool. No, awesome. Definitely appreciate that, especially with like your background, I guess in storytelling, your emphasis there. What sort of recommendations do you have, or like your one storytelling tip for brands like hoping to make a better connection with their audience?

Daniel: Yeah. I think that probably the biggest takeaway that I’d like to leave with people is being authentic, and it’s really…you know, I think as somebody who spent a long time in broadcast and on television, and this is a world where people are often forced to sort of look or be a certain way, it’s very hard to, I think, bring your authentic self to that kind of a space, and people are scrutinizing how you look, and what you say, and just all of that stuff. And when I started out as a reporter in print, I never had any aspiration to go on television or do anything like that. Much preferred to be behind the scenes, writing stories, and I wrote a book, and I was much more interested and comfortable in that space.

So to sort of retain that authentic nature throughout that journey was tough at times, frankly. But that’s something I’ve tried to carry with me throughout both my professional career, personally. I think the more that marketers can think about their companies, why do they exist, why should any customer work with them, why is anybody, you know, there, and what are we talking about, and bringing that sort of true authentic self. And my sense is that the world is just going in that direction that there’s an opportunity to kind of just be yourself and it’s okay. And it sounds very simple, but at times, it can be very difficult I think for most.

Kyle: For sure. And with that, you know, trying to be as authentic as you can be, do you think there’s like a particular barrier why it’s so difficult for people to say like, you know, “Let me put myself in a position where I might be a little bit vulnerable, where there might be some criticism,” like do you think there’s a particular barrier, like why people struggle with that?

Daniel: Yeah. I think vulnerability is hard. Transparency is hard. And I think for, you know, a certain part of my career anyway, there was an emphasis on at least appearing buttoned-up or that you’ve figured everything out. And, you know, I’ve both managed people and also been an individual contributor. And, you know, I think as a leader in an organization, especially like Google, when I first joined Google, I used to think I had to be some version of perfect somehow and that I was supposed to know everything. And there’s this expression at Google called the “impostor syndrome” where you think that everybody else is smarter than you, and everybody else knows more than you do, and you’re the only one who hasn’t figured something out.

And admitting that you’re struggling with something or admitting that you don’t know everything, in your head, you start to think that that’s a weakness or that you haven’t, you know, crocked [SP] everything as you should. I think the irony is that…so one of my favorite sort of leadership gurus is Simon Sinek. And he likes to say that, “You don’t build trust by offering help, you build trust by asking for help,” to sort of open yourself to that vulnerability and be that authentic self can really pay dividends in the long run as hard and complex and kind of, you know, exhausting as that process could be.

Kyle: For people that…I know that, obviously, it’s a lot easier said than done, like you know, just be yourself, be authentic, be vulnerable. Do you have, like, tips for people to get started with? Like, you know, how do people that want to start going that route kind of like get started with it?

Daniel: Yeah. You know, I think that it goes back to…so for marketing campaigns, for example, I think that, you know, Google’s just as guilty as any other company as, you know, thinking of a marketing campaign and maybe pulling some stock photos or thinking about this kind of, you know, pre-baked presentation that’s gonna just sell the entire concept or connect with an audience or something. And, you know, I think there’s a real opportunity to just peel that apart and, you know, as much as possible, bring in real voices to a marketing discussion, real customers, have a very transparent open dialogue about what works and what doesn’t.

You know, in the in the world that we live in today, you know, Mark Zuckerberg is on Capitol Hill testifying about, you know, this kind of lack of transparency in the sense that people can’t or don’t trust Facebook for a number of reasons. And Facebook’s not alone in this, by the way. Google, Twitter, any big tech company or centralized organization for the past several years has kind of adopted that model of being a bit secure and comfortable and not exposing their business models or rationale or, you know, what is their purpose for existing at all, right? And what does that mean for people? What’s that transaction? So I think there’s an opportunity for marketers to really just pull that apart and sort of rethink it a bit these days.

Kyle: Certainly. And with that, kinda like building off the idea of like, you know, finding out what works and what doesn’t work, like what sort of value do you think there is in experimentation, ultimately fight…you know, experiencing failure will take these learnings and do something else. Like, what sort of value do you place on that?

Daniel: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. I know that, you know, for example, the military often does something called an after-action debrief. So anytime there’s, you know, a battle or a skirmish, or you know, any kind of military action, there’s an emphasis on looking back and saying what works and what didn’t, you know? What do we succeed on, what do we need to fix? And there’s always something, and I think this is the opportunity for marketers to think about learning from those moments where it didn’t go the way that you wanted it to. And I think that, you know, that can be hard to expose that.

And there are companies that reward people for that kind of admission of, “I struggled with this. I didn’t get it right. Here’s what we learned. Let’s make sure we do it differently next time.” And I think that there’s a real opportunity for this kind of corporate culture to open that up and allow that to happen. But it’s very hard. I mean, people don’t want to be the first one to admit they didn’t get something right. But, you know, to kind of take that leap or to cross that threshold of opening yourself up, as somebody who has had to go through that process, I can tell you it’s rewarding on the other side.

Kyle: Absolutely.

Daniel: Yeah.

Kyle: Cool. And then actually one more parting question for us to let you go, and kind of building off of that, is with people wanting to experiment and try new things, like what’s your, like, prediction for like 2018 and then beyond, like what do you see, like one big thing that people may not be doing yet but need to like capitalize on and start being aware of?

Daniel: Sure. So I’ll throw blockchain in there just as an example, especially because Civil is building on this opportunity to decentralize a lot of the sort of audience engagement that’s been happening over the last, you know, sort of let’s call it 10 or 15 years of the web being more widely adopted. So I think that blockchain is one way to help people figure out their identity perhaps a little bit better, to engage with them in a way that’s a bit different than feeling like this siloed organization that’s trying to suck into one thing or one sort of authority and distributing that a little bit.

So at Civil, we’re building a platform for journalists to produce content for audiences and building much more of a direct relationship between journalists who are storytellers at their core and their audience. And I think that this kind of peer-to-peer world that we’re moving into…and funnily enough, this has been around for a long time, and in many ways the internet was sort of, you know, designed in this way at the beginning in this open way, and then it went into this very centralized kind of phase. And now, I think we’re collectively…there’s sort of this pulling this apart again that’s happening. So, yeah, there’s definitely an opportunity there.

Kyle: No, I mean that’s super interesting. And thank you so much for the time. I know I gotta let you get going now, but really appreciate you taking the time here and looking forward to having you on here again.

Daniel: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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