Non-Toxic Batteries for the People with Catherine Von Burg, CEO of SimpliPhi Power

Safer energy solutions help everyone reach their potential.

Catherine Von Burg’s career spans a diverse portfolio of strategic planning, policy development, executive management, and multidisciplinary team building in renewable energy, biomedical engineering and research, health and human services, environmental conservation, and education. A member of the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) board of directors, Catherine was selected for an exclusive entrepreneurship program hosted by the U.S. Department of State and the Unreasonable Group.

As CEO of SimpliPhi Power, she has recently been honored as part of the Meaningful Business 100 and was selected as a Global Power & Energy Elite in 2021, among many other awards. She speaks publicly, has published articles and white papers, and has spearheaded policy initiatives with organizations including CALSSA, Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Institute, Columbia University, NY March of Dimes Foundation, John Hopkins School of Biomedical Engineering, Wilderness Education Association and First 5 Commission of California.

On episode 140 of the Bigger Than Us podcast, Catherine sheds light on the dark side of cobalt and how it inspired SimpliPhi Power to set out to create batteries with better chemistry. She also shares how her life experiences helped her realize how basic resources like energy can help people succeed, and why her best advice is to trust your gut.

By spearheading battery solutions that are safer for people and the planet with the SimpliPhi team, Catherine is having an effect that is Bigger Than Us.

Take me to the podcast.

Non-Toxic Batteries for the People

Because we were looking at leveraging storage to create energy security access and the transition to cleaner energy, we could not justify using toxic chemistry that put people at risk, if we’re talking about energy security and resilience. If we’re talking about the transition to cleaner, sustainable, renewable energy, why would we start in toxic batteries? That was a fundamental decision for us at the beginning when we founded and it still is today.

Why We Needed Better Batteries

Stuart began to innovate around lithium iron phosphate. That’s a critical issue because in 2009, and 2010, early lithium-ion chemistries all relied on cobalt. And while cobalt allowed a certain amount of energy density that was advantageous, especially for small consumer electronics, cobalt itself is hazardous and toxic. It has a supply chain that is riddled with child labor, warlord activity, and it fundamentally puts the customer at risk.

If we’re talking about the transition to cleaner, sustainable, renewable energy, why would we start in toxic batteries?

In the early days, it was thought that size alone would mitigate the hazards of the cobalt, meaning small batteries that go into laptops and cell phones. But what we see is even if the laptop overheats, catches fire, a phone, the battery goes into what’s known as thermal runaway, it’s hazardous.

Looking at the platform technology that Stuart developed initially for mobile portable systems for the film movie industry, what I saw was the possibility of scaling up this platform using fundamentally safe, environmentally benign chemistry. And leveraging energy storage to create access to energy, then in 2010, to the 1.2 billion people that were marginalized simply because they didn’t have access to power, and then another 1.3 billion that had intermittent access to power.

Beyond Cobalt, Supply Chains, Infrastructure & Sustainability Matter

It was important to use something that was safe, inherently safe, non-hazardous. Something that did not use a supply chain that was leveraging child labor, slave labor, and begin to think about storage to help in the energy transition away from fossil fuels. To create access to energy to engage in economic development in some of the most remote territories in the world. And create energy independence.

Then also helping with the transition away from fossil fuels, leveraging wind and solar hydro, and playing a significant role in that transition, as well as just strengthening the grid, augmenting the grid that is failing more and more because of antiquated technology, infrastructure, and just the growing need for energy.

We’re concerned about supply chain issues, too. Our global footprint, the impact on people and communities from extraction to the refining manufacturing process.

Then how many years the battery storage will play a role in the market before it has to be thought to recycle. Our batteries are warranted for 10 years. And we’re looking at the Cradle to Cradle principles in terms of really having a sustainable solution.

The end of life is critical for our batteries. We’ve been in business 10 years now, going on 11. We still have batteries out in the field and will continue to. We are working actively with recyclers. Depending on where the batteries are, we’re in over 40 countries develop developing relationships with recyclers to ensure that the batteries and the raw materials that are valuable are being recycled responsibly.

We’re also working with some innovative startups that are developing processes for recycling lithium-ion and other types of batteries that create innovative ways in the recycling process to not use more toxic chemicals in the processing.

Energy Storage for Economic Security

The issue around intermittency is as important and significant for infrastructure, centralized grid, as it was for renewables back in 2010 when we founded. Intermittency is a fundamental issue in terms of energy security. We see this all over the US but also globally in terms of planned and unplanned power outages. Energy storage plays a huge role in economic security, certainly now economic recovery with COVID.

Energy is just the beginning. It’s the nexus of energy, food, water. If you have energy and you’re able to harvest from the sun and capture that energy, then you can have water filtration and water pumps, you can have basic lighting, and refrigeration for medical services or school systems and technology. It’s a multiplier, really.

Energy storage plays a huge role in economic security…

The IDEA

The IDEA is 1% of revenue. It’s part of our joining the UN Global Compact in 2020. Our sustainability report that we published for the first time. And it’s basically to show a commitment that we make on a financial basis, as well as a commitment and an invitation to our partners to join and participate in this open platform.

The IDEA is to create this open platform where other partners, other manufacturers can donate equipment, donate engineering services, work with us to create projects. For instance, in Haiti, or projects we have overseas. And also to create a platform where our customers can come. And so it’s either participants can receive or to give equipment and services to make some of these projects happen that are high impact.

An Idea Rooted in Real Life Experience

Being able to experience different types of educational systems, private versus public, and looking at kind of the impact on children in the system and teachers really has shaped how I view access to resources, generally. This idea of human potential which I really do believe in, there is such great human potential, and seeing the devastation, traveling all over the world, of what abject poverty can do, and that robs people, children, adults of their potential.

That is one of the fundamental precepts, I think in terms of founding this company in this belief in access to resources and creating an environment where everybody can reach their potential.

Technology Alone is Not Enough

Really, the future is not just about the technology, it’s about the regulatory environment, and really seeing how solutions that create a more sustainable approach to business to energy.

We all think about innovations and technology as if that’s, that’s enough, but it’s not. We are going up against very entrenched industries.

The economy itself around energy is shifting. That will just continue to take hold. Consumer demand and certainly consumers focused on their financial resources, especially with COVID and how tough things are right now, that is going to shift markets.

As I look into the future, there is more and more evidence that the way we do things currently, and have been, the damage to the environment, the damage to human health, that those costs are rising. But the economics themselves are playing out. There is a more sustainable future. I just hope that we can get there soon enough.

The economy itself around energy is shifting.

Parting Words of Wisdom

Trust your gut. There is so much information that we take in that is not conscious.

I think there’s sometimes an underestimation of the power of one’s sense of things, and the ability to trust on an intuitive level. And what I have found through the years when I have completely dismissed what I knew on a visceral level, because I allowed my heady arguments to come in. Very often, it was not the right decision. And I have seen over and over again, when people really trust their gut and what they know, on a visceral level because again, of having that information without consciously processing it. And that’s certainly played out in business decisions with the company.

The Full Transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited.

Host Raj Daniels 03:23

If you were asked to share something interesting about yourself, what would it be?

Catherine Von Burg 03:40

I grew up in England and the US. And as a result of European parents and traveling extensively, I have spent time through my teens and 20s and into my 30s even traveling and engaging in what many would consider extreme sports.

I never received formal training. So when I went whitewater kayaking down the Grand Canyon or deep-sea diving in Thailand, or crossing glaciers in the Swiss Alps, I did it without formal training. A lot of it was to just get out into elements in nature and take risks. And I think the mastery of my own fear, perhaps, and really having the grit and commitment to see something through.

Midstream I might think this was not a good idea, especially when I ran out of oxygen at 100 feet off an island in Thailand. There were risks I took. It’s funny I’d look back and it really wasn’t that I saw it as taking risks and conquering them at the time. It was just this enthusiasm to travel and to experience different people, different environments, and different natural elements, whether it was mountains or water, and the ability to deal with whatever came up sometimes in crisis.

And I think about that even now today, as CEO founding a company, the willingness to take risks and pay attention to feedback and to make decisions in the moment to see it through.

Host Raj Daniels 05:44

Where does this desire or drive to master your own fear come from?

Catherine Von Burg 05:53

Probably because of early experiences growing up. Living somewhat in a state of fear and uncertainty, not knowing, for example, sometimes where the next meal was coming from, or the next continent or household or school or parent was going to be there. And I would say much of what I’ve done is in spite of my own fear. I don’t do things out of fear, per se, but I’m not afraid to take risks. And I’m not afraid to test myself, test circumstances. And somewhat of an unyielding belief that it will turn out all right.

Host Raj Daniels 06:46

I love the idea of unyielding belief. I have this hypothesis that I’m kind of chewing on in my mind recently. And it’s regarding the education system and some of the struggles that students or children have once they come out of it. And so far, I’ve boiled it down to this is that the education system is linear, and life is not. And so what I found is that, and I spend a lot of time with young graduates, sometimes MBA students, where they’ve been presented with this particular pathway, if you will, of how things are going to be. And once they graduate, or come out into real life, life comes at them from all different directions. You know, this, this idea of life being volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous.

I too grew up in London, southeast London. And one of the things I look back and I’m extremely grateful to my parents for is that they exposed us to a lot of different opportunities. You know, travel included, my parents, my grandparents, or my parents, originally from East Africa. So we spent some time there, spent some time in Europe and in America. They exposed us to as many opportunities as possible. And I to find myself with the spirit, if you will, that things will turn out just because of the number of experiences that we’ve had as children and things did turn out.

Catherine Von Burg 08:08

Yes, for me, at least, having had some very difficult experiences in some respects where I had to rely on myself, but also acknowledging how important other people who touched my life and community very often not my family, per se, I think it has given me a sense of not necessarily confidence in myself to overcome everything. But almost as a sort of unyielding belief that, again, if you have the fortitude and commitment, and sometimes just grit that you can see it through.

And you talk about education, and that has certainly been a critical factor for me. I at times had the privilege of private school, also experienced public school, this issue of education and resources and seeing what happens in communities and to kids, who were not given certain resources and opportunities or even advantages.

Being able to experience different types of educational systems, private versus public, and looking at kind of the impact on children in the system and teachers really has shaped how I view access to resources, generally. This idea of human potential which I really do believe in, there is such great human potential, and seeing the devastation, traveling all over the world, of what abject poverty can do, and that robs people, children, adults of their potential.

That is one of the fundamental precepts, I think in terms of founding this company in this belief in access to resources and creating an environment where everybody can reach their potential.

Host Raj Daniels 10:23

Can you give the audience an overview of SimpliPhi Power and your role at the organization?

Catherine Von Burg 10:29

Yes, I’m one of the founders. I met our CTO, Stuart Lennox in 2009. And Bill Sechrest, who is now our chairman. And really looking at a platform technology that our CTO had developed using newer innovations and lithium-ion chemistry and technology battery storage.

Stuart began to innovate around lithium iron phosphate. And that’s a critical issue because in 2009, and 2010, early lithium-ion chemistries all relied on cobalt. And while cobalt allowed a certain amount of energy density that was advantageous, especially for small consumer electronics, cobalt itself is hazardous and toxic. It has a supply chain that is riddled with child labor, warlord activity, and it fundamentally puts the customer at risk.

In the early days, it was thought that size alone would mitigate the hazards of the cobalt, meaning small batteries that go into laptops and cell phones. But what we see is even if the laptop overheats, catches fire, a phone, the battery goes into what’s known as thermal runaway, it’s hazardous. And so looking at the platform technology that Stuart developed initially for mobile portable systems for the film movie industry, what I saw was the possibility of scaling up this platform using fundamentally safe, environmentally benign chemistry. And leveraging energy storage to create access to energy, then in 2010, to the 1.2 billion people that were marginalized simply because they didn’t have access to power, and then another 1.3 billion that had intermittent access to power.

So for me, it was looking at scaling up, which meant size alone would not mitigate any risk. So it was important to use something that was safe, inherently safe, non-hazardous. And that did not use a supply chain that was leveraging child labor, slave labor and begin to think about storage to help in the energy transition away from fossil fuels. And again, to create access to energy to engage in economic development in some of the most remote territories in the world. And create energy independence.

If you think about what’s happening today, 10 years later, 2020, 2021. The issue around intermittency is as important and significant for infrastructure, centralized grid, as it was for renewables back in 2010 when we founded. Intermittency is a fundamental issue in terms of energy security. We see this all over the US but also globally in terms of planned and unplanned power outages. Energy storage plays a huge role in economic security, certainly now economic recovery with COVID.

And then also helping with the transition away from fossil fuels, leveraging wind and solar hydro, and playing a significant role in that transition, as well as just strengthening the grid, augmenting the grid that is failing more and more because of antiquated technology, infrastructure and just the growing need for energy.

Host Raj Daniels 14:40

Can you explain to the audience what thermal runaway is?

Catherine Von Burg 14:47

People have probably experienced on a first-hand basis when you plug in your cell phone to charge it, or your laptop. Very often people can feel how warm, if not hot, their electronics can become. That is sort of the beginnings of potentially thermal runaway when you are pushing electrons into a battery, depending on the type of chemistry, other materials used in the construction, it can generate heat.

Depending again on the chemistry and quality of materials, that heat can then rise and potentially go into a state of runaway. The thermal runaway, where you cannot prevent or stop that heat from rising to the point that the batteries can actually burst into flames and explode. And unfortunately, an example like that goes to the surprise Arizona battery multi megawatt-hour battery that went into thermal runaway and caused a fire and explosion and put first responders in the emergency room.

For us as a company, because we were looking at leveraging storage to create energy security, access the transition to cleaner energy, we could not justify using toxic chemistry that put people at risk, if we’re talking about energy security and resilience. If we’re talking about the transition to cleaner, sustainable, renewable energy, why would we start in toxic batteries? So that was a fundamental decision for us at the beginning when we founded and it still is today.

Host Raj Daniels 16:45

Thank you for clarifying that. And is this something similar to what happened with the Samsung phones?

Catherine Von Burg 16:51

The battery fires typically happen due to a number of issues. But first and foremost, if it is a lithium-ion battery that utilizes cobalt, NMC, or NCA. And then the issue with a thermal runaway is even if thermal protections are added, fire suppression, the chemistry itself can overwhelm all the ancillary equipment and additional costs built into a system to create safety.

Again, for us, we decided to eliminate all of those ancillary costs and equipment to overcome or mitigate a fundamentally hazardous chemistry. And so that is why our solutions do not pose that threat.

We’re concerned about supply chain issues, too. Our global footprint, the impact on people and communities from extraction to the refining manufacturing process. Then how many years the battery storage will play a role in the market before it has to be thought to recycle. So our batteries are warranted for 10 years. And we’re looking at the Cradle to Cradle principles in terms of really having a sustainable solution.

Host Raj Daniels 18:19

And my next question was going to be regarding end of life since there’s going to be a large issue with you know, what do we do with the batteries once their life is over with? What kind of process are you putting in place to address that?

Catherine Von Burg 18:32

The end of life is critical for our batteries. We’ve been in business 10 years now, going on 11. We still have batteries out in the field and will continue to. We are working actively with recyclers. So depending on where the batteries are, we’re in over 40 countries develop developing relationships with recyclers to ensure that the batteries and the raw materials that are valuable are being recycled responsibly.

We’re also working with some innovative startups that are developing processes for recycling lithium-ion and other types of batteries that create innovative ways in the recycling process to not use more toxic chemicals in the processing. And I think as the energy storage industry continues to grow, these types of innovations and the recycling and end of life.

There are different types of end-of-life issues. For instance, car batteries may have an earlier end of life because they don’t have the ramp rate and the power available after being used in a car, but they may have 30 to 40% capacity left, and they can be repurposed.

So for our company, we’re always looking at the recycling, but also batteries we’ve used in our test facility and out in the field for test field testing. We very often donate those to projects, high-impact projects in other parts of the world where they will have a big impact in terms of providing access through energy in remote locations, hospitals, schools that don’t necessarily have the funds to purchase. And so we’ve set up donation programs, and we’ve enlisted other companies to join us in these efforts as well.

Host Raj Daniels 20:45

So you mentioned hospitals and schools. Who are your ideal customers right now?

Catherine Von Burg 20:50

We have projects all over the world. And honestly, our ideal customer is really anybody who is looking to solve issues around how they utilize energy, how they generate their own energy, how they store it and use it.

We work with commercial customers in residential and CNI. So commercial and industrial, both on-grid and off-grid. We work with hospitals, schools, clinics. But we also work with a number of partners that are looking for solutions and have a very high-impact humanitarian or a first responder element to it.

In 2021, we have formalized a program that we started since we founded. Always taking about 1% of our top-line revenue, and dedicating that to high-impact projects. So very often, that can be schools and clinics and hospitals in remote locations, and the 1% that we’ve dedicated to donating energy storage. And now we have a formal platform on our website: The IDEA. The IDEA is to create this sort of open platform where other partners, other manufacturers can donate equipment, donate engineering services, work with us to create projects. For instance, in Haiti, or projects we have overseas. And also to create a platform where our customers can come. And so it’s either participants can receive or to give equipment and services to make some of these projects happen that are high impact.

The idea is a 1% of revenue. It’s part of our joining the UN Global Compact in 2020. Our sustainability report that we published for the first time. And it’s basically to show a commitment that we make on a financial basis, as well as a commitment and an invitation to our partners to join and participate in this open platform.

Host Raj Daniels 23:30

You know, Catherine, I’m sensing this underlying theme, which between giving back and the word impact, which leads me to my next question about the why behind what you do. What motivated you, what drove you to found this company, and what keeps you going? What’s your why?

Catherine Von Burg 23:53

My why is people. And again, I think it goes back to early experiences as a child. The contrast between having great privilege and opportunity to then not sometimes not having enough food or money, and this issue of subsistence or just surviving.

Seeing the impact on people traveling for example, in college, I went to India and traveled and studied with an anthropology professor who had actually been a missionary for about 25 years in India. That trip had an enormous impact on me. To see the difference in communities and people and especially children, when they are provided just basic access to basic resources. That has never left me.

Everything about this company is really about the people we serve. Our customers. The people and the impact and being able to participate such that we make a positive impact.

Energy is just the beginning. It’s the nexus of energy, food, water. If you have energy and you’re able to harvest from the sun and capture that energy, then you can have water filtration and water pumps, you can have basic lighting, and refrigeration for medical services or school systems and technology. It’s a multiplier, really.

So for me going back to your question, it’s people and seeing the impact of bringing resources and opportunity and seeing how people can achieve their potential. And without those resources, they’re really robbed in real ways, because of geopolitical forces, economic forces, whether it’s systemic racism, and classism, and all these issues that come to bear on people’s lives that really have nothing to do with who they are fundamentally as people.

Host Raj Daniels 23:57

I appreciate you sharing that. In my research, I found that you sit on the boards of Alegria Farmacy and the Footprint Project. When you started SimpliPhi, what made you decide to take the route of attacking these problems via a for-profit versus nonprofit?

Catherine Von Burg 26:54

I have a fundamental belief. And it was a bit of an experiment, meaning, this idea that corporations companies, in my view, have a tremendous opportunity, but really a responsibility to make an impact. And this idea that companies could have an integrated bottom line. It’s typically referred to as a triple bottom line — people, planet, profit. That view is seen almost as something that is relegated for large corporations.

Part of founding this company was about innovation, certainly in the technology, and everything that we’ve done through our manufacturing, and innovations in the tech and the r&d itself. But innovation really needs to take place in every facet, every department, every function of a company, from governance on down. So it’s been a grand experiment. Can a start-up—and especially a startup and an early stage company that has never taken VC funding—a startup company that relies on revenue, which means we have to be solving real pain points around the issues of access to energy, we have to solve real problems. If we are a company that won’t take VC investment, and we’re going to grow year over year, based on our revenue. It was really to prove out this idea that companies, startups early stage well established, can execute on a triple bottom line, and that each decision critical decision is viewed through those three foundations equally.

It’s not been easy bootstrapping, leveraging these principles, but again, that was part of the experiment, and a part of the innovation and proving out what all the data points to is that companies that have a triple bottom line are more successful. Their ROI is is greater, stronger.

We’re also a very diverse company. And so from the diversity in terms of gender, and backgrounds, African American, Mexican, Asian other parts of the world. We probably have the most diverse team of any company in the tech sector. And some of it was part of that grand experiment. But again, if you look at the data, companies that have more diverse teams are more successful. The data points to that over and over again.

But many companies, and even at a legislative level states, our federal government is having to legislate, to ensure these numbers and these principles that are incorporated into our businesses. And yet, if people were paying attention to the data, they would be incorporating these critical principles themselves, because that’s what the data shows. It is good business to have diverse teams. It is good business to have a bottom line that goes just beyond profit.

Host Raj Daniels 30:40

I love the idea of viewing the company’s decisions through the triple bottom line. I looked at your LinkedIn bio, and I know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. But I see that you don’t have a chemistry background or are not an engineer by training. How long did it take you to come up to speed regarding the technology? You’re extremely fluent in it, obviously well versed. What was that learning curve like?

Catherine Von Burg 31:08

So I spent years starting at Columbia undergrad in the physiology labs and really became interested in biomedical engineering. From Columbia, I went to Rockefeller Institute, then Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering department. So I’ve worked in very large University Hospitals and research institutions.

Some of the principles and discipline that I really developed through years of biomedical research, those same principles apply in terms of just technology in general, from a conceptual idea and idea and being able to create r&d, right, the research and development and all the trial and error that goes into bringing this idea to fruition and ultimately, to commercialization to the market. That is very much what the technology and our company has been about is intense r&d, and having an eye on how are we going to commercialize those, creating a really high standard in terms of performance. It’s very similar, actually, in terms of the discipline behind it.

Host Raj Daniels 32:28

It’s interesting, and staying on the subject of learning, what are some of the most valuable lessons that you’ve learned about yourself on your journey?

Catherine Von Burg 32:36

I think this goes back to my comments about traveling and kind of some of the extreme sports. But even in business, that there’s really never a right or wrong way to approach something, necessarily. Because there are so many possibilities between point A and point B, very often, that it’s really the follow-through and the commitment to the decision that’s made. So this idea of right and wrong, there’s got to be a right way to do something. It really is about the commitment to seeing it through.

Host Raj Daniels 33:21

Catherine, you’re speaking my language. Speaking of seeing it through. Magic wand, it’s 2030. What does the future hold for SimpliPhi Power?

Catherine Von Burg 33:35

Well, we are already a global company and continue to not just expand into new territories, but also to establish more depth. Really, the future is not just about the technology, it’s about the regulatory environment, and really seeing how solutions that create a more sustainable approach to business to energy. And that as much as the regulatory environment, which has been a bit surprising in terms of how challenging that in itself has been. We all think about innovations and technology as if that’s, that’s enough, but it’s not. We are going up against very entrenched industries.

And so, as I see all of this playing out and the transition to more renewable energy, more sustainable energy, but also sustainable business models, we can already see it taking hold that consumer demand, consumer choice, very often just based on the economics, so people who may not buy into climate change or think that CO2 levels are of concern. If we look at the performance of gas and oil stocks and the S&P 500, over the last five years, certainly even before COVID, they were losing value.

The economy itself around energy is shifting. And that will just continue to take hold. Consumer demand and certainly consumers focused on their financial resources, especially with COVID and how tough things are right now, that is going to shift markets. Even though we still look at the subsidies that are going to coal, gas, and oil.

I know that Washington loves to talk about entitlement programs. And very often they use that to talk about entitlement programs that are the safety nets for people. But what about the entitlement programs for large corporate interests and entrenched industries like the billions that go to subsidies for gas, oil, and coal? These types of subsidies are in corporate entitlement, if you will, skew markets, and really prevent market forces of driving transitions and adoption of new technology, again, that is already penciling out even with those subsidies.

As I look into the future, there is just more and more evidence that the way we do things currently, and have been, the damage to the environment, the damage to human health, that those costs are rising. But the economics themselves are playing out. There is a more sustainable future. I just hope that we can get there soon enough.

Host Raj Daniels 37:13

Well, I look forward to the changing market forces or market winds, if you will, and you and SimpliPhi Power being able to capture them. So my last question is any could be professional or personal. But if you could share some advice, or words of wisdom with the audience, what would it be?

Catherine Von Burg 37:32

I have been asked this question, actually in Germany by some young women who were looking at me as if I had answers, perhaps because of my age, perhaps because of the position with the company. But what I said at that moment has stuck with me and has really changed the way I look at how I process information. And really, it’s to quite simply trust your gut, there is so much information that we take in that is not conscious.

I think there’s sometimes an underestimation of the power of one’s sense of things, and the ability to trust on an intuitive level. And what I have found through the years when I have completely dismissed what I knew on a visceral level, because I allowed my heady arguments to come in. Very often, it was not the right decision. And I have seen over and over again, when people really trust their gut and what they know, on a visceral level because again, of having that information without consciously processing it. And that’s certainly played out in business decisions with the company.

Host Raj Daniels 39:07

You know, it’s interesting you say that, and again, I really appreciate that advice regarding following your gut or intuition. My middle daughter this morning was telling me that, you know, the brain makes something like, I don’t know, she said, a trillion calculations or computations per second. And I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I think the brain being able to take in all that information and filter out what’s quote, unquote, best for you ultimately trying to survive is, in my opinion, one of the most reliable ways to move ahead.

Catherine Von Burg 39:39

Yes, and, of course, data, facts, objective data, and information absolutely matters. But the judgments that we make about that data and the extent to which we can be aware of those judgments and evaluating, and seeing our understanding what those judgments are about the data. That’s all the sort of computational exercise that is going on in the background as your daughter says.

We process so much information, and who we are as people infuses everything we do. And so the more we can understand about ourselves, and value that in any decision-making process, along with the feedback loops that come from objective data, it’s a powerful combination. It’s not all entirely rational.

Host Raj Daniels 40:44

You know, it’s funny, you say that because there’s a lot of research right now and studies going on around data. And when you look at studies regarding fundraising or investing, a lot of people will say that they’re focused on the data. But more and more studies are proving, it’s about how they feel about the data. There such a strong emotional component. You can give two sets of individuals the same data, and they will come away with, you know, different feelings about the data and how they behave in that data.

I have a great little book on my bookshelf, it’s called How to Lie With Statistics. It’s quite an old book, but it’s a fun book to kind of look through. But I strongly believe that yes, while data and there is some objectivity to data, it’s been shown over and over again, emotions, you know, the person riding the elephant, you know, the emotional elephant will override data almost always.

Catherine Von Burg 41:38

Yes. And that goes back to, again, really trying to understand who we are as people, first and foremost, ourselves. But then in understanding others in business, it’s all about people and relationships, and certainly for our company, looking at who our customers are. They are critical to everything we do, and the relationships that we have with them, trying to understand what drives them, motivates them.

Well, that starts with understanding what drives us, motivates us. And you’re absolutely right. People have feelings, I call them filters. We all filter information through something that’s very personal. And that’s why people in the same room can hear two very different statements. Because they’ve run out through their own personal filters, the extent to which we’re aware of what those filters are, how we might create a bias because of our own personal filters, our beliefs, our worldview, then the more we can kind of overcome or at least see them for what they are.

The emotional response is critical, but understanding what that is and how it might skew an event or data or a decision that needs to be made. That’s what I’m talking about when I say really not just trust your gut, but know what it is, what your filters are, and how you might be skewing, and embrace that and incorporate it and be aware of it.


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Raj Daniels

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