How Cultivating Creativity Drives Critical Thinking and Innovation

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Innovation and critical thinking are key skillsets in business, but have you ever wondered what makes them possible?

The answer is creativity.

In speaking with the co-founder of acclaimed off-broadway show Blue Man Group, which was acquired in 2017 by one of the most renowned entertainment companies out there — Cirque du Soleil — whose shows have been seen by over 160 million people, Matt Goldman shared how a horrific school experience inspired him to co-founder the Blue School, a progressive independent school in New York City with over 300 students that explores creative ways to educate the leaders of the future.

Tune in to learn about Matt’s fascinating entrepreneurial journey and:

      • How you can harness your creative juices to drive innovation
      • How traditional schooling might be stifling creativity
      • What it takes to overcome the “real” entrepreneurial journey
      • Thriving in the face of learning disabilities
      • How a fun social game can foster creativity in ways you wouldn’t expect (and it’s up for grabs!)

Connect with Matt Goldman:

Matt Goldman’s biography:

A few of Matt Goldman’s titles include award-winning writer and performer, Grammy-nominated musician and composer, co-founder of the international theatrical sensation Blue Man Group, CEO of its parent organization Blue Man Productions, and co-founder of the NYC-based Blue School.

Goldman spent his boyhood in New York City, with parents who encouraged him to learn about a diverse range of interests. After earning an MBA degree, he began a career in software development, only to step away from the growing industry to follow where the Blue Man path would lead. His business knowledge assisted the friends early on, guiding them to make decisions in regard to the longevity and ownership of their creative work.

After nearly twenty years at the Blue Man helm with Chris Wink and Phil Stanton, Goldman made the decision to follow his passion for learning and education. The threesome teamed up with other artists and educators to form Blue School in New York City. With over 300 students enrolled in Pre-K through 8th grade, the school is designed to reimagine a more complete, balanced and exuberant approach to education. Goldman serves as Board Vice-Chair and co-Founder of the school.

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Full Transcription:

Matt Goldman: It was thrilling. We were trying to create a movement, so to speak, and that we were trying to inspire creativity in ourselves and our audiences.

Tanya: That’s Mike Goldman, co-founder of Blue Man Group, an off-Broadway production that has become a sensation known for its humor, blue body paint, and wild stunts. The show Blue Man has been viewed by millions in New York, Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Orlando and Berlin. In 2017, Cirque du Soleil, the internationally renowned entertainment company, whose shows have been seen by upwards of 160 million around the world, acquired Blue Man Group. Additionally, Matt founded the Blue School, a progressive independent school for kids aged two through eighth grade, based in Lower Manhattan.

As a seasoned executive and creative innovator, Matt’s TED talk titled the Search for A-ha Moments has been viewed by millions and touches a very important subject and that is how traditional school systems can mislabel people and limit true learning.

You co-founded Blue Man Group 31 years ago, which seems like an eternity and Blue Man Group is famously known for the Blue Man Show in New York particularly, where I know you’re based and I’m based. What was your journey like leading up to co-founding the business? What were you doing before then?

Matt Goldman: One of my two partners, Chris Wink and I, had gone to school together since we were 12 years old. It was always so interesting because both our families always said, oh you guys are going to do something together when you get out of college. We never really put any stock to that and then lo and behold that’s exactly what happened. I was personally doing – I was in the software space in the very earliest days of personal computer software, where we were actually doing Apple IIE on 3.5” floppy disks. It was crazy.

One of the reasons I got into that in the first place is because I didn’t have the metabolism to be an apprentice or a decade or two in more traditional industries. What I love about software, even though I myself didn’t even really use a computer, is that you could be on an even playing field at 22 years old with someone who is 52 years old because we all had the exact same historical background in the industry. What I was doing was more like a record producer. I wasn’t writing any of the code, I wasn’t writing the documentation, but I was getting all of those people together and getting the product out on to the marketplace.

At that time, I had created a personal mission statement of making ideas real, or making ideas happen. We would sit around, we would brainstorm with a group of really smart people and 16 to 28 weeks later, there would be new software, first-time ever out on the shelves. When Chris Wink and my partner Phil Stanton and I started to meet and have these fun salons in New York City in the mid-‘80s, the idea of Blue Man started to germinate. That personal mission statement of making ideas happen applied perfectly to starting Blue Man as it did making software.

Tanya: That’s so interesting. You said you had a fun salon. Is that what you called it?

Matt Goldman: Well, we had these salons in our apartment, where the only rule was to bring something fun and/or interesting to the table. It was the ‘80s, it was a crazy time. There seemed to be a dearth of music in New York City and there was a lot of – it was the Reagan era; it was supply side economics and it was like a whole cultural – it wasn’t fitting who we were hoping to – the time we were hoping to enter into as young people. I had seen the ‘60s. Coincidentally, we had all had older siblings, so even though we were all born in the very beginning of the decade, we saw the ‘60s through very young eyes, through older siblings and through our activist parents.

Then the ‘70s. We were still only in high school but it was Studio 54 and the sexual revolution and the gay revolution. It was just an explosive time. We went to college and go out and we go, okay, now it’s our time. It was Reagan and dual-income-no-children and yuppie, and all the music scene seemed to be happening in England or in Seattle. Rather than sit around and complain about it, what we wanted to do was have these salons where the only rule was just bring something that was interesting, fun, exciting. It doesn’t matter what it was. I could be something you wrote, something you read, a conversation overheard, something you saw, a photograph. It doesn’t matter because we felt like we were creative people but we just weren’t trained in any specific artform, other than Chris who was a very accomplished drummer, but still maybe not even accomplished enough to perform in a philharmonic or in a society recognized context.

Tanya: What is one of the things that you remember that was brought to the fun table, which, by the way, I think is so much fun. I might actually have to steal that for my fun salon one night.

Matt Goldman: Well, it’s open architecture, so we have no corner on the market. It wouldn’t even be stealing, it would be just generative, creative – we certainly feel like the more creativity out in the world, the more people tapping into their own personal creativity, the more innovation, that’s really what it’s all about. If you’re going to call it stealing, steal away because we have no proprietary rights to any of it.

There was a lot of storytelling. There was a lot of ideas about our feelings about music or performance. It was interesting, almost anyone was invited, meaning we didn’t really – it was like, bring friends, bring people we don’t know but somehow through it all, myself and Chris and Phil were the through lines. We were there almost always and then one thing went to another went to another. We also had this super unique skill of Chris and Phil could catch things in their mouths really well and I was really good at throwing things super accurately.

Tanya: What a match!

Matt Goldman: Yeah. It was crazy. You never realized that all those hours of darts in college –

Tanya: Amounted to something, yes.

Matt Goldman: Right, right, there you are. For them, they worked for a catering company together and because they could catch in their mouths, they had this game that whenever they came through the doors into the kitchen of the catering company, the chefs would throw food at them to catch in their mouths. They were constantly practicing and I was constantly practicing and then we just brought it all together. In some ways, that was one of the earliest things that Blue Men ever did, was catch things in their mouths.

Later, as we started to realize that we were as much nouvelle Vaudeville as anything because it was hard to label what we were doing, someone who was smarter and wiser than us explained to us that the thing that made Vaudevillians was they could do these skills and start a show with something that no one else could do, whether it was plate spinning or sword swallowing or fire eating. That’s how that tradition came out. For us, opening the show with drumming with paint coming off the – and then catching stuff in our mouths, we learned about it after the fact but it made sense and resonated and helped to guide us as we went forward.

Tanya: That’s amazing that you used that as inspiration for Blue Man. Just to get into Blue Man a little bit. What you have accomplished in the performing arts field by co-founding Blue Man is pretty unbelievable. Just for those that don’t know, as a background you built this unbelievable performing arts company. The show that has been viewed by millions. You exited the business, or you transitioned out, and we’ll get into that, in 2010, but in 2017, the business that you co-founded was acquired by one of the largest multibillion dollar circus companies, or performance companies out there called Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil is actually quite – I have a very sweet spot for it because I’m from Montreal where it originally is from so have a lot of respect for Guy Laliberté, who’s the founder, and really built this world-class company. What was your journey, as you started Blue Man Group and scaled that up and ran it for a number of years, up until you transitioned out in 2010?

Matt Goldman: Yeah so that’s a big question and I guess it’s an entry point question to what our journey was. I guess that I would start with, we were super excited to be artist-owned and operated show or organization. We were super lucky in that we built it little bits at a time, little bits at a time. Then once we got to the Astor Place Theater in New York City, which is a tiny little theater, 300 seats, we were able to do that almost completely on our own. We did have so-called producers for three years but then they were finished and so then we were completely in control of the organization. After that, we had no agents or managers. There was financial partners in some of the shows but really passive investors. That was once piece of it that was extraordinary to the journey.

We had all these people come in and say, we could produce you and you could spend all your time on the creative stuff on stage and we’ll take care of all of the business stuff. Really for us, they were all completely intertwined, they were integrated. We had a show that had no [fourth wall]. We were trying to create an emotional state and an emotional climax at the end, and that really wasn’t possible to obtain, to authentically get the entire audience to that place, unless the people backstage and the band and the people in the office all felt good about what was going on. Really took our time to build things slowly and methodically but to be able to be the decision-makers and run the organization. It was thrilling

At a certain point, two hours every night on stage was the quietest, most relaxing of our entire days, which would start at 10:00 in the morning and end at 01:00 in the morning for years and years and years. Producing, directing, writing, doing all the PR, building the organization and then performing. It was thrilling. We were trying to create a movement, so to speak, in that we were trying to inspire creativity in ourselves and our audiences. In order to authentically create that emotional apex, that emotional climax in the show every night, it had to be right for everyone backstage, for the band, for even the people in the offices. It was intuitive that early on we had to do the producing and the directing and the performance and keep control of it. You couldn’t create that good feeling and that emotional apex on stage every night if you didn’t have a positive good feeling backstage as well.

Tanya: Yeah that makes sense, that it really comes down to authenticity.

Matt Goldman: [17:24] for a slower growth – we always were conscious – we didn’t want to have the extreme fast big growth because that could lead to a big fast fall. We identified that we wanted to be creating a Blue Man character for decades and so we were okay with a positive growth curve that was more gradual and deliberate because it was a great lifestyle too.

Tanya: Yeah. You were doing it for the passion and the creative freedom and the self-expression and it was just such a great outlet and platform. That makes total sense. Was there a point in that growth curve that you thought, oh my God, we’re going to go out of business or times got really tough.

Matt Goldman: Well, yes. There’s an alternate version of just that. When we opened Boston and Chicago, we had financial partners; people who put up money and then you shared the profits. When we opened our third show in Chicago, at the Briar Street Theater, we decided to go it alone. We said let’s just completely self-finance this and have none – and our organization wasn’t quite mature yet and we didn’t have all of the financial controls in place. We didn’t have a formal, formal business offer or general manager, accountant. We did things more intuitively.

About a month before we opened, I started to feel like we were about to run out of money. I got the people in the office together and I said, listen, we don’t really have a sense of how much money we have. We don’t have a sense of how much we’ve spent and we don’t have a sense of what’s left to spend to get us to opening night. Let’s just take a quick pause and try to figure all that out. The answer was that we were going to completely run out of money a week before opening night. For all the entrepreneurs out there, you all know that missing payroll is the ultimate, ultimate kiss of death, and we certainly didn’t want to do that to all those people who were working 120 hours a week and giving their heart and soul.

We went to a bunch of banks, no one would lend us any money. We maxed out our credit cards. My partners and I got together and we said, okay, we’re going to miss it by a week, what should we do. Then we decided you know what? Our dress rehearsals are just as entertaining as previews, so let’s do something that’s probably almost never happened in theater. Let’s take out an ad in the paper and announce that Blue Man is going to open a week early, a week ahead of schedule and just charge for what is in the schedule, our own internal schedule, as dress rehearsals. We’ll just charge for the dress rehearsals and pray that we can generate enough income.

Then on top of that, it was crazier because we were so on the edge, we did it on a – we opened on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday ahead of our previews and in order to make it all work, we did double shows. We did two shows Friday, two shows Saturday, two shows Sunday because we needed six – the revenue from six shows. Guess what? It worked.

Tanya: Oh my God that’s amazing!

Matt Goldman: We got nearly full houses. We did six shows. We didn’t know how we were going to get through it. We got through it. We met payroll. Then that show was sold out for months and months and months and months after that.

Tanya: What an incredible story and comeback. By the way, for anybody that has been running a business, most people have to deal with that at some point. It’s just so amazing that you were able to get your team aligned and push ahead of schedule. Book the seats and sell the tickets and not only do one show per day but two shows per day, so that you can meet the financial responsibilities that you were already committed to. That’s brilliant. Awesome, awesome.

Matt Goldman: Well, it definitely falls into necessity as the mother of invention type of thinking.

Tanya: Oh yeah.

Matt Goldman: It also taught us a lot about messaging and spin and marketing. You could go out and say, we’re about to run out of cash so we’ll come to these shows and pay for it or we could say, we’re so far ahead of our curve that we’re ready to open a week early and get this show into Chicago because we can’t wait.

Tanya: The demand is too high; we are now fully sold out or whatever. Yeah, that’s amazing.

Matt Goldman: We didn’t even go that route. We just could have, strictly based on our own excitement to get the show in front of audiences in Chicago.

Tanya: That’s smart. That’s so cool. Do you remember a point in the business where there was an inflection point where it’s like struggle, struggle, struggle and then something is just working and clicking?

Matt Goldman: Yeah. That’s so interesting you ask because our New York show opened before Malcolm Gladwell had written Tipping Point. We experienced the tipping point moment before anyone was calling it tipping point, but it made it so interesting because then we could say in that controversy as well, is he brilliant or is he not so much. We were like, oh no, I’m tipping point, he’s nailed it and this is how. When we opened the New York show, no one knew about us. We had done some street performance. We had done some stuff in the not-for-profit spaces like PS122 and Dixon Place and a bunch of underground Speakeasys that don’t even exist today, so no one knew us and selling 300 tickets a night is no easy task.

We were basically half empty for the first six months of the run and then we had been on a really popular show in Brazil and we had been on a really popular show in Italy and in Germany. They were just looking for content so they come to New York and look at these crazy blue guys. Then we performed on the sixth episode of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show because he had just taken over from Johnny Carson. Then we had also done a performance on Kathy and Regis. We went from a solid 50% empty, or 50% full, for six months and then literally in one week, we went from half empty to sold out and then sold out for three, four months in advance. It changed, literally, in one week. All I can say is that I think it was a confluence of these people coming, largely, from Brazil, Italy, Germany, Israel and Japan and then the American audience, but it was a tipping point moment. There was nothing linear about it. We were just stuck on a flatline, 50% sold and then in one week, we were sold out and never looked back.

Tanya: What role did the people from Italy and Japan and Brazil play in that tipping point do you think?

Matt Goldman: Well because we had the unique and rare feature of the Blue Men come out into the audience every night at the end of the show to connect. It was always strange for us that you would pour your heart and soul out on stage for an hour and forty five minutes, two hours, and then just disappear into this little dressing room and everyone just leaves. You get no interaction, no feedback. That’s what’s typical in theater. We were just like, forget that. It was just run off stage, run around the back, [through the] hallways of the theater and get into the lobby before the first people exit and then we can interact with them. It was tricky because we really didn’t talk but we got to connect.

Through that experience, we were realizing that a huge percentage of our audience on any given night, 30, 40% of our audience was from those other countries. Really, this was all pre, I don’t want to say pre-internet because there was an internet, but it was certainly pre-social media and it was before the internet was replacing word of mouth. This is still – you’re in the early ‘90s at this point and straight through all the ‘90s, where you’re really hearing it from a friend. Oh my God, you’ve got to go see this show! Then the people who are more local, you’ve got to see the show, you can’t – I’ll go back with you. That was another phenomenon.

Later, we were to learn that on Broadway, basically you’re at about 1%, some shows have almost a 2% repeat customer. Anyone in the audience, about 1 to 2% has seen the show before. At Blue Men, our repeat customer was more in the 20% range.

Tanya: Wow.

Matt Goldman: Yeah, it was crazy.

Tanya: Wow that’s incredible. You know what? So business savvy of you guys to really understand who are your initial customers. By getting actually out near the door and connecting with them. Really cool.

Matt Goldman: Right, but you call that business savvy but you can put that label on it retroactively. The truth is it was selfish. We just didn’t want to do the show and then be alone. It was a show about connection and so we wanted to connect, so really it was just like, come on, let’s go meet the people we just had this experience with.

Tanya: Well, it was serendipitously a strategic business move. In 2010, you transitioned out of the business to co-found another business, a school, which we’re going to get into. Very interesting. What prompted that transition?

Matt Goldman: Well, again, there’s so many ways to answer that, and I know for the six people who started Blue School, they would all answer it in very different ways. For four of us, we had little tiny – we had babies, so we started to ask ourselves – well, I can only speak for myself. I started to ask myself, do I want my child to have the same educational experience that I did? That was an easy answer. The answer was no. It’s pretty well-documented, I talked about how school was really a very unpleasant, unsatisfying experience for me. Very difficult: emotionally difficult, academically difficult. Only to learn much later that I probably had several learning differences that weren’t even in the vernacular back when I was going to school.

I just wanted, for my own child, not to – you’re 6, you’re 9, you’re 12. This should be the most joyful, fun time of your life, 18, 22, you’re not having to –

Tanya: Be responsible.

Matt Goldman: Be responsible and all those kinds of things. You’re learning like a sponge and your brain is developing, so why, why should school be drudgery? It shouldn’t be. That was my feeling. We, sort of, all circled around to wanting to create either the fantasy school that we want for our own children or the fantasy school that we wish we had gone to ourselves. That would be one that would have a balance of academic mastery because we were all writers. We all were entrepreneurs. We were all – you can’t devalue the importance of literacy and math and knowing world history and all those things. Balancing academic mastery with creative thinking and what was at the time being referred to as social intelligence, we refer to it now as self and social intelligence.

Balancing academic mastery, creative thinking and self and social intelligence to really address the whole child, where you can flourish as a person. Look at the world through, especially as a young person, through questions, through an enquiry approach and work together to find the next question. One question leads to another question leads to another question and you never know where it’s going to go, if you’re approaching learning in that way. It just turns out that most great teachers, that’s exactly how they want to teach. Most of them have been trained that way but then they got into the real world and they get a curriculum and it’s all locked in and it’s really so often about acquiring – drilling and testing. The great thing for us is now that we have graduates, this balanced approach is proving that kids are actually testing much higher than their peer groups. They’re in great demand in high schools and other programs because they’ve learned in this way.

Tanya: Yeah, I also have three kids: two twins and one three-year old, twins are two. That same question that you were asking yourself, do I really want my child to have the same education that I did, I’m asking myself now. There’s something broken with our education system, really fundamentally from a financial standpoint. Certainly university. People spend all this time at uni and really get in tremendous debt and the cost of it has been increasing substantially over the years. Also to your point, it somehow caps creativity. Does it really promote problem-solving or curiosity? It’s more about, here’s what you need to learn, learn it, we’ll test it and then you move on to the next. Then most of that you don’t even retain. It’s like, okay – I don’t quite remember what I did in my school.

Is having your child really the motivation that pushed you to decide to transition out of Blue Man?

Matt Goldman: First of all, I agree with every single word that you just stated. I think that what happened, it was a bunch of roads leading to this path in that sure, having a child was a big motivator. The fact that Blue Man Group had established and was – it had proved to be an attractor for people who wanted to be creative, who wanted to be passionate about creativity and innovation. One of our questions early on was, all these things that had Blue Man Group be so attractive to so many people, are those things teachable? Fifteen years ago, there really weren’t answers yet to is creativity teachable, is innovation teachable.

Even back 15 years ago, there was a question of whether you can teach empathy and compassion. Because we were Blue Man Group and because we had got access in the pop culture world and we were able to approach the smartest people in education and psychology and developmental sciences and ask them these very questions. Basically, is creativity, is innovation, compassion, empathy, are these teachable things. The good news is that right about then, people were coalescing around the answer was yes, probably, but it would have to be done in just the right way and just – really apply science to it rather than 150 years of only – and I don’t mean this in any disparaging way, but instead of only the progressive education, which has sort of – but adding the latest breakthroughs in neuroscience, in developmental psychology and educational technology add it in.

People like Sir Ken Robinson and Dr. Daniel Siegel and all sorts of super great, smart people, when we approached them and asked them these questions, they were saying that we think that the answer is yes, that these things are teachable. We said, the invitation here is you’re a writer and a lecturer and a researcher, we could have your work show up in our classrooms, if you want to come on board in some capacity, as an Advisory Board member, a Board member, a friend of the school. In so many instances, we got people to just say, yes. They accepted our invitation right in the moment because what a rare opportunity for someone who writes books and lectures, to have their work be literally show up on the classroom walls, through the work of the kids.

Tanya: Is there a specific reason why your school focuses on children aged two through eighth or ninth grade?

Matt Goldman: Yeah. There’s several reasons for that. It’s almost like because we’re in New York City is almost the biggest one. I think if we were in Madison, Wisconsin, we might have gone through 12. Listen, just like Blue Man Group, we started Blue School with pure passion. We had no business plan. We had no funding. We just were like let’s start a creativity center. Let’s invite some people we know, and they can invite some people we know. It was literally that, and after a couple months of these 15 families being together, they were like oh, no, no, this is a school. We got to hire a teacher. Let’s get going.

As we learned more about the educational landscape and especially here in New York, what has happened is – and actually, having my own son having gone through the high school placement process just a couple years ago, what we’ve come to realize is that high schools in New York City of which the choices are astounding how many and the diversity – I’m talking about independent schools and public schools and alternative schools, but high schools in New York City have really become mini university pre-undergraduate programs. I mean, there are some high schools where the elective course book is 32 pages long. It’s insane, right? The work that we wanted to do with these young people and we try to grab them at 2 years old and get them through eighth grade is to have them thrive and be able to adapt to any situation that they’re put in, life-long, joyful learners. We only have two years of anecdotal evidence so far, but so far, these kids are just going to these high schools and adapting very, very, very well.

I think that if we were in another place maybe we would’ve carried it through 12th grade, but now, these high schools, I’m more arty. I’m more sports. I’m more music. I like less structure. I like more structure. I like bigger environments. I like smaller environments. There are just so many options that I think – then the other way to answer that is – and again, we didn’t – I didn’t realize this until we were in it, but when you have 8th graders as the oldest age group in your schools, essentially, you’re talking about 12, 13-year-olds being – 14-year-olds being the mentors or the people that all the younger kids look up to.

That’s an incredibly different person than an 18-year-old in a K-12 environment. At 18, you’re driving. You’re drinking. You’re doing drugs. You’re having sex. That’s just normal 18-year-old stuff, right? Thirteen, 14-year-olds, they’re still enjoying Dungeons & Dragons. Texting is a really big deal. You just got a phone a year or two ago at the most that your universe – so what we’ve learned and then learned from other educators is that K-8 program, a Pre-K through 8th programs, the children stay younger longer because they’re just not seeing the 18-year-olds as the peer leaders. In New York City, especially in the state, it’s a time of technology. Especially parents of 12, 13, 14-year-olds, they’re so appreciative to have their kids stay kids just a little bit longer.

Tanya: I can imagine, and especially in New York City, they’re exposed to so much that if we can shelter them just a tiny bit for a little bit longer I could completely see how parents would appreciate that. What are your thoughts on – a lot of companies like Google, Ernst & Young, Whole Foods, Apple, Starbucks, IBM, even Bank of America have came out and publically said that they no longer require a university degree to work in their companies. Certainly, in the tech space, a lot of people are really putting much more value on people’s ability to problem solve and their actual experience and their personal projects that they’ve done, self-motivated, self-directed, as opposed to a degree in whatever, computer science or whatever it might be. What are your thoughts on the future of the importance of getting a college education?

Matt: That’s a big question, future college education. I’ll answer it this way. I think that, at Blue School, we spend a tremendous amount of time and effort in collaboration, building collaborative skills, whether it’s a group of 2, 4, 8, 16 and all different configurations. You want to have as much skill as collaborating with 2 people as you want to in a group of 16, right? You’re going to be thrown into – so that’s one thing, being really good communicators, understanding yourself, understanding the others, asking the right questions. How can you create – competition is a good thing, but your team competing against their own capabilities versus competing against one of your own team members or against another team, these are the – there’s a whole set of skills that I think that these companies that you just described are finding valuable that, from my perspective, need to be developed way before college. That’s why I think there’s less emphasis on needing a college degree. We’re trying to get it in 2 to 14-year-olds and also an inner structure and building an ability to create your own passion.

I think that whether – I’ve never worried for my own child. If he wants to go to college or he wants to start his own thing after high school, or if he wants to go to another part of the world and contribute in that way, all that I ask is that he really gives himself fully to whatever it is that he’s focusing on. In that regard, I also don’t want to diminish the importance of college for some kids. I mean, my own college experience was phenomenal.

Tanya: Matt, you gave a smashing TED Talk which I so connected with about the school system that really mislabeled you, boxed you in, and you gave very concrete examples of what happened. Can you give us an idea of that experience and those pivotal moments that really inspired you to start Blue School?

Matt: Yeah, well, I mean, it was such a crazy experience for me in school because I didn’t ever feel – I’ve always felt like I was a smart-ish person, but I didn’t feel school smart or book smart. You’re a kid. I didn’t know how to navigate those two different realities. I was super lucky, and my parents and my – and they were both teachers and didn’t really put undue pressure on me or value the school smart over my precocious out in the world smart feeling. It really wasn’t until I was in my last year of graduate school that I – which was all these things. It was a real-world situation. I was doing a paid internship. I got to choose the subject of my thesis. I worked in a small collaborative group of peers and professors.

By the way, we were all trying to get the master’s program I was in accredited. It was a brand new program, and they were being accredited that year, so the stakes were even higher. It was only that last year of graduate school where it was like everything was clicking and feeling good, and I felt like I got school. I became a straight-A student after being a C student. Not that that’s the measure, but it was I didn’t need the grades because I knew it was all – everything was fine. It was a very double-edged sword kind of thing. At the one hand, I was like, oh, my God, now I get all the – I thought all those people were just faking it or lying that they liked school, but now I get it. On the other hand, I was like, oh, my God, the last 15 years, 20 years have been torture, basically.

Part of the motivation both at Blue Man Group and Blue School was to take the learning and the experiential of what was wonderful about that last year and try to get rid of as much as possible about all the previous. Now, true, then I was later to figure out that my learning differences and probably dyslexia and ADHD was all in the mix somehow, someway, but I have a very, very good friend who was responsible for literally more than 100 – an acquisition into Omnicom of 100 small companies. He said that he felt like the United States was systematically destroying entrepreneurship because the only quality that was consistent through all the entrepreneurs of the 100 companies that he was involved with was that he felt like every single founder was either ADHD or dyslexic. That the country has an obsession with eliminating ADHD and trying to fix dyslexia where those are the exact qualities that make those kind of founder, director, innovators, those people. They see the world in a different lens.

Tanya: Yes, absolutely. This idea that everybody learns in the same way is ludicrous.

Matt: Ludicrous.

Tanya: All these different things might be going on with people, processing information, reading information, I mean, it’s – that, fundamentally, it’s broken. One of the things – so if you haven’t see Matt’s TED Talk, I highly recommend you go see it. One of the things that just threw me so off is that you shared, on one of your English papers, your teachers – where you got something like a C or some type of C, they said – they put as a comment “as good as can be expected,” which is so demeaning. What a way to box a kid in. Are you kidding me, oh, so crazy?

Matt: Oh, my gosh, and what I didn’t talk about in that TED Talk is I actually never saw my father so angry. That was the single – not at me, at the professor, the teacher. He went in there, and I was disinvited from being in the room. The “conversation” could easily be heard through the walls.

Tanya: That’s a good dad.

Matt: That was a moment – but it was real. He was a writer, and he was a teacher.

Tanya: Yeah, if that happened to my child, I don’t know what I would do. I would be so upset. Oh, I’m so glad your dad stuck up for you and did something and made that professor aware, that teacher, that that was not okay.

Matt: Yeah, I was lucky to have a dad and parents like that, I have to say.

Tanya: Absolutely, so okay, Matt, what are you working on now, any fun new projects?

Matt: [54:19]?

Tanya: Mm-hmm.

Matt: I’ve got a couple projects bubbling which I can’t actually discuss just yet because it’s just too early. It could be back into a little bit of the performance arena. We are full blast in – Blue School is about to become more of a mature organization, and so while we sit on the board, we’re trying – it’s a funny thing. As a board member, as a founding board member, your whole raison d’être, your whole goal was to make yourself obsolete and to allow for the organization to be self-perpetuating and thrive without you. We’re hard at work at that, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I’m also so completely passionate about education as a whole. I’ve been bitten by the bug. There are other areas of education for both adults and children. I really believe in this concept of life-long joyful learning, and so there’s a couple projects that we’re collaborating on right now that will hopefully start to become more public over the next 12 to 24 months that addresses this ongoing what do we have to do as citizens of the planet to – all we want to do is leave the world in a little bit better condition than we left it. I can’t say that we are in that cycle right now in the aggregate.

Tanya: I know, sadly. I know.

Matt: Sadly, less because of the actions of your country home, birth country than mine. All we can do is persevere and work hard and activate and try. I really believe in the concept that micro-activism can lead to macro-change.

Tanya: Totally, yeah.

Matt: A lot of the projects that we’re working on right now are in that vein.

Tanya: Oh, well, I can’t wait to see what you’re up to next. I mean, literally, everything you do is with such a fundamental core principle that is really to advance or, like you say, leave this world in a better place, whether that be through art or whether that be through education, and I have a lot of respect for that. Matt, thank you so much for taking the time and being with us today. I love your story. I love your mind, your soul, and your purpose here on earth.

Matt: That’s so sweet. Thank you, Tanya, and likewise, I’m a huge fan of what you’re doing and to get it out in the world and tell people’s stories. I think that storytelling is one of the keys to it all, so congratulations on your journey.

Announcement: Unmessable is recorded in the heart of New York City, and a special thanks to all the team involved in producing the show. Visit tanyaprive.com/unmessable to find a transcript of this episode, and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

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