…People are so funny! No matter what, no matter how long this goes on, we can all still laugh. I was walking through Times Square on March 11th, I think that was the day before Broadway closed, so things were feeling pretty intense. And I happened to sneeze just as I was being approached by a person asking for some spare change. He made a big, hysterical, scene about me keeping my virus money, and we laughed together so hard my sides hurt. Whether it’s videos of Jimmy Fallon in his kitchen or my kid’s art teacher dressed up like Bob Ross in their backyard, there is laughter being created every minute of every day, regardless of whatever issues we might be facing.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Harper, the founder and CEO of RXA, an Artificial Intelligence Studio headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI. Before founding RXA, Jason spent 20 years building data science teams at companies including Go Daddy, Organic, and FordDirect. Jason is also Board President for Summers-Knoll School, a national leader in progressive education, based in Ann Arbor, MI.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
It probably goes back to my high school math teacher, Mr. Dawson. He was the first person to point out that I might actually be good at math, and that it could be fun. Then I would say I’ve been lucky to be at the right place at the right time for two decades. I’ve always loved technology and when it came to choosing jobs, I’ve looked for opportunities that sounded the most fun — like joining Go Daddy back in 2004 or jumping back into digital advertising at Organic and then eventually breaking out on my own in 2016 to start RXA. I have always loved my jobs, and I have been amazingly lucky to have had the best people to work with along the way. I give a lot of credit to my education as well. During my MBA, I was introduced to the “Competing Values Framework” by Jeff DeGraff. That framework helped me understand that I don’t have to be great at everything, I can just be great at what I’m great at and find other people to compliment me. That took off so much of the stress I felt, and it lets me focus on the things that I loved to do. I’ve continued to apply that with my team today. We all complement one another, and I could not be happier with how things are working out.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni. This book showed me the value of being myself, and how being vulnerable is the strongest path to building a trusting relationship with others. I’ve never cried so much reading a business book! I built my company with the lessons I learned from reading this book, and I’m forever grateful to my friends at Organic for sharing it with me!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I think there are many reasons to be hopeful right now. Here are what I consider my top 5.
- This will pass. Time is a wonderful thing in situations like this; it keeps going no matter what. I don’t know if the worst is behind us, but I do know the end is in front of us, and we are closer to it today than we were yesterday.
- Musicians are still making music. The volume of concerts being delivered to my home nightly has been amazing. Joe Pug held a personal concert for RXA last week from his basement in Maryland! That would have never happened pre-Corona. It has been great to see the elevated attention and value we are placing on music right now, and I’m hopeful that continues when we do return to the new normal.
- Connection is everywhere. Seeing all of the innovative ways we can stay close while being physically so far apart has been amazing. I see my team diving in and helping each other and our customers. I see the teachers at Summers-Knoll figuring out how to connect 1:1 with their students every day. We are going to be more connected coming out of this than we ever have been.
- People are smart and motivated. It’s nice to see all of the attention data science is getting and the teams of data scientists stepping up to build models and the amazing visualizations being created to understand what is happening. For example, Domo’s COVID-19 tracker, I’ve seen all the work they are putting into that, getting information out there so everyone can see it and analyze it themselves.
- People are so funny! No matter what, no matter how long this goes on, we can all still laugh. I was walking through Times Square on March 11th, I think that was the day before Broadway closed, so things were feeling pretty intense. And I happened to sneeze just as I was being approached by a person asking for some spare change. He made a big, hysterical, scene about me keeping my virus money, and we laughed together so hard my sides hurt. Whether it’s videos of Jimmy Fallon in his kitchen or my kid’s art teacher dressed up like Bob Ross in their backyard, there is laughter being created every minute of every day, regardless of whatever issues we might be facing.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
In early March, my company moved to full time working from home, and I shared some thoughts with everyone. These are pulled right from that email.
- Be positive. The world has enough people out there telling us everything we need to be worried about, you can be a positive voice for others. They need it.
- Be patient. Give everyone a break and especially give yourself a break.
- Be kind. Whether you are out getting groceries or talking on a WebEx, take a moment to be kind to the people you are engaging with. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself too. That means getting good sleep, exercising, eating right and taking the time to care for your spiritual side.
- Be Selective. Don’t spend time doing things that are upsetting to you. You don’t have to watch everything you used to or read everything you used to. Fill your time with things that bring you and your family joy.
- Listen. Let others be angry, sad, frustrated, happy, joyful, whatever they need to be. Give people the space to be who they are and know that while you can’t fix all their problems, you can listen.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
If you know someone feeling anxious, or if you are feeling anxious I hope you know first and foremost, it will be ok. I think connection to people is the key, so please phone a friend. Call someone if you need, call someone if they need it, call someone if neither of you need it! There are many places to find some happy entertainment. I highly recommend turning off the news and watching the Tiny Desk Concert Series from NPR. If you have a couple bucks to spend, my family bought the Disney+ bundle, and we are loving family movie nights to take our minds off of things!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Look before you leap, but still leap.”
This came up in one of my MBA classes at Michigan, I believe it was Stacy Jackson who shared it with us. I absolutely love this. It reminds me that uncertainty is no excuse for not moving forward. Even staring at the biggest risks, you can still forge ahead. It was 100% in the front of my mind when I quit my corporate gig and started RXA, and I think about this quote all the time and it helps me keep moving. There are certainly many big decisions being made right now, and I know there are folks on the front lines making big decisions staring down all sorts of uncertainty, and I’m grateful they are continuing to push ahead.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
What I want for people is to create and share some joy every day. I think when we can experience some joy, it helps our minds to be calmer, more open, more creative, healthier and helps us all to be generally better off. Whether it’s sharing some laughter, taking a walk, eating some fresh strawberries, or however you find and share joy, that’s what I would love to see. #joy
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
LinkedIn is where I am most active these days: https://www.linkedin.com/in/MaximizeROI/
but when I’m looking for downtime, I enjoy scrolling through some Insta @JasonHarper
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!