Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military: “Don’t seek recognition” with Taylor Cole and Chaya Weiner

Don’t seek recognition: I have stumbled into a life of great mentors that have succeeded massively in this world. The biggest advice I have learned is to empower the teams that work for you and don’t seek recognition. Those that work for you need that recognition and the wave of goodness that is created from […]

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Don’t seek recognition: I have stumbled into a life of great mentors that have succeeded massively in this world. The biggest advice I have learned is to empower the teams that work for you and don’t seek recognition. Those that work for you need that recognition and the wave of goodness that is created from a high-speed team’s output is all you need to be valued by the organization.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor Cole, the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division. He is an avid skydiver, base jumper and above all else — a dad. It’s these two loves that inspired him to develop a tool that revolutionizes family time and imagination. In 2016, Taylor teamed up with a group of brilliant engineers and creatives to bring an edu-tech startup company, Burble Creativity, Inc., to life. As Burble’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Taylor spends a lot of time in the lab located at Bourns, Inc. in Riverside. There he is working to launch AvA, a tent with lights and sounds that uses Burble’s provisionally patented minimally defined immersion (MDI) concept to create an extraordinary storytelling experience for kids. Combining his love for innovation with activities his kids love is what inspired the Burble adventure. Taylor established his roots in Riverside, CA as a college student at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) where he received a master’s degree in fluid mechanics. As a Navy CTO, he has participated in high-level strategic Think Tanks earning 28 various leadership awards. With more than 15 years of experience in engineering and technology, Taylor has worked on several projects that study the mathematical prediction of human behavior, research and development initiatives, and workplace culture, just to name a few. Taylor stays connected through service as a board member for Riverside’s engineering colleges at California Baptist University (CBU) and UCR.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

In high school I played baseball and tennis but focused mostly on rollerblading at skate parks. I was a true closet nerd that hung out with everyone but the cool kids. I graduated with honors and was accepted to the Naval Academy post my 1999 graduation. For various reasons, I quit the Navy prior to the start of plebe summer and ended up going to University of California, Riverside to be a doctor. Having been a National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine program attendee in high school, I thought I was destined to be a doctor. This changed as I focused on the balance between being an extreme sports athlete and a scholar, which eventually led to me switching to mechanical engineering while qualifying 23rd in the world in vert ramp rollerblading. I went through a lot of injuries and learned early on the power of grit and what it means to put your head down and accomplish your goals. I graduated in 2003 and immediately started work at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona (NSWC, Corona) as an electronic warfare engineer.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

I am currently balanced between three pillars of my high-speed lifestyle. I am the Chief Technology Officer of NSWC, Corona, where I have a senior leadership position in the bleeding edge of Naval technology. I am also the CEO of a $3M startup known as Burble Creativity. As the third leg of this crazy lifestyle, I am a current a member of the US Parachute Team and currently ranked third in the world competing beside the best, such as the Army Golden Nights and the Navy Leap Frogs.

My biggest passions right now are driving digital transformation by pushing to combine data sets across the Navy. This is a wicked hard problem that crosses the worlds of politics, technology, engrained culture, and story. The other passion is revolutionizing the way we, as a society, tell stories. As technology becomes more and more persuasive, the open ended creativity a human can apply to story these days diminishes. From movies, to virtual reality, to descriptive books, and games, technology is making it harder and harder for kids and adults to express personal creativity. These technologies profess creativity and make us believe we are being more creative. I believe we should allow the listener to create and apply their own creativity to a story. This is what lead me to start my company, Burble Creativity, three years ago. Since then our team as patented Minimally Defined Immersion (MDI), and built the first immersive story tent (AvA) to tell our stories. This technology has many applications and we are currently beta testing for efficacy at a neuro developmental center in Seattle while we prepare AvA for a Kickstarter launch on August 14.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I am not, nor have I ever been, uniformed military. I have been deployed and trained many months side by side with the military as I ran the Navy’s predictive analysis of human behavior group, known as ORSA (Operations Research and Systems Analysis). I have lived in tents for nearly 60 months at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin to learn how to apply math to operations of war. In doing so I crossed the blurry line between civilian and military many times sometimes wearing fatigues to get to where I had to go. My group trained multiple brigades deploying for war on how to do pattern analysis at the highest levels in order to prevent the number one threat, encountering Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). I later deployed to Bahrain and produced a three month analysis on oil sanctions that got the attention of the Navy’s CNO Strategic Studies Group, a top notch think tank. I was invited to move to Rhode Island for two years to study the “art of think tank” and took classes on military strategy at the Naval War College. Afterwards, I returned to California, started a children’s story company, and became the CTO of a Navy Lab. The mind stretching that I was taught at the think tank is exactly what became the input to my days as an entrepreneur.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

I participated in a large scale training exercise as a tactical mathematician at Fort Polk, Louisiana. The unit and I worked so well as a team that we completed a multi-week training plan in only a few days. I was told to return home when suddenly two very senior Department of Defense officials were coming to talk to me about what happened. They recognized that our team’s predictive analysis theory succeeded so well that I was quickly deployed to develop a new Navy ORSA team. I learned that having a great team that works well together can accomplish amazing things.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

Our Navy SEALS do heroic things day in and day out and I am constantly blown away by their ability to continue. In doing so they remain silent almost always to any recognition. On my skydiving team, I met a hero when my reserve parachute came out in a 4-stack doing a world event know as four way rotations. In this event four jumpers connect their parachutes in a four stack and rotate top to bottom as many times as they can in ninety seconds as a videographer films from his own parachute behind the stack. My reserve came out between the lines of my teammate’s parachute, Eric. I was blind by the fact that both parachutes had wrapped me and my reserve wasn’t flying well right above our heads. Eric knew that if he were to cut-away (disconnect the main parachute from the harness during a malfunction in preparation for opening the reserve parachute) and save his own life he would most definitely kill me in the process. If we both landed with a wadded up mess of parachutes, we would both be killed or seriously injured. With Eric’s help, we managed to crash land into a lake at the edge of the drop zone. Eric is absolutely a hero. He stayed calm in a crisis, quickly determined a course of action, and took care of his buddy. These are the same skills inherent to the military culture.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

I have met many heroes in my life both in and out of the military. Heroism to me is the definition of setting aside your own safety to care immensely for others.

Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

I believe the word bravery and hero is reserved for anyone who puts their life on the line for the good of others.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Strive to value difference: It is too easy to simply be like the person you look up to. The civilian workforce highlights this widget type mentality in spades. We are in a time when difference is valued and becoming the leader you are meant to be requires you to know who you are. I have always been a handworker and not one to stay in the lines. I was caught BASE Jumping in the middle of my career and punished by the Navy. I was sent to Bahrain and redefined my focus. It was in this place that I proved myself worthy of my next think tank job. Now I am in a leadership role with the whole world knowing I am a BASE Jumper.

Don’t seek recognition: I have stumbled into a life of great mentors that have succeeded massively in this world. The biggest advice I have learned is to empower the teams that work for you and don’t seek recognition. Those that work for you need that recognition and the wave of goodness that is created from a high-speed team’s output is all you need to be valued by the organization.

Diversity of thought: Diversity is a major key to high performance teams. Find those with differing views than you and have those difficult conversations needed to discover and innovate. I formed my company, Burble Creativity, three years ago by finding the best theater lighting expert, the best theater sound expert, and the best producer so that we could re-imagine the way we tell stories using technology to envelope parent and child versus cutting between them. We have conquered two painful pivots and had hundreds of hours of difficult conversations to get to where we are now. We have created a revolutionary way to tell stories and we are live on Kickstarter on August 14h. Strive to be different even when the balance to respect diversity is difficult. This is why we all need to embrace perspective.

Constantly see perspective: The internet is full of infinite information bogging down any anyone hoping to find the truth. The thing with the internet is the vast majority of the information there is self-identified truth written by an author. This is truth without perspective. To gain perspective one must experience for themselves or question experts. I feel that perspective is a lost art and many political arguments are smashingly fun because neither side wants to share the perspective they are coming from but rather hit home with points of conversation. A leader needs to always be gaining perspective from trusted articles, mentors, books, and best of all, conversations with experts.

“I am the boss”: This is the worst form of leadership that is often heard in the military because of the rank structure inherent to its culture. But using the “I am the boss” method of getting people to do things will almost always come at a cost. As a civilian I have documented the cost of the few times I have done this and it is massive. Research the styles of leadership that work for you and only use this style if you have to.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

My experience working closely with the deployed military has taught me exactly what I need to become the leader I am today. I couldn’t imagine being either the CTO of a lab, or the CEO of a truly innovative company without my sixteen years of military experience. From driving tanks, killing bad guys with math, creating and finding funding for ORSA, learning the art of ‘Think Tanking’, and meeting the loads of military leaders that still to this day mentor me, my experience in the military gave me the perspective I need to be a CEO and CTO. Being both a CTO and a CEO is challenging. I enjoy the fun and challenge of full-speed leadership on both sides of bureaucracy.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

I have close friends with PTSD and have lost many of those to suicide. I have become involved with Navy initiatives to help those with PTSD, and it is a wicked hard problem. Mental disability has become an interest of Burble Creativity as well. We are currently conducting efficacy testing within neuro development, education, and therapy. We are doing our best to create an environment that allows individuals to imagine what they want or need to imagine by tapping into their senses with lights, sounds, and touch. Seeking help, and embracing the problems you have is important to anyone, especially those heroes we have coming back from war with PTSD.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are in the middle of our Burble Creativity Kickstarter launch. Be sure to check it out:

After the launch, we plan to redesign, scale, and grow this company out of the bootstrap startup that it is. I am beyond excited to grow this company and do so much good for the world as we apply the results of our efficacy testing. AvA is the first of many products Burble has in the queue related to minimally defined immersion technology. And I am doing my best to keep the forward thinking ideas in my brain contained until we build the foundation of this new technology form. This very exciting.

The Navy is on the cusp of a digital transformation and I am doing best to drive a data science perspective. There is a way to value the producer of data dissimilar to how Facebook and Google operate today. My goal is to use the bureaucracy to my advantage and build a data structure that welcomes the innovative data science technologies of the future.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Find a great mentor or two and don’t let them go. Leaders must always learn and should always strive for new perspective.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I am becoming pretty good at managing small, high performing, and diverse, teams. To me, this is where we need to focus. Break down the team size to that which can solve the problem. Empower the team to think big and entangle the make up of the team with diversity of thought.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would be nowhere close to where I am without the mentors I have in my life. Take a chance, and ask that person you want to mentor you if they would. It is shocking how much people want to help. My mentors, and in some cases closest friends, are Admirals in the Navy or C-Suite members of industry. The perspectives there are to gain from these world’s leaders are vast and the best way to get them is talking face to face. I have been very lucky and I am ready to keep on rolling.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As the CTO of a Navy lab, I love the parts of my job that involve the future of talent management. I am in that perfect position to slowly change the culture that currently drives bureaucracy. I do my best to inspire many future engineers through our large intern program. Providing the perspective of a wicked hard military problem is usually enough to focus a future engineer on the schooling and work ethic required to be great. When Burble succeeds, I cannot wait to bring the power of MDI to the masses, watching creativity and the power of story overwhelm the world with awesomness.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

More Story!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch

These last few years I went from a major skydiving injury to a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to a strong leader I now call Taylor 2.0. With the strength of my amazing wife, Sarah, by my side I went to the depths of discovery with my TBI hoping to find what makes me tick. In doing so, I found myself in the office of the Director of Neuro Developmental Psychology at Loma Linda Hospital. Lots of testing later, my TBI was cleared and I was made aware of a major learning disability I had since birth. Audio Processing Disorder (APD) is my brain’s way of goofing up things I hear perfectly fine. My doctor simply asked, “How did you pass Kindergarten?”. I was shocked but it also made so much sense. It was even more clear to me that we all see and hear things differently. Hence, my passion with us all celebrating our differences. I have made up for my disability with amazing parents who never let me think I was anything but normal. I have a high IQ, great working memory, and visual memory, which means my brain is some sort of lopsided innovation center. I am now a CTO and a CEO and becoming the leader Jack speaks of. I can’t wait for my company to find its deserved traction and I can become Taylor 3.0, with my mentor’s help, and grow others on a massive scale.

Thanks for taking the time to interview me.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Yes, any current President of the United States. This would be the single most amazing perspective gaining conversation EVER.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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About the author:

Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click here to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.

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