Barbara Groth

Portrait of Barbara Groth, who is wearing jeans and a jacket, standing in front of a lake with mountains in the background

Barbara Groth has a striking ability to generate positive change. Her new company, The Nomadic School of Wonder, operates at the intersection of nature, art, and community and helps people to be deeply present in the moment, in their thoughts, in their bodies. In this conversation, Groth talks about her groundbreaking early explorations of multimedia design, including work for Disney, IBM, and Apple; the importance of play in our experience of the world; and how end-of-life palliative care led her back to celebrating the marvel of life itself. It mixes conversation between Groth and Paddy Harrington with editorial interjections, marked by italics, from Harrington about the episode’s—and the podcast’s—broader themes.


Episode Transcript

Barbara Groth: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to be an adventurer—or a fish, quite frankly. Somewhere along the way, I did a backyard carnival. I created a backyard carnival for a charity of some kind. I got a kit in the mail, which showed me how to create a backyard carnival. And I joke that I’ve been doing that backyard carnival in a variety of different ways throughout the world.

Paddy Harrington: Change, real change, can be a messy business. First you need to know where you’re going. And to know where you’re going, you have to know who you are and what drives you. Most organizations outline a mission, vision, and values… but these are often thought to be empty marketing statements. How many times have you seen a poster with a mountain that says AUTHENTICITY along the bottom in all caps? This kind of work is often laughably bad—or, worse, convincing but empty. 

How do you make real change happen? The world is on fire and many big companies are still only offering platitudes. Despite the best intentions of their leaders, employees don’t believe in the commitment—or they dismiss it outright as all talk, with no action.

This is something that we obsess about in our practice. We’ve been working on this new idea of Purpose Design in response to the challenge of how to align and unite organizations of many kinds around a shared purpose and ambition that truly mean something. It’s an alchemy of inspiration and measurement. It’s a cocktail of collaboration and individual voices. It’s a process and an outcome. 

But when you get into the details of an organization, you find all the messiness that comes with it and it’s easy to get lost. Or to focus on the afternoon’s work rather than on broader ambition. For things to truly change, the organization has to change. But so do its people. And change is hard. Barb Groth has built a new kind of company called The Nomadic School of Wonder. And while she makes no claims about the ways it will change you, I can say from personal experience that it does. Operating at the intersection of nature, art, and community, the Nomadic School of Wonder helps people to be deeply, truly, profoundly present in the moment, in their thoughts, in their bodies. From the Hoh Rain forest to Fogo Island, she leads groups of people on adventures into the guts of wonder. It’s impossible to leave unchanged.

About a dozen people in nature-inspired costumes dance in a circle on a frozen rocky waterfront, with a modern building on stilts in the background

BG: I was a journalism major, then became a documentary filmmaker. Again, the idea of being out in the world and being in an adventure. And my dad was a computer engineer, my mom a nurse, so I just wanted to have nothing to do with those two fields whatsoever, right? Then one day I woke up and realized, “Oh, I’m doing interactive software with holistic health with Deepak Chopra, you know?” I was like, “How did I get here?” So I took a six-week job with a crazy—literally a crazy—Hollywood director. He was at the very beginning of—this was the late ’80s, the mid-to-late ’80s—he was in the very beginning of [asking] what is interactive, what is multimedia. We would show our first prototypes at, I think, the very first TED conferences. I took a six-week job to produce some content for that, and it turned into here I am thirty years later, or something like that, still doing participatory experience design in various mediums.

What we were doing was demonstrating, for clients like IBM and Apple, what is multimedia? If you can imagine, I like to tell young people I work with this story: “Oh, I click on a word and it takes me to another place. It’s a hyperlink. Oh, I click on the computer and a video screen comes up.” And that was like, “Ooh, wow!” My friends who were in the Hollywood world asked, “What are you doing? What are you up to?” So I … we did a lot of early prototypes. We did a prototype on Picasso’s painting Guernica that explored the painting and world history and the Spanish Civil War and explored the arts and sciences and history through that painting. We did little prototypes. We’re kind of demonstrating to people what this could be while it wasn’t yet an industry. So I went from that, to Laserdiscs to CD-ROM to the web to VR to AR—you know, all the different kinds of ways of slicing and dicing it. When it comes right down to it, it’s creating experiences for people in different mediums.

And then I somehow decided that, you know what, I really love the real world. I actually think there’s a lot of opportunity to design for what is our … what we refer to as the real world. I think it’s one of the most immersive realities we have.

I purposely set up Big Buddha Baba in the ’90s to not be a traditional agency that just tried to scale, scale, scale, but one that could pick and choose what projects to work on and who to work with.

And that’s what we did. And we had a ton of fun. The idea is, I feel like you can really design with love. And so we had a blast designing for the likes of Disney Imagineering and others through the years. Animation and storytelling and interactive participatory experiences and all for the kind of desire to create more surprise, delight, and wonder in the world.

With the Nomadic School for Wonder, we offer up an invitation into play, and then, through play, transformation happens.

PH: Barb’s agency grew and worked on a variety of increasingly complex projects at the intersection of physical and digital spaces. But always at the heart was the sense of wonder that came from watching people react to things they could not easily comprehend. Things that had an element of magic. She saw, in those moments, that real transformation was possible. 

BG: It was a specific project at Disney World Epcot called Turtle Talk with Crush. We used technology, because my sweet spot has always been emerging technologies, and how that meets creative invention. And so we had this wonderful technology as if the movie screen is talking back to you, so an animated character is talking with you. The technology was very seamless. It wasn’t like you could see any of what was going on. You just knew that you were having a conversation with this animated character.

And I think that when we did the early play tests for that, I knew that we had something super special, because people were looking around like, “How are they doing this?” Maybe it was wonder. I think even more I would say it’s magic. I know that word gets thrown around a lot, but it was really magic. And the kids just totally bought into it and were talking to Crush and Crush is talking back and saying, “What’s your name?” You know, a little girl saying, “My name is Melinda.” And Crush is like, “Melinda, dude, how are you today?” You know? The parents were looking around like, “How is this happening?”

And then it kind of, um, in a goose-bumpy way, somebody came up after we first opened that project, before the press came, and said, “Hey, my child, who has autism, just spoke their first words to crush.” You know, there are tears in their eyes. And I thought, “Wow, you know, that was so not … that was so not on the radar, necessarily, for us. But our intention was held to kind of really create connection, magic, to create a relationship between the character and the guests at Disney. That would be a pivotal moment. What’s so nice when you design for the real world, especially the work I did with Disney Imagineering, was that you could actually see people and experience people experiencing what you designed. Whereas before, when I was working in the world of, let’s say, the internet, or, you know, early CD-ROM days, you weren’t at home with people seeing how they respond to things.

I worked for many years with people like Deepak Chopra, Caroline Myss, and other people, translating their work into interactive, either, you know, videos or interactive programs and things like this. So it was all about, how can we create things that have a … uh … a really intimate, personal impact on people? The work I did in documentaries, the work I did in journalism, the work I did in the early days of interactive were about, was about creating things that were useful and beautiful and, yes, transformational. Although I .. I actually don’t use that word, I don’t use it as a kind of, I think it sets an expectation for people. And I like to kind of sneak up on them a little bit. With the turtle talk, I think that was transformational for people, but the work that we do with the Nomadic School of Wonder is transformational, but we don’t go in promising transformation. We kind of have a little bit more of an invitation into play, and then, through play, transformation happens.

In a forest, six people sit on blankets in a semicircle, all facing a woman, also on a blanket, who is wearing a headpiece that resembles antlers

PH: The Nomadic School of Wonder emerged in 2015 as Barb was imagining what might come next in her life and career. The pull of enthralling immersive physical experiences, which she’d felt from those early days of wanting to be a fish and a carnie, never went away. If anything, they got stronger. Her desire to become even more alive and present in the moment kept growing. But this desire to be more present and alive began with intimate experiences with death. Before Nomadic School of Wonder came to be, it was the intensity of the experience of people at the end of their lives that shaped a different direction for Barb.

I mean, you know, the question is really … it’s such a profound experience. The way you’ve described it in the past is that everything almost becomes like Technicolor when you’re in this moment when you know you’re with someone sort of towards the end, and life just gets this new vibrancy. My interpretation and understanding of it is that that experience made you just question why we don’t all feel that more often. Why is it that that’s something reserved for these moments? That was part of what brought you to the place that you’re at. But I’ve to hear that from you in your own words and see, you know, your own experience of that.

BG: I love the way that you articulate, um, uh, how you articulated that. Because that was just right, spot-on. I do feel that I have felt more alive when I’m near people who are on their way out. And, um, there’s not just like the seriousness of the preciousness of life, but also laughter, you know, and there’s this, like, the absurdity of it all. So many different things are packed into that. And so, um, for me, a lot of the work that I do under the Nomadic School of Wonder is directly inspired by that work and also kind of like a way of honoring people in my family and others who have passed on who I have had the privilege of having time with them. So I do think, like, how can we … I’m very aware of the fact that life is precious, every day. And how can we not just look at the fear aspect of that, but live into the fullness of what it means to be present? And I do think that wonder is not necessarily the northern lights in Iceland, although we have taken people to the northern lights in Iceland, it is literally something that you can, you know, have right in front of you, walk out your front door, and experience.

So a lot of what we do through the experience of play is to actually open up people to the possibility that perhaps there’s something more than, I don’t know, just the rational way of experiencing life. And maybe when we touch this odd wonder, this kind of mystery, we touch this mystery and have those moments, we don’t know exactly how to describe them, that’s why these words awe and wonder, but we do know when we’re in those moments, we’re more open to possibility, more open to being empathetic, more open to amplify creativity. So many different things come out of it. So what we try to do, and it’s in direct response to learning how to live, you know, with that kind of Bergman-like death following you around … we really try to create the conditions for wonder to happen, you know. What are these conditions? What are the things that we can support people with? And then they get to have their own experience of that.

I think sometimes us humans take ourselves way too seriously. There’s something about lightening our hearts that helps us to live more fully.

There’s a lot of joy and a lot of depth … and I’ve done a lot of transformational work in my lifetime and I think sometimes us humans take ourselves way too seriously, you know? There’s something about lightening our hearts that helps us to live more fully. So … that’s what we do. In our first School of Wonder experience, we put people inside pine-box coffins. It was death and rebirth. And they were being held, so to speak, by a palliative-care doctor and his partner in a really wonderful, sacred way. But I remember when they were closing the pine-box coffin on me, when I was inside of it, I started giggling. I was like, I started giggling. I’m like, “That’s so funny, why am I giggling?” And then the lid was shut and I was like, “Oh, this isn’t as funny as I thought it was when it was shutting.” So sometimes we just go head-on into it, we go, ok, our theme is death and rebirth and rather than talking about death and rebirth we’re going to give you a sensory feeling of it. And we did that in that one and, um, it was super-transformational in a very quiet, contemplative way. We had a contemplative dinner afterward. And people kind of contemplated now that they’ve had that moment where the pine-box-coffin lid is shut, they had this moment to contemplate what’s next for them with that new awareness.

I hope I answered your question.

PH: You say you sort of set the envelope and set the stage hopefully for the arrival of wonder, but when it arrives it’s like a rabbit hole. And so what do you mean by that?

BG: We literally invite you into, let’s say, a forest. And in that forest things happen. Perhaps some things are planned, some things are unplanned. They happen. You know, you might run across a performance artist in the trees, you might have a cello player playing cello in a hollowed-out redwood tree. Um, at night, we did this, in Woodstock, NY, we did this progresive dinner and we … It was the first night of the summer where fireflies came out. We didn’t plan that. We were going around with hokey firefly lanterns and all of a sudden real fireflies came out. Play is so underrated, right? Our mutual friend Bo Laddo, the neuroscientist, talks about how play is the state in which we experience awe and wonder, right? And the place in which we actually can create and invent from, right? It’s where we embrace uncertainty rather than try to shut it down. I would say the wonderland part of it, for me, is an alternate reality that feels more real than this other thing I was just living, this other reality I was just living in. Something that’s super … super-heightened awareness.

A person in full-length all-white outfit and a mushroom-shaped cap stands in the forest and appears to set a mushroom down onto an overturned tree

I invited some friends to New Mexico in 2015, in October 2015 to try, experiment, play-test a concept, an idea I had, called the Nomadic School of Wonder. And I was living in Los Angeles at the time, and I sent out an invite for something I had wanted to do for a while. It came out of being with people who were going through the last days of their lives, people who were actively dying. And I realized that in many ways they were more alive and present than we are [while] walking around in our daily lives. And I had thought to myself, “Well, maybe I should be doing some work around end-of-life care and applying my experience-design skills there.” And then I realized that it was more about designing experiences for people to bring them more fully alive, even if they weren’t actively, let’s say, actively in their last days.

And so that’s how the Nomadic School of Wonder came about. I just thought: nature, art, community, and play. Let me design something that I think could really bring people alive. And let’s activate the human interface, all of the senses, and give people an opportunity to have a fully-embodied experience. I think I’ve spent a lot of time in my head, as others have. Now we spend more and more time on video screens. And I was like, “Well, how can we actually, you know, when I think about my favorite days as a kid and as an adult?” It’s always somehow I’m really fully embodied. I’m doing something with my hands or I’m in nature. So, it really just came out of a daydream. I wrote this down, Nomadic School of Wonder, then sent out an invite, and then people showed up.

So they showed up to Santa Fe, NM, and Galisteo, NM, and they always represented very wonderful places to me. And also, we focus on, kind of, small, remote towns throughout the world that we take people to. The big sky here, the kind of mystical quality of the land that meets the sky. It’s a pretty incredible place to just be in.

PH: For anyone who isn’t a designer or in a creative field—or maybe has just lost touch with that side of themselves—it can be intimidating to think about making something. You start with nothing at all, and then you have to produce… something. And while it may seem like mystery and magic to many, there is a strong and rigorous set of tools, methods, and principles that support the process. There’s even debate about the best ways to make things. Some rely on quantitative research, others on qualitative. Some swear by the power of pencil-and-paper sketching. Others never leave their computers. The goal, in every case, if you’re a committed practitioner, is meaningful change. But how do you make something that people will care about or enjoy? How do you create experiences that people want to come back to? If you’re going to change things to be better, it’s not as easy as sketching it up and then building it. You need to apply the rigor of research to the process through iteration, testing, and refinement. Sure, you could just go test it. But how? What ensures good information that you can then use to continue refining whatever you’re working on?

BG: It’s an emphasis on play. Testing. So, what we do, and this is a concept we used to do at Disney and other places. It’s just mocking something up and trying it out, you know. People call it prototyping, mocking things up, um, iterative design. But it’s really like … for the work that I do in the world, thankfully, I can call it play-testing. Which is, we’re gonna create an invitation, we’re gonna have a loose mock-up of an experience, we’re gonna invite you to that experience, and we’re gonna stay in that experience with you. And then afterward we’re gonna kind of ask you, how did you, tell us what stayed with you, and what didn’t, and what could be better and, just, um, have some feedback from people.

So .. it gets misconstrued a lot as user testing. User testing is not exactly play testing. Sometimes, you know, user testing has to be focused around user-interface design. Play testing, to me, is more about, we’ve developed an idea and, in that kind of really kind of early carnie theater way, we’re going to mock it up, invite you in, and see what happens from there. It’s all about learning.

Sometimes we have no idea where it’s going to go. And it’s the best part. I’ve learned to trust it. Not over-designing, but inviting people in, having people create, and giving them freedom.

PH: And I think what’s interesting about it, too, again, you know, for the initiated, there are tools we use to help us develop new experiences that haven’t existed before. And I think that, for much of the world, that concept itself can be quite overwhelming. The idea that, how can you, it just seems so risky. How do you make something new that no one’s ever seen? How do you know it’s going to work? How do you know what it should be? How are you going to make sure you don’t make any mistakes? Where, to me, the idea of play testing, as you put it, is one way that people in this world reduce risk, actually, but still allow for the possibility that something brand-new and never seen before can happen. Which, to me, is an ingredient of transformative change. How do you go to new places? How do you bring people along with you? For you, what’s your experience of the process of taking people from one sort of state of being, or one type of business, or one state of affairs to another? What are the ways you’ve found success in bringing people along who aren’t used to, or trained in, or experience with that kind of change?

BG: I think the way that we approach it is an invitation into playing together in some way. We also invite people to co-create with us, truly co-create. So we will invite them in, there’ll be some sort of invitation, a story to come into a redwood forest in Northern California. And then we invite them to start doing what we call wonder-making. It’s creating, hands-on, whether it’s mask-making or food or other kinds of ball of clay and art-making and they co-create with us. That can be risky, in and of itself, because we’re not in full control when you invite people to uh, but it also keeps us on our toes and it also keeps us, the whole thing, alive.

It doesn’t feel canned because we create a container, we invite you in, we co-create together, and then we, uh, and you learn as you’re doing something, but you’re not like, “I’m being transformed right now.” It’s like, “Oh, I’m playing in the woods, I’m singing, I’m doing things I wouldn’t be doing. I’m dancing, I’m making flowers.” Whatever it is. We do wonder-making. And then we put it all together. We don’t really know how the day of wonder that we’re creating together will end. We purposely kind of create a container at the end of the day where we put everything that people made together in some sort of celebratory third act. And we have, sometimes, no idea where it’s going to go. And it’s the best part. I’ve learned to trust it. It’s in that place of not over-designing, inviting people in, having people create, giving them freedom to kind of … a container, but freedom to express and create that this kind of magic, wonder-y thing happens. It’s hard to describe, but you know the difference when something is alive, versus we’ve designed every moment of it. We definitely believe in the principle of emergence, you know? And co-creation. It takes a lot of trust and a lot of, “Don’t try to control anymore. Just let it be. Let’s see where it goes. And then respond to the moment and be in the moment.”

And it’s never really failed us. It’s weird; it has never failed us. And now, um, when I talk to experience designers who are just starting out, the desire is always to just, you know, do everything, program everything. But leave space, invite people to co-create with you.

PH: And … and you’ve gained traction with this. I mean, some are very large, and I think most people think of them. Google X, for example, is a progressive large organization—are looking, they’ve come to you for this way of thinking. What is it you think these companies are looking for? What is it that they can’t find that only the Nomadic School of Wonder can deliver to them?

BG: Well, it’s interesting. I just read an article in the New York Times about off-sites and how important off-sites are again. And, um, the article really lacked imagination. Because it was like, “Offsites are basically as boring as they used to be.” You know? Wonderful, great, we all get together. I’m not trying to be super judgmental about it. I mean, c’mon, we’ve all been not together for a couple years now during the pandemic. So what we offer is an invitation to come together and to connect with ourselves, connect with each other, connect with the natural world. And do that in a playful, joyful way. And a very simple, sometimes very simple ways. Just sharing stories around the campfire.

We often take people to the wild mustangs both in Utah and here in Santa Fe, with Windhorse Relations in Utah and the Chance of a Lifetime horse sanctuary here in Santa Fe, and we just create a container for you to connect with a magical being of a horse. And learn about things like, you know, leadership and how to lead and to do this through a horse, the experience of being present with a horse, observing and really understanding how to dance in that moment. People’s faces, at the beginning, can be like a deer in headlights. Like, “What? What is going on here? What am I doing?” And it is just melted, they’re like melted into their ten-year-old faces by the end of the weekend or the day.

By working with people like the neuroscientist Beau Lotto, we show what happens within a day. We show that, oh, you know, your empathy or your connection to your fellow teammate is actually four or five times more connected. Your desire to risk-take or take risks creatively and otherwise have also been amplified., I think it’s an opportunity for us to come together in a new way, that we don’t rely on the same-old, same-old team-building experiences, and that we drop a lot of that. We’re just humans together. We reconnect with our home, which is the natural world and each other.

About a dozen people descent a rocky, wintry shoreline; they are headed toward icy water

PH: Last question. Um, so, as I said at the beginning, the premise or the hypothesis of this season is this … is the idea that inspiration has a greater likelihood of getting us to the kinds of changes we need in the world right now, whether they’re environmental changes or social changes, rather than more of a stick. And what’s been interesting, in the conversations we’ve had so far, it’s an ingredient, for sure, and it’s not … you need a bit of both, you need government support, regulatory things happening to keep certain, say, companies in line with environmental standards, for example, but you need individuals to lead and you need corporations. In the end, it’s a mix of things that you need to have happen. But this show is really focused on the role that design, creativity, play, inspiration, you know, all these more generative modes of being … the impact they can have in the quest toward a better world for everybody. So … what are your thoughts on that idea? I mean, and you can completely disagree with it if you want, it’s really about setting the change where you can’t force change. What are your thoughts on these generative modes of being and how they can affect positive change?

BG: I think it starts kind of there, in our imaginations, and when we do go through … we design experiences of inspiration and play and wonder, we open up literally the aperture of what is possible. I think that’s the first thing, you know, that really allows us to kind of envision what that future might be, by opening ourselves up to that possibility. I think often people underestimate what play, and what kind of inspiration and dreaming … what kind of real impact it can have in the world I think of the depth of impact on people that encounter, that are part of these experiences. And I track it over the years, where I see how that open aperture has created, like, a new path forward for them. That they maybe hadn’t seen or hadn’t believed in or whatever that is.

And some of these other projects I work on, they try to do everything, the social-impact projects. They’re like, OK, “we’re gonna be a theme park-y thing but in that theme park we’re gonna save the world.” That’s wonderful ambition, to save the world through a theme park, but what can you uniquely do that others can’t do, the UN or otherwise? And focus on that and double-down on that and really say, play, inspiration, wonder are ways to activate change on a .. I think a much larger level.

I had a question for you, though.

I’m curious whether it’s Fogo, or when you were here in Santa Fe, but I’m curious, from your perspective, what, um, what touches you? What stays with you after a Nomadic school of Wonder experience?

PH: I mean, it’s like you say, the idea that you can’t set the stage, or you can set the stage for creative insight but you can never guarantee it’s going to happen. But it’s funny how often it does, if you do, and it’s so much work to set that stage. It’s so much work to make sure that .. it’s the appearance of no work. You know what I mean? So my experience of the Nomadic School of Wonder has been just that: I enter this place and somehow you just feel that you have pe on to go back to what makes you fundamentally you. And I feel like, it’s kind of like the whole, you know, Sir Ken … what’s his name?

BG: Ken Robinson?

PH: Sir Ken Robinson. Yeah, and how he talks about, how we kind of unlearn how to think like a child and how to be playful. And I feel like that is really the experience of many people, in terms of what their life is. And so for me, the Nomadic School of Wonder gives you permission to go back to that place. Which is so profoundly liberating and centering. You know, you talk, too, about the importance of balancing out the rational or logical mind with the emotional mind. And, to me, it gives you that permission to be in that place. Which is fundamentally grounding. I   always come away from the Nomadic School of Wonder feeling like I’m in my body again and I’m in touch with who I need to be again, in the way that I feel like I spend most of my life trying to get to. And so, to me, it’s just so … every time, it’s like, “You did it again!”

BG: We did it again.

PH: So, returning to the hypothesis of this podcast: Can inspiration help drive and accelerate positive change? When trying to move to a more equitable and sustainable future, do we make more progress with a carrot rather than a stick? In some ways, Nomadic School of Wonder goes even deeper than the rational argument, even further than the inspiring experiences that can drive change. It goes into the hearts and souls of the people we are asking to change. Change is hard. Generally, people are not good at it. We’re wrapped up in the habits and patterns of thought that guide our day-to-day actions. It can be a colossal effort to fundamentally change how we think.

At night, about a dozen people in coats stand around a campfire; one person sits next to the flames and appears to be blowing on a toasted marshmallow

If we don’t acknowledge the noise that interferes with our ability to “do the right thing,” then we’re not looking at the whole problem. Barb’s work is about those visceral moments when we are fully present and aware. And while they can be fleeting, their impact can be long-lasting. Standing on granite rocks of Fogo Island that are 420 million years old at the edge of the North Atlantic ocean can be a profoundly centering experience. There is a clarity of awareness when we are in these places with others whose mindset is also open to new possibilities. These moments are windows into not only a different future but a different state of being. 

In the TV show Severance, the characters have a chip surgically implanted in their brains to sever their work and “real” lives. When in their “real” lives, they do not know or remember anything about their work lives. When at work, they know nothing about their “real” selves. Each day, coming up the elevator, the chip is activated and they have a moment of transition from one state to the other. 

This splitting is something we all experience. One version of ourselves believes it sees the world with full clarity. We believe we know the rules. In a fundamental sense, we believe we understand what’s happening around us. However, the show explores how even what we believe to be our reality is a construction. If we could only see it with fresh eyes, it is not what we believe it is. The show suggests we may not be who we really want to be. 

Nomadic School of Wonder is like a tool that reprograms that chip. Through art, community, and nature, it connects us to another state of mind that’s always inside us but rarely accessd, one in which we see ourselves, our lives, and our experiences as a deeply connected state of being.

For those of us who live in two separate realities, our work lives and our home lives, we may need to stitch them back together in order to truly realize the dream of a better world. Imagine a corporate culture in which the mission and vision of the company is a song instead of words on a page. Where the words were less about authenticity, innovation, and integrity and more about the feeling of smoke in your eyes around a campfire or a green balloon trailing off into the sky until you can’t see it anymore.

We need to bridge the gap between work mode and life mode. We have to reconnect to our creative selves because that’s where new possibilities are born. That’s where new futures are made.

To learn more about Barb and the Nomadic School of Wonder, follow along on Instagram at @nomadicschoolofwonder.

First Things First is hosted by me, Paddy Harrington, produced by Heather Ngo, and edited by Brian Sholis. Frontier is a Purpose Design office. We’re pioneering this new kind of practice at the intersection of brand, strategy, culture, and design. We use design and strategic storytelling to help organizations define, express, and measure their purpose and ambition. It’s a process for companies struggling to align themselves around an inspiring purpose that people genuinely connect with.

We believe that positive change happens not when we try to force it, but when we provide more inspiring alternatives built on environmentally and socially equitable foundations.

In our next episode, we’ll talk to Bjarke Ingels, a globally celebrated architect whose philosophy of Hedonistic Sustainability finds ways to make buildings positive contributors to the environment while becoming catalysts for unexpected fun in the places they’re built.

In the meantime, please subscribe to First Things First to stay updated on new episodes. If you like what you hear, a review helps, too.


This episode features edited versions of “Beautiful Beginnings,” “Dramatic Tension,” “Island 1,” “Space Walk,” “Skiing the Silk Road Theme,” and “Kulikar 3” by The Sound Room; “Chromatic Waves” by Joel Loopez; and “Calm Steady Background” by Botabateau

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