Elatia Abate (00:00):
For me, there was a lot of, "Oh, it's so cool that you're doing this experiment. Let's talk when it's done." As though there were some ending point, and as though the assumption being work can't or couldn't happen in that interim. So, part of what I had to learn was how do I create enough certainty for myself, and then communicate that certainty to clients and potential clients. So that that gets them to the point of being able, ready, and willing to work now, as opposed to at some future point.
Susan Boles (00:30):
Change is hard. There's no real way around that. It's disruptive, it breaks your flow, and it takes time and resources to react to and manage changes as they happen. And yet you and your business won't flourish without some change. So, how do you embrace the suck and deal with it anyway? I'm Susan Boles and you're listening to Break the Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase your operational capacity.
Susan Boles (01:06):
Being able to manage change and to continue to exist and function in a rapidly changing environment is one of the hallmarks of being resilient, both as an individual and when it comes to building resilient businesses. But for most people change means unknown and scary. Our brains evolved to analyze and to predict what's going to happen next. All day long we just go around predicting what the next thing will be, so that we can make decisions about what to do next.
Susan Boles (01:38):
When change comes along, it's something new, and because we have no experience with it, we can't predict what will happen. And that stresses us out. As humans, we are hardwired to hate uncertainty. Worrying about what will happen actually causes more stress than knowing something bad will definitely happen. So, theoretically, the more known you can make a change before it happens, the more comfortable people will be with it. But right now we're living in a world where there's no real way to make the change known.
Susan Boles (02:14):
This is change that no one is really sure how to manage or when the pace of change will slow. As overused as the phrase has become this year, it's unprecedented, which means no one has a model for how to deal with everything 2020 has thrown at us. So, how do we go about building up those change management muscles? How do we make ourselves and our businesses stronger and better able to weather this ever-changing environment? That's what we're going to talk about all this month, managing change.
Susan Boles (02:47):
Meet Elatia Abate. She is an entrepreneur, educator, and future forward strategist. She partners with organizations that range in size from fortune 500 to early stage startups. And she helps leaders make sense of the ever-growing disruption in our world, and channel that disruption into tangible results. She has a line on her website that I just love. It says, "Change is unpredictable, but we can still be ready." Elatia and I talk about how resilience and change management are intertwined, strategies to exist and even thrive in a constantly changing environment. And we'll talk about what she learned from her personal experience in resiliency. She packed up all her stuff and hit the road to try and figure out what it really takes to build resiliency when you're living with instability. Hey, thanks for being here today.
Elatia Abate (03:43):
Thank you so much for having me. I'm thrilled to join you.
Susan Boles (03:46):
I am so excited for this conversation and really interested to talk to you. I think we're going to get into some really good juicy stuff.
Elatia Abate (03:54):
Susan Boles (03:55):
So, 2020, it's been a pretty big year of change for just about everybody in the entire world. So, how have you seen this impact the folks you work with, the folks you're talking to. What have you seen happening?
Elatia Abate (04:11):
Susan Boles (04:11):
It is a big question.
Elatia Abate (04:14):
Yeah. What are the many directions that we could take this question? So, how are we seeing it impact people? I think the structure to an answer like that looks at health-wise, how are people doing in terms of their physical health, as well as mental health. Business-wise, how are they doing in terms of whatever their job or business may or may not look like? And then third, family, connection, community, what is the impact there?
Elatia Abate (04:42):
And in each of those buckets, at the risk of giving you a non-answer answer, it depends. It depends on what industry you might be in. It depends on what kind of health conditions you may have been in, or economic conditions you may have been in ahead of this. And then finally, in terms of just focus and resilience, how strong or how robust your resilience toolkit is, or was prior to this and how quickly you've been able to adapt it, or build it out in the face of all of this change.
Susan Boles (05:18):
So you mentioned resilience and that's one of your main focuses. So, how do you see resilience and building that toolkit, those skills around being more resilient. How do you see that help people manage big change, either as an organization or as an individual?
Elatia Abate (05:37):
Yeah. So, in the face of great disruption... And a lot of the work that I do, in fact, the large body of work that I'm up to the business of creating right now, is focused on answering the question or creating expressions to the answer to the question. How might we empower success in the face of the great unknown or the face of great uncertainty and disruption. And through my work related to the future of work, I've discovered that there's a three-part framework that helps us thrive in the face of the unknown.
Elatia Abate (06:11):
And that is mindsets, it's education, and it's collaboration. And each of these, of course, is divided into sort of three main buckets. One is a foundational principle, then there is the paradigm shift that we're facing, and then the practice. So, how do we actually use it? But in the face of... So, the answer to resilience, how might we empower ourselves in the face of the unknown? Mindset, education, collaboration is a great way to go about it. But if you just focus strictly on the mindset piece, there are all kind of strategies around meditation and creating space for yourself to diminish the level of cortisol in your brain and in your body, so that you can act not from a place of reaction, but from a place of creation.
Elatia Abate (06:54):
I find an easier even access point than meditation or other places is a fundamental choice between are you going to be captive to your circumstances or a captain of your destiny? And captives are fundamentally driven by a question, why is this happening to me? And if you pick that question apart, it's a disempowering question. "Oh, here is happening to me and therefore I have no control over it." Versus a captain of one's own destiny says, "Given that we're here, what do we want to create?"
Elatia Abate (07:26):
And given that we're here, that's an important part of the statement because it recognizes where we are. And it even gives space for us to say, "I don't like this, or it's uncomfortable, or I hate that my business failed or that I lost my job, or that..." Whatever else might be happening. But since we're here, we happen to find ourselves in this situation, what do we want to create? Then you can get into action behind creating that.
Susan Boles (07:54):
I love that. I love the empowerment aspect of it. And that feeling like you are in control seems to be a critical piece here, whether you are or you're not, you are in control of how you react to your circumstances.
Elatia Abate (08:11):
Only always. Only 100% of the time. And that's so exciting, because that means that no matter what's happening, we have a set of tools, even as simple as that question, for helping us create certainty in uncertainty. And so many of the conversations that I have been privy to, or that we see in the media, and there's a lot of this, "When are we going back to normal, or when are we creating a new normal?" And at the moment, we are in a space of transition, transformation, I would argue, in a space of transcendence, but we're in this in-between part.
Elatia Abate (08:43):
So there's not going back or going forward, and there's a lot of going forward, but what's underneath that question. When are we going back to normal? That desire to create a normal is really a question that is how might we create certainty in the face of uncertainty. And that's where the magic is. That's where the power in the empowerment is.
Susan Boles (09:04):
I love that. All right. So, we know things are changing. Our pace of change is really only accelerating. And at least for the foreseeable future, we are in this transitional period. Globally and as a community, we're trying to figure out what we do. And right now what work looks like, what home life looks like, what our future looks like. It feels like it's moving really fast and it can be very scary.
Susan Boles (09:34):
And we're also trying to manage this dynamic of there needing to be big systemic change that sort of has to happen. And we don't know what that looks like. But we can only really fix that problem that's sitting right in front of us. So, how do you manage that push and pull between we can sort of maybe see what's going to happen, but we don't have the power, individually, necessarily to affect that change.
Elatia Abate (10:01):
To affect the larger change. Yeah. There is a push me, pull you to what we need to do right now and what's here on the horizon. And that works for business, that works for each of us individually. There's the, "I have what's going on in front of me right now, and I can see these things on the horizon if I'm willing to poke my head up out of the sand or stick the periscope above the water." And say, "What might be out here waiting for me?"
Elatia Abate (10:27):
And the dance becomes, or is riding that edge between what's here right now and what's coming. And each of us, individually, although I would argue that we do have the capacity to begin to shift and change things at scale, if we are willing to connect to and be inside of community. One individual meditating in their home... Actually one could make the argument that they can also affect change in some way.
Elatia Abate (11:05):
But by being able to bring each other together and to truly connect, not only connect by sending a text, or a message, or a post on social media, but to begin to truly connect. That's where the not only handling of what's happening, but the acting proactively in the face of change begins to happen and occur.
Susan Boles (11:25):
And can you go a little bit more into detail on how people can get into community? How they can start building, really, that foundation. That being part of a community. Especially when we're all pretty segregated. We're at least physically segregated, hopefully. How do you see that happening?
Elatia Abate (11:51):
Yeah. So, in physical separation... And this conversation is sort of moving into a place that's incredibly philosophical. So, in the illusion of separation, although we may be in our own homes, and some people are still doing extreme quarantining because of health situations, or their own health situations, or taking care of family members. Others may be more active out in the world and everything in between. But this illusion of separation is just that. And I happen to be smack dab in the middle right now, by the time this airs I will have completed it. An experiment that I'm running called... Its working title is "Strength in Community".
Elatia Abate (12:41):
But what I decided to do was, out of curiosity, reach out to 4,700... I had something like 4,760-ish connections on LinkedIn, and I wondered what would happen if I sent out a note to all of them and invited them into a 20 minute conversation. Now, in part out of pure curiosity, in part to see and explore what happens in terms of a sense of community on a platform that exists for our connection.
Elatia Abate (13:15):
That we are separated or that we aren't in community, what are the things that we need to do in order to foster that? I think it's as simple as reaching out and saying hi. I think it's as simple as reaching out and getting into conversation and creating spaces where you are proactively listening, as opposed to listening to speak, or as opposed to engaging in conversation for a particular determined or driven outcome, necessarily. There's a lot of value in being present to somebody in their experience with no other intention other than to simply listen.
Susan Boles (13:58):
And how do you see... Or maybe do you see that there is a relationship between being in a community and your skills or ability to be resilient? Are those connected, or... From my experience during this whole pandemic situation and the schools being closed, one of the things that I've seen is a lot of parents trying to band together and figure out how to handle this as kind of a tiny village. And we're sort of going back to the "it takes a village to raise a child" thing. And that's been my personal experience, and I'm wondering if that's true as you've seen it.
Elatia Abate (14:48):
Yeah. So, I think that a huge piece of resilience comes in connection and community. As I mentioned, I'm about halfway through this experiment and a few hundred conversations, and save one, the themes of resilience and mental health have been at the center in some way, shape or form of every single conversation. And whether that's purely resilience, whether it's mental health, good or bad, whether it is loneliness, connection or disconnection, somehow that has been squarely at the center.
Elatia Abate (15:21):
So, with that much communicating back at me a need for an understanding of it, minimally, but the building of community and connection in and for as an answer to strengthening our capabilities of resilience, I find it front and center. There's always the dance between the work that one must do internally in order to create that, because true peace, I think a pathway there can be through community and connection with others, but there's a reason why the hero's journey is always sort of... The final battle is always with one's self in some way, shape, or form, rather than something outside of ourselves.
Elatia Abate (16:08):
It's always the mustering of courage, or the learning of the lesson, or sort that what do I need to discover about the strength of reserves in me in order to come out the other side of a challenge thriving. But with that, sometimes the ability to look within comes by and with our connection with other individuals.
Susan Boles (16:31):
Is it worth it? Every small business owner wants to know that the money they spend on their businesses is worth it, that their investments produce results and help them grow. But if you don't know your business finances in and out, it's hard to know whether those expenses and investments are really worth it. Plenty of business owners, even the successful ones, feel like they're shooting in the dark when it comes to how they spend, save and invest their money. Like you, they wonder if the ads they're buying, the software they're investing in, or the people they're paying are really paying off.
Susan Boles (17:09):
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Susan Boles (17:40):
I want you to know exactly what's working so you can go all in and make your money make more money. This is what I do for business owners when I step in as their chief financial officer on demand. I help them parse the numbers, look for opportunities, and invest where it counts. We get clear on where they're getting in their own way and where the math just doesn't add up. And now I want to teach you to do the same for your own business, because, trust me, you can.
Susan Boles (18:09):
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Susan Boles (18:57):
So, let's talk about this hero's journey and the battle with your self and shift a little bit. So, back in... I think it was 2017, you embarked on this experiment to learn how to be more resilient, which is just completely fascinating to me. So can you tell me what that was all about, what was going on?
Elatia Abate (19:20):
Sure. I'll rewind it a little bit more than that. So, in August 2016 I went to a business conference where I heard Peter Diamandis get up on stage. He's the founder of the X prize and Singularity University. One of the foremost futurists of our time. And he gets up on stage and starts talking about autonomous vehicles, self-driving trucks. And I'm sitting there, I'm like, "Yeah, this is amazing. Great disruption in logistics and manufacturing." Basically all industries we know and understand.
Elatia Abate (19:49):
So, on the one hand, this is so cool, and almost instantaneously, "But, oh my God, what are we going to do with all the people?" Because the impact on jobs... Since truck driving is the most popular job in more than 25 States in the United States, I began to think about the truck driving jobs, and then all of the industries that build up around that, what are we going to do with all the people?
Elatia Abate (20:09):
So I dove into the economic research and in January 2017 decided that I would use my life as an experiment to fundamentally answer the question. So it moved away from what are we going to do with all the people, to how might we empower success in the face of great disruption? And do this journey, both by pushing my life to an extreme of uncertainty, life and business to an extreme of uncertainty, by learning about the technologies that are creating the impact, and by learning from people who are masters at managing change. All to come up with answers to that question.
Elatia Abate (20:41):
And in the time since then, I now work with organizations, large fortune 500 corporate organizations, early stage startups, large academic institutions, governments, to help them understand the impact of disruption and then channel that into positive impact and positive change in the moment of right now.
Susan Boles (21:04):
So, talk to me about the details. What did you do?
Elatia Abate (21:10):
Well, the beginning of the experiment was very much sort of wherever my clients would be, or whatever I had on the agenda was where my travel would take me. And I figured that I would just do the same business development that I had done making calls and... That I had done prior to that. And then I went out on the road, and from day to day I would decide if I was going to stay in a particular city. I stayed at a collection of hotels, Airbnb, friends and family, and embarked on the journey that way.
Susan Boles (21:47):
And what happened?
Elatia Abate (21:51):
What happened? Well, gosh, so many things. So, what happened? First and foremost. What happened really as a longer-term result out of all of this is this fascinating work that I get to do now, which is helping people in organizations develop the tools and thinking that they need in order to thrive in the face of great disruption. But in order to get there, of course I... Well, I don't know if it's an of course, but in order to get there, at least my experience of it was needing to understand the impact of great disruption. Understand the impact of what it means to be constantly on the move, as so many families, and especially now in the face of this pandemic, are being forced to do.
Elatia Abate (22:40):
It turns out that trying to build a business, or doing consistent professional activity is challenging when you're constantly on the move. For me, there was a lot of, "Oh, it's so cool that you're doing this experiment. Let's talk when it's done." I was like, "No, actually..." It turns out that it's not actually a very solid strategy for business development when you're communicating about that much disruption, because, in my experience, that disruption or that movement lands as uncertainty in the listening.
Elatia Abate (23:11):
So, part of what I had to learn was how do I create enough certainty for myself and then communicate that certainty to clients and potential clients, so that that gets them to the point of being able, ready, and willing to work now, as opposed to at some future point when the experiment was over.
Susan Boles (23:28):
Oh, it's interesting that the uncertainty of your... Really, we're talking about the uncertainty of your location made them uncomfortable and not certain about working with you overall?
Elatia Abate (23:41):
Yeah. Or just this understanding that even in the midst of this experiment, if you will, in answer to the questions of what are you up to right now, there's like, "Oh, great. That's so cool. So, let's talk when this is over." As though there were some ending point, and as though the assumption being, work can't or couldn't happen in that interim. So those were lessons that I had to learn so that I could create that certainty, both in the listening and my communication and in my own external circumstances, so that I could land the contracts that I needed to land in order to thrive myself.
Susan Boles (24:19):
Yeah. That's fascinating. I'd never really thought about the fact that our default assumption in the face of change is to stop other things until the change is done. If somebody says, "Hey, I'm moving, or my schedule is in flux, or I'm having a baby, I'm getting married." Major life changes. Our assumption as the receiver of that information is, "Okay. Cool. Well, let me know when it's done."
Elatia Abate (24:51):
Yes. And we put things on pause until things are done. And that's what I think is one of the biggest challenges for most people about the moment right now, is that they're saying, "Well, we'll just wait until it's over." Remember that happened back in March. "We'll just wait until August. Everybody hold on until August and things will go back to normal." Well, what happens when August hits and we're not back to normal? So, learning how to still move, still create, still build as disruption is occurring becomes critically important, because for the foreseeable future, we don't know what's going on.
Elatia Abate (25:26):
We have an election coming up very shortly. We will be colder here in the Northern hemisphere, and there's all kinds of hypotheses about how coronavirus is going to spread. Have another increase in spreading. So we don't know what's going to happen. So if we keep holding on until, then we lose out on the opportunities of what we could be doing in, what we could create in, and how we could even channel this disruption into something greater, bigger, more interesting. Into that better world that each of us, by the way, has the power in our hands to create. And every action, decision, movement that we make and take right now, because we're certainly not going back to what was.
Susan Boles (26:07):
Yeah. So fascinating. So, you're moving around and you are processing stress and just trying to keep your business rolling and your life rolling. And maybe there's many crises that happen along the way, and you kind of just have to keep moving. So, what are some of the strategies that either you learned personally or that you've seen from your research be effective in becoming more okay with continuing to build, continuing to keep moving in face of "we don't know when its over."
Elatia Abate (26:46):
Yeah. Well, that mindset, education, collaboration framework came as much out of my own living of, "Okay, how do I stop making what's not working about this journey work for me. And how can I turn it around into something positive?" And that mindset piece and that fundamental distinction of am I going to be captive to my circumstances or captain of my destiny. And the two questions that drive that, why is this happening to me versus given that we're here, what do I want to create? That alone.
Elatia Abate (27:21):
If you remember nothing else out of this interview and that conversation, that distinction can help get out of the fear and into the space of moving and creating. Meditation is key, because that is how... Really, how do we create stillness in the space of chaos. Yesterday, one of the interviews that I had, somebody was saying that they are equating this moment to the building the skill of moving in the eye of the hurricane.
Elatia Abate (27:51):
If you're in the eye of the chaos, you're fine, there's stuff going on around you, but you're solid, you're safe. But as you begin to move out and away from it, too far into the future, too far into the past, too far into the worry about what you can't control, then the wind starts to whip you. And so the farther you move away from that center. So, practices like meditation, practices like being in community and conversation. As I mentioned, almost every single one of the conversations that I've had have had something to do with mental health, or resilience, or combating loneliness.
Elatia Abate (28:29):
And something that somebody said to me... In a moment of courage saying, "Lose the pride, ask for help." And so that's where the education and collaboration pieces come into play. Education, what do I need to learn? What do I need to learn to fix the problem that I'm facing? That was a big one throughout the journey that I was on. And then collaboration, who do I need to connect with? And who are my business partners, who are potential funders, who are friends and psychological support. So, that mindset, education, collaboration, those three things working together end up being that three-legged stool.
Elatia Abate (29:08):
But those are some of the biggest lessons that I learned. In the creating certainty in uncertainty, there can be a game of how might I remove uncertainty that I can't control? What do I mean by that? At the beginning of the pandemic, in March of this year, asking myself, "Okay. So if what I'm seeing and what I'm hearing from the epidemiologists and what's going on in the world... It's going to be 18 to 24 months before I can see other human beings in person." So, rather than saying or wishing for my business, which was largely... It was 98% in-person delivery.
Elatia Abate (29:45):
So, I got to flip my revenue stream around. So my choice was... Or at least as I saw it, my choice was, "Okay, I can just sort of wait and hope that maybe this won't get canceled, or maybe that thing will work." And say, "All right, I'm going to pretend, I'm going to assume for the moment that I'm not going to be able to see another human being for the next 24 months." What did that do? That allowed me to remove external uncertainties that I couldn't control and say, "Okay, great. Well, how might I need to build a business then, if I'm not going to see another human being in person for the next 24 months?" That turned the power to me in the face of uncertainty, by not needing to depend on things I couldn't influence.
Susan Boles (30:23):
Yeah. That's interesting. I see that a lot in my work into risk and analyzing risk. And I think it's very similar in... You kind of assume the worst case scenario, and you'll figure out... "Okay, cool. The worst thing has happened. How do you deal with that?"
Elatia Abate (30:42):
Susan Boles (30:43):
And I never really thought about it as removing uncertainty, but you are. You're just saying, "Hey, it happened." The thing in your head that you keep worrying about, it happened, what do you do? And by being able to process that and come up with plans of how you'll react if that happens, and you're really managing that uncertainty. And that's the piece that allows you to then make more creative, more thoughtful, more calm decisions about what to do next.
Elatia Abate (31:14):
Absolutely. Hands down. So, one of the strategies for organizations in particular, but this also works for our own personal strategy. As we're thinking about creating things, come up with the best plan that you think you can. And then you create a red team kind of a strategy. The military does this a lot to say, "Okay, you come up with your best plan. And then you form a team to do everything you can to make that plan fail before you enact the plan, so that you can make the plan itself much stronger." And as you were saying, if you can face the thing that you're most afraid of and then begin to build strategies against, then anything else that happens on top of that, you're already winning. It's fantastic.
Susan Boles (31:55):
Yeah. And I also find that the worst case scenario very rarely comes true.
Elatia Abate (31:59):
Yes, I know-
Susan Boles (32:01):
So it does, it makes everything else feel easier.
Elatia Abate (32:02):
Yes. Exactly. And then what that does, it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling and refilling confidence and resilience, because you practice like, "Oh, that was challenging. I was able to do something that got me out of it. Cool. Now I can do it again. Oh, this looks like the last time. What could I have learned from that, and how can I do this again?" So, you begin to increase the reserves that you have on the resilience meter.
Susan Boles (32:30):
I love that. So, is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't already touched on?
Elatia Abate (32:36):
What I would say is this notion of how we view disruption, and so much of the instinct... Not always, but so much of the instinct when things get disrupted or what we thought was going to happen doesn't happen. We say, "Oh my God, that's bad." Or we didn't want that to occur. And it may create a result that doesn't look like the thing that you had planned in the first place, but beginning to practice shifting that instinct away from, "This is bad, it shouldn't have happened, I wish it weren't happening." To asking the question in the face of disruption, "How might this actually be the best thing that's ever happened to me, to my family, to my business, to anything else that's going on around us?"
Elatia Abate (33:20):
And wherever you get to with the answers with that, having done the exercise itself, again, it can help create enough of breathing room sometimes, because it doesn't feel good. As an example, for me, when it was March 10th and I'm standing in the rain outside of the library at the University of Cincinnati, and the Ohio governor is taking aggressive actions for a lockdown, and I'm watching my revenue for the next several months evaporate.
Elatia Abate (33:46):
That didn't feel any kind of good. However, by asking myself that question, "Wait a minute, how might this actually be the best thing?" Not that it felt good, or that it felt like the best thing at the time at all, but that gave me enough access into imagining possibility, instead of imagining doom and gloom, that I was able to create on top of it.
Susan Boles (34:08):
I love that. I think that's a fabulous place for us to wrap up. So, where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn more about what you do?
Elatia Abate (34:16):
Yeah, absolutely. You can find me on my website, which is ElatiaAbate.com. I am very active on LinkedIn, which is where I'm running the strength in community conversation and experiment. I'm active on Instagram. So, just look for me, Elatia Abate, in both of those places and you'll find my smiling face.
Susan Boles (34:36):
Awesome. Thank you so much for being here. This was fabulous.
Elatia Abate (34:40):
Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for inviting me. It was an honor and a privilege to share this time and space with you.
Susan Boles (34:46):
I went looking for a definition of change and found kind of the perfect one in, of all places, an article on the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers website. Who would have figured engineers to write a poetic and perfect definition of change? It says, "Change is something that presses us out of our comfort zone. It is destiny-filtered, heart-grown, faith-built. Change is inequitable. It's not a respecter of persons. Change is for the better or for the worse, depending on where you view it."
Susan Boles (35:20):
And I think this truly exemplifies exactly what Elatia and I were talking about. You can't control the change, but you can control your mindset around the change. You can embrace it, lean into it, and give yourself just a tiny bit of mental breathing room by asking, "How might this actually be a good thing?" To give you the space to take a breath and start to think more creatively about how to weather the storm. Next week, I'm talking to Melody Wilding about how to build up those personal change management and resiliency muscles. As business owners, having strong skills around managing and reacting to change benefit both ourselves and our businesses.
Susan Boles (36:02):
And that's what we're going to talk about. So, hit subscribe on your favorite podcast player, so you don't miss it. Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin. Production coordinator is [Lou Blazer 00:00:36:14]. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt, with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.