David Brabbins
June 6, 2024

Insights Everywhere #003: Marc Escobosa

Envisioning Possible Futures

How visionary leaders can seize new opportunities and navigate change

In this conversation, Marc Escobosa, Vice President of Futures at Salesforce, shares his career journey, discusses the role of scenario planning in shaping the future, and the importance of leaders embracing storytelling to enrol and guide others on the journey. Marc discusses his background in design, how he became interested in how mental constructs are defined by culture and language, and his lateral career journey into - and through - design and technology.

Marc explains what he does as a leader in the Futures team at Salesforce, helping to anticipate and imagine possible scenarios, and shape the future. He shares his belief that it’s important for businesses to be resilient, flexible, and recomposable in the face of today’s disruptive technological advancements.

The conversation also touches on the importance of trust in AI, the role of leadership in driving change, and how storytelling can make people better leaders. Marc shares advice for young future leaders and highlights the value of finding the right altitude of problems to solve for you, regardless of compensation and titles.

Key Takeaways:

  • Marc helps businesses engage in data-informed scenario planning which is an important tool for anticipating and preparing for different possible futures.
  • It’s important to build realistic scenarios which are comprised of a mix of both good and bad outcomes.
  • The main purpose of scenario planning is to have a diverse group of stakeholders build a shared understanding of possible future outcomes that they may not have considered before and debate and work through them.
  • Businesses need to be resilient, flexible, and recomposable in the face of technological advancements.
  • Technological advancements such as AI should not just automate what we already do, but should help reimagine how we currently do things.
  • Leadership should involve inspiring and including others in decision-making with effective storytelling. This includes bringing the audience along the journey, recognizing and honoring what is lost and gained, and inspiring others to want to come with you by representing everyone as you move together.
  • Young future leaders should have a beginners’ mind, follow their passion for problem-solving, and periodically assess their happiness with the altitude of problems they are working on, regardless of titles and compensation.

Interview Transcript

Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of Insights Everywhere, Studio Everywhere's regular interview series where we speak to visionary trailblazers from the world of strategy, brand, marketing and design. Today, super excited to be talking with design and tech strategist, all-round big thinker, master storyteller, Marc Escobosa, who is is currently Vice President of Futures at Salesforce over in San Francisco. Here’s the transcript:

Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Sure, I’m Marc Escobosa. I grew up in the Bay Area. I was fortunate enough to graduate. I really do say fortunate enough to graduate right when the internet was taking off and I fell into design and have had an incredible nonlinear path. And very, very fortunate to have a long history of leading design teams and innovation and strategy.

Design we'll get into, I'm sure, in subsequent questions, but my background in design has been mostly on the digital side with a little dip into media and into hospitality. But right now I'm part of the Futures team, which I'm sure we'll also talk about. Salesforce is a rare company in that it has a dedicated futures team that performs strategy on behalf of the company and our customers. I’m very proud to be part of that team and helping Salesforce chart a course, especially in a world that is harder and harder to predict.

What's your story?

I grew up bilingual. My mom is from the Flemish part of Belgium, but started a French school with my dad in Berkeley. So I went to school in French, but it wasn't the French per se that was what really opened my eyes to the rest of the world. It was sitting on the boundary between two cultures, between two languages and realizing how language affected mental constructs and how I thought about the world. And so as I progressed in my education, I was really interested in the role of a translator in being the interstitial connector.

It started just between two languages. How can you explain this idiomatic expression or this cultural nuance to someone else who hasn't lived it? And then it grew to, well, wait a second, there's so many mental constructs that are actually defined in the culture. And I became fascinated by that.

So when I got to university, I immediately gravitated to psychology. And as much as I loved cognitive psychology and social psychology and many of the other fields, the fact that we were walking around with, in our own head, a brain that was producing all of this thought, that was processing live HD television full -time, all the time, that we were conjuring memories, that we were strategically forgetting things. I suddenly became really enamored with the system of the human brain. And so I studied neuroscience and I got all the way to senior year and people are like, who here is going to medical school? And the whole class raised their hand except for me. And, you know, thank goodness the internet happened.

I kind of fell backwards into a photography project that in and of itself would take an entire episode, but to explain, it was called 24 Hours in Cyberspace. And the short version of it is, it was 1996. Actually, I started working on the project in 1995, the year I graduated from college.

It was with Rick Smolan, who is an incredible National Geographic photographer and entrepreneur who had this incredible idea to document how the internet was changing life on planet Earth. And you weren't allowed to take a picture of a computer, you had to take a picture of the effect of network connectivity, the effect of Internet. How the internet was changing society. And they needed a young internet nerd to help them do what in retrospect we would probably have had to design production wise end-to-end.

How are we gonna get National Geographic photographers to take images in the field in remote locations all around the world on a single day, February 8th, 1996? How are we gonna get those images (most of them shot on Chrome film) developed, scanned, and digitized in some way, and then transported to San Francisco's Mission Control where we could edit them in relatively real time into stories we could then publish the HTML for and make live on the web that day?

In 1996, this seemed absolutely preposterous. And I mean, I thought so too. I didn't know how we were going to do it. And my boss was an incredibly brilliant genius named Tom Melcher, who was a Harvard Business School person and McKinsey, I think - just brilliant. And the two of us were dangerous. We essentially figured this thing out. At this point, if you had asked me, “Are you a designer?” I honestly would have said, “I don't know what that is. What is design?” So I was really fortunate to fall into the boxes and arrows side of design, the process side of design, not the graphic design, not the portfolio. I didn't have that foresight. I wish I had.

But anyway, the project was an incredible success. I think we published 87 stories on this day and it went into the Smithsonian. It was on the nightly news and we had Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings on-site, live, "Reporting live from Mission Control in San Francisco."

And one of the sponsors was founded by one of the original designers at Apple, Clement Mok. Clement Mok is an incredible designer. He wrote a book called Designing Business, which was one of the first books to merge business and design. And he had originally founded Clement Mock Studios that became Studio Archetype that was eventually bought by Sapient. And he basically said, “I'd like to take you with me to NetObjects”, which was one of these startups that was the sponsor of this project. And I said, well, "Okay, what am I going to do?" He said, "You're going to be a designer." And I said, "What's that?" And he said, "Don't worry. We'll teach you everything." And that began a stint for three or four years learning UI design.

It was like Microsoft Foundation classes, which was like the library that you use to build interfaces that could be then built more easily  on the Windows platform. And eventually I also designed the interface for the Mac version. And then eventually we had to do a server, a client server version of this tool. It was called NetObjects Fusion. It really was the first website editor that differentiated itself from a web page editor.

There were a few of those where you would edit one page at a time, often coding the HTML. Ours was more like work express or InDesign or PageMaker. It was like a WYSIWYG environment where you would design a website. And when you were done, you would do all the pages, hit publish and it would generate the HTML for you - the CSS, the JavaScript - and push it up to your website and off you went. So I learned interface design that way.

Eventually I formed a little boutique design firm with my boss, just the two of us, called Zaudhaus. I did that for a number of years. And then I studied interaction design at a school in Italy. That's also an hour long story, but I had a fantastic time. And settled back down into a startup that was one of the early SaaS enterprise software companies that wasn't named Salesforce in around 1999, 2000.

It was essentially a mechanical electrical design idea. It was what happens if we put a bill of materials online. So long story, I can explain more, but essentially I was the head of product design and the head of product working in cahoots with our CTO, Eric Larkin and our CEO, Michael Topolovac. And we spent eight and a half years full time leading that company and understanding how products were being built.

We had Tesla as one of our early customers when they were still making the Roadster. We also had almost every cool internet gadget, and Leatherman and neat mechanical products too.

I had to go interview all of their product designers and all of their engineers and get their specs and features for, for example, “How is it that you want to capture that in a web application so that you can share it with a contract manufacturer and have it built?”

So I got pretty deep into not just product design, but having to understand manufacturing and electrical design and then showed up at Salesforce. And that's probably your next question. So I'll stop there. But I've been at Salesforce for almost nine years.

We'd love to hear more. What's your journey at Salesforce been like?

When I joined Salesforce, it was as a design strategist with a program called Ignite, which you can think of as a mini version of IDEO if it were combined with a mini version of Bain. Neither one of them in the full bloom of their remits, but combined in a way that Salesforce could offer to our customers in a pre-sales motion that is essentially a way to partner with customers to better imagine whom they could be.

When you are in a time of great transition, whether it is trying to undergo digital transformation, now it's very obvious to try to figure out how and where and when, can I incorporate AI into my business? We found that it was really important to do that as part of a partnering, co-visioning motion with customers in order to help them see who they could be.

And so we did that. I ran that program eventually for the West Coast and then for the US. We had a practice of designers, researchers and strategists. And we had an incredible time working with mostly C-suite executives from mostly Fortune 500 or even Fortune 200 companies getting to understand how their business was changing and how they wanted to connect to their customer.

Last fall, I transitioned to the Futures team. So I've been with the Futures team since about August of last summer. And the Futures team at Salesforce is a different team. We are related in DNA to the first program, Ignite, in that several of the members, including the leader of the Futures team at Costigan came from the Ignite program. But it's a distinct program that we run in the office of the CEO, reporting into Marc Benioff's chief of staff.

What is the difference between the services you provided at Ignite versus Futures at Salesforce?

In a lot of ways, they are similar. But I think both use a slightly different methodology. And I think there are important nuances to that distinction.

In the Ignite world, merely being customer centered was often sufficient. Of course we had to care about the architecture and the technology to some extent, but when you're painting the vision of whom you could be, you're triangulating who is your brand today and what kind of brand permission do you have? And then who do you wish to become? And who do you want your customer to become essentially? There's a lot of brand strategy and experience strategy in that. So on the Ignite side, you could really center the inquiry there - all of the research, the expression of the vision could really be told through a story of a day in the life of your customer in regards to the way it should be.

I think the futures orientation is a little different. Our mission is to help our customers and our company anticipate, imagine and shape the future. And for us, the future is plural. We're building on many decades of work that began at Shell Oil with Peter Schwartz, who's our Chief Futures Officer. And Peter Schwartz is one of the pioneers in the field of the methodology of doing scenario planning and scenario work. I think our mentality there is a little different in that we take into heavy consideration humans and human needs and also our own values and how we'd like to show up in the world. But it's more a methodology around scanning the horizon for things that are predetermined and uncertain. And then of those that are uncertain, determining which are truly going to pivot the business if they go one way or the other, and then trying to rehearse ahead of time versions of the future that might come about so that when we inevitably get surprised, you're that far ahead of your competitor.

That's the distinction we would make. That's why we tend to pluralize Future and say it's Futures. We are the Futures team because we're not in the business of prediction. We're in the business of rehearsing plural futures. So that we'll be ahead of the game.

When scenario planning, do you have an action plan ready for each possible future situation or is it fairly high level?

In true scenario planning, rigorous scenario planning whose purpose is to inform a plan, you can get incredibly detailed scenarios that include business models and many, many months or years of data to support a direction that is selected. In our remit, we find more value in forcing structured conversation in our ecosystem where we see that it is missing. So we're looking for places that we think there should be an active conversation about this because we are starting to see it coming. And even though we don't know exactly what shape it will take, the fact that no one's talking about this is the problem. And so the payload, if you will, is really getting people together of disparate points of view and building a shared understanding and having them come up to speed with the dynamics that are being presented, at least that might present themselves, and working that through.

So in that sense, often we say good scenarios, they feel a lot like a story. They feel a lot like a movie. And they have an internal logic to them. Even if they're neither a perfect utopia or a perfect dystopia, they need to have that uncomfortably messy, mix of both of those things for them to feel real to people. And they do need to start to feel a little bit real enough for people to get the benefit from rehearsing them.

Can you give an example or two of real recent scenarios - that are are no longer confidential?

Some we share with customers, and some are confidential. Typically in our scenarios, we would mix several axes. So we might be looking at some uncertainties and say, the world could go this way, the world could go that way. For example, are our LLM foundational models going to stay foundational and eventually get commoditized? Or are open models going to lead to some sort of Cambrian explosion of many models.

You could actually separate those and say generalization is going to win out or specialization is going to win out. And on the other axis, you could say, no, open models are going to win or foundational models are going to win. And you could construct four different worlds and play them out. And often you say, “You know what, we're gonna end up finding evidence of a little bit of this and that.” That's okay, right? Because we're not trying to make these things so mutually exclusive that you're going to plan around a single one. The benefit is in talking through the situation, especially with a mixed group of stakeholders who might come to the table with different perspectives on what the correct response to each of those different presenting scenarios might be.

Who are the best of breed companies that are using this kind of approach?

It all began at Shell Oil in the 70s because Shell was trying to decide where to put an oil well. And setting aside how we feel about oil, oil is an important part of the world's economy. And of course, we'd love to make an energy transition as fast as possible. But just going back to the 70s and the 80s, thinking about, do we want to drill in Libya or do we want to explore shale extraction in Calgary or Alberta? You had to have a two year run time before you were live, up, and running and eight years before you were hitting peak volume of extraction, and then 30 years later before that well would go dry. So you have to have an opinion about Libya 30 years from now. It's a really hard problem.

And if you think about that, deciding where to put a hospital or where to put a school is a similar issue. You have to think decades, not months. So anywhere in business that you see big decisions that require significant capital outlay at the outset or many years in order to get your ROI, you tend to see some form of scenario thinking take hold.

It had a little moment, I think, in the 80s and 90s. It is true that Salesforce today is a rare example of a high-tech company that has a futures team. It's an incredible asset to Salesforce, especially as a values-driven company, really committed to a stakeholderist view of capitalism and wanting to use business as a platform for making the world a better place and for change, for positive change. So when we think about it that way, there are many parts of the world global economy that Salesforce touches where taking a decades long view, or even a five year view is tremendously beneficial, especially when we're not just talking about planning the way that Shell had to, we're talking about rehearsing for possible futures.

So when you think about things like coming out of COVID and trying to predict what the economic recovery would be like, whether or not people would get vaccines. It's really hard to predict that. It's a lot easier to structure a conversation where you imagine different versions of the recovery and you prepare for each. And in preparing for each, you start to see what is robust across more than one of those directions. Those become things that anybody can do now.

In terms of other companies we see doing it - you’d have to identify them by getting into the specifics of what we see on the outside of the company as evidence that they must be doing good scenario planning.

This is what I think for most of tech. They've been really obsessed with the lean, go fast and break things mentality, which is to some extent, a little bit at odds with with scenaric practices.

But for example, when you look at biotech or any number of niche parts of the economy that are based on big bets into foundational parts of human biology or of drug approval, you start to see where scenario planning could play a big role in terms of whether or not you pursue an MRNA platform, for example. It does take a certain amount of rehearsal in order to make that investment.

What do you think of companies like Tesla who are publishing their master plan and updating it each year? Does this fall into the category of a company who's clearly doing this?

Elon Musk is a very smart person. It's true there's certainly some foresight in how the supercharger network was invested in by Tesla, right? That is something that did make range anxiety more palatable for early adopters of electric, of EVs. So, yes, I think in retrospect, you can look back at bets that were made that are indicators that someone had started to work through second and third order effects of big decisions.

What is the difference between predicting and scenario planning?

I'm still new to the futurist worldview and I've already picked up in the community that there's certainly any number of people who clearly derive a lot of pleasure from predicting things and then claiming they were right.

That’s human nature. Who doesn't feel good when they make a bold claim and it comes true. And one of the ironies is that Peter Schwartz, our Chief Futures Officer has an incredible track record of actually predicting things. But the minute you say that this work is about prediction, I think is when you actually missed the mark, right? And so in general, we're much more likely to celebrate resiliency.

So I believe companies that can pivot faster, that can self-organize around complicated, complex topics quicker, that can switch strategies….That's where it's very interesting.

We live in increasingly unpredictable, fast-changing times. Are you seeing any patterns across industries?

Right now, I think there's a premium on being resilient as a business, on being flexible as a business, and maybe almost recomposable.

What do I mean by that? You don't see how vestigial something is and until late. And I think we grew up with departments, departmental budgets, and business titles that have generally stayed similar - not withstanding the addition of webmaster and data scientists, right? We have some new titles in the last 20 years, but generally, work happens the way it has happened previously. Since the average worker had email, you could say a lot of work is pretty similar.

If I were to observe an employee at any company, they probably have a calendar, an email inbox. We hope they have Slack, right? They probably go to too many meetings. They make purchasing decisions based on budget from their manager that rolls up to some department budget. The departments compete for that dollar. And all of that seems a little artificial in a world where I can ask an LLM and eventually things much more sophisticated than LLMs today a complex question that knows no boundaries knows no perimeter fencing . Doesn't care where the data is coming from. Doesn't care who's asking. Doesn't care what department you're in or whose budget is paying for this. It's just a straight line to an outcome.

What strikes us are the companies that are seeing that sooner and embracing a kind of nimbleness on how they self-organize in terms of their internal organization.

Spotify is an interesting case with the way that they organized themselves - but that’s now going back a few years, right? That kind of flexibility is really inspiring to us. And then people who are questioning the way business happens, questioning the way business workflow happens and seeking ways to make things come together faster, whether it's doing things in novel ways.

I'm trying to think of a really good example. It's easy to point at OpenAI and say, “Look!” Setting aside Microsoft's influence, a lot of what OpenAI is doing, how they structure their work, is pretty different from how work traditionally happened before AI. So we're studying that and trying to learn.

AI advancements seem to taking great strides and companies are making big bets on trying to create their own solutions. How can businesses across different industries scenario plan for the future with this in mind?

You have to look at where we are in context. Certainly in the Bay Area, we are very aware of just how much topics get hot, they exist on a hype curve, and then get ahead of themselves.

For example, this AI wave is coming right on the backs of the crypto wave, the cryptocurrency wave, ledgers and blockchain, which people in technology kind of tolerated but never really sunk their teeth into. And I think it's caused a little bit of squeamishness around AI. "Here we go again?", “Boy who cried wolf.” "Are we gonna do this again?" "Really, really, really?"

That said, there are real trade-offs to be made when it comes to data. For example, you can centralize all of the data, sometimes at great costs, certainly at great effort in many cases if you're talking about a legacy business. And pulling all of that data together also means a company is easier to be subject to negative events with their data being centralized. So you really have to be very conscientious. And I think steward your data in a way and at a level that many companies are waking up to and feeling, I think, very, very profound responsibility around it.

Then on top of that, you have industries that for good reason have significant and will continue to have significant limitations on what can be shared, whether it's health information or financial information that are looking at AI as profound in some ways, but also will wait and see in terms of when it will be truly usable at scale for the masses in ways that are trusted.

This is something that of course we care very deeply about. Trust is our number one value at Salesforce and we'd spend an extraordinary amount of time as a company really thinking through how do we make AI trusted? How do you believe this answer? How do you know where it came from? How do you feel that it's grounded in real data that came from your data? That's something that, when we engage in high level conversations with customers, that's the most impressive thing I can spot is a sensitivity to the issues and a dedication to try to do it right.

I read something yesterday that OpenAI have got versions for the government with an air gap - where all the data is shielded off from the outside world, so it can't be shared or used for training. This idea of private GPTs or quasi-private ones seems to be the future.

It's certainly worth thinking through as an alternative because there are businesses for which certain risks are less palatable than others. And so we're not gonna have a universal solution that fits for all industries at all levels of risk, at all kind of risk tolerance levels. We still need entrepreneurship.

We feel like we might be approaching some kind of trough of disillusionment in the hype cycle around AI as the first wave of pilots are mostly something that writes an email for you, but you don't even want to be using email anymore. You'd rather be using Slack. Writing the email for me is nice and we should do it. But that alone is not the ultimate promise of AI. And so are we in for a bunch of headlines that are like, "Gen. AI, was it really all that it's cracked up to be?"

We're anticipating the next crushing wave of true innovation where people really ask themselves, “If we were doing this with an AI first mentality starting today, what could we do? How could this be?”

What's the secret to getting business leaders to act on something like that? A seismic opportunity that requires re-engineering.

Right, you mean this whole time I've had the secret and I've been secretly keeping it to myself and now I am gonna share with you. The secret to getting business leaders to accept change.

I mean, my answer would be we've had the privilege the last year almost of working on and off with Professor Ronald Heifetz from the Harvard Kennedy School, who has a number of books on the subject of adaptive leadership and adaptive challenges. But a really key point that I love about his work is making sure you think about what people are losing when you ask them to change and really designing the loss itself recognizing and celebrating the loss in a way so that it is okay to move on, to accept the difference.

One dimension of getting executives to change and be more effective at changing is to have them, I think, look with fresh eyes, with a beginner's mind at the actual change they are trying to bring about and question how that might be experienced as a loss. And just because it's a loss, it doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.

But instead, to honor the loss and tell a story about what the loss means and how the thing that we're gaining is worth it to us as your leaders and is more than the loss. And this is, I think, a foundational principle of good leadership in a time of change when we need resiliency. The second bit is leaders leading. Being a leader is about inspiring people to want to come with you and representing them in decisions and including them in decisions.

I'm not sure that the 1950s version of leadership works anymore in this culture, nor should it. And there was a time for that, maybe. But that's not now. And leadership to me has evolved for good reason. There's still many kinds of leadership. There's so many styles of leadership and each leader should find their own way of leading. But I think the spirit behind the question, I wouldn't feel comfortable with somebody purely leading through tyranny. I don't think that that's a sustainable way to effectively bring about lasting change in a culture. I think you've got to live it and model it. You've got to inspire people to come with you. You have to tell stories about both the loss and the gain. And you need to represent everyone as you move together. That's what the best leaders are doing.

Storytelling seems to be a big part of your work. What are your three biggest tips for telling effective stories?

Bring the audience with you. Think deeply about where they are walking in. Reserve a little bit of your attention while you're talking for still noticing them and noticing whether they're with you. Noticing very small expressions like are they nodding? Are they hunching forward in their chair? Are they curious? Are you losing them? Did they just make a little expression where they clearly didn't understand some buzzword you just said? So that's the micro.

But even at the macro, if you're trying to get them on board with a new strategy or an interesting pivot that you think you'd like to push people towards, start where they are. Start where they are and build up how you got to your conclusion. So even if they weren't included in the actual decision at the time, include them in the journey now.

And I think that's true of every good story is you may not know where it's going, but you're in it while it's happening. So that's probably my first one.

Wow, I have two more? OK. I have another one.

This one's maybe perhaps a little bit obvious, but I've been really inspired by this worldview in the futures world. You look at the present and it's pretty clearly neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It is a very awkward mishmash of mostly best intentions from the previous generation of decisions that went haywire.

And we're left dealing with second order consequences that were hard to predict. And some of them are very positive. For example, now we have an mRNA platform for dealing with any SARS-like virus now that we can roll out safely to the entire world's population affordably. Holy moly, that's incredible.

And then we also have like pieces of the present that are dystopian.

So in futures work, we use that to say, look, when you're planning a future, if you find yourself telling a story that is either purely one or the other, it's not gonna be like that, right? You need to seek stories that have an awkward mix of positive and negative things about them.

The way that I bring that back to storytelling is, I think stories are a lot richer when they have some messiness. For example, Star Wars had dust in the spaceships. You have to be okay to not be pure with every signal. Perfect, with every color. Clean with every detail. That's sort of a less interesting story than a faulty character who's trying their hardest but has setbacks.

Most of those story structures work because your belief in them, your hope in them, and your willingness to go with it is in fact slightly fluctuating - you're coming and going from how much you want to commit to the story. And that's what makes the payoff all that much sweeter when you get to the end. It's because you've actually endured a little bit of a micro investment of your attention.

So I would ask - is there a way to think of who your hero is and depict a world that is slightly messier than your inclination is to depict? And let your audience feel the benefit of the story.

What advice would you give to young future leaders who are just starting out on their journey?

Early on, there's no substitute for having a beginner's mind. Being a sponge, saying yes to as many things as you think you might at all find some curiosity in. Don't just do the work. Study the form of the work, the nature of the problem, the patterns in the solutions, the mental constructs needed to solve problems like that.

Often, I find each human's brain is happiest at a moment in time at a certain valence. If we were electrons, how far we are from the nucleus is our valence. And you can get somebody super excited and artificially get them to live at a different valence, just like you can supercharge an electron and get it up there. You can do it for a little bit, you can do it for six months, you can do it for a year. But I find that there's nothing like knowing the kinds of problems your brain loves solving. There's nothing like it.

And it might change over the course of your career. As you age, you might tire of some kind of problems and grow into a different altitude of problems. The advice I would give is one - just because one altitude of problem is higher doesn't mean it's better. Just because someone's willing to pay you more for a more abstract layer of reasoning doesn't mean you'll be happier there. So make that compromise on purpose with intention. Check in with yourself every 18 months, 24 months, or 36 months if it's been a while since you've asked yourself the question, “Is my brain happy with this altitude of problems in this field?”

And it's okay if the answer is, wow, you know what? I actually really liked it one rung down on the ladder. Down is not bad. Down is just a different level of detail. And if your brain is happy there, go there. Because where your brain is happy, the world will find a way to use you.

And they will find a way to pull you into the kinds of problems you love. And the minute you love the problem, you'll be more engaged. So don't fall for the insinuated career path that you're supposed to only go up in the org chart to be happy, right? You're the director of your play. And I find myself giving that advice to a lot of people just starting out.

I feel like for whatever reason, I graduated from college with, I think, the privilege and the freedom to not feel like I had to go be an “X”. I could go be a weird internet nerd who could help put this photography thing online.

Finally, Marc, curveball question. What's the most unusual place you have found inspiration recently?

My gosh, I have a thousand of these. I mean, just yesterday I was flying my drone and I looked down at the intersection of a cliff, the beach and the waves. And the waves were just making the most mesmerizing pattern. And it kind of reminded me of caul fat. Like when you wrap sausage in the fat from an animal - that part has a lattice-like pattern. I know it's a weird image, I'm sorry.

But anyway, I was completely inspired by Janine Benyus' biomimicry work, which has been going on now for 25, 30 years. She has an incredible book and an entire incredible line of thought. But to see the comparison visually between how the waves and the white froth foam forming at the top of the waves - I could see a very organic lattice pattern. And it struck me - what else is that pattern also like? That's how glial cells look in the brain.

And so the same way there are harmonics in music - you can take two notes from what is a Western scale, and play them to somebody who's not typically exposed to the Western scale. Those two notes in harmony will sound relatively pleasant to them too. So there must be something biologically happening with the mathematical shape of those curves in music. And so, well then, why wouldn't you believe that that's true in vision as well? So I was finding myself, being inspired by patterns that I notice around me. That was just one. Would you like seven more?