Episode 261

Ozan Varol, author "AWAKEN YOUR GENIUS"

Published on: 7th September, 2023

In this interview with Ozan Varol, the author of "Awaken Your Genius," the conversation revolves around the challenges of embracing creativity and escaping conformity. Ozan Varol's book focuses on breaking free from societal norms and finding one's unique creative voice. The interview emphasizes the importance of authenticity, individuality, and the journey to creativity.

Ozan Varol's book, "Awaken Your Genius," encourages individuals to step out of their comfort zones and develop their own perspectives on creativity. The conversation highlights the story of Johnny Cash's audition, where he resisted conformity and showcased his uniqueness, leading to his success. The author emphasizes that true creativity arises when one dares to be different and not just follow the herd.

Here are some topics we discussed:

1. Can you share with us the inspiration behind writing "Awaken Your Genius"? What motivated you to explore the concept of unlocking one's originality?

2. In your book, you talk about discovering "first principles" as a way to tap into our genius. Could you explain what first principles are and how they can help us generate original insights? 

3. Creativity often involves letting go of preconceived notions and thinking beyond conventional boundaries. How can we discard what no longer serves us to foster a more creative mindset?

4. "Looking where others don't look" and "seeing what others don't see" are intriguing concepts. How can we develop this unique perspective to fuel our creative thinking?

5. As we embark on a journey of A WORLD OF CREATIVITY, we might encounter self-doubt or fear of failure. You were born in Istanbul, Turkey, came to US to study, worked on two Mars expeditions, and now lecture ---- How do you suggest overcoming these mental barriers to fully unleash our creative potential?

6. Can you share a practical exercise or technique from your book that our listeners can use to kickstart their creativity and begin their path toward awakening their genius?

The interview touches on two key aspects of fostering creativity: geographical and disciplinary exploration. Ozan Varol suggests stepping outside one's familiar surroundings, whether by traveling or changing physical environments, as a means to break free from routine thinking. He also emphasizes the value of embracing ideas from various disciplines to create innovative connections and approaches.

The conversation ends with Ozan Varol reading a passage from his book's introduction, which focuses on the concept of tapping into one's untapped wisdom and embracing individuality to contribute uniquely to the world. The interview concludes by urging listeners to put themselves on "airplane mode," allowing themselves time and space for reflection and imagination, which are vital for nurturing creativity.

Overall, the interview provides insights into Ozan Varol's philosophy on creativity, the essence of his book, and practical steps individuals can take to awaken their own creative genius.

If you're in the United States, text his first name, Ozan, to 55444.

Ozan's Website

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So we're going to delve into that today with our guest, Ozan Varol. Ozan, welcome to the show.

Thanks so much for having

me here, Mark. And Ozan exemplifies this idea of a creative journey. He's the author of a terrific new book called Awaken Your Genius. And I love the subtitle, Ozan, Escape Conformity to Ignite Creativity and Become Extraordinary.

ut how do we get out of this [:

Yeah, great question. Let me answer that with a with a story that I tell in Awaken Your Genius.

tory is about Johnny Cash. In:

So he walks into this audition room and and for his audition, he picks a gospel song because that's what he knows best. And what's more gospel is all the rage in 1954. Everyone else was. Singing it. So his initial tendency is to conform. So he starts singing this slow, dreary gospel song and the record label owner, Sam Phillips pretends to be interested for about 30 seconds before interrupting cash.

s, sing something different. [:

And that rants jolts cash out of his conformist. Let me sing you some good old gospel attitude. He collects himself, he starts strumming his guitar, and he starts playing a song called the Folsom Prison Blues that he had written when he was in the Air Force. And in that moment, he stops trying to become a gospel singer, and he becomes Johnny Cash.

And he walks out of that audition room with a contract all because he resists the tendency to conform and he embraces what makes him different. What makes him unique. So to tie that back to your question about conformity. I think. Most of us wouldn't dare to do what Cash did in that audition room.

ate with that attitude, life [:

And so really, the key in this really noisy The world that we live in is to embrace the false and prison blues that you have inside of you instead of caving into this tendency to conform to look around you and to copy and paste what other people are doing. Because when you do that, you turn into plain vanilla ice cream and plain vanilla ice cream is not remarkable.


And these preconceived notions. I'm sure Johnny Cash said, Hey, this is what made me. This is what got me even to the standing in this room. And you tell this story and I also think about Bob Dylan steps out on a stage playing, acoustic folk rock and then all of a sudden the second half of the show brings out the electric guitars and they blew him off the stage.

sful doing this boy. It is a [:

Yeah, for sure. It can be really hard and actually struggle with that very problem. You're just describing in writing.

er Scientist that came out in:

There's a different type of conformity, which is conforming to your past success, conforming to your old habits, conforming to your old ways of existing. And that was my initial tendency was to say, look, I'm going to take what made think like a rocket scientist successful. I'm going to copy and paste. I'm going to copy and paste the same structure, the same formula, the same 3 parts, the same, 9 chapters, and then.

e, I got writer's block. The [:

And I struggled with it for about a month. Until I said, all right, I'm going to let it go. I'm going to let go of my previous success. I'm going to let go of the structure I had in mind for this book. And instead I'm going to treating it like a puzzle board. I'm going to build the initial puzzle pieces first, not knowing exactly where they're going to lead me.

s book wouldn't have been as [:

This is just version 2. 0 of what he had written before. And I think, there's a quote from somebody whose name I'm forgetting right now, but she says she was a famous singer. She says, they're going to crucify you for changing. They're going to crucify you for staying the same. I'd rather get crucified for changing, for actually growing, for expanding, for stepping into who I am today, as opposed to try to fulfill some obligations to what I used to be in the past.

And what is it, Ozan, that attracts you or compels you to explore this idea of creativity? These principles and ideas that you present in the book. Why is this kind of thinking important for you to pursue?

es. I hear people come to me [:

And I don't buy that. I think everyone is creative. The world isn't divided into creative and non creative people. The world is divided into people who use their creative talents and those who don't. I think everyone is born creative. Everyone is born curious and creativity allows us to tap into. this unique wisdom, this unique genius that exists inside of us.

And I, I picked the term, the word genius and the title of Awakening Your Genius for a very specific reason, because genius is often thought to mean, the most talented or the most intelligent, but actually that's not how I use the word and the title. The word harkens back to this quote from Thelonious Monk.

f us waiting to be awakened. [:

And so I think the study of creativity for me is really interesting for that reason.

I love that genie in there. In the bottle. Yeah, I'll be using that visual imagery for myself. Ozan, I think I wanted to turn the page a little bit and think about your personal creative journey born in Istanbul, Turkey.

You didn't have any native English speakers in your family, but came to Cornell at age 17 to study science, worked your way into working on a couple of the Mars. Rover expedition projects. This really set in motion a real creative journey that didn't follow a linear path. Let's stay on planetary science.

ere really those things that [:

think at an early age, I spent a lot of time imagining I was really into astronomy.

Carl Sagan was my childhood hero. I would watch the original Cosmos series narrated by Sagan over and over again. I didn't speak any English, so I had no idea what he was saying, but I listened anyway. Yeah, it sounded great and it looked great. And I love sci fi books and so I, I get lost in the worlds of, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C.

Clark and Isaac Asimov. And I think being predisposed to in many ways, and I think exercising this muscle of not just Observing what is, but also envisioning what could be that to me was essential to the launch of my creative journey. And in some ways, it was forced in the sense that I love Turkey.

I love Turkish [:

We'd be called 38 instead of Ozan. A very. Very on the nose way of stripping down your individual qualities. What makes your unique human being and replacing you with a number. And so that was very antithetical to the way that I was wired. And so that meant I just went in and I would spend a lot of time imagining and envisioning what could be as opposed to paying attention to what it is, because I think observation ends up fueling repetition and imagination is what fuels innovation.

coming an astronaut someday. [:

States. And as you mentioned, Mark, I ended up getting into Cornell to study astrophysics and came here when I was 17 with two suitcases and nothing else to my name and left my family behind in Turkey and then ended up working on the Mars Exploration Robust Project. But at any stage of the journey, I'm always fueled by this idea of what could be.

And I certainly pay attention to what is, but I don't Obsess about it. And and I remind myself continuously that there is so much power in imagining what could be. Yes.

f our own sort of boundaries [:

What does that worldview give you in terms of creativity and really awakening a genius?

Yeah, and I'll I think there are two facets that I'd love to talk about when it comes to the world of creativity. One is the geographic aspect and the importance of stepping outside this world that we're living in the country we're living in the city we're living in.

And then because that plays an important role in my creative journey. And then the second is stepping outside of the discipline that we're normally operating in. So the first one, which is for me, one aspect of stepping outside the world of the world that I'm living in is travel and particularly foreign travel foreign travel for me has a way of.

e to making some fundamental [:

And so stepping outside the city we're living in, the country we're living in, and exposing ourselves to different languages, different ways of being in the world, where the majority becomes a minority, everything changes is I think so conducive to shedding old skin that no longer belongs to us, and then igniting that creativity.

Within and in a smaller scale, I actually find it really helpful to even step outside the room that I normally write and bring my laptop to a different room in the house or go to a cafe somewhere. Cause I think, most of us if you're like a typical knowledge worker, you're sitting in front of the same computer in the same physical position in the same room day in and day out.

vironment. It becomes easier [:

So exposing yourself to ideas from disciplines that nothing about. And my whole life has been a study of this. I started out in Astrophysics and working on the Mars Exploration Rovers project, and then I did a 180, went to law school, became a lawyer, did that for three years, switched it again, and went into academia, became a law professor, got tenure in 2016 and tenured professors don't quit their jobs because you've got life that life security, right?

And yet I decided to leave in:

And so I had to step outside of that world to be able to step into who I was becoming. But I think throughout that journey, I've benefited so much from taking ideas from these seemingly unrelated fields rocket science and law and creativity and innovation and all of these seemingly disparate concepts, and then connecting the dots between them and thinking through how ideas from.

Rocket science, for example, could apply in other areas. And that actually that was like the question that led to me writing. Think like a rocket scientist. And so there's so much value in doing that in stepping outside the discipline that we're in and. And taking a look at other fields.


mong people I don't know and [:

How many times in law school did you step out, of your astrophysicist role and say, I am completely lost right here. Yeah.

Yeah, exactly. And that's how life works, right? All the things that you described of getting lost in a new city, being really uncomfortable. That's how you learn and grow.

And what a great training ground for getting used to stepping outside of the status quo and stepping out of what made you comfortable in the past. And and anytime you change disciplines as I've done in the past, it's liberating in one sense, because you starting over and you could be whoever you want to be, but it's also really humbling because I, with my last transition, I was a successful law professor.

t of my name and that opened [:

You don't have that same credibility that you used to have in this field because now you're new. But in that newness is also a profound sense of liberation and freedom because now you can just leave behind your past and the baggage that may have been holding you back and step into what's coming up for you now.

And I think there is so much room for creative growth in those conditions.

Such good insight. As we're talking about your book, Awaken Your Genius, I wondered if you'd be willing as an author now to share a passage of the book. Let's get a sense of your style and tone and voice.

ection from the introduction.[:

Inside you is a reservoir of untapped wisdom. You are made up of every experience you've had, every story you've heard, every person you've been, every book you've read, every mistake you've made, every piece of your beautifully messy human existence. Everything that makes you. A huge treasure waiting to be explored.

But all that wisdom is concealed under the masks you wear, the roles you play, and the decades of social conditioning that have taught you to think like your teachers, to think like your parents, to think like your tribe, to think like influencers and thought leaders, to think like anyone but yourself. As a result, we become strangers to ourselves.

g is an extension of you, if [:

That wisdom will be lost both to you and to the world. Think of humans as individual puzzle pieces that combine to build a beautiful collective. Each piece is important. Each piece is idiosyncratic. The puzzle cannot be completed with a billion corner pieces all of the same shape and color. What makes each piece different is also what makes it valuable to the collective.

If you copy or conform to the other pieces, the world loses its full shape and color.

er that kind of introduction,[:

It was your brief. You said, this is what I'm going to build the whole book on. Or did you write it almost as a summary after the fact when you said, here's I've laid out this book and now I need an introduction. How do I set this story up? I was just curious which it worked out

for you. That was the latter for sure.

The introduction was, and it always is the last thing I write. I think, and part of the reason is, I got into this a little bit with the writing of this book. It really was from the from the ground up. I had no idea where I was going to end up when I started writing it. And so it... Writing the introduction wouldn't have worked or even if I had written it, I would have tossed it and had to start over from scratch because the work, the book just ended up being different from what I expected.

on. At the end of that eight [:

And so if I had written the introduction at the beginning of that journey, it wouldn't have been faithful to where I actually ended up. And so the introduction is always the last thing I write because then I have an, an overview of how, where things ended up and what I really, how I want to tie the book together to describe what this puzzle piece or puzzle looks like having built the individual pieces first.

And I always like to ask my guests, what's next and of course, I've got the next movie. I've got the next album. I've got the next book. And I know you've got more books than you, but what if Ozan, you were to flip again and completely reband, you've already been the rocket scientist and a lawyer and a lecturer, but where else could Ozan go?

What's been in the back of

g in the void and I've got a [:

I started writing the proposal for what became Awaken Your Genius, and I'm trying very hard not to do that. And I'm stepping into the void and giving myself time and space for ideas to come, and I'm collecting lots of ideas, and I'm jotting them down, but I'm not... Jumping into the next thing right away.

And that's actually been a really healthy process for me because I've spent my whole life moving from one thing to the next one field to the next. And it's been this thrilling ride, but it also at times left me exhausted and left me making some bad decisions too, because I would jump into the next thing too quickly.

ust collecting resources and [:

But that's not the right season right now.

We're here. Yes, exactly. Azan, maybe you could leave us with an idea. There are creative people listening to this. And again, they maybe have their genie still in the bottle or in the boundaries, in the box. Give us a step, just even a micro step that we could all take today to escape this conformity and really start on a new creative path to really unleashing

the work.

I think the easiest thing that you can do a micro step, as you put it, Mark, would be to put yourself on airplane mode from time to time. And that's what I call it. And in a way, can your genius putting yourself on airplane mode? We put our smartphones in airplane mode, but. We don't put ourselves on airplane mode.

ct to the next, one email to [:

And so if you can make time in your life to imagine what could be to give yourself time and space to think, you'll be amazed at how much your creativity will grow in the process. And if you ask most people, where do your best ideas come? Most people will say the shower. And if you think about it, it's, it makes so much sense.

It's one of those few moments in your day where you're just there by yourself with your thoughts, no distractions, no notifications, screaming their a hundred decibel sirens for attention. You're just letting your mind drift. And so there's so much value in doing that. And for me, this takes a number of different forms.

in bed and close my eyes and [:

They'll move away from the problem. They'll go on a walk and the answer will arrive as if by magic. No audio book, no podcasts. This is a great podcast, but don't listen to a podcast when you're putting yourself in airplane mode. It should just be. You and your thoughts and just imagine replicating those shower like conditions throughout the day and putting yourself in an airplane mode.

It's really amazing how much that micro step that small steps goes to provide a giant leap in, in creativity. Fantastic.

And then obviously the idea is then we'll become extraordinary. Exactly. And even breaking that word down, I often say it's extra. Ordinary. It seems like an everyday thing. Airplane mode, take a walk.

Wow. But look at the [:

right? Exactly. Simple but effective. Yeah. Thanks

for sharing that. And thanks for coming on the show. I've really appreciated our conversation and you sharing your experiences.

My pleasure, Mark. Thanks so much for having me on. And those of you who are listening I'm not active on social media.

So if you'd like to keep in touch with me, the best way to do that is to join my email list. I've got an email list, an email that goes out every Thursday to now over 45, 000 people. And it shares one big idea that you can read in 3 minutes or less. People call it the one email. I actually look forward to every week and you can.

text my first name, Ozan, to:

And see, even these modems and mediums are creative. So text the name. Fantastic.[00:27:00] My guest has been Ozan Baral.

He's the author of Awaken Your Genius, and he's given us lots of insights and specific tips. On how to awaken that genius that we can all use. So it's almost worth rewinding the episode and then get a pen and paper or your note taking device out and say, there's an idea, there's an idea, and there's an idea.

And then let's go on airplane mode. Good advice. So listeners come back again next time. We're going to continue our around the world journeys to talk to creative practitioners and creativity experts about how we can get inspired, how we can organize our ideas and most of all, gain the confidence and the connections to launch our work out into the world.

And that's what it's all about. So until next time, I'm Mark Stinson and we're unlocking your world of creativity. Bye for now.

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About the Podcast

Unlocking Your World of Creativity
Catalyst of Inspiration, Stories, and Tools to Get Your Work Out Into the World
On UNLOCKING YOUR WORLD OF CREATIVITY, best-selling author and global brand innovator, Mark Stinson introduces you to some of the world’s leading creative talent from publishing, film, animation, music, restaurants, medical research, and more.

In every episode, you'll discover:
- How to tap into your most original thinking.
- Inspiration from the experts’ own experience.
- Specific tools, exercises, and formulas to organize your ideas.
- And most of all, you’ll learn how to make connections

 and create opportunities to publish, post, record, display, sell, market, and promote
 your creative work.

Listen for the latest insights for creative people who want to stop questioning themselves and overcome obstacles to launch their creative endeavors out into the world.

Connect with Mark at www.Mark-Stinson.com

About your host

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Mark Stinson

Mark Stinson has earned the reputation as a “brand innovator” -- an experienced marketer, persuasive writer, dynamic presenter, and skilled facilitator. His work includes brand strategy and creative workshops. He has contributed to the launches of more than 150 brands, with a focus on health, science, and technology companies. Mark has worked with clients ranging from global corporations to entrepreneurial start-ups. He is a recipient of the Brand Leadership Award from the Asia Brand Congress and was included in the PharmaVoice 100 Most Inspiring People in the Life-Sciences Industry.