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Effective Leadership, Hiring, and Climate Optimism With Scott Case

on • 31 min. read

Building Strong Teams & Facing Challenges: Leadership Lessons from Scott Case


#Cleantechers - 


My recent Scaling Clean guest, Scott Case, is deeply experienced in starting successful ventures. He came to cleantech by way of Priceline, as that company’s founding Chief Technology Officer.


Among nearly 20 other different experiences, Scott now runs ZettaWatts, which has pioneered what it calls the “Additionality Rec Market” (AREC). It's offering fixed-price forward contracts to buy AREC from new projects under development. ZettaWatts is based in the National Capital Area, where I live and work, so it was good to have a neighbor on the show. 

Here are Scott’s time-stamped highlights:


6:21 – When you think you don’t need help, it’s probably the first sign that you need it. 


10:15 – Leadership is a practice. You’re never done. 


12:48 – Observe the traits and attributes of leaders you admire. Then, borrow what resonates the most with you.


13:53 – There are three things to come back to as a CEO: Transparency, ownership (ensuring employees have both responsibility and the authority to reach goals) and resiliency.


24:23 – Hiring is the most difficult thing you do as a founder or a leader. You’re bringing new DNA into your culture, and new employees will have a profound impact. If you get hiring right 50% of the time, you’re doing great. 


Scott had also shared three big lessons for founders of startups (19:26):


  1. Fall in love with the problem, not your solution. Validate that the customer problem is accurately captured.
  2. Accept the fact that the early customers aren’t necessarily the full customer base.
  3. Spend the time on messaging your value proposition.


Thank you for coming on the show, Scott.



Also listen on Apple, Spotify, Radio Public, Amazon Music, iHeart, and Google Podcasts.


Mike Casey:
Hello, cleantechers, and welcome back to another episode of Scaling Clean. As listeners know, our show is tightly focused on interviewing CEOs, investors, and corporate advisors to clean usable best practices on building, running, and leading companies. In every interview, we ask guests to describe the role of the effective CEO, and a lot of them respond by pointing out that the composition of the job changes with each stage in a company's life cycle. My guest today is deeply experienced in starting successful ventures. Scott Case came to cleantech by way of Priceline, working on Malaria, and a business travel company. Among nearly 20 other different experiences, he now runs Zettawatts, which has pioneered what it calls the Additionality REC Market. It's offering fixed-priced forward contracts to buy ARECs from new projects under development. Zettawatts is based in the National Capital Area, where I live and work, so it's good to have a neighbor on the show. Scott, welcome.

Scott Case:
Awesome to be here. Thanks for having me, Mike.

Scott Case's Background and Entrepreneurial Journey

Mike Casey:
I'll start with a few of our standard questions so listeners can get to know you a bit. How would you summarize your background and career? Basically, the arc of the narrative of Scott Case and his professional life.

Scott Case:
I've been at this game for a long time, I think of myself first and foremost as an entrepreneur. I've been starting different types of companies since I was a teenager. Everything from tiny little consulting firms to working on businesses like priceline.com. And as I got into college, I was right around the time where personal computers had taken off and the internet wasn't quite a thing yet. And I just found myself attracted to using technology, specifically software, and developing software as part of the primary solution set at solving interesting business problems. 

And so I've built all kinds of different enterprises to solve what I have found to be big or interesting problems with a specific focus on a combination of purely commercial endeavors, purely philanthropic endeavors, and some hybrids. As you mentioned, I was the founding chief technology officer for priceline.com. I was also the founding CEO of Malaria No More, which is focused on global public health issues, specifically malaria. And I'm currently the chairman of the board of Network for Good, which is a hybrid kind of organization. We distribute about $500 million a year to 250,000 different charities around the United States.

I've used software to build everything from e-commerce platforms and software to service businesses to marketplaces throughout my career and that's kind of the mix that has driven me along the way with a really probably for the last 20 years a big focus on what are some of the big challenges that I could support tackling from that could have the biggest impact on other human beings. So some have worked, some haven't. But everything is a learning experience and that's a big driver of sort of my belief system.

Mentors and Learning Outcomes

Mike Casey:
Who were your most important mentors and what did you learn from them?

Scott Case:
I've had a lot of great people in my life, particularly when I was in my early 20s to early 30s. And, probably, the most fundamental was my experience at Priceline. I started at a company called Walker Digital, which was founded by Jay Walker, who was also the founder of Priceline. We set out at the dawn of the internet to think differently about what types of new business models could get created in a world that was hyper-connected.

The biggest thing I learned from him was around thinking about business models and the architecture of what a business could be out of fundamental kind of first principles, having a candidate for what that business would look like, and then how do you kind of road test that both in the real world, but also just in the thinking. So I'd say that from Jay, I learned a lot about thinking.

And then the founding COO of Priceline is a guy named Jesse Fink, who's actually spent his last 20 years largely in the environmental space, the combination of clean energy, and he's worked on food waste and dozens of other problems. I really learned from him about how to be an effective leader, specifically the role that we play and the distinction between being a manager and being a leader.

And Jesse had an enormous amount of patience when I was the CTO of Priceline and I was like 27 years old and a total knucklehead and yet had hundreds of engineers working for me and dealing with this e-commerce platform that was going off the rails and from a scale standpoint, and he was really helpful in kind of guiding me along the way. And then probably in my thirties, I had a series of coaches, executive coaches where it took me a while to get real about that. I was sort of like, I don't need anybody to help me. And that's usually the first sign that you need somebody to help you is when you think you don't need anybody to help you. And I had some really valuable experiences there kind of helping me think about myself and what are the things that both my values, but also what are the things that are okay for me to let go of. 

And that was an important part of my overall development. Now I find myself on the other side of it, working with lots of other entrepreneurs, specifically first-time founders, to try to provide whatever wisdom and guidance I can about the experiences that I've had to help them perhaps overcome the challenges and experiences that they're having now.

 Leadership Philosophy and Evolution

Mike Casey:
If we split screened footage of Scott Case when he first managed other humans and how you manage and lead them now, what differences would we see?

Scott Case:
Well, I'm not proud of what I'm about to share with you, but I think it'll get to the heart of your question. I mentioned I was the Chief Technology Officer for Priceline and back even to this day, people have business cards. I had a business card. And at one point, one of the people on the team, a younger person came into my office and we were chatting and he took the business card off my desk and he scratched out technology and wrote next to executive asshole and chief executive asshole. Unfortunately, that was the reputation I had was about breaking eggs, pushing hard, and driving myself and others to both in some respects accomplish remarkable things, but also the cost of doing that was unsustainable and really unnecessary in retrospect. 

A pivotal moment for me from my own management experience was that I was just like, go, do it, make it happen, very kind of task-oriented. And part of it was startup land, but part of it was just I was inexperienced and I didn't know any better.

And that was a moment in time where I was like, all right, that's not who I want to be, right? That's not how I want to be. And so I started to make adjustments there. And I think it probably took me 10 years to be able to put a label on the distinction, but there's a big difference between being a manager and being a leader. A manager is like driving tasks and maybe small projects and things, but it's a very operationally process-heavy kind of way of thinking about the world and works really well in an industrial setting on a manufacturing floor. But it's not really great in an environment where there might be a lot of ambiguity or uncertainty.

Key Principles of Effective Leadership

And so I think most great leaders lead in very, very different ways. To me, one of the cores of being a great leader is our job is really to provide clarity of the goal, what the outcome we're driving towards, and then support the people that are on your team to achieving that outcome. It's not about doing it for them or meddling in what they're doing or providing too much oversight or guidance around it. It's really about recognizing the role as a leader, are we pointed in the right direction? And if we're not, how do we make course corrections? And if we are, are we supporting and providing the resources and support for the individuals who are actually doing the work every day to accomplish the goal that we've set out for them? And it's a different mindset to be in and leadership is a practice. You practice it every day. You're never done. It's just a different way of thinking about the problem. And that has certainly been much more effective for me over the last 20 years than my first go at it.

Mike Casey:
Gotcha. So I think the logical follow-up is, did that employee scratch out the name on the card in your presence or when you weren't looking? 

Scott Case:
No, no, while I was standing there. 

Mike Casey:
Well, you couldn't have been that much of an asshole if he did it in front of you.

Scott Case:
Yeah, well, he was tough himself. And so he didn't feel like he was particularly at risk. And I have it somewhere in my office because I've kept it the whole time because it's a reminder for me that this was something that I didn’t want to be. 

Mike Casey:

Scott Case:
It wasn't how I wanted to be perceived. And it really wasn't who I was. Like I didn't think of myself as, well this is just who I am and I'm gonna accept it. It was like that's not me. That's not the way I want to interact with other people. And I think further, I recognized, and I continue to recognize that it's not effective. It's not an effective way to lead for me. 

We've been inundated over the last several years with people like Elon Musk, for example, who are incredibly driven, super smart, very capable. And there's a lot about what he and other leaders like him have accomplished that is admirable. But when I look at it from my perspective, I say, I bet you could still get those things and you could take some of the edge off in a way that was even more effective. So I sort of think of it as a tax, as opposed to an enhancer. And so that's my take. That's not to take anything away from anybody's accomplishments. But I think there is something to be said about how you get to the place that is as important as where you end up.

Lecture on the Role of an Effective CEO

Mike Casey:
That's really smart. I love that idea that being a jerk is a tax on your effectiveness. That's really interesting. Okay, you kind of sort of answered this next question, so maybe I'm going to ask you for a fuller version of it. You quit your job tomorrow. You become a lecturer at American University's Kogod School of Business. Your first lecture is on the role of the effective CEO. What are the big points that you'll make to the students in that lecture?

Scott Case:
For me, well, let me start, I'll start at the highest level. I think you have to define for yourself what are some of the principles of your leadership that are kind of critical to you as an individual, right? And they'll be different for different people. But I think that observing other leaders that you admire and that you think of as being effective and essentially stealing their traits and attributes that resonate the most for you. When entrepreneurs and other leaders ask me what do I read? How do I learn about this stuff? I always go back to biographies. And candidly, it almost doesn't matter what biography you pick. Reading biographies both the values and the decision-making that other people have made in history gives you a way of kind of framing it in your own mind of saying, okay, is that how I would have handled that situation? Do I admire how they handled it or do I look at it and say, that seemed like it wasn't the best move? 

The Three Pillars of Leadership

to again, and again, and again. So one is transparency. I really believe that if you want your people to be able to be as effective as possible, then the role of myself, and the team overall is to make sure that everybody has all the information that we can share with them. Especially the critical information that they need in order to have the context to make better decisions At the end of the day as a CEO, I don't care whether you have ten people or ten thousand people.

All day, every day, there's a whole bunch of people, not you, that are making decisions. And some of those decisions can be small, some of them can be big, some of them can be consequential, some of them can be inconsequential. But they're making those decisions. And if they lack the context to make them effective, you're failing them as a leader, and you're gonna pay a price inside the company. So number one is transparency. 

The second is what I describe as ownership. And that's a combination of responsibility and authority. It's not enough to tell people they're responsible for driving towards an outcome if they don't have the authority to pull the resources and capabilities together to deliver against it. And I have found myself in a spot where I lacked the authority and had all the responsibility. And it was a disaster. I was miserable. We weren't effective. I ultimately decided to leave as a result. And when I reflect on that, for me, it's also the case that when I talk to individuals on our team anywhere, the recent college grad all the way up to our CFO or even our board chair if you find yourself in a spot where you lack the authority to accomplish and deliver against your responsibility, you need to call a timeout and figure out how to fix that because it's untenable. So those two things, transparency and ownership go together because if you have ownership, you have authority and responsibility, you have context, you're just gonna be able to make better decisions. 

And then the last piece is I think in some ways the most important, but it follows from the other two, which is resiliency. You can't anticipate and solve everything that might happen. It's not possible. The universe is just way too complicated. Entropy is too high. There's just too much stuff that can happen that you can't even anticipate that it might happen, let alone prevent it in some way. Doesn't mean you don't have plans, much better to be resilient and say, we as an organization and as individuals recognize that stuff's not going to go the way we expect it to, we're going to get negative outcomes, but how do we learn from it?

And then how do we recover? And I should reverse those. It's really recovering from whatever the thing is that we failed and then taking the time to actually learn from it so that we can increase the chances of us either being more resilient next time, if that's the reality of it, or, hey, we've learned something here, there's a pattern. Let's make adjustments to our processes or our thinking or whatever, that increase our chances of avoiding this problem in the future if we can, or dampening its effects in some ways. 

And so I think that combination for me, transparency, ownership, and resiliency, frame themselves in a way that allows people to make decisions, recognizing that the consequences of the decisions are gonna be, the team's gonna rally around them, so they're willing to take more risks, but they also are tempering them because they ultimately have the responsibility to exercise that authority and they're going to deal with the consequences of it like, hey, we're going to go fix that stuff. 

And I've had lots of people in my life where we've had catastrophic kind of failures, where people have come to me and said, hey, you're probably going to want to fire me because this terrible thing happened. Number one, that's not how we roll. And number two is I'm not cleaning this up. You're going to clean it up. Like you made the mistake. You're going to fix it. I'm here to help. But I'm not letting you off the hook. We're gonna go fix this thing. And then we'll go learn from it. So those are my kind of philosophies from a CEO standpoint.

Mike Casey:

Nice. I heard someone once say that mastery is not ever leaving your feet, it's the skill and speed with which you get back on your feet.

Scott Case:

Yeah, I think that's right. I think that getting back up again. A very dear friend of mine often describes it as nobody goes through life undefeated. One of the framing for me is not everybody's a baseball fan. But if you look up what a Hall of Fame baseball hitter is that reaches the Hall of Fame, it's like 3.50, which just means that 65 percent of the time they don't do the one job that they have as the hitter. But that's reality, right? That's the Hall of Fame level, right? It's hard, right? We're gonna make mistakes. And so if we learn from them and get a little bit better, be thoughtful about things then we're set up to be more effective as leaders over time.

Advice for First-Time Founders

Mike Casey:
We have a lot of people who are founding, who have founded startups that listen to this show because they want to listen for tips for people that are farther down the line. Three most salient tips for people who are a year into their first company from Scott Case.

Fall in Love With the Problem, Not the Solution

Scott Case:
Number one is - to fall in love with the problem, not with your solution. Most founders that I intersect with are inspired by some idea, they have an idea. The challenge with having an idea is until you've road-tested up against the reality of like what customers want and what they're willing to pay for and all of those things, your idea may or may not be the right thing. And if you're anchored on your solution, you don't really have the ability to explore other options based on the feedback you might be getting from the market, from your customers, for example.

Embrace Iteration and Customer Feedback

The second thing is we think oftentimes that we need to kind of architect the full and complete perfect solution before we put it in front of customers. And I'm a big believer in iteration. And so the first 10 customers are not going to look at all like the next 10 or the next 10 or the 110th.

And so accept the fact that those early customers of yours are part of your development process and that you need to iterate with them and be careful that maybe only two of the 10 customers are really your long-term customers and the other eight are like red herrings, they're distractions. So, you need to iterate and play that feedback loop. 

Master the Art of Simple, Effective Storytelling

And then the last piece is really just storytelling. As founders’ our biggest job is communicating as simply as possible the problem that we solve and how we go about solving it and practicing that and really simplifying it over time. People are busy, they don't have a lot of time to process information. If there's a lot of cognitive load and it takes you five minutes to unfold your whole story, most people don't have an attention span. 

In particular, what I find is that founders who are looking to raise capital, don't understand that the typical pre-seed or seed-stage venture investor’s time that they can spend with your email or your deck is measured in tens of seconds. Not tens of minutes, certainly not hours. It's tens of seconds. And so you have to boil things down to a market where it's very, very clear, or a message rather, that's very, very clear to what you're trying to achieve. And so that the person, your audience, can put you in a bucket.

He says, oh, you do this thing, right? You solve this problem. And that's really hard to do. And I think most founders don't spend enough time because we're spending so much time with it ourselves, we just think it's obvious. The reality is that by the time it's obvious to anybody else, you'll have either one or somebody else will have one. It just takes a really long time. So that's my last suggestion.

Mike Casey:
Gotcha. Fall in love with the problem, not your solution, accept the fact that early-stage customers are not necessarily the full customer base, encapsulate that third one. This is so good.

Scott Case:
Messaging, spend time on the messaging in your communications and tighten it up. The simplest formula is we do X for Y, right? We solve this problem either with a solution to a problem or, we tackle a problem, and here's our solution. But those two ideas have to be in that one sentence. For Zettawatts, for example, we help companies with scope 2 emissions mitigate them in the most impactful way, which in our case is about supporting new project development. But the problem is you're a giant company, you have scope 2 emissions, we allow you to do that in a way that has the highest impact by bringing new projects online.

Mike Casey:
Nice. Okay.
Scott Case:
But it took me a year to get there. And it's still not as tight as I'd like it to be. But at least if you're somebody listening to this, you can sort of put us in a bucket and say, okay, I know the Zettawatts people, they're that scope 2 emissions thing with new projects. That's all we need them to remember because that's what we need them to hold on to start and then we can build from there.

Hiring Strategies and Challenges

The Impact of New Hires on Culture & Difficulties 

Mike Casey:
Nice. Okay, broadly speaking, hiring is always cited as one of the most challenging parts of leading companies, according to our guests. What have you learned about hiring? And then I also want to ask you about the role of remote interviewing as part of the hiring process. But maybe let's take those separately. So just broadly speaking, hiring. What have you learned about it?

Scott Case:
Hiring is the most difficult thing that you do as a founder or a leader. What's so challenging about it, is that you are bringing a person into your culture that is going to have a profound impact, whether again, you're 10 people or 10,000 people.

Each time we bring new DNA into our culture, into our community, it has an impact. And we're often looking for people who can bring a set of skills and capabilities to the table. Oftentimes, if we're dealing with younger companies, we're looking for people who are going to be able to adapt to things as they change over time. I know I'm always looking for people who can add to the culture, that can bring something to it that is unique and diverse and different because different mindsets and different life experience lived experiences play an important role in the way that we make decisions and the impact that we can have in the world. 

And so we're doing this thing and at the same time, and this is the part that's insane, we spend four, five, six hours with these people that we're going to bring into our life that are going to, if things go well, be working side by side with us for 40 hours a week for the next three years. It's absurd.

So my philosophy on it actually is driven by one of my other mentors, the chairman, and co-founder of Malaria No More, a guy named Peter Chernin, who said, if you get it right 50% of the time, you are doing great. And he had, I don't know, tens of thousands of people working for him, but it stuck with me, much like my Hall of Fame hitter point - you're gonna make mistakes, being resilient to that is you're gonna bring people in that aren't gonna work out for whatever reason, and that's okay. But you need to recognize that the process and the mechanics of what you're doing, the odds are against you from the get-go just because of the nature of what you're trying to do. 

So I like to spend time with people as much as I can, answering their questions, ideally working side by side. Like I'm a big fan of having a project. And this is a problem that I'm working on right now. Like, let's work through it together because then I can see how do you think about it, right? And I'll learn something. And even if I don't hire the person, I've gotten a new perspective on a problem that I'm actually working on right now. So I get an advantage, they get an advantage. They can demonstrate their thinking skills and how they go about the process. So just accept the fact that you are at a deficit from the start. It's just hard.

Scott’s Go-to Interview Question

Mike Casey:
Gotcha. Okay, do you have a go-to interview question?

Scott Case:
I like to ask people about situations that didn't go well and what they learned from them. So it's less about ‘tell me about a failure’. I'm more interested in saying, okay, tell me about a time when you got an outcome you didn't expect or didn't want. What did you learn from that? How did you adopt? Not how did you fix it or how did you overcome it? Because a lot of people, when you ask them about failures, they'll tell you about how it was bad, but it really was good. And it's like, I don't want that. I actually want to know, you tripped, you fell, you got up, you dusted yourself off. Did you clean up the wound? Did you just keep running? What happened? Tell me how and what did you learn from it? What did you do differently the next time? And so that to me is the most telling thing that you can get from someone, particularly in a startup where that resiliency is going to be a central theme is do they have the experience there?

Perspectives on Remote vs. In-Person Hiring

Mike Casey:
Nice. Okay. Got it. Remote interviewing, remote hiring. I've heard, boy, I'll tell you, just a democracy of viewpoints on this. I interviewed a gentleman who runs a 100% remote firm. They have unlimited PTO, but he said they insist on in-person interviewing, so that was interesting. And I’ve heard different permutations of this. And so I think it's fair to say your career has spanned the globe. And so you've had to hire and talk to other humans all over the place. Where have you come down on this question?

Scott Case:
I think I would have answered it differently four or five years ago, pre-pandemic than I would today. In some respects, I think more people are comfortable in a video environment, similar to the way you and I are conducting this podcast. I know we'll be releasing it with audio only, but I can see you. I can see your interactions. I can see the environment that you're in. You can see me. You can see the environment I'm in.

We're picking up all kinds of signals from each other all the time from which, probably, more than half are non-verbal, and so remote through video can be very helpful. I also find that audio, pure phone screens are incredibly helpful especially early on in the process where people listen differently when you're just on the phone and so I think there are some advantages to being remote in certain phases of the interview process.

I do believe though, if it's possible, having in-person time with people who are on your direct team. So if I were hiring an executive team, I would want to meet them in person at some point in the interview process, probably towards the tail end where it's like, I think this is the right person. Let me go break bread with them. Let's go spend some time together. I like going for walks. So my answer would be, let's go get a coffee. Let's take a walk for an hour and a half, and let's just talk to each other and spend some time together as human beings. I find that very helpful.

If I had a team, like I said, director-level person, I would encourage them to do that same thing. This person's going to be directly on your team, even though I might interview that person remotely if I'm on the interview panel for whatever reason. But I think that having that person where you're going to be supporting them, spending time in person is a really valuable thing. 

So it's worth at that right stage, getting on an airplane and creating the space for that kind of dialogue. Cause we behave differently in person. We interact in a very different way. And so I think that's the way it can work. I do think that a hundred percent remote and a hundred percent in-person are both fabulous. They're totally workable. You can create cultures around them.

I'm on the fence about this hybrid thing. I think that I understand the theory of it, but my observation is that it's just incredibly hard. And it's not clear to me that it ultimately is going to stick. I think, the cultures are going to drift into one direction or another and I'm not convinced. 

Our company today is 100% remote and I don't see that changing. But we do, if we're in the same city together or we'll make time together where we can across the team, we'll get together in person. But I think it's a different topic than you asked about, but it does drive the types of people that you're hiring into those different cultures.

The Power of Physical Space and Shared Experiences

Mike Casey:
I remember right after the pandemic, one of the renewable energy trade show companies said that the number one thing people were demanding be restored to them through a trade show was the in-person sales opportunities. It's the thing that the remote trade shows simply could not recreate which I thought was really interesting. I know they tried, they did meeting rooms and they were going to do virtual booths but I really think there's a certain physics to human-on-human interactions that simply cannot be replicated through electronic means.

Scott Case:
Well, we've had 100 to 200,000 years of time where we were spending social creatures in person with each other, picking up all of those signals, the ones we can see, the ones we observe, just the sound, and being in an environment is a different experience. And there's all the serendipity that goes along with that. And so whether that's walking by a trade show booth or standing in line to grab a coffee in between sessions, or just sitting down next to somebody and introducing yourself to them, there's something about those types of interactions that ad hoc nature of it, very difficult to replicate today in a digital environment.

We're probably a decade or so away from a more immersive and accepted experience. And that could change those things where we get to replicate some of that virtual interaction, that sort of serendipity. But I think we're a long way off from that. I think part of our ‘who we are’ as social creatures is about intersecting with other people in three dimensions, in a live space. And even just being able to complain about the acoustics or how uncomfortable the chairs are, how confusing the place is. It's like all of those things are part of the human experience. You and I have been at this a while. We also remember things in context and my context right now is in my home office. Your context is in your office somewhere.

But you're not sharing the full context of being in my space, where, you see a bunch of books and some sneakers and stuff, but you don't have the full experience. We remember things about being in those places. So I'm in this conference room or one of the conferences I went to, sort of right at the tail end of the pandemic was out west and it was in La Quinta, California, and it was a place I'd never been before. And I went running in the mountains and the people that I met there and had dinner with there are tied to the connected tissue of the place, more so than their job titles or their roles at their companies or any of that stuff. So I think there's something about that that's just important to who we are.

Tips on Firing Employees

Mike Casey:
Got it. Tips on firing people.

Scott Case:
Do it quickly, do it generously and with compassion. I think that most people, and I'm gonna assume firing is performance related versus a layoff where I've gotta stack rank everybody and figure out what we really need, which is a different thing. Still the same, be compassionate, be generous.

But if they're underperforming, they know they're underperforming, and you're stringing them along is actually painful. You're doing them a disservice. As challenging as this is for you because you feel bad about it, they are feeling worse. And so being compassionate is about saying, look, this isn't working. For whatever reason, I want to do what I can to help you find a place where you can thrive. It's not here.

So let me figure out how to do that and let me give you as much time as I can from a generosity standpoint to help you find that next thing. And I've been consistently surprised throughout my career about how relieved nine out of ten people are because they know they're falling down, they can't get the job done, they're struggling for whatever reason. Maybe it has something to do with the job, maybe it has something to do outside the job, but this is like a relief for them. And the anxiety and the stress that comes along with it. 

One in 10 times it's a surprise because they're like, maybe they don't see what the challenges are that they're overcoming, but I view that as a failure on my part or our team's part for not making it clear that feedback loop is critical, day to day. As I've gone on with my career, I find people less and less surprised because the feedback has been clear all along and so they know what's going on.

Success Through Editing: Making Strategic Choices

Mike Casey:
Closing three questions. From your experience is business success more reliant on what the business doesn't do or what the business does do?

Scott Case:
I think that the most successful companies are good at editing and stopping doing things. So I would put it somewhere in between. There are choices you make about not doing something at the outset. There are choices you make about doing something at the outset. I think where the greats come in is actually in the space where they started to do something they've learned in some way and decided that this isn't worth doing anymore. And I don't think we celebrate enough the companies having the insights to say ‘We shouldn't be in this game anymore’.

And oftentimes we'll criticize them for screwing up or making a mistake or if didn't they know better. And my view is like, they wrote it down, good of them for making the choice that this wasn't the game they were supposed to be in and moving on already. We've had some examples, Microsoft, for example, tried to be in the mobile space. They missed the mark on a whole bunch of levels and they cut it off and moved on. Great. Apple's been dancing around for a decade about building a car. They missed the window. It didn't work for them, they moved on. Those are actually good things. So I think being an editor is a critical piece to success.

Maintaining High Performance & Importance of Sleep

Mike Casey:
What does Scott Case do at work or at home to maintain a high level of performance in his job?

Scott Case:
In the last decade or so I've become a lot more clear about that. I would say prior to that, it was a mess and all over the place. So I'll give you sort of a do as I say and do as I do now as opposed to do as I did then. Sleep. Sleep is really key. Be consistent with it and more important, get good sleep than maybe work an extra hour on that presentation or that report or whatever. 

It's very rare that you're gonna get more than an incremental benefit out of the extra effort, but the sleep and especially sleep debt just catches up with you. So sleep, number one, exercise, and the combo of it, if you do both of these, exercise and getting outside. I try to go outside raining, pouring, it doesn't matter. We are outside creatures. We weren't evolved to be in this world, in a place where we're kind of inside all the time. So getting outside and then being really thoughtful about food, which most people do when they go to their doctor for the annual checkup: eat right, exercise more, and get more sleep. 

There's nothing surprising there, but finding something that works for you is really important. And then having a bit of a philosophy about life, what are the things that matter to you? What are your values? How do you stay grounded on that? And when things don't go your way, kind of reflect on those pieces, and when they do go your way, recognize that most of the time we're more lucky than we'd like to admit, and that that's okay too.

For me, one of my practices is working hard to become detached from the outcomes. I don't really control them. There's very little that I have total control over, but how I interact with the world and how I react to the world are things that are 100% in my control. So reflecting on that for me personally has been very helpful to stay, I think, a more effective CEO.

Climate Optimism for Leaders: Hope for the Future

Mike Casey:
Last question. Has your work left you a climate optimist or a climate pessimist and why?

Scott Case:
I am incredibly optimistic about humans being able to figure it out. I think that we have put ourselves in a spot that is going to be very difficult and we are likely to have some very painful and challenging times ahead over the next few hundred years.

At the same time, I'm unbelievably optimistic that we're creative, we're excellent problem solvers, and there's a lot of attention being paid to it now, where 25 or 30 years ago there wasn't. And so I think we have a really great shot at getting to the other side of this, but I do think we're in for a rough patch ahead of us. 

Like most of the challenges in the world, particularly around the people involved, and people and animals and things, the problem is not evenly distributed in either of the solutions. And so I think there is going to be a lot of suffering in a lot of populations that don't have the tools and capabilities, and there'll be more innovation in places where they do. And hopefully, we can figure out how to distribute those solutions as fast as possible to minimize the damage that's been done.

But I'm hopeful, finally, because most of the challenges that we face in tackling climate are within our control in our behaviors and the choices that we make. And so it's frustrating that we've made a bunch of choices, and by we, I mean humans for hundreds of years. But I also believe that we made those choices, so that means humans can make different choices. And I'm optimistic that we'll make different choices.


Mike Casey:
Scott Case, I'll tell you what makes me optimistic about doing this work is someone once asked me to summarize where we are climatologically. And I said, gathering momentum dwindling time. And the sign of gathering momentum is people like you who come from other parts of the economy and world experience. And you come into this space and you just bring in this boatload of talents, smarts, and insights. I'm just glad you're on our team. I really appreciate the work you're doing at Zettawatts. I'm really grateful you came on this show and talked to me. This is a great conversation. 

Scott Case:
Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for having me and stay optimistic. I do believe we've got this. It might be ugly, but I think we're going to win.

Mike Casey: