S13E22: Reshaping the future of learning, with Sahra-Josephine Hjorth (CEO, CanopyLAB)

An episode of The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast

S13E22: Reshaping the future of learning, with Sahra-Josephine Hjorth (CEO, CanopyLAB)

We're continuing our season on "business as a force for good", Richard speaks with Sahra-Josephine Hjorth, co-founder and CEO of CanopyLAB. Sahra-Josephine has been at the forefront of transforming education through social learning and artificial intelligence since 2015. CanopyLAB is the world's first-of-its-kind learning experience platform, and CanopyLAB has trained more than 500,000 youth and 130,000 teachers over the past five years, yielding groundbreaking results.

In this conversation, you’ll learn:

  • Why Sahra-Josephine is on a mission to build the world's biggest learning platform for youth, and the gap she spotted in the market.
  • How she pivoted the business from outbound sales, to inbound only.
  • The "$1M mistake" she made, and what she learned as a result.
  • Why and how she works to be the most well-informed person in the room.
  • When perfectionism can be good - and when not.
  • How Sahra-Josephine stays creative, and the innovation that the "self-driving car" prompted.
  • What "AI Fridays" are and why they're so great.

“I am an accidental entrepreneur."

Click to Tweet

Resources/sources mentioned:

Join Rivendell, the exclusive group of top CEOs dedicated to transforming themselves, their businesses, and the world. Visit https://xquadrant.com/services/ceo-mastermind/ to learn more and take your leadership to the next level.

Ready for a big leap forward in your own leadership? Elevate your leadership forever with the book Making time for Strategy: How to be less busy and more successful. Buy your book here: https://xquadrant.com/time/

Watch

More of a video person? No problem.

You can watch this episode and discover more videos on strategy, leadership and purpose over on the Xquadrant YouTube channel.

Transcript

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I love personalization and personalization algorithms. It's great when I'm doing my shopping, anything from grocery shopping to address shopping. But one of the bad things about that is we we tend to listen to people who are similar to ourselves. We are so conditioned in our behavior and in our shopping. It's important for me to try to create spaces where people don't necessarily think the same things. But we find clever ways to connect them to each other and, or student lab in one of those spaces.

Richard Medcalf
Welcome to the Impact Multiplier CEO podcast. I'm Richard Medcalfe, founder of X Xquadrant. And my mission is to help the world's top CEOs and entrepreneurs shift from incremental to exponential progress. And create a huge positive impact on our world. Now that requires you to reinvent yourself and transform your business. So if you're ready to play a bigger game than ever before, I invite you to join us and become an impact multiplier CEO. Sahra-Josephine Hjorth has gone from being an accidental entrepreneur. To somebody who's scaling out a really innovative business to put a support system for youth into the pockets of millions and millions of people world wide.

Along the way, she's been nominated for many awards, the real leaders impact award which she won, she participated in the Obama leaders 2022, Europe program. She's teaches now in the future of learning at Singularity University. But more importantly, she's somebody who's on a mission and she lives that mission. And in this conversation, we get into what was it that set her on that journey, almost by Xquadrant. What's the gap in the market that she saw? How did she pivot the business from an outbound to an inbound, model during COVID? And what she learned along the way, she's made $1,000,000 mistakes.

She's learned to harness her perfectionism, to tame it, and to harness it. And, we really focus as well on creativity and innovation and what a secret source is for that. So sit back and enjoy this conversation with Sarah Josephine Yort.

Hi, Sarah, and welcome to the show.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Hi. It's great to be here.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. I'm looking forward to to diving in with you today, and let's just go straight to it. I know that you're on a mission to build the world's biggest learning platform for youth. So let's just start already. Why is that important to you? That sounds like a big audacious goal. Why are you dedicating your time and energy to it?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Well, first of all, we can't overlook how difficult and confusing. It can be to be a young person in the world today. With all these different media platforms, we have all around us, It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between what is truth and what is not. And therefore, we are building a community that we call a support system in your pocket, a learning platform for young people that has trusted information, and where they know who's the source, what NGO is actually responsible for the creation of this content. And then they can go there to get some alternative answers to some of the questions they might look up on on Google or on YouTube. And this could be questions around Medcalf health or identity or even around sex. And it's incredibly important that we create a fact based and trusted learning community for young people to explore

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So fantastic. I understand in this world of fake news and so many options that make sense. What motivated you to to pursue that as a mission. There's plenty of causes in the world, plenty of things that we could perhaps work on, why this idea of a support system in your pocket

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
So I think first of all, as humans were so conditioned by the civil society around us, I grew up with an identity as a dancer and with a strong affiliation with that organization. And, my generation and those that are slightly older than us have affiliations with football clubs, with churches, with all these activities that we've done after school. But as lot of as a lot of those activities are moved online, I felt that civil society didn't really have a voice. So as a young person, you can either go to YouTube or you can go to an accredited university to find this you know, trusted learning spaces. So I wanted to help, you know, bring civil society online and give them a voice and a new way to connect with people. Feeling that I'm a little bit a person of a generation that's in between, you know, quite digitally native, but still having grown up with more sort of physically based expert curricular activities. So that's one of the reasons that I got into it, and then I think I've always flirted with education and always wanted to help empower people to pursue their wireless dreams.

Richard Medcalf
So what was the pivotal moment when you said this is a project I'm gonna go for.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
So I think, I am definitely an accidental entrepreneur. I didn't grow up like a lot of people who said, I just wanna build a product or build a business and have this sort of entrepreneurial identity. I kind of fell into it by mistake. But along the way, it just always felt right for me to take that next step. So I had pursued a couple of different careers, and they taught me a lot of things about anything from diplomacy to working with software developers. And then I had started a research project, at university as a PhD student. And started experimenting on my own YouTube channel with different ways of delivering content to young people.

I've always been fascinated with engaging with young people, whether it's when I brought kids to an island in Denmark and talk to them about social entrepreneurship or trying to teach online or building forums on Facebook for dialogue or you know, sometimes even activism. And then slowly as I was building out this YouTube channel, I realized that I I wasn't so passionate about delivering more content. I was more passionate about building the framework, building the spaces for that dialogue, and for that learning to take place. And then I thought, well, what if we invite all these amazing NGOs that already have content. And then I focus more on building a team that provides a space.

We call it to learn, act build a better future. So really a a pedagogical a pedagogical model and a software that allows for people to meet each other. And I think that today, we have such a tendency to only talk with people who are similar to ourselves. So, of course, I love automation. I love personalization and personalization algorithms. It's great when I'm doing my anything from grocery shopping to address shopping. But one of the bad things about that is we we tend to listen to people who are similar to ourselves. We are so conditioned in our behavior and in our shopping. And it's important for me to try to create spaces where people don't necessarily think the same things. But we find clever ways to connect them to each other. And, our student lab became one of those spaces.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So what I'm hearing in that, there's a lot of the reason for you doing that, but I also heard there was this opportunity that you where opportunity met your passion or your interest, in fact, which was the the content was one thing, but there's a lot of NGOs creating content on different subjects, but you almost thought it was a unity in the value chain, if you like, to to curate, to, group that together to try to deliver that, distribute it. Into the Hamlet near?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Yes. I mean, yeah. So we live in a world where there's already been an abundance of content. But it's the it's the curation and putting the right people together at the right time with the right elements. That's really what it's about. That's how we grow as an adult and child. And I think it was pretty clear that I never wanted to be a content expert. You can only be an expert on so much. I mean, we cover things from the social side of software development, how will, you know, blockchain change aid giving to, again, sexual education, you know, human rights.

I didn't wanna be the expert on that, but I wanted to be the expert in holding the hand of all the content creators and also preparing them for a future where by 2025, you know, 70% of content may be synthetic. So what are they delivering? How are they giving value? How are they putting their content out there? So it's feeding algorithms and people and and making a difference in the content that will be consumed in the future. So kind of like, bit of a futurist guide holding the hands, both of the young people who come into the platform, but also this whole huge part of our society that we can't leave behind in in this really rapidly changing future.

Richard Medcalf
So up to now, I think you've trained over half a 1,000,000 a year for you to provide access to them. As well as hundreds of thousands of, over 100,000 teachers on the on the other side of the platform. What was, what was the biggest challenge in getting this the ground, right, because I guess you've got this sense where to start with, you've got no users and no content and what comes first and how'd you persuade one to come on if there's not so much of the other side. Yeah. How did you go about kind of breaking out of that vicious circle?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Well, I think in the beginning, it was very much about you have to find ways where everybody wins. Right? And sometimes there are these small clever ideas that can really turn around things in terms of traction. And I've always been really inspired by, Barbara Corcoran, when she created the corporate report. So Barbara Corporate is like an iconic female entrepreneur. When she started out in real estate, she was a nobody And she only had, you know, listings that weren't worth a lot of money. But then she realized that the press was always looking stories about real estate and real estate development. So she made this report.

And in the report, she in the beginning drew on data from, like, 2 or 3 listings of her own. But she published this weekly report that the press always picked up and then she used them to get more listings and then eventually have an actual credible report that's still one of the biggest real estate reports today. So we thought about the same thing. Like, how do you create this win win win situation? For the NGOs, they needed a new way to connect with youth. They needed members, and they needed to often find a new project to apply for funding. And we provided them the platform where they could engage with new users outside of the demographic where they were physically located and a new project to apply for additional funding for.

And that's why it was quite easy to convince them to join. Like, it's it's been surprisingly easy. And then, of course, you have to consistent Please follow-up and see if you're still serving that community in an appropriate way. The second part is that we then leverage them to bring in the user. So we get them to put our logo on the website and include us in their newsletter and advertise the courses they have on our platform. So instead of going out or trying to source an individual user, we're tapping into that network when they become our partner. So that's definitely been one of them. And then with the pandemic, mean, the whole game changed. It was just totally new rules.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. So let's get on to that. I know that in the start, you had a much more of an outbound sales model. And then you had to switch to purely, you know, purely online virtual approach, which really required an inbound marketing and traffic coming to you. How did you make that shift? You know, and what and what were the challenges in what sounds like? What a major shift for a young company?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
So when the pandemic happened, it impacted us in a series of ways. I think it's really important to to understand that people tend to think that if you're in education, but then of course you did better during a pandemic, but actually only about a third of the companies did better, a third the same, and a third did worse. Because they hadn't adequately prepared. We were not selling online. So what's important to understand about canopy lab is that we both have a product.

We sell to companies and schools. Where it's the software. It's white labeled. You know, you buy it. We use it. And then we use those to create the student lab and the teacher lab community. And we had to switch the model around in both cases. So if we look at the way we're selling to schools is that we had to get the website up, put an online funnel, do you know, things like tool tips change the rotation of when people were manning the chat, implement a ton of different languages, But what we also realized is that in the beginning, even though we thought our onboarding was really, really good. The online onboard onboarding we set up teachers didn't really receive any upskilling from their schools. So one thing is you give them a tool and get them to understand how to use that tool to teach. But if they still didn't understand, like, what's the benefit of Zoom or, you know, are you allowed to show a Netflix when you're streaming in their classroom?

They're still not using the software in an appropriate way, and they might not be getting the outcome that they wanted. And that's why we launched a whole new learning platform called teacher lab. Just to guide traffic in and begin to upskill them with all the questions they were asking in our customer service chat. And then that's how we brought in over a 130,000 teachers in less than a year. So it was, a sort of massive company undertaking I think when the pandemic started, we're 17 employees. We more than doubled during that time. Several of us never met each other for a year and a half, because people were located in Peru and Colombia and Vietnam, and we just couldn't travel and not meet.

And everyone was working from home with kids on their laps and but it became this patron project to really empower the teachers and say thank you because how many times, like, and you said thank you to your children's teachers for for what they did during that really difficult period of time. So so it was it was about changing our tactic at things fast, but also really investing in the in an audience that was really important to us. And then saying thank you and posting the messages we're getting from about how they were afraid or how they felt abandoned, and no one was really talking about that at the time.

Richard Medcalf
Wow. What was hard about that pro that time? You know, what mistakes you make along the way. It sounds like it's quite a big shift, right, that you had to make.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I mean, we made so many mistakes, but that's, like, you know, It's a part of, like, the entrepreneurial journey. And I think a lot of, women are really afraid of making mistakes, and I've never really been afraid of making mistakes. The thing is when you build things fast, you're gonna break stuff and and make mistakes. I mean, one of the things was we were just not at all from an engineering perspective prepared for how much the traffic increased. So all of a sudden, if there's, let's say, fifteen thousand people trying to log in on your login page up same time and you're not used to that, then it breaks, the same with some of the AI services we provide.

So we have this underlying AI engine and we weren't used to people running that many queries trying to auto generate so much content at the time. And again, it wasn't like we had made a mistake. We just hadn't created the proper structure or opened the flood gates because it obviously costs a lot more money to be running on much more servers and things like that. So definitely, you know, we're not completely ready to scale. I think we tried to grab all the business we could get instead of just focusing in a more strategic way. That was definitely a a mistake as well.

Richard Medcalf
And I would ask you to me just, ask you that one. What was the impact of that of trying to go for too much business?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I think when we lost some clients, like, some higher ticket clients we had already because we tried to pursue so much I mean, we onboarded over 200 customers again in less than a year from a company that probably had, like, 30 customers at the time. So it was just feeling of this wild west. If we didn't grab a customer and if we didn't respond fast enough, they just signed up with someone else the day after because everyone needed to buy a product And then it was a bad sass, right, because everyone had to deliver. So we, you know, sell sell services to a lot of smaller schools that wouldn't typically be in our segment.

And I think we didn't have a system in place, to really assess fast enough the value of the lifetime value of that potential client. So pretty much any client got the same oral treatment. Which we're much more careful about today because a small client in, you know, I mean, we sell much more online, you know, direct from website, and that client shouldn't see a customer service representative because then it's not a lucrative lucrative meal anymore. So we had to grow up rely on much more software, much more data, much more intelligence, to be able to make smarter business decisions. And not just grab any customer that comes along the way.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. I I hear that. It's it's hard, right, when you're actually in that moment, and there's customers, like, available saying take my money or whatever. It could be easy to say, just one more is not gonna hurt or whatever, but you get stretched too thin is what I'm hearing.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I think actually here in Denmark, we're having a much better climate of talking about your entrepreneurial mistakes. And some of them were funny. You know, like, nothing bad necessarily comes out of takes that can be really big. I remember one time, we had just raised. I think we had just raised €1,000,000. In investment. And then I had to pay something like $5000 to the tax authorities And by mistake, I wired them a $1,000,000. And I didn't realize right away And then I log into the bank account a few days later, and I thought that we had been scammed or something.

You know, I thought someone had had come in and accessed their bank account, and I completely freaked out. And then, obviously, we eventually got the money back. It took a little longer made me feel comfortable, but there was so many learnings in that, you know, learnings about I had to notify my board. There was like a whole process, you know, that started That was one thing, but also why didn't we have fail safe mechanisms? Turns out that, you know, two people have to sign normally for a transaction of that size, but because it was on this one of those, like a physical bill where you type in the number, apparently, that system was only set up for a pure online transaction.

So, you know, when you do like an ask for action report on that, you realize, okay. You know, there are steps. And then, obviously, that got taken out for audit. You know, like a year after because it looked very odd that we're sending money and receiving the same amount of money back. But there have been plenty of mistakes like that along the way and, It just makes it a lot more fun when you look back at it afterwards. Yeah.

Richard Medcalf
It gives you good stories, right, just give you some good stories. And I, yeah, I I think this is a classic example of you have to enjoy the journey. You know, there's, like, if you if you beat yourself up at every every little thing, it's so hard to continue. You know? And I've I see so many I you love my clients even. They they're extraordinary people accomplish extraordinary things. They're still gonna do amazing things. And yet, and they have very high standards, which can be a good thing, but it can also lead them to beat themselves up so much.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
No. You're totally right. I mean, entrepreneurs were competitive people We only got here because we like to win. And people who like to win put in a lot of effort, and we like to, you know, we're perfectionists. But I really, you know, I think when I entered my thirties, it was a lot more for me about forgiveness of self. You know, you are gonna make these mistakes, and you should be a perfectionist because the only way how, like, you know, less than 1% of female entrepreneurs Get Venture Capital in Denmark.

If it's a purely female assignment team and 7% if it's a male female team, I have a male co founder so you have to be better than the competition. You have to be a perfectionist. You have to really get out there and really do the work. But if you hold on to the mistakes, then you don't progress. And it takes it builds this, you know, dark mental cloud. So I think I've really Sometimes, you know, let's say I'm in the kitchen, I'm drinking a cup of tea, and sometimes you have this feeling like It's not a good day or something's bothering you, but you don't have 100% know what it is. I've started to really, like, stalk myself, like, physically and ask Why am I feeling this way right now?

And then maybe it was that email through an employee or a client. It wasn't all that great, but like the most of the time, it wasn't that bad. And then really, like, recognize, like, I'm feeling this in this moment because of that, and maybe that's not worth it. And if it is worth it, then I need to do some about it, that changed how I feel about it. So just much be much more conscious. And I think working with a coach has really, really helped me. I'll be much more aware of myself.

Richard Medcalf
When you talk about needing to be perfectionists, I'm just a pick your pick up on that. And I know what you mean. What you want, what I hear you saying is, it's important to have high standards and to have that intensity to to make things happen. I wanted to pick it up because I see it sometimes is that I don't believe in perfectionism as a good strategy. Did we high standards could be great, but, actually, I do see people when people get paralyzed by perfectionism, what they're actually getting paralyzed by is fear, and perfectionism is fear based strategy is basically about not shipping. Because at some point, and, yeah, obviously, you have somebody who ships. You've built a whole business. So you gotta get it, but there's a point where you have to go, I'm pressing send or whatever the equivalent is, and it has to go.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
No. No. I agree. I I totally agree. Most of the wrong hires I've had over the year are exactly that people who are afraid to just do it. So when I was a consultant, we very much learned the best for the time and the money that you have. That's the concept. As a consultant, you sell your time, so you cannot, you know, put too much effort, you know, more than a certain threshold into a client job has to be good enough and be what you promised. Put in too many hours, you're losing money on it, so it doesn't make sense. I'm very much taken that mindset. When you build a business, whether it's a full profit business or a social venture, the people who make it are not the people who build the best things. It's the people who just do it.

And I put in some principles that I used to control my time, that helped me achieve that. So for example, I always start with the hardest thing first. Always, both to get it out of the way, but also because it takes up most mental space. So if there's something, for whatever reason, I will I will get it done at the beginning of the day, and I realize that I it makes me feel so much better. And a couple of other things I picked up over the years, like, I had a whole year. I called the no year. And it was actually my husband's idea.

I get excited, very easy. I do a lot of things. Serve on a lot of boards, volunteered with a lot of speeches. But I've compromised a lot on the time I have to love myself and to rest and and to feel prepared and charge my own battery. So one time, you know, he asked me, what if you for a full year had a default? No. And he said, doesn't mean you can't do stuff. Take on new roles or responsibilities, but what if you had to think about it enough to actually convince yourself from the default note to the yes? And to what if you had to say no to something else? Kick something else out. 

And of course, like, you shouldn't go through your life as a default, no. But for someone who was always a default, yes. It was really important for me. And another small thing I still do is, when I was a kid, My mom would always let us stay home if we didn't wanna go to school, not because someone was, like, bullying us or, you know, we hadn't finished our homework sometimes you just have a day where I don't feel like playing today. I feel like staying in bed or going to a museum, whatever it is. And she said it was alright. To take 1 or 2 of those days, you know, just for you, like a mental health day.

And then when I was older, I saw an interview on TV with a police officer. Who said they officially called it in Danish. It's called an old day or like a, I'm not feeling that great. And that that was a turn. Like, I'm taking a day just for me just because and because I'm a better person when I show up tomorrow. And that's a concept I try to really live by and also teach my own kids and also my, my team members that you don't have to be sick and you don't have to take a vacation day. Sometimes you could just take up I feel like staying at holiday.

Richard Medcalf
I hope you're enjoying this conversation. This is just a quick interlude to introduce you to 2 transformative programs that we run. The first is Rivendell, my exclusive group of top CEOs who are committed to transforming themselves, their businesses, and the world. It's an incredible peer group and a deep coaching experience that will push you to new heights no matter how successful you've already been. The second is Impact Accelerator, a coaching program for executives who are ready to make a big leap forward in their own leadership. It's regularly described as life changing and no other program provides such personal strategic clarity, a measurable shift in stakeholder perceptions, and a world class leadership development environment. Find out about both of these programs. Atxquadrant.com/services. Now back to the conversation.

So, yeah, every day, I do the similar thing. I look at how engaged I am, how inspired I am, and and how much fun I'm having. Because if I'm not coming from those places, of those 3 things, my work's not gonna be as impactful as it needs to be. And so I'd rather if that's if I'm feeling low on those things, I need to go and do something about it because otherwise, I'm not gonna be on point with my clients. In my writing, whatever I am doing that day. And so I think that point of actually starting with making sure that we're coming from that place of, I call it being. Right? That's where the impact happens. And you're right. If you when you wanna take a day or morning or whatever we need to be in that place, actually, that's a really high value activity.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Yeah. And I I also think I a few years back, I did the same thing with the public speaking. I felt like at one point, I was just going through the motions. There wasn't any authenticity left. I was just saying the same things, and my mind began to wonder to other places while I was, like, actually on stage doing something. And then I thought, okay. I don't I I'm not giving something away. You know, when you engage with people, you should leave them with something. That at least you believe has some sort of value. So then I took 6 months out and said, I'm not doing anything because I don't have something that I wanna say.

I don't have something I wanna give away. And then that time allowed me to focus on getting new inputs. Alright. And then I suddenly really felt like I had something to say again. And I'm really grateful that a lot of times again, because they're social media, we feel like we have to be a con part of the conversation. Like, there's this loop going and if you're all of a sudden circle out, then then you're just irrelevant or you're not there. But I noticed that there's really high correlation between engagement and saying something that takes a little bit longer and that's a bit more authentic and what you're giving something of yourself rather than just showing a picture or saying the same thing over and over.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Yeah. Abs absolutely. Yeah. I love that. So, well, let's kind of, pick up on that point of, of input. You said, you know, taking time to actually resource yourself. You say that you work hard to be, I think, the most well informed person in the room, read more and be better prepared than everybody else. So could have, you know, how do you do that? What do you read? What's your thinking? Do you fare for specific meetings in a specific way? You know, and what are the benefits that you find of that?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I think ever since I started my career, I was always assumed to be the intern or the assistant, I'm a very petite woman. I am always wearing a pink dress. So a lot of times, I'm a little bit of an underdog. And it's really important that you can command the room and that when you say something, you have one chance to say something that matters. And therefore, I always prepare. I always prepare more than everybody else, and this surprises people. So I've taught the circuit with pitch competitions, and You know, I'm not afraid of saying that I'm great on the stage, but people assume I just show up and just say something, but I don't. I practice it. You know, Before I pitch, I practice in the shower. I get up in the middle of the night to practice.

I wander, you know, the house. I invite everybody to listen whether it's kids friends or neighbors and critique, so that I can predict what will happen in a lot of meetings. I know the outcomes. The teams prepare, added, like, quite detailed briefings on everyone I meet on the companies, what they like. And I think it's It's a strategy I've had ever since I was I started out as an intern in a consulting company. Always know what everyone is drinking, know who their family are, know who their friends are, So it gives you a way to sneer the conversation, but also to really truly understand the needs of your clients. And then in terms of how I prepare or what I prepare by, I think a lot of times, leaders can become quite one dimensional. And what I mean by that is that for a while, we've had this idea that a CEO is someone who runs a marathon, and they're very controlled. And whether you're a good manager, that's tied to personal fitness. And you're not allowed to like a red steak anymore. God forbid if you had cigarette on the weekend if you had a bad day. And and I just think that that's completely nonsensical.

We have to be much more authentic. And I remember there was a, you know, new female CEO or one of the big companies here in Denmark. On one of the first days, she was interviewed She they asked her if she runs, are you a runner? And she said the only time I run is when I'm late from my plane at the airport. And for me, it marks this shift, where we can be different. We can look different, but also rely on different information. I rely a lot on, books from other sectors to be inspired about the work that I'm doing. So of course, I read everything about artificial intelligence and learning and pedicot But the times I've had the best ideas, it's usually come from, for example, science fiction or from visiting museums and places When I started working at Singularity University, giving lectures on the future of learning, I also sometimes use to teach and still do at the NASA Ames Research Center for Singhalero University. And, I remember I was there in 2018 and they were doing some work around swarm intelligence and the self driving cars. That really, really fascinated me.

Then walking around to hanger, learning about the history of that place, the innovation that's happened learning about the self driving car. I began to build mirror images in my mind about what that would be in education. What's the equivalent in my industry. And I realized it was the self building course, the ability to automate course creation and build synthetic content. And a year after, we released, you know, the world's first AI course authoring tool. And it was because of this reliance especially on imagination on science fiction and listening to people from other industries and the innovations that they're building that I understood what I wanted to do. And since then, we created a concept in the company called AI Friday. And in AI Friday, each employee studies and application of artificial intelligence, but it is not allowed to be already deployed in education.

And then they come and they present it, and then we collect it when we brainstorm. And we even do this on Zoom with all the different locations. And then we say, what do we like about this technology? What do we maybe not like? What are the potential ethical dilemmas and what could be the mirror image of this in our specific industry? I rely a lot on cinema, museums, ballet. I consume a lot of Korean television. It really sparks my imagination the way that the whole setup, the cultural relationship, and the relationship between men and women is different. And I think it's it's necessary to build the global products that we expose ourselves to different culture.

Richard Medcalf
And I live at so many different inputs. And what's great is they're a lot of fun at the same time. Right? So it's not a slog to be reading science fiction or watching different movies or whatever. I love this idea of, AI Fridays as well. It's what creative way you have actually getting everybody to actually get their hands on and play with things and be creative. I mean, what if it's not really the benefits? 

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Yeah. What's -- Yeah. And also, like, So I was gonna say, like, I think, you know, it doesn't have to be science fiction for everybody, but the point is that science fiction was actually never for me until a person in a bookstore. I was in London, and I was late for a plane. And I ran into a bookstore and I said to the woman, I need a book for the plane, give me something. And she pulled out John Wickham and the crystal lids, and I said, I don't wanna read that. That's not for me. And then I didn't have time and I took it. And I realized that it was for me. And I think it ties back to my earlier point about personalization. In a world that's more cleverly crafted, we have to make active choices. You could be in a city and never see a new building or a new museum or space or try a new restaurant. So sometimes when that restaurant you wanted to go to is booked, you know, just take the place next door. Like, don't look up what it's all about. Same with the book. Just pull books. I do that all the time. Books, I have no idea. And then I don't feel forced to finish them necessarily. If it really isn't something, I feel like I'm not getting something out of but really, like, be much more greedy with the world and taste stuff.

Richard Medcalf
I love that. You talked earlier on about your no year. And this is almost like the the opposite, right, is actually to say yes to whatever random stuff comes along. And I think there's a time for both, in fact, Yeah. It's I think it's I've, reading it quite recently, actually, an article that's just seeing very much the same thing, like, actually just go for randomness, literally like roll of dice, to make a choice about where you're gonna go on holiday, what course you're gonna sign up for, what book you wanna read, because That will be where those serendipitous connections will come from much more than if we try in our wisdom to try to plot some course, which is kind of a fascinating, fascinating idea.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Yeah. And I think also there's something about vulnerability. A lot of times, if I've been out making a speech or meeting people, And maybe I've said more than I wanted to, more than I had planned. An example is I was giving a speech also with Singularity University just after my father had passed away. And I wasn't planning on bringing it up. And all of a sudden, I found myself talking about it, but it was in a way that made sense. But it just wasn't a plan. And then afterwards, I felt almost a little bit embarrassed if I had overshared And then I met so many of the people afterwards who really connected with that and the message around them. And formed some really strong relationships that I don't think I would have formed, if I had played my cards getting closer to my chest.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. I call that the vulnerability hangover. Right? It's that when you wake up the next morning, go, did I share too much or was that too edgy? But it's actually where we connect. In fact, what I find is that what we're most looking for, desperate for from each other is the moment we drop the drop the barrier and say, you know what? This is this is really where I'm at. Because suddenly we see that other human being opposite and we get to connect. And, you know, I've that's been my one of my journeys. Yeah. I'm, easy to grow up and be a high performer and you have to have it all together. You know, my sister was severely mentally handicapped, so I felt I had to keep it all together in many ways, right, and always be smart and competent and have all the answers.

And I found some of the most connecting moments of my life. It's when I put my hands up and say, I don't know now. I'm stuck, or this is what's going through for me, and that's, like, we achieve for people, especially when we've built our reputation on this on this other thing. Sarah, I know we're we're kinda getting to the end of time here. I want to ask So canopy lab with this really innovative, learning platform for youth, where do you want to take that? You know, what's multiplying that, you know, the impact of that business of that operation gonna look like for you. If if we were here in 3 or 4 years, What's, what's multiplication for you?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I think I'm I'm just in awe of how many NGOs have joined. So we just surpassed 200 NGOs. And I believe last week, we set a record by signing 5 new partners in a week. So I wanna build the world's biggest space for youth and civil society to engage, and to debate the world's most difficult topics. And I think we're very well on the way to do that. And then I think we have a couple of other things up our sleeve around this total automation, of course, creation, personalization, synthetic content, experimenting with the value of the tangible physical, the NGOs and the materials that were always there and the things you can touch.

And then how can you transform them into other things? While it still has authenticity and truth. That's something that's very important to me. I think on a personal note, I think through our work. I've been more and more engaged with the human rights agenda. I think as leaders as CEOs, we have a direct impact on a lot of the conflicts that are happening in the world, whether it's through who we partner with, the purchases we make, and the policies that we create could be anything from a maternity paternity leave to indirectly supporting the Russian regime.

And, I realize how there's so many pretty basic problems in this world that those of us who understand software can solve. So I'm really looking to begin to repurpose parts of our software, whether it's some of the AI algorithms or some of the other adaptive elements to try to help other NGOs be more than just the platform for them. But actively go in and invest in them, solving the problems that they're facing. So leveraging the software to go out and do more for our community, continue to service that community.

Richard Medcalf
I love that because that's our 2nd level. Right? You've got the curve of your own business, and then you have, well, how can we Move and impact many more NGOs on their mission, right, with the ultimate goal of human rights and, people's lives, right, in in all these different aspects. Yeah.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
I think in some numbers, you know, in some ways it surprised me. Pre pandemic. We hosted these, Thursdays where it was open office hours, and then NGOs could come. I mean, obviously, In this case, those based in Denmark and record for free in our studio if they wanted to do videos, but then also we had a theme, whether it was about social learning or social emotional learning, So we would talk for 20 minutes, and then they would just sit and be working on their own content and their own courses. And many of them said we've never been in the same room. Whether you're working on space or sex education or human rights, how come we're not connecting them more? And and creating this, you know, digital toolbox and reskilling of them as a collective. And I think we can play a key role in that

Richard Medcalf
How are you gonna need to change your own leadership as you scale to to take on these ever greater challenges and opportunities. You know, what's the stretch for you gonna be over the coming years as you look to multiply your own impact?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Well, I've had to take a lot of leaps already. Again, I I never wanted to be a CEO. I don't have this particular innate desire to manage people. So I have had to learn a lot more about my own personal impact. How not to expect people are the same as me, working consistently with a coach. I think as I as I look to the future and and and the next steps for me. It's about finding, this balance of how to lead with example and lead out of strength.

And not feel the need to be a smaller person or live up to other people's expectations or be liked. I think, again, especially as women, we have this tendency to think what other people think about you really matters. And it's a part of defining who you are. As a leader, I've often been called aggressive. I don't smile as a default. I don't like small talk in particular. And I will put up the hand when all the men are talking and say, I totally disagree with what you're saying based on ABC. And I think a lot of women struggle to see that you don't have to wear pants.

You don't have to cut your hair short when you turn 30, you can be aggressive if that's your style. So to have this authenticity and be completely unapologetic, about who I am. And to look the way I want to look. I want to have long hair and big earrings and and talk about artificial intelligence. And I think the young generation are so much better at, at not seeing that conflict that some of us think is inherently there, that this more feminine side to leadership is very natural, and that is very welcome. So I'm working on how I can support myself and support women truly in congress that feminine side in their leadership.

Richard Medcalf
Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Yeah, I think you're right. It's I think all leaders are all leaders. No matter the sex or the person, it shows up in different ways, but so many leaders actually no matter how successful it can be, there are, you know, there is people pleasing, status, fear, frustration, need to prove ourselves, all those different things, different elements and different people. Right? But I find that those are actually the things which we try to push them down, and we try not to deal with them, try not to get on with stuff. But I think at some point, we have to address them and decide, like, what's gonna drive us? Is it is it those fears, or is it the purpose? Right? Is it the contribution that we want to make?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
And Or or it's even in the beginning. You said something about as leaders, you know, we are currently here. And we we we work to get here. There was a lot of stuff happening here to build us to this place. Whether you're a leader in your own organization, you may be a global leader, you may be a globally recognized publicly recognized leader or global role model, but maybe we wanna go here. And how do we not condition ourselves and compromise so much with what our values are and whom we want to be if we don't think that naturally gets us where we wanna go.

And I think that in a, you know, in the capacity of me being an Obama foundation leader and going through with the Obama foundation leadership program in Europe in 2022, we really had to articulate what our values are and then reflect on when we're challenged, when things are going, not the way we predicted they would go, and when things are going well, how do we embody those qualities? And what are the steps that we could be taking to be better leaders and honor the values that we ourselves have picked. And we also studied leaders. Different leaders, what was their style, what were their sources of inspiration, and what did they draw on,

And I always very much enjoyed the late, John, John Lewis, who was also a a a big role model for president Obama. But he talks a lot about and I'm not religious, but he talks a lot about light that each of us has a light. And and that light is important, and we can't let other people diminish that light. So how do we continue to shine and continue to go where we wanna go and stay true to that life.

Richard Medcalf
Thank you. That's beautiful place. Perhaps we can wrap up at this point. If people wanna get in touch with you, we'll find out more about canopy lab. You know, where do they do that?

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
So you can go to canopy lab.com and direct from that website, you can by the product, but also join student lab and teacher lab, and that's totally for free. Other than that, I'm an Instagram person, Sarah Joe's team on Instagram. That's where you'll get quickest answer for me.

Richard Medcalf
Perfect. Well, Sarah, thank you so much for taking it time today. I think we've covered so much ground. It's been, really fun and inspiring. We've talked about starting, you know, the your support system in your pocket, the mission for doing that. In fact, you're an accidental entrepreneur, spotting this gap that other NGOs were not really focused on and that you can allow you to serve multiple NGOs in 1 and find this niche in the market. About how you kind of created quick wins to get the whole thing off the ground.

Talked about perfectionism, time management principles, the no year, inspiring yourself to career with a self building course based on the idea of self driving car and the innovations that can come from when we broaden our horizon. And then the, yeah, this recent conversation about what it means to to to look at ourselves and look at how we need to reinvent ourselves. For the next level. So I've really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you so much, and look forward to watching as you grow this platform into, you know, the the biggest youth, education platform on planet.

Sahra-Josephine Hjorth
Thank you so much. It was --

Richard Medcalf
Thank you.

Well, that's a wrap. If you received value from this conversation, please do leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform. Would deeply appreciate it. And if you'd like to check out the show notes from this episode, head to expodrant.com/ Medcalf, where you'll find all the details. Now finally, when you're in top leadership, who supports and challenges you at a deep level? To help you multiply your impact. Discover more about the different ways we can support you at xquadrant.com.

**Note: This transcript is automatically generated.
Please excuse any errors.

Beyond the podcast...

Once you've subscribed to the podcast, why not go deeper and subscribe to the Xquadrant Insider?

This is our complementary email newsletter that focuses on multiplying value and impact at the intersection of leadership, strategy and purpose.  Originally designed for our private clients, we've made this available to a wider audience of high-achieving and purpose-driven leaders.


More from The Impact Multiplier CEO Podcast...

S13E39: How to land your mission and message with impact, with Jack Murray (CEO, Media HQ)

S13E39: How to land your mission and message with impact, with Jack Murray (CEO, Media HQ)

Creating exponential results by playing the long game, with Dorie Clark (S11E10)

Creating exponential results by playing the long game, with Dorie Clark (S11E10)

S13E38 “CEO GPT”: How CEOs can harness Generative AI in their own leadership

S13E38 “CEO GPT”: How CEOs can harness Generative AI in their own leadership

S13E37: “Impact investing is broken”, with Brett Simmons (CEO, Scale Link)

S13E37: “Impact investing is broken”, with Brett Simmons (CEO, Scale Link)

S13E36: Is your work interesting, or impactful? with Chintan Panchal (Founding Partner, RPCK Rastegar Panchal)

S13E36: Is your work interesting, or impactful? with Chintan Panchal (Founding Partner, RPCK Rastegar Panchal)

S13E35: How to harness purpose to restructure and grow businesses, with Andy Morris (CEO, Cirencester Friendly Society)

S13E35: How to harness purpose to restructure and grow businesses, with Andy Morris (CEO, Cirencester Friendly Society)
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
>