CEO and Creator of Pilgrim Soul Shawn Gold talks Cannabis, Creativity, Balance, and Beyond!
You might remember the Pilgrim Soul Creative Journal we included in our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! We got a chance to virtually sit down with Shawn Gold, the innovative and inspiring Creator and CEO of Pilgrim Soul, and take a deep dive into cannabis and creative exploration!
Shawn had his first consumption experience as a young boy with his brother, “When I was a teenager there was a lot less to do. We were not connected to all our friends and all of the world’s information through a handheld device. We basically had sex drugs and rock and roll. I first tried cannabis as a teenager with friends because our older brothers did it.”
Since his first consumption experiences, his views have evolved to one that is fueled by growth, “It’s gone from ‘getting high’ to purpose-driven recreation. I've always liked the mind expansion qualities, even as a teenager, but as an adult, it is much more focused. I use cannabis for work, for empathy, for focus, or going really deep inside a problem, for human connection and to make non-linear connections - to put ideas together in new ways.”
It is for many of these reasons, combined with a drive to make sure that the sector evolved in a way that was sustainable, that led to Shawn jumping into roles as an advisor and business owner within the cannabis sector. “A love for the plant and a desire to see this business evolve both responsibly and informatively. My career has been in launching new business categories as CMO of MySpace, publishing some of the first professional blogs like Engadget and Joystick, helping to build subscription fashion businesses like Fabletics and SavgeXFenty. I wanted to help lay the foundation for a long-term business, and of course, give back to something that has given me so much.”
When it comes to what is important to focus on in terms of cannabis consumption within the general business sector, Gold had the following to say, “As cannabis becomes legal, there needs to be rules and guidelines on how to use cannabis at work. We tend to want to take the rules of alcohol and apply them to cannabis. Some of that analogy makes sense, but it is a very different drug. Ultimately it is all about performance, and that depends a lot on your job. I know a lot of high-functioning cannabis users in all types of different jobs. I am not one of them. I use cannabis after work to think about work in new ways. It might enhance creativity at work but impair critical thinking, communication, or collaboration skills and that can be a detriment.”
We love how Pilgrim Soul’s journals blend experience in so many different areas with data to facilitate and promote creative exploration and play. Shawn shared a little bit about what led to the conceptualization of Pilgrim Soul, “It is a lifelong experience. As many of my friends would say, I’ve been training for this role my entire life. I have been known as a stoner but also as an original thinker. Someone who has used creative thinking to differentiate me in my professional life. The idea was to build a company that helps people hack their creativity. Cannabis is a pretty awesome hack but it can also be meditations, exercises, yoga, travel, or a combination of those things.”
We love that they have a mission of optimizing human creative performance to gain a competitive edge in business and life. We asked Gold to expand on how he defines human creative performance, and how it can be strengthened by boosting creativity. “Great question because people get caught up in the definition of creativity and that is where the research is a bit unreliable. The classic definition of creativity is “to create something new and useful” but it is so much more than that. Like happiness, it is more of a way of traveling than a destination. Creativity is an individual thing - it is about opening up the aperture of understanding and seeing things in new ways- it is about empathizing with others, experiencing new feelings, self-expression, making nonlinear connections, experimenting, reinventing, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun. But it is what makes us different from animals and uniquely defines us as individuals and it will become more and more and more important in our evolving world.”
When it comes to having a vision, part of what we are so motivated and inspired by is the fact that Gold’s vision is not driven by financial gain, “As a business, that’s how we keep score other than money, it is in helping people unlock their innate creativity. We get so much mail from people who use our journals - I mean thousands of messages a month. And this business is just getting started. We are 4 months old.”
Part of what we love about the Creative Thinking journal are all of the educational and accessibility pathways it provides towards making consumption feel more normalized. Shawn shared some of his hopes pertaining to normalization and stigma change within the space “It is the first in a series of journals meant to spark creative thinking. The journals are filled with fun, funny creative challenges designed to increase your creativity and build more productive habits. Throughout these exercises, we reveal misconceptions about creativity, annoying aspects of the mind that lead us to repress creative thinking, and the research behind these methods. The exercises are taken from proven brainstorming, ideation, and innovation exercises across art, design, business, and science. The exercises involve thinking mechanisms like observation, imagination, abstracting, pattern recognition, and analogies. The principal learning mechanism is a series of ‘Think differents’, where you are challenged to identify and change your own cultural, habitual, and normal patterns of thinking. The goal is to move you outside of your existing comfort zone and reawaken your innate creativity.”
Shawn is also no stranger to stigma as both a member of the cannabis community and a business owner, “I am definitely known as a cannabis smoker. I have never hidden it. That along with being unconventional thinking can bring criticism from close-minded people. People tend to criticize what they don’t understand. I really just lead by example and let the results do the talking. That is not only about work. It is about relationships, raising children, being a great friend, and living and being healthy. Sure he is successful, has a great relationship with his wife, has well-adjusted polite and personable children but he smokes weed - maybe we can hate him for that.”
Part of what we love so much about the products are that real facts, data and research are showcased throughout the experience. Shawn shared with us why it has been important to him to involve experts and top minds in the process. “Well I am not making this up, this creative movement and the need for it is outlined by Sir Kenneth Robinson in his famous Ted Talk, ‘How schools have killed creativity and why we desperately need to bring it back’, or Richard Florida’s book about the creative class, or books like Stealing Fire about tapping into your flow state. Our goal at Pilgrim Soul is to be a repository of this knowledge and to help people distill it into usable and actionable information. I am just one guy, the program is much more powerful when you understand why, the history, and the case studies that support the premise of the business.”
We couldn’t stop sharing exercises as we were running through the journal! There are so many different fun activities that really had us thinking in new ways. Shawn said it is hard to pick a favorite, “It’s hard to say because I like different exercises at different times. I like the ‘word links’ exercise with friends. (example) Same for the ‘thought bubble exercises (example). The ‘name brand’ exercise is fun for me because it is about empathy (example). Some are hard or difficult depending on my mood and mindset when I pick up the journal. And that is the great thing, there is no wrong or right way to use the journal, you can open it up to any page - the serendipity is part of the experience - we only ask that you use it creatively.”
Outside of getting creative, Shawn attributes other positive benefits to his cannabis consumption. “Well this still lies within my definition of creativity, but, empathy. I find it is really great in understanding my wife and understanding myself in relationships. It allows me to step back and look at motivations. I am more apt to look at all sides of an issue if I'm high and admit I am wrong, as opposed to defending myself. And for me, being present is another great thing. Which is interesting because the stereotype is ‘he is a stoner, he is so out there’. For me, it helps me connect. I used to love playing with my children when they were young when I was a little high. Empathizing with them and seeing the world from their perspective was so fascinating to me, and something that I found hard to do in the daily grind of life.”
When it comes to tips for balancing a busy schedule and the daily grind with personal consumption he had the following to say, “I have to schedule my cannabis use. I am not great at working with numbers and multi-tasking while high - so I have to dedicate time to a specific task - and I get so much enjoyment from that - this is my time to block things out and luxuriate in this idea.“
Mindfulness and being present are huge values when it comes to creative play and cannabis according to Gold, “As I said before, being present is one of the greatest benefits- if that's something that cannabis helps you achieve. We are so distracted in this world, from news to work, to likes and comments, to constantly looking at our phones. Cannabis is great for idea generation but it is also great for repression of judgment and helping you to go with your gut. There is an area of the brain called the dorsolateral cortex that is connected to planning, inhibition, and self-censorship, as well as cognitive control over emotions. Slowing it down or deactivating it plays a role in daydreaming, meditation, and REM sleep- brain activity that affects the creative process.”
For people just getting started with the journal(s) Shawn advises you to follow these guidelines:
Limit Judgement. When using this journal, it is essential to focus on output and let ideas flow without judgment. Just see what happens and push yourself to challenge your imagination.
Take More Risks. Creative thinking requires a willingness to fail and make mistakes. Very often the mistake is creativity.
Challenge default thinking. We become so accustomed to doing things in a certain way that we lose the ability to break away and think differently. Creative ideas exist in a balance between the familiar and the new.
Minimize Negative Thinking. From an early age, you've learned to analyze and criticize anything new. As an adult, it becomes second nature. Don't let this hold you back.
Go With your gut. If you feel whimsical, then be whimsical; if irreverent, then be irreverent...but don't pressure yourself to get it right or perfect the creative experiment.
Shawn is inspired by the value the journals provide to the users, they get thousands of letters and submissions sharing the impact these creative tools have made in so many people's lives.
When it comes to what’s next, there are several exciting things in the works! They are launching a full line of live resin canna blends in CA next week. These feature custom creative blends, with specific terpene and cannabinoid profiles to optimize creative output. This first run is going to be packaged in beautiful limited edition tins designed by female street artists. We can’t wait to try them all!
As someone who has worked in a variety of impressive high-level roles from CEO to CMO, advisor, and beyond, we wanted to know Shawn’s advice for future business leaders and entrepreneurs trying to jump into the canna-business sector, or business in general, and it was no surprise that his answer was rooted in empathy and,, “Treat your employees as partners, think about how you keep score other than money. Winning is about the impact on your customers, employees, and patterns. Build a moat, differentiate, be the best at what you do.”
When it comes to the future of cannabis, Shawn is most excited about access, education and social justice implication and change. When he is not in business mode you can catch him learning more about his current canna-inspiration, the Jazz Movement, “Current is a good word because it changes all the time - especially for someone like me that is continually researching. I love the jazz musicians and how they used cannabis to slow time down, improvise and be in the moment- jazz is known to be one of America’s original art forms in the 1940’s jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong were America’s culture ambassadors - and cannabis was a big part of that art form.”
We were honored to get a chance to talk with Shawn and learn more about the inspirational work that he and his team are doing to promote empathy, creativity, stigma-breaking, and just generally making the world better! To learn more about Pilgrim Soul and Shawn check them out at pilgrimsoul.com, pilgrimsoulcannabis.com, and follow them on Instagram at pilgrim_soul_creative.