Episode #1416 Jeni Britton Bauer: Jeni Britton Bauer On Life As A Trailblazer

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Jeni Britton Bauer and Jenna walk through the story of how Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams became one of America's most beloved ice cream brands; Beginning from the moment Jeni decided to be an ice cream maker at age nine to opening over 30 stores across the U.S.  We spend our time together diving into the key lessons Jeni’s learned over the last two decades on what its really like to be a trailblazer, how to approach experience as your ultimate teacher and truth, and why we should strive to be better not the best.


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Jeni Britton Bauer

Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams View Full Profile

Key Learnings and Highlights

  • On asking for and earning help: “From the very beginning, I have always had to ask for help. When you ask for help, the number one thing you have to do is earn it. You have to earn that help. I learned by doing that if I am helpful to others they will be helpful to me. That’s my entire life. It’s been in service and true hospitality, and within that give and take of community, that my entire story is built. Community is the biggest resource to me, even over money, in my business, my life, and everything else.”
  • On community: “Everything to me goes back to the fact that we are building a community. The word company, which is a great word, means that you aren’t alone. It means community; By nature, it’s not a single person doing it. That’s how we’ve raised our business. It’s everything we do…We know that when we are responsible to each other and we help each other we get help back. We earn each other. That’s just how we make our ice cream. I know that it makes a difference in the flavor of the ice cream when we are accountable to each other.” 
  • On letting experience be your teacher and truth: “Sometimes people are waiting for this moment when confidence just hits them and they know what they are supposed to do and everyone is behind them rallying. Sometimes we make that look like that's how things happen in our lives. But, that isn’t the way it is. I don’t know anyone who really just has the definition of what confidence is. I think that if there is a confidence it’s in experience and in doing things because it makes you harder. You almost never succeed the second, third, maybe even tenth time you try something. It’s about falling down a lot. Building confidence, if there is such a thing, is about that. But, it’s also about knowing that you don’t have to take anything anyone else says at face value. You don’t have to go to school to become educated. You can educate yourself. You don’t have to think a certain way. If you experience it, you take that step forward and you actually do it, that’s where experience comes from. So, let your heart guide you to where you curiosity is and learn something by doing it. People tend to overthink what they are supposed to do versus what they can do. Just start something. You don’t have to have the answer to every question before you start. And, in fact, you shouldn’t. Sometimes the more you know, the more scared you’ll become. And, you might not find the right answer anyway. All of the reason that I made all of these incredible discoveries in ice cream, and more coming, is because I didn’t go to school to learn ice cream first. The reason that we built our company as a community is because I didn’t go to business school to try and figure out how to build a company. I wouldn’t have learned it there any way.” 
  • On defaulting to action: “Ideas are worth nothing. They are actually worth less than nothing because they are distractions from whatever else you could actually be doing or are doing. Ideas are nothing unless you act on them. You have to act on your ideas because that is how you learn and then you build off of that. Failure or success, you keep building on that.”
  • On uplifting others as a daily practice: “It’s so important for us all to be aware that we should always be helping lift people up…It’s about planting seeds. You don’t know when they are going to grow. It could be two months from now or 20 years from now. Everywhere you go you’re leaving something. You never know how that seed is going to grow and how it’s going to affect somebody.” 
  • On embodying your future self: “When I took my first job at the ice cream counter I was very introverted and shy. I was a little nervous and my mom told me ‘You know who else is shy? Meryl Streep.’ I thought it was amazing that she could be an actress and be shy while being in front of all of these people. So, I thought I’m going to channel how I think the best ice cream scooper in the world would act.  So, I went to that job and I started to formulate an idea of this person who was the best at that and then I would get into that character. That was so empowering for me…The exercise of putting myself, my emotions, my fears aside and on hold for a second and becoming this thing, even if it was just for a few hours, was really powerful for me. I think everyone could feel that too. It’s a great thing to do when you can put your fears aside for one second and put all of your focus on someone else.” 
  • On being a trailblazer: “When you think about the word trailblazer it is about blazing a trail. You are cutting that trail with your machete and a lot of times what happens when you get to a certain place is that you look behind you and there’s all these people walking up your path and they’re doing it all the easy way. All of the things that you had to go through they get to learn from too and do it cheaper and easier. In some ways, it’s great and you’re really proud of that. On the other hand, I would recommend to anyone that even though being a trail blazer is very hard it is the adventure in life that is so much fun and rewarding. It’s so hard. You’re a warrior and a gladiator. You’re in the arena and you’re doing it…As a trail blazer, of course you are going to end up in places that are unfamiliar, you can’t get out of, or are hard to climb back out of. There have been many of those for me. There are so many small to medium sized ones that you forget when you look back. But, there are a couple that you never forget and they really changed me as a human.” 
  • On overcoming seemingly insurmountable challenges: “We are all afraid of crisis but the definition of crisis is that you cut off from the past. You are no longer associated with your past. Everything has to change, and your future - the future that you believed in, were on your way to and you never questioned - now crumbles to the ground. You are left in this limbo where you can no longer take from the past in order to inform your present and create your future. You now have to create everything again and start fresh.” 
  • On striving to be better not the best: “When you start asking yourself ‘Here’s what I make. How do I make it better today than yesterday?’ It’s about baby steps. I was like everyone else. I wanted to be the best and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible. It took me decades. It was all of these small steps and this extreme focus on what is the next thing that I can do here and then you have to build resources to do that. It’s a long, drawn out, painful in some ways process. What happens, is if you keep asking questions, one day you look around and you realize that you are last person asking these questions. I’m literally the only one asking this question because nobody even knows enough to ask the questions that I am asking. I’m now peerless in that realm. When I started there were a lot of people asking the same ones and then there were fewer and fewer and fewer. Years go by and suddenly you realize that you are the only one asking the question. You have to answer it yourself. Nobody can answer it for you.” 
  • On the magic being in the trying: “It’s like Yoda said: ‘Do or do not. There is no try.’ The word try just shouldn’t even exist. It doesn’t mean anything. You do what you know you can do and you push yourself a little beyond that today and then you build on that. There really is only doing something or not. You do something today and you learn it. The idea of trying, to me, is that you are trying to live up to something else somebody is doing. The whole concept is about living up to what someone else wants you to do not actually doing the thing that you are probably going to fail at, in order to then learn from it right now. The most important thing is to do something now. Get an idea. Create a hypothesis. Act on it. Learn from it. And, just do this very slowly over time. It’s true of everything. You do what you can today and put your name on it. Don’t worry about what other people want from you. Focus on what you want and where you are going.” 
  • On a high school lesson on stepping into your power: “…Mr.Andersen said: ‘Your name is not what is on your driver’s license. You name is your vocation. It’s what everybody knows about you. It’s what people believe about you.’”