We had the good fortune of connecting with Dr. Sara Murdock and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Dr. Sara, do you have a favorite quote or affirmation?
I have a little phrase – “change isn’t hard, it’s human” – to reflect the messiness of cultural evolution. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one person, a family, a team, an organization, a whole country… it takes time and a LOT of practice to change our internal thinking, which is the precursor to the building blocks of change: new values, norms, and behaviors. We all know that change is inevitable, so we try to “manage” it with spreadsheets and calendars when it’s mostly about equipping people to adapt, learn, and grow.

I used to get frustrated, mad even, because not everyone was as willing to try things out and “fail” in order to learn as I was. For some reason, I’m wired like a bit of a mad scientist so when I was younger I didn’t understand why others weren’t as excited to embrace change… as much as it annoyed me to admit it, I finally realized that humans don’t respond to data and logic and rationality–Mostly, we humans are reactive, emotional, and bias. Change, at face value, is quite simple, yet is utterly messy in its humanity.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
These days, many people focus on an industry or “type” of company. I’m proud that I took an unconventional path – I’ve crafted profound subject matter expertise in organizational excellence and tackle serious topics like power dynamics, conflict, human rights, DEI, ESG, and ethics, regardless of industry or company size. I’m effective because I don’t rely on my personal perspective or preferences. Instead, I use applied research and verifiable methods to develop future-proof strategies.

For example, I’m excited about a potent framework I created called Boss to Leader to Visionary™ that helps individuals grow, teams collaborate, and orgs establish cultures of innovation (here’s a clip of the keynote based on it
https://youtu.be/SDT9tqhY7rU). I wasn’t sure if I’d get laughed out of the room when I started talking about visionary skills, as though I might whip out a crystal ball and a cape. However, when people start seeing themselves in the Boss to Leader to Visionary™ framework, it suddenly becomes very human, even warm and personal. Plus, people who take the leap to learn visionary skills tend to have healthier mindsets because it requires an extraordinary degree of “wise experimentalism.”

In case this all sounds very glamorous, my path has been anything but easy. My methods are highly effective (transformative even!) for orgs that are committed to innovation and willing to do what it takes to greet the future. Frankly, a lot of people are wildly defensive or even hostile when it comes to change. I’ve been belittled, condescended to, and lashed out at by the very people who are paying me good money and are in desperate need of help.

I have 3 secret weapons (what I use and generally recommend to everyone): meditation is absolutely #1, a sense of humor is a close #2, and # is seeing the world as a scientist. If you think these sound trite, I dare you to give them a serious try for at least 3 months and then we can talk. People far smarter than me can help you learn to meditate and embrace humor in your life. As for #3, send me a note if you need help developing the experimental mindset of a scientist, which I promise is something anyone can do. We’re literally born with phenomenal experimentation abilities and then get socialized into conformity. To put a poetic spin on it, consider curiosity and experimentation your birthright as a human being.

Commentary on my career would be incomplete without mentioning a few taboo topics. Shame is one of them. I’ve evolved how I use language because some topics are so shame-inducing that people either freak out, shut down, or spend more time complaining than pursuing solutions. For example, many white people either write off conversations about race as political or fall all over themselves trying to prove how much they “get it.” These responses are either a self-soothing technique or interpersonal grandstanding; most importantly, all of these responses are unprofessional distractions from doing real work. This is why I’ve evolved my language and use terms such as “power dynamics” and “human systems” – these are abstractions that help us get to the core of what’s going on interpersonally and institutionally.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Most of my favorite things to do in the city are food related! I’m not fancy but quality is queen. Early morning I’d take an LA visitor to either Alana’s Coffee Roaster (OG location in Venice) or Go Get ‘Em Tiger (I enjoy the one in Los Feliz which has a lovely porch for people watching). For brunch, the wait at Bru’s Wiffle House in Santa Monica is worth it (and they have fantastic gluten free fried chicken too). It’s not unique to LA, but a trip to Din Thai Fung is always delicious (go to the one in Arcardia which has several to-die-for Taiwanese bakeries close by). If you can get a group of at least 4 together to eat family style, have your next meal in Mid City’s Little Ethiopia. There’s so much great sushi around town I can’t pick just one option, but I have a serious soft spot for the salmon tartare at Yuzu Sushi in Toluca Lake. Same goes for tacos, but I have frequent cravings for the braises at Guisados’ (Boyle Heights, please!) Also, even though I’m an omnivore, for inspired vegetarian cuisine I’d suggest the Atrium in Los Feliz. Headed south just a bit, I love Slay in Manhattan Beach which has a killer gluten free crab cake and is within walking distance to the Strand, one of my favorite places to stroll and chat in SoCal. There are so many great spots to grab a well crafted drink I really don’t have a favorite, and often find myself entertaining guests at home after stocking up at Everson Royce in Pasadena. For wine specifically, drop in to Tabula Rasa in NoHo, then do yourself a favor and pick up some shellfish worthy of a five-star restaurant at The Seafood Shop just moments down Lankershim. I’ll gladly take guests to the McConnell’s in Studio City (go on Sunday during the farmer’s market to offset your sugar high with roasted dips from Poblano Salsa Company) or Sweet Rose Creamery in Brentwood’s Country Mart where you can also dash in to Farmshop for cheese that’s hard to find anywhere else. For events, I’d take guests to a few LA icons (some of which are even free) — the Bradbury Building, the Last Bookstore, any of the open air Music Center Events, any of the South LA DJ parties, and any special exhibition at the Broad. Speaking of free yet world-class, I love taking guests for hikes in the Palisades where you can see the ocean and then 101-ing it up to Malibu Bluffs park for a picnic. Or head the other way and set up a grill at Dockweiler Beach. The other scene to check out is the dance community. There are so many accessible, quirky places to boogie where no one cares whether you’re “good” as long as you’re feeling the music. I love showing LA visitors how supportive and inviting the scene is.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My grandma! She was a risk taker and trail blazer. Growing up very poor in an immigrant family, she didn’t let socio-economics dictate her life or how she interacted with others. Before it was socially acceptable for women, she had a career, married outside of her ethnicity for love, and was active with pro-peace/anti-war movements. In her later years, after her husband passed, she spent her limited disposable income donating to humanitarian organizations and traveling the world solo in very modest accommodations (she visited over 100 countries from her 50s-70s!). I honestly think I learned more from observing her live than from a lot of “formal” schooling I’ve had. She was constantly building community, inviting people from all over the world into her home, educating herself about global events, and volunteering. To top it off, she took each of her grandkids on an international trip before she passed–mine was to Cuba for a cultural immersion program in 1999, long before people from the US were OK’d to do so (we flew through Mexico). On that trip she was about 80 years old, but that didn’t slow her down. We went to Carnival, learned about cooperative organic farming, studied Spanish, saw the Buena Vista Social Club perform, ate with locals, and participated in Afro-Caribbean drumming classes. From her, I learned that giving, celebrating, and including others are not simply “nice” … they are very powerful ways to create meaningful and tangible change, not to mention live a beautiful and fulfilling life.

Website: https://www.drsaramurdock.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drsaramurdock/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/saraevamurdock

Image Credits
Most images are mine. Headshot by LA-based photographer Randy Shropshire (https://randyshropshire.com) and dot.la photo courtesy of eponymous Angelino organization.

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