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Stephanie Lepp, artist, producer and speaker, joins the program to discuss the pro-social use of AI, including “deepfake” technology. Stephanie discusses her project Deep Reckonings, a series of explicitly-marked synthetic videos including Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones and Mark Zuckerberg having a reckoning. There’s also a very special offer in this podcast, so make sure to listen carefully!

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • Stephanie’s diversity story and the experiences that led to an interest in activism (12:00)
  • A prosocial use of deepfake technology (20:00)
  • The question posed by the Deep Reckonings project 23:00)
  • How a deepfake could lead to a real reckoning  (27:00)
  • How this technology could be used to help boost confidence (31:00)
  • Which types of reckonings need to happen in private (34:00)
  • How technology can be used to address the imposter syndrome (38:00)
  • How to expand what we think is possible (41:00)
  • The need for grace and embracing a learning culture (51:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

DOUG FORESTA: Hello and welcome back to the Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. Of course, I’m here with Jennifer Brown. Today’s episode is a really interesting one. It features a conversation with Stephanie Lepp. She’s an artist, producer, and speaker. She has a studio called Infinite Lunchbox. She does socially-engaged art, she creates media and experiences that hold up a mirror inviting us to grow from what we see. She speaks on the topics of worldview, transformation, consciousness, intersection of personal and social change, and sense making in a post-truth world. She does this thing where she uses what we would call deep fakes in a pro-social way. It’s one of the things that she does. Jennifer, this was not a typical conversation that we’d have on the Will To Change.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, indeed. I even think she was surprised by my interpretation of the potential for a tool like this, because I of course, related it to the change I want to see in the leaders that I support. So I think that was an interesting application of it. We may feel it’s dangerous right off the bat to say, because we’ve been presented with so many nefarious uses of it. And when Stephanie says this is a pro-social attempt to use this technology that’s here whether we like it or not, in a pro-social way and then the point she makes that it is largely used in nefarious ways, it makes to me the urgency of figuring out how to use technology which is here to stay in a way that actually increases our humanity. That’s what she’s trying to do. Doug, I want to read a little bit from her website because she’s-


JENNIFER BROWN: … such a beautiful writer about it and better than I can ever be. But she says, “My job as an artist is to make an alternative playbook that’s more beautiful and powerful than the original. To make a playbook that would move Zuckerberg, Kavanaugh, and Alex Jones, along with Louis C.K. and others, to say, ‘That is the me I want to be.’ The purpose is to make critical self-reflection look stunning so that we are moved to do it. And our public figures are moved to do it. And we make room for each other to do it. Especially because we live so much of our lives in public and our public sphere can be so unforgiving, we need more room to be wrong, learn, change, redeem ourselves, and ultimately, grow in public.”

So Doug, I do ask her at some point what resistance she has found to her art. One thing she says is people say, “These people don’t deserve a chance. They don’t deserve your artwork.”

DOUG FORESTA: Right. Right. Right. Why should they get a reckoning? Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Why should they get it? But tell me about the power of visualization, Doug that-


JENNIFER BROWN: … you know so well as somebody who’s done social work and lots of time as a therapist. Tell me how the brain responds to either seeing ourselves in this pro-social way, in this way where we are a different better angels version of ourselves. How does that actually work on our chemistry?

DOUG FORESTA: Yeah. I mean, there are modalities. Like, there’s a process called EMDR for trauma and there’s others like it where you basically ask the person to visualize something that happened in their lives and then they change it. They visualize it changing. We know that that works. It’s effective because, on some level, the deeper part of our brain doesn’t know that it’s not real. You can change the actual event that happened. You can change a memory.

And so, imagine using a deep fake like this. I think I said to you, I watched the one on Judge Kavanaugh and I felt the impact it had on me. Even though I knew intellectually it wasn’t real, I could still feel the emotional reaction it had. So, if people can do that inside their own minds, using visualization, imagine being able to actually see and hear, changing something, being able to hear the scene, hear this reckoning. On some level on the deeper part of our brain, it doesn’t know the difference. It feels real.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, and it has the power to heal.

DOUG FORESTA: It has the power to heal.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. She talks about the, I think she did one about the imaginary reckoning with Pope Francis, which she released in 2019, writing the script, having a voice actor performer, and being very explicit that it was fiction and not knowing how listeners would respond. She says on her website, “To my surprise, listeners loved it. I heard from survivors of clergy sex abuse who, although they knew it was fiction, found it remarkably helpful to hear the imaginary Pope say the kinds of things they wish to hear the real Pope say.”


JENNIFER BROWN: Doug, I, of course, went to the sense I always have of being so limited in terms of the tools I have for change and for coaching. We, in our coaching modalities, it’s like, “Well, read this book.” Or, “Journal this.” Or, “Do a vision board of how you see yourself showing up and, what is your future self sound like, look like, feel like?” We do this work aspiring inclusive leaders, for example. Every single day, I find myself struggling with my learners about like, “Well, how do I get from here to there? How do I know what to say? What does that look like?”

I’m so limited in terms of describing it and inspiring somebody to visualize it, and then to script it, and then to practice it, and then to get comfortable with it. Those are a lot of steps, and I feel like we’re living in this analog world of toolkits. That we’re having this super old-school modality of teaching and supporting each other to grow.

And it relies a lot on these old techniques that have been around forever. But when I started to think about the coaching of say, an executive to have a reckoning or have a moment of truth and honesty, and reconciliation in public, and then to have it be scripted by whatever team to say, “This is what it would look like, sound like. This is you saying this. This is the future you showing up as somebody who convincingly and truthfully, and authentically says the things that your workforce wants and needs to hear. And taking people to a place where they could actually see that.” We talk a lot about, Doug, we got to see it to be it. I mean, this is like the purest manifestation of that.

DOUG FORESTA: That’s what I was going to say. It’s funny you said that because that’s what I was going to say. You say that all the time, “You got to see it to be it.” Imagine for myself, I think about, if I’m a leader and I can watch myself, I can hear myself say the things that I need to hear and say, I mean, how profoundly transformative is that?

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. She asks, “How might we use our synthetic selves to elicit our better angels?” I also think about the imposter syndrome that a lot of us experience, whether we are women or people of color, or people with disabilities, or any of us who I think struggle to be seen and heard, and respected. We struggle with the effects of bias, and we internalize that. We feel smaller, and we were trying to overcome that every single day. We put a lot of energy towards it.

I thought even about the application of this to see and hear ourselves literally on the Ted stage telling our story from a powerful place. Exhibiting what it looks like to own our space and our story. Those of us who feel like we’re so far from that and we don’t know how we can ultimately get there, if we could marshal something like this, it literally puts us there. It allows us to see it and then to live into it. I think in a much accelerated way, if I had to guess, is it uncomfortable to watch ourselves being as powerful as we can be? Maybe.

I mean, I would hope it would be really exciting. I would hope it would say, “Oh my goodness, now that I’ve seen it, I want it. Now that I want it, I’m going to get there faster because I’ve actually seen what it looks like.” Maybe it demystifies it. Maybe it makes it less terrifying. I don’t know. I think back to giving my first Ted in front of 1,000 people and how terrified I was, and how the fact is I tried to sabotage myself in a million ways so that I could get out of the invitation to give the talk, honestly. I remember avoiding it and trying to twist and turn out of it, but then something in me said, “You need to do this. You need to just buck up and do it.”

DOUG FORESTA: That’s great.

JENNIFER BROWN: You know what I mean? I-

DOUG FORESTA: What if you’d had this tool? What if you’d had this tool?

JENNIFER BROWN: I do wonder. I do. I really wonder. And from a memorization standpoint, I actually spent so much time writing my 10 minutes. And then I spent what felt like months to memorize it because I wanted to memorize it. I wanted it to be perfect. Everything I intended, I wanted to make sure I hit every single mark because it was just too important. And so, that was the way I prepared. It’s not the way everybody prepares. But imagine if I had the rehearsal partner of myself delivering it. Imagine if I could watch that, just privately, to see myself giving it, and maybe my learning style would have been such that watching myself say those words would have enabled me to accelerate the memorization process, but also the comfort and the confidence.

As it was, I went up and stood on that stage and I had my little iPad with me in my hand because I just wanted to make sure. It was a triple check on myself. I didn’t have to look at it, but honestly, it was such an arduous process. Anyway, as I was talking to Stephanie about all these things, these are the kinds of things she hadn’t really thought about. But I’m somebody as a coach and somebody who’s a speaker for a living, and who really support speakers and authors to tell that story that makes them deeply uncomfortable, but is super exciting, and is something they can scarcely imagine doing. As somebody who supports those people to get to that place, I looked at this and I thought, “Oh, so many ways for both my straight, white male executive leaders that I support to practice. What does it sound like and look like to be an inclusive leader?”

It’s also a kinesthetic experience. It’s not just what you say, but I think there’s a level of feel into this that we have to grapple with. Yeah. So it’s just a cognitive exercise, but it’s an emotional exercise too, of being able to stand up and be that leader that you want to be. Anyway, I want to, this is foreshadowing a little bit. What happens at the end of the episode, there is an offer from Stephanie and I hope you listen all the way through and get to that offer that she makes, and take advantage of it. It’s not for everybody, but maybe there’s someone amongst you that is excited about what we’ve described and wants to do this work in this way. Anyway, listen to the end for a special treat.

JENNIFER BROWN: Stephanie, welcome to The Will to Change.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Thank you, Jennifer.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’m happy to have you here and this is going to be a little bit of a different kind of episode than we normally have. I think perhaps outside of a lot of our day-to-day understanding because Stephanie is an artist, and we’re going to go into her art, why she has created what she has created, what fuels her, and we’re going to explore what I immediately saw as the potential in this given the world that I inhabit.

Stephanie, I’m really thrilled. I’m not sure how many artists I’ve had on this show, but I hope people will see the tie-ins to this, because it’s extremely compelling what you’re doing and I think could potentially be world-changing, and certainly to me employs technology, as we need to be talking about more and more, as a tool for change, but in an incredibly innovative and potentially controversial way too. We’ll get to that in a minute.


JENNIFER BROWN: Anyway, so tell us a bit though, take us back to who you are, where you grew up, sort of influences on you, perhaps maybe career twists and turns that led you to where you are now. We always like to ask people their diversity stories on The Will to Change, but to me, that means a lot of things for a lot of different people. It could just be your awakening in terms of wanting to work from a place of purpose every day, which I know purpose is sort of sprinkled throughout your website. Just take us back and then we’ll jump into more about what you’ve created.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Okay. Well, let’s see. Where does it begin? I think maybe I’ll just start with a story. My first real memory of kind of explicit social change or explicit activism was my freshman year in college. I was at Stanford and I went to a rally with the Redwood Action Team at [crosstalk 00:02:26] Stanford, acronym RATS. Went to a rally in Northern California to protest the logging of the Northern California redwoods. We called, for those of you who may remember, Julia Butterfly was a woman, she was an activist who lived in a redwood tree-

JENNIFER BROWN: I forgot [crosstalk 00:02:44]-

STEPHANIE LEPP: … for I don’t know even how long. I think she even had a kid in the tree, but anyway, she lived in this-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … tree and… I might be totally making that up, that she had a kid in the tree. I actually don’t know if that’s true, but we called her from a cell phone at the rally, Julia Butterfly on the phone and we’re having this rally. There were two things I remember really noticing, and one was that the people who we were kind of like on the opposite side of were these really humble-looking people. I mean, they were loggers and their families.

That to me instantly was, “I don’t understand how these lines are drawn, because I don’t think I want to be on the opposite side of those people. I don’t want to be on the opposite side of the redwood trees, but I also don’t want to be on the opposite side of those people.” I mean, I didn’t know the term sustainable development, but I just knew that somehow [inaudible 00:03:46] or that appealed to me or appealed to my sensibility. That was one thing I observed.

The second thing I observed, which is really kind of what has led me into a lot of the work that I’ve done since, is so people in our group are testifying before the City Council about you have to protect the redwoods and the spotted owl and the salamander and the this and that. I was watching the City Council members and their eyes were just glazing over and it was either like, “This is boring,” or they’ve heard this a million times. It was clear to me that whatever we were saying was zero compelling to them, which then, to me, begs the question, what would be a more compelling thing to say? What would change their minds? What actually moves people to change their minds in fundamental ways, whether we’re talking about policymakers or anyone?

That is a question that has stayed with me through early experiences and activism, through managing and consulting where you’re similarly trying to persuade a client in some way this question of, how do people change? Really, more specifically, how do people change in ways that connect to or scale into broader social and political change?

JENNIFER BROWN: Those two stories make total sense to me given where I know you’re at right now. I can relate to, I think, those earlier experiences of realizing you’re meant to be squared off against people and that it’s not an accurate place to be. I think that’s beautiful, and then the making change compelling is also super fascinating to me and important. Given what I do, I don’t want people ever to think the stakes are low at all for what we work on, which is equitable organizations, a fairer world, lessening pain due to racism and systemic inequality. It feels so critical to me and I’m so full of my mission and my passion, but having spent many years trying to convince, cajole-


JENNIFER BROWN: … pressure, change into it. The business case for diversity and the bottom line and-


JENNIFER BROWN: … and we just have to constantly be like shuffling around. Then, okay, so take us forward, then. You decided to bring your art to the front. Where did you go with the want to reconcile some of these things? Or, I guess, to build something that would start to address some-


JENNIFER BROWN: … of the things you’d noticed?

STEPHANIE LEPP: … yeah. Well, that question, “How do people change?”, I actually kind of tried to research, but I didn’t even really know what search term to Google. Am I Googling worldview transformation? Is that even a thing? I know behavioral economics is a thing, but I’m not looking to find out what makes people floss their teeth more often.

I’m looking to find out what moves people in really fundamental ways, and so at a certain point, I kind of realized, “Well, perhaps this exploration would be really powerful to manifest in the form of stories as a podcast that features people who have made precisely these kinds of transformative change?” That is the genesis of Reckoning, which I launched a couple of years, which is a podcast that explores how we change our hearts and minds.

Every episode tells the story of someone who made some kind of a transformation all the way from a deeply conservative Congressman who made a dramatic shift, or what he would call a spiritual conversion on climate change, all the way to a former white supremacist who managed to transcend a life of hate, all the way to a recent episode featured the architect of Facebook’s business model who realized he was addicted to his phone and had a reckoning and has since devoted his life to tackling technology addiction. It’s been a diverse cast of characters, but the throughline is an exploration of this question, how do people change? How do people change in ways that scale into broader social and political change?

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Did you realized sort of the limitations of the podcast modality? The storytelling with the usual tools, I suppose, that we have? Then, kind wanted to take it to the next level, which you decided to do in tandem with us, I suppose. I know the podcast is probably really satisfying for you and incredibly satisfying, I’m sure, for the guests to come on and take us through the story, right? And the-


JENNIFER BROWN: … process?


JENNIFER BROWN: How did the idea for what you do now get sparked through that process?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Right. Okay, yeah, so this is where we get to get controversial. The most recent project, so from the early days of the show, I have had a wish list of guests, of people who I thought their personal transformation would kind of especially scale into political and social change. When we think about, or at least when I think about social change, I think about social movements.

I think about the Civil Rights Movement, I think about lots and lots and lots of people agitating for social change, but kind of The Reckoning’s way to ask the question is, “Well, who are the fewest number of people? Who are the fewest people that if they had some kind of personal transformation it would change the world?” If Charles Koch had a crisis of conscience, it would literally change the climate trajectory of the planet.

I was kind of fantasizing about this film. I didn’t even really know what I was… It was like fantasizing about some synthetic film about Charles Koch’s personal change and how it ended up changing the world. Then, I discovered the phenomenon of deepfakes, and for listeners who don’t know what deepfakes, so deepfakes are basically fake video. Video that allows you to make it look like someone is saying or doing something that they never said or did.

Deepfakes can be funny. There’s a whole genre of sticking Nicolas Cage’s face in movies he never acted in, or there’s a whole world of nefarious deepfakery. 96% of deepfakes online are involuntary pornography, sticking someone’s face in a porn movie that they never acted in. For already where we’re at with political misinformation, we can all imagine the darker turns things can take once fake video gets into the mix.

Now, for me, when I discovered deepfakes, it was like, “Wow, you could actually make this film about Charles Koch and his reckoning and how it ended up changing the world,” but it didn’t come from the technology. It really came from this exploration of the relationship between personal and social change. I first did an audio prototype on Reckonings with the Pope. I wrote a script, I had a voice actor perform it. I have never released fiction on the show, so I had no idea what listeners are going to say. To my surprise, people really loved it and I even heard from survivors of clergy sex abuse who knowing that it was fiction found it really helpful to hear the imaginary Pope say the kind of things that they would love to hear the real Pope say.

I was like, “Okay, this has legs.” Deep Reckonings is now… that’s the name of the project, is really the culmination of this years-long exploration of how people change and, really, I guess, years-long kind of exploration of really the power and the beauty of critical self-reflection. It is a series of explicitly-marked deepfake videos that imagine Mark Zuckerberg, Brett Kavanaugh, Alex Jones, and Donald Trump having a reckoning. It’s absolutely explicit that the videos are fake, not just because I’m not interested in deceiving anybody, but also because that’s kind of part of the power of the medium is that you can know that it’s fake like the audio of the Pope. You can know that it’s fake and it still influences you, it still moves you. The question that I’m exploring with the project is, “How might we use our synthetic selves to elicit our better angels?”

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, yes, yes. Every time I think about the potential here, it’s like an overwhelming… I feel like I’m getting a window into the future because I’m sure when something is 95% of whatever you said used for nefarious purposes and yet it’s so powerful as a tool for positive change in this way and yet nobody’s using it that way, you just kind of get goosebumps when you think about, what could this accomplish in the world? How could we redefine it and harness it for this purpose? How could we, as you say, deepfake it until we make it?

STEPHANIE LEPP: deepfake it till-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … we make it, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh, so good. Tell me, so you named a couple of people. I wondered, do yo have a broader wish list and other people you’d have in mind that where a Reckoning would be healing for us sitting here near the end of January 2021? It’s been a-


JENNIFER BROWN: … really intense month.


JENNIFER BROWN: Who’s on that wish list? Perhaps you’re already working on a few?


JENNIFER BROWN: Tell us about that.

STEPHANIE LEPP: I mean, it’s kind of a constantly evolving wish list for better and for worse. There’s just a constant stream.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes there is. No shortage.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah, yeah. No shortage. My dream come true would be to turn it into these Reckonings into a series that is in dialogue with the news cycle, so as things happen. I produce the deepfake. I send it to the person and I say, “Either you do the real thing, or we’ll release the fake one.” You know? Like, “If you want to do the real thing, I will help you do the real thing.” There is this entire catalog of Reckonings episodes. I will help you do the real thing in a good way, and if you’re not ready for that, then we’ll just have to deepfake it till we make it.”


STEPHANIE LEPP: In terms of who, right now, there is an extraordinary moment of opportunity for high-profile Republicans right now as a way to effect political healing and transition us peacefully, or at least as many of us as possible peacefully, into this next chapter of our country. Pence, McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruz, I mean, right now, I feel like the moment of opportunity is high-profile Republicans, but I take requests. Who would you like to see?

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. We’ll share your contact info.


JENNIFER BROWN: We’ll get to that [crosstalk 00:16:46] later.

STEPHANIE LEPP: … give me a call. I take requests, yeah [crosstalk 00:16:47]-

JENNIFER BROWN: Please, yes.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Send in your votes [crosstalk 00:16:50]-

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t agree more. The tools of healing feel so limited to me. One of the things that struck me about the public nature of what you’re creating is reckonings often happen in private outside of the public eye and, therefore, they might be transformative for the person having a reckoning, but we never get to see it and be impacted by it.


JENNIFER BROWN: Then, we’re deprived of seeing a role model role model that and then following that-


JENNIFER BROWN: … right? And so-


JENNIFER BROWN: … to me the tragedy of the way, unfortunately, that we go through our cycle of shame and guilt and the hero’s journey, the dark night of the soul, the transformation, the whole kind of arc of regret and coming through. It’s embarrassing to talk about it unless you’re like the people that you have on your podcast. They are… Good for them, I mean, to-

STEPHANIE LEPP: I’m like, “Oh yeah.”

JENNIFER BROWN: … speak about it, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: I don’t know if I could do what they do. I’m in total awe of my guests, yes, every single one of them.

JENNIFER BROWN: Incredible. I think one of the things I teach so much these days is to admit your mistakes and learn in public.


JENNIFER BROWN: Right? I work with executives and they say, “How am I ever going to know enough to be perfect on DEI? It won’t come across as authentic and I’m scared.” They’re learning a new language because so much of what’s been uncovered this past year and what people need to step into from a leadership perspective is extremely unfamiliar. When I fantasized about, “Gosh, I have such unlimited tools as a change practitioner. All I can do is give people checklists.” Or, may like my team and I write scripts for people, right? Sometimes-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: … we get our hands on like a leader who really wants to… Perhaps it’s not they don’t view it as a reckoning, but it’s definitely like that. You know that kind of talk.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah, totally.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s like a big deal, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s like that, “I’m going to do it all-hands and I’m going to admit that we are not doing a good job. I’m going to talk about my role in not doing a good job. I’m going to talk about, ‘What are we going to do?’ What is my accountability in making that happen?” We sort of hold the space for that and sometimes literally we write it. I feel a kinship with you because you’re writing these scripts and you’re saying like, “What would we like to hear? What would heal us that would be an admission of somebody’s role in something?” Then, “How are you coming out of it? What are you committing to us?” Right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: Boy, I mean, there is such a need for that in the business world. Anyway, I thought… Tell me about like the learning in public and the vulnerability of being willing to do that. Whether it’s like a deepfake or not, I wonder whether seeing yourself in the action of a reckoning, like maybe seeing your synthetic self saying the world-


JENNIFER BROWN: … might enable us to stretch into that person? It might… I don’t have that tool in my tool kit right now and I feel kind of like I do this work with a blindfold on and hand behind my back trying to get leaders to see how they could be, and yet them failing to understand like, “Well, how do I get from here to there?” It just feels like this chasm that I don’t even know how to cross.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Oh yeah. No, totally, and it can be simple. It doesn’t even necessarily need to involved synthetic media. One of my earliest episodes was with a woman who recovered from alcoholism and cocaine addiction, and while I was editing her episode, she relapsed. Then, her episode came out and she heard it and it helped her get sober again-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … because it just reminded her of why she wanted to be sober in the first place in her own words, but in her own voice. If we’re not going to listen to any other people, we might at least listen to ourselves. If she hadn’t gotten clean to begin with, you can just imagine working with someone who struggles with addiction to script a deepfake of their sober self in the future, talking to themselves now, encouraging themself onto the path of recovery. You can imagine all kinds of things. I could imagine it from marriage counseling, like you and your partner watching yourselves in a completely different kind of dynamic and what that could do for you.

Or, if you’re looking to build confidence at whatever it is, it’s like watching yourself give a TED Talk that you’ve never given, but what does it do to you to see yourself up on a TED stage? Yeah, it’s deepfake it till we make it, like whatever tool you need to use in order to envision and therefore kind of like elicit the you that you want to be.

JENNIFER BROWN: I think that would so much accelerate our path. I just believe that it would. To see it, to be it. In the diversity world, we talk about got to see it to be it, but this is like a whole different application of that, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: You know what? I mean, we have such a paucity of non-white, non-male, non-cisgender executives, just to choose one group. There’s such a hunger amongst everybody I work with on a daily basis that are coming up in their career and there’s such a lack of role models in their organization, let alone in the aggregate, which is also true. Can you imagine if like Tim Cook, who was closeted for years-


JENNIFER BROWN: … not to kind of I’m sure family, obviously, but publicly, and the story that I always remember and it was just to read his way of saying, “Well, I’m a private person and I don’t think it really matters and I don’t want to share. I wouldn’t know why I’m doing that. That’s not really my job.” Then, to have his employees stand up and say like, “It matters so much that we don’t hear you saying these words.”


JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, we want to respect privacy and all of that, but the bigger picture of what leaders are responsible for, when you sign up to be at that level, you sign up to change the world-



STEPHANIE LEPP: I totally agree, yeah. Yes, you made the point about so many of these like, let’s say, a personal reckoning don’t necessarily see the light of day. Certainly, some can not happen in the public spotlight. There absolutely in some circumstances needs to be privacy between, let’s say, a perpetrator and a survivor in order to kind of do the work, but I totally agree with you that public figures are kind of uniquely obliged in a way to grow in public as part of the cost of being a public figure because when they do something, like Louis C.K. The public is also kind of like impacted by that. I don’t know Louis C.K. personally, but yet what he did, I feel about that, so in a way it’s like part of being a public figure also involves kind of having to learn and grow and change in public in a way that also is a model for the rest of us.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, and as long as we kind of sweep these things under the rug, I feel like it just perpetuates the, I guess… Yes, confidentiality should always be respected and there’s no timeline that we should all be on for disclosure, but the missed opportunity is sort of where I get caught up.


JENNIFER BROWN: Really, the risk is the question because I think the perception of the risk of having a reckoning in public and sharing your learning and being imperfect or extremely flawed or admitting to what you wish you’d known or done or not done, what you regret, how you’re going to come through that. With the Louis C.K., it’s interesting to think about how maybe that would have lessened the damage that was created and sort of long term to his trajectory as a performer, et cetera, but if he can’t get there himself, what could be the sort of coaching mechanism? I think to even just to have this as a private resource to ourselves, nobody ever needs to see it.


JENNIFER BROWN: Right? It doesn’t need-


JENNIFER BROWN: … to be a deepfake, which is interesting. That’s your synthetic self, but theoretically, this could be done with me on a camera working with you, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: We could script something together. It could be me, it could be saying these words in a certain way, but the deepfake piece is perhaps… I don’t know. If you don’t exactly believe the words you’re saying because you haven’t lived into them, that I would imagine would be helpful with the synthetic self, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Or you want to use it for compassionate blackmail like probably [crosstalk 00:27:09]-

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah [crosstalk 00:27:10]-

STEPHANIE LEPP: … send it to them.


STEPHANIE LEPP: The deepfake, yeah, yeah. Under what circumstances, if it’s… There could also be the… If it’s something that you feel like you can’t say or aren’t ready to say, maybe with the person who struggles with addiction, maybe they write it, but they actually cannot even… they can’t even say it, or the couples counseling example. They write it, but they can’t really say it in a way that’s convincing, and then synthetic media can… Right now, it’s kind of a wide open world. We don’t even… Part of my intention with this work was to kind of explore the potential for pro-social uses of synthetic media.

There’s so much fear and panic around this medium for very, very, very understandable reasons, and for those of us who care who want to shape the evolution of this technology, I think it behooves us to kind of look for and explore it’s other potential uses, to expand the possibility space of the medium. I think it’s wide open kind of under what circumstances, and in this context, could synthetic media be used to envision and elicit, let’s say, the change we [inaudible 00:28:44]?

JENNIFER BROWN: Right, and the change leaders and people we want to see and that we want to be. One other thing I mentioned to you as I was brainstorming about this was the whole imposter syndrome piece, which we spend so much time on in my world, which is experienced more broadly, yes, by everyone, but my hypothesis is more broadly by those of us that are underrepresented, those of us who have lacked role models, right? We-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: … just are not in our power for so many reasons, the messages we’ve received, the lack of role models, the lack of language, the lack of practice, I suppose, and so I thought about it, too, as sort of a way to practice that self that is not weighed down by imposter syndrome, that powerful self, that bold self. I think you’re right that it’s as much not even… It comes out of your mouth, but it’s also the energy that you embody. That convincing piece, I think, is if we can’t get there, if we just put ourselves on a faux TED stage, it just wouldn’t accomplish, I think, the same thing.

I know from my story, I always had a really hard time in the early years of having my company envisioning me today and all of the things that I would have accomplished. In fact, I had to kind of hire somebody years ago to do my first strategic plan because I couldn’t even let myself dare to dream. I wouldn’t even have known what to put in that strategic plan because my conception of myself was so limited, and yet what he said is, “It’s all around you and all of the people around you see this for you.”

I had to literally like borrow, like bring this in and have it kind of created in a way sort of without my participation because my mind couldn’t even stretch to, “Oh, someday you’ll be an author, someday you’ll have many books, someday you will know 20 CEOs that you can email and call that will take your call. Someday you will be on the news shows. Someday you will be considered a thought leader in your space and this is what you will look like. This is you.” I just remember being completely like stuck to the ground, like my shoes were cemented to the ground.

I literally had to like be sort of dragged into… It’s like I knew I wanted it, but I was extremely uncomfortable with the exercise, but I knew that I needed it. It was kind of medicine in a way and I was like, “Okay, so I didn’t know people could do this for a person.” I hired somebody, they brought my friends and loved ones around a table and they said, “What does Jennifer represent? What is possible for her?” I was so uncomfortable.


JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, I really-


JENNIFER BROWN: … was. I really was, and this was probably around maybe 14 years ago, and I still have that strategic plan that came out of this process, but it was extremely self-conscious, and I guess… I mean, I think I would have been terrified to see the deepfake of me [crosstalk 00:32:18]-

STEPHANIE LEPP: I was going to say [crosstalk 00:32:20]-

JENNIFER BROWN: … I think I would have [crosstalk 00:32:20]-

STEPHANIE LEPP: … well, I guess, maybe it depends on would it have helped if you watched it by yourself? Or would there have been a deepfake that would have helped you? What would that have been?

JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, I feel like now you’re coaching me, which I love. Maybe it would have been me like not all the way there, but maybe me in a year or me [crosstalk 00:32:50] in two… Maybe it would have been-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Maybe six [crosstalk 00:32:53]-

JENNIFER BROWN: … something I could digest, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Uh-huh [crosstalk 00:32:58]-

JENNIFER BROWN: I know, so maybe not like the whole enchilada-


JENNIFER BROWN: … but it might have been, “Hey, you know,” I guess like saying the words, but picking some things that felt sort of like a stretch, but-


JENNIFER BROWN: … it kind of reminds me of like, “Here’s a massive road to travel between I’m a 25-year-old high potential and that executive,” right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: Sometimes that mentoring relationship, there’s just such a gulf between you and your experiences, but what might be more helpful is that like mid-level manager. That is three or four years ahead of you because they still have a foot in your reality, but it’s not like this leap that it feels like, “Oh, that will never happen, that’s never going to be me,” because then your imposter syndrome, I’m sure, rears its [inaudible 00:33:46].

STEPHANIE LEPP: Totally. Yeah, you can go too far. It’s worth mentioning that so in the Buddhist practice of visualization as part of meditation practice, the way that visualization ends is always by coming back to the present moment. It’s like you don’t just kind of go off into La La Land and stay there, it’s like you go into La La Land for purposes of like bringing whatever you can cultivate there, the confidence or whatever, bringing it back to the actual current reality right here, right now.

I don’t know, it makes me wonder about a deepfake that is like you said like [inaudible 00:34:32] kind of see it like more of a back into you right now. You can actually see that there’s a line that goes from here to there, and from there back to here.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Love that. Yeah, yeah, that it always has to feel uncomfortable but doable. I think that’s as we say often in my work, you got to meet the learner where they’re at and there’s no point in sort of throwing this like 3.0 conversation to somebody who’s at a 1.0.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah. I used to say that my work was making an uncomfortable situation just a tiny bit more comfortable so we can hang out in it for longer and see where it takes us, so-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … Just a tiny bit more-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … comfortable. Not too [crosstalk 00:35:24]-

JENNIFER BROWN: … just a tiny bit.


JENNIFER BROWN: Right, right, right, which I’m almost envisioning a series of videos and deepfakes for us in our private learning tool kit that is when we’re ready to watch me in 10 years, I’ll know when I’m ready [crosstalk 00:35:40], you know?


JENNIFER BROWN: For now, it’s like my training wheels, right? It’s like-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Totally, totally. You work towards it. You’re like, “Okay, 50 years, I’m ready for it. Give it to me.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Just the permission, I could just imagine that the kinesthetic experience, too, of just like living into that and feeling all of the discomfort and then being able to unpack like, “What is uncomfortable about that for you?”


JENNIFER BROWN: I mean, wouldn’t that be a beautiful conversation to have-


JENNIFER BROWN: … and to explore? Why can’t you see yourself saying those things? What is it specifically? I think that coaching would be just beautiful and I think help so many of us that haven’t been able to emulate because there hasn’t been anything to emulate that shares our experience and our story or is sort of that rehearsal of telling our deepest, darkest truths, which is another piece we focus on in my company is sort of the question of what do we not when we talk about our full selves and all of the pieces of ourselves that we never talk about, that we never want to bring because we’re ashamed of them or we’re going to be penalized for them in the workplace, at least we think we will.

The whole new narrative we’re trying to write is that it actually, A, the catharsis of it. B, the cutting off of that is actually taking so much energy for us and it’s hurting us the most, and like being closeted as an LGBTQ person. The work that goes into maintaining that is so exhausting and bad for us, right?


JENNIFER BROWN: Imagine the deepfake of our coming out like that coming out conversation that we are living in terror of every single day, that somehow if we could sort of set it up in its optimal way in its most sort of healthy version of itself, would so many more of us be willing to walk in that door and actually do it? You know?




JENNIFER BROWN: Really good. Tell me about, just quickly, the resistance and blowback. I’m curious. I think people are terrified of technology and I think what you and I are dreaming about right now is probably would just in itself sort of seeing a fake version or synthetic version of ourselves is terrifying, maybe. This requires us to very much suspend a lot of things that normally we would say are bad for the world and also, what if it gets in the wrong hands and there’s so much… Anyway. I’m just kind of curious, like the resistance points that you’ve heard from this being out there in the world. I am sure you have gotten threats. I… you know-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Thankfully, no threats yet, but the reactions have been… it’s all over the map. “It’s under no circumstances should deepfakes be used for any purposes, they are inherently unethical,” to which I’m not a technological determinist and I want to help shape what this technology becomes. Yes, it’s all the way from, “Under no circumstances should this technology be used for any reason,” all the way to, “This person doesn’t deserve to have their apology written for them,” all the way to like, “I didn’t want to watch it because I’m not particularly to watch a video of Zuckerberg or Kavanaugh, but I found it really strangely cathartic.”

I think the most surprising… What I think is almost more kind of provocative for people than the technology, which yes, definitively people are hung up on the technology, but someone asked me and I can’t remember how they asked. It was something about like, “Do I think of myself as a provocative artist?” I don’t and I’m actually pretty thin-skinned and really what makes this work provocative is not that I’m tried to provoke, it’s that I think really it’s more of a testament to where we’re at with our culture than me trying to be a provocative artist. We have a hard time making room for each other to grow.

It’s not only that we’re letting these men apologize, Zuckerberg, Kavanaugh, Jones, it’s that we’re actually letting them look good doing it. This isn’t like just groveling self-pity. For each of them, I really tried to kind of have them offer some wisdom on the issue, which would have come had they had a reckoning. I mean, for all of my guests, they come to these really beautiful insights that you would have thought they’ve went on some 10-day [inaudible 00:41:01] or something retreat, but it’s really just through the personal experience of taking a look in the mirror and growing from they see that they come to these real insights.

In each of these scripts, I try to… Honestly, I think that’s actually what’s the most provocative about this project is that it actually requires all of us to grow in a way because it kind of asks us for these people to be the kinds of… For Zuckerberg, Kavanaugh, to actually be the kinds of people who would reckon in public, and for us to be the kinds of people who would let them do that.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that’s so deep. Yeah, and you know what you’re speaking to is the impatience and the anger and the cancel culture and the callout culture, the lack of space that we give and the lack of grace that allocate to each other in really intense, polarized times. That breaks my heart every day because every time I go in and say, “Can we please admit and agree to a learning culture where failures and apologies and learning can happen?” I know in my heart that’s not tolerated in the world. It’s never been tolerated in the business world, and yet when it comes to a reckoning around race and ethnicity or being white and not being aware of privilege and bias and all of these things, there’s literally no room and there’s tremendous fear of learning publicly-


JENNIFER BROWN: … and so I feel like I’m asking people to do the impossible. I don’t let that stop me, of course, because I don’t know what else to say because I find that all roads lead back to the fact that we need to build cultures where this learning and openness and with not a lack of consequences, I’m not saying that and I know you’re not saying that, either, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).


STEPHANIE LEPP: They don’t have [crosstalk 00:43:18] to choose between consequences or growth. They go hand in hand, so yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, that’s right. You can have both, yeah, consequences and growth, and accountability and growth, and then, the bridge that some of us can facilitate underneath this process. I don’t think I’m an enabler of that, and you and I, it’s interesting, we just do different things, but I think we’re very passionate about that same thing, which is that if I can help through whatever skill I have to script it or to give feedback about it or to believe in you and the change that you’re going through, actually, I think that’s sort of a beautiful gift that we can give each other when we stumble.

I know younger generations and I get. There’s just a lot of really sort of… I won’t even say righteous anger, like it is right, it is right to be as intense as it is and there’s just so much, so I wrestle with this because, do we need to break everything in order to heal? Is there a middle way that we could get there where the most flawed among us can become the biggest champions like you showcase on your podcast? Then, how can we assist in that process versus kind of turning our back and saying like, “It’s too late for you, it’s just too late?” When we do that, what are deprived of? Both what’s that person deprived of and what is the world deprived of?


JENNIFER BROWN: Which I think is the bigger thing.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, which is part of why the job that I’ve given myself, or at least with this most recent work, is to make critical self-reflection look beautiful, to make it look more stunning, more compelling, more sexy than the denier and deflection thing, than the other thing, the thing that we’ve been doing that is tired. What were your… Oh, the other thing I want to say per the this doesn’t mean no consequences, it also doesn’t mean that we all get to be the judge. The court of public opinion loves to judge, but really, the most important stakeholders are the people who are most impacted by the person, whoever those people are. They need to be a part of this, too, whether it’s in private or in public or in whatever way kind of works for them, but they are the people we need to be taking the cues from.

JENNIFER BROWN: Very true, and I think you and I talked about how beautiful would it be to crowdsource. I know you write your scripts yourself, but to crowdsource what the most affected need to hear. Imagine going through that process of, “What would be most healing to hear this person say?” In the workplace context, it is asking… Last summer during all of the social unrest, the question of, “What do you want your leadership to say and really mean and really embody? What would be better than silence? Which was a lot of companies opted for [crosstalk 00:46:48] I think hurt. It was a huge missed opportunity for all around, but really could the script be something that’s co-created amongst the affected?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah, yeah, and I think like people can sometimes have like a knee-jerk reaction. It’s like, “They don’t deserve to have their apology written for them,” but we really need to learn and part of the reason we’re even doing an apology in the first place is like in a way to kind of serve your needs, whatever those needs are. This has to be a little bit collaborative where that’s part of the training wheels. It’s like, “Let’s keep our eyes on the prize.” Like, “Let’s keep our eyes on the goal here and not kind of sacrifice whatever healing would come because I shouldn’t have to do any work.” The question is, where do we want to go? What’s going to help us get there?

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right, that’s right, and I think you say, deepfake it until you make it, but we can’t expect someone to go from zero to 60 in terms of their competency and their self-awareness and their emotional intelligence. If you were a part of the problem, you cannot flip a switch and tomorrow be able to do this in sort of a truly kind of… What’s the word?


JENNIFER BROWN: Deeply felt, yeah, deeply felt way. You don’t have that language and you do not… The question to me is like, how do we get from where we are to where we need that person to go? Then, if we wipe our hands of it and we say, “Well, I don’t want a part of it because they don’t need help. They don’t need [crosstalk 00:48:35] our help. They don’t need it.” Whatever.


JENNIFER BROWN: I think in the helping, we learn and we have to reflect so much on, what would this actually look like? We’re writing the script, not just for that person, but for the world. You know what I mean? There’s a million, unfortunately, examples of people that need to do reckonings in public, but I think we’ve got to know what we want instead. What do we want?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Yeah, and I once heard a restorative justice practitioner gave me a really beautiful definition of his job. His jobs is basically to prepare the perpetrator to hear what the survivor has to say, to prepare the perpetrator to receive, basically, because if the perpetrator actually takes that in, that will do the work that it needs to do and the right or more right words will come out of their mouth, right? They will actually-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … understand, have some understanding of what they put the other person through. There’s some work that needs to be done in all of the above, help them from the level of like the words and the language and try things on and see what it looks like, and from the level of like to the extent that you can kind of understand the impact of your behavior or the experience that the person has had that you’re trying to kind of help or reckon with. That will obviously serve the mission.

JENNIFER BROWN: Wow, and that could be a deepfake of you listening and responding in a way that is ideal, if there is such a thing, right? Even [crosstalk 00:50:41] just that, teaching people, “Well, what does that look like? What does it sound like coming out of your mouth to witness? To listen?” I guess what I’m envisioning is there’s just so many steps in the middle here that we skip with accountability, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Right, we just-

JENNIFER BROWN: We just say-

STEPHANIE LEPP: … like demand the public apology.

JENNIFER BROWN: We demand it, and somebody’s not able to give it and so it’s a vocabulary and a reflection and a sort of taking a bite at a time. If we want real sustainable change, we don’t just want the show apology.


JENNIFER BROWN: We want the change to be deep and lasting, and that is not something you flip a switch on, so-


JENNIFER BROWN: … and we’re going to need, I think, technology. Like in all things, technology can enhance these things. They can hasten something, they can deepen something, they can built a habit that we are not able to build on our own in our sort of analog world, right?

STEPHANIE LEPP: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: I would hate to leave it on the table, but understanding it causes certain reactions. This has just been amazing, Stephanie. I want to tell The Will to Change listeners, too, that you and I cooked up an idea, a proposal and sort of an offering that Stephanie would like to share with the audience. I’ll just let you kind of describe what it is we cooked up and take it away.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Okay, so what we cooked up, the first-ever offer of this. The show is called The Will to Change, so I’m calling it The Script to Change. This is basically an opportunity to do this, to do what we’ve been talking about to script and then kind of witness and hopefully, in turn, kind of manifest the you that you want to be. I will work with the first person who reaches out to me to write a script that embodies the you that you are trying to self-actualize right now, and then we will produce a video of you speaking that script and possibly accompanied by music, visual effects.

This is really like the first time I’ve kind of tried to offer this to someone for this purpose, so we’re going to kind of be experimenting together, but I’m imagining this will take about one to two hours of your time. We’ll have a conversation, we’ll write the script together. I’ll produce the video and that video will hopefully help you be the you you want to be. If that sounds very confusing or you’ve no idea or you want to kind of get a sense of what that might look like, I would direct you to just watch one of the Deep Reckonings videos.

I don’t know whether Kavanaugh would say that is the Kavanaugh he wants to be, but he should. No, I would direct you to the Kavanaugh video. If you go to deepreckonings.com/kavanaugh, and you can watch any of them, but we would basically… It obviously does not have to be reckoning. It’s really just it’s whatever direction you want to go in, but we would basically do this together not using synthetic media, just a script and you and the video. We’ll kind of test out this concept and see how it goes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful offer. Thank you so much and-


JENNIFER BROWN: … yes, I know this was a really probably challenging conversation to think about, but I hope intriguing for everybody listening and we’ll stay in touch with Stephanie and her work. Boy, I hope somebody contacts you.

STEPHANIE LEPP: I should close with my contact information, actually-


STEPHANIE LEPP: … so I’m at stephanie@infinitelunchbox.com, so infinite like infinity and lunchbox like the thing that you put your kids’ lunch inside of, stephanie@infinitelunchbox.com. Whoever is the first person and, yeah, thank you Jennifer, this really is like so fun to explore the potential applications of this. I really have not done that in any of my conversations about the project. I love this because for me, that’s the juice here is-

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, for sure.

STEPHANIE LEPP: … actually kind of exploring and expanding using the tools that we invent in order to stretch ourselves and expand ourselves and be the change we wish to see.

JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly, and see the change we wish to be.


JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, indeed. Okay, thank you so much, Stephanie, for-


JENNIFER BROWN: … joining me, and maybe after you work with somebody, we can have another-

STEPHANIE LEPP: Totally [crosstalk 00:55:54]-

JENNIFER BROWN: … part two, talk about that.

STEPHANIE LEPP: Totally, totally. Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you so much for joining me.



Stephanie Lepp