TikTok Influencer Kyle Sheele on Building Over 3 Million Followers, Secrets to Creativity, and His Latest Book
This week we’re featuring an off-the-wall discussion with TikTok influencer, speaker, and author Kyle Sheele. His projects have been featured in the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, WIRED, FastCompany, and more. To learn more, visit www.kylesheele.com
Intro: Helping community bankers grow themselves, their team and their profits. This is The Community Bank Podcast.
Caleb Stevens: Well, Hey everybody and welcome back to The Community Bank Podcast. I’m Caleb Stevens. Thanks for joining the conversation today. I am joined by Mr. Chris Nichols. Chris, how are you?
Chris Nichols: Caleb, I’m good. I’m good. Active week. Lots of things happening in both the markets and in banking and, I’m excited to be here.
Caleb Stevens: I think you’re the busiest man in the whole bank. So, thanks for taking time to do this. We’ve got on a very unique guest, Kyle Scheele. He is a TikTok influencer star, 3 million followers and you found him. Tell us the back story.
Chris Nichols: You know, one of those things in the depth of the pandemic, I was just scrolling around, trying to find some diversion instead of traveling around. So, I stumbled across him. It was a prank that he pulled on his dad with a photograph that I think he’ll get into in the podcast. It made me laugh. I started follow to him. It was just one prank, one stunt after another. He brought joy to my life. Then I thought, he happens to have a new book out which we’ll talk about as well. I read the book and in summary it was how to have more fun, how to be more humorous and, how not to take life too seriously. So, all good lessons. I thought it’d be good to have him on.
Caleb Stevens: Well, it was a great discussion on creativity, marketing. I think there’s just a lot of general principles that bankers can learn from. For bankers that are not on TikTok, this may be their first introduction to somebody who’s in that world. So, it could be a good education from a social media perspective as well. So, we’re excited for folks to hear it.
Chris Nichols: He does offer a pretty good… He’s a fairly well-known speaker, author, inventor, and general screwball, as he calls himself. There are some life lessons in here, but there’s also, as you alluded to, some lessons on marketing, lessons on brand management, lessons on how to use social media. As you to this podcast, he’s very intentful about how he goes about creating the viral videos that he does.
Caleb Stevens: Well before we get there, tell us real quick about the latest resource that you’ve put out for lenders and credit people on the banking side of things, as it relates to loan pricing and relationship profitability.
Chris Nichols: This all came about of a great idea that you had about how to put more of our content out there in video form and in short bites. We took some of the loan pricing lessons that we train our lenders on here at South State, boiled that down into five-minute segments, maybe an hour in total, and presented an easy to learn lesson. They’re highly relevant today, given what’s happening in the markets and the market volatility and how we need to get credit and pricing right. These are tips that you can use with, or without a pricing model, but it talks to some very specific things that you can immediately put into action at your bank.
Caleb Stevens: Well, folks, to get that, just click the link in the show notes, we’ve provided that for you. So just click that link in the show notes, or you can go to southstatecorrespondent.com/loanpricing. As Chris said, it’s five videos. They are each about five or six minutes. So, it may be shorter than an hour, maybe half an hour or so. You can fly through it. Some quick tips to drive money to your bottom line. With that, here’s our discussion with Kyle Scheele.
Chris Nichols: Hey, welcome everyone. We have a treat today. Actually, it’s my personal treat, Kyle Scheele. Probably you’ve not heard of him, but Kyle, welcome, to start. I’m a fan. I’m a fan because it was in the depth of the pandemic that I got sick. I thought it was COVID, it wasn’t COVID. I went to the doctor and the doctor was worthless. I came home and I was just scrolling through TikTok. You popped up and I think it was your photo prank that you did with your family that caught my attention. Then it was one after another. You just made me smile. You brought a lot of joy during the depth of the pandemic. I realized the doctor may cure your body, but it’s people like you, influencers, journalists, that cure the soul. I want to thank you personally because you helped me get through the pandemic and brought a lot of fun and joy to me and my family.
Kyle Scheele: Thank you. I think I got a lot of us through the pandemic.
Chris Nichols: I’m sure. You do a lot of antics and I went back and looked at some during the pandemic and then I’ve been following you ever since. Of all your antics, what are your favorites and tell us about some of them.
Kyle Scheele: The video that you mentioned is probably the one that I’m most well-known for and it’s really one of those stories that could only happen on the internet, the insanity of the response to that video. I spent most of 2020 scrolling TikTok, like everyone did, because we were in lockdown and we couldn’t go out. I was just scrolling. I didn’t post any videos. I was purely consuming them. My business is that I’m a speaker. I travel around and I speak at high schools, corporations, conferences and events. Then I’m an author. I was talking to a friend of mine and I was planning out what 2021 was going to look like. We landed on all of these things with writing books and speaking, it gets better. You get better deals if you have a bigger audience. I don’t agree with the mentality behind it, but that’s just how it is. I was like, I’m going to try to start posting on TikTok and just see if I can build an audience. I think in my wildest dreams, I thought if I post consistently for three to six months, maybe I could build up 50 or a hundred thousand followers, if I just keep hitting home runs. What happened was I posted one video at the very end of December of 2020, and nothing really happened. A day or two later I posted another video and nothing really happened. At this point I was up to a whopping 17 followers.
Then I posted the video that you’re talking about and that video exploded in a way that I still can’t wrap my head around. In 25 hours, I went from 17 followers to a million followers and then it just kept going from there. That video was about this family portrait that’s hung in my parents’ house for the last 30 plus years. It has to be, I would say 33 years, because my little brother is not alive in this picture. It’s a family. It’s like an Oland Mills, Sears portrait studio, kind of a thing. Everyone’s dressed in their church clothes. I’m actually looking at the picture behind me. I have a copy of it in my office. Everyone’s dressed in their church clothes. Everyone’s sitting up straight. But my dad, for some reason the photographer and the way the photographers do, he said, “Hey, can you tilt your head a little bit over to the right or to the left?” My dad tilts his head and it’s filmed. They take pictures. They took a bunch of them. The one that came back was the one where my dad’s head was tilted. Everyone else’s head is completely straight up and down and my dad’s head is at almost a 45-degree angle. He hates it. He hates this picture. He has hated it my entire life, but it’s important to my mom. One of her brothers who’s in that picture is no longer with us. That picture’s never coming down, but my dad hates it. Every time we were over to the house, he would mention it. It hangs in their dining room and we would always give him a hard time about it.
One day they were going to go out of the town and I thought, you know what? I have Photoshop. I’m pretty good at Photoshop. I could probably fix this. I took it down off the wall when they were gone. I scanned it in. I brought it into Photoshop and I fixed my dad’s head so that it was straight. Then I thought, what would be even better is if I made everyone else’s head to crooked. Then I went in. There are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7… there are eight other people in the photograph. I made all of their heads at a 45-degree angle and my dad’s head is straight up and down. That was the video. It’s just a very silly, stupid little joke. But that just exploded overnight. I think now it’s over 60 million views. That was kind of the beginning of my whole career as a TikTok person.
Chris Nichols: I might have missed something, but I went from thinking you’re funny to thinking you’re a complete whack job with the centar. Tell us about the centar, because that’s what really captured my love of you.
Kyle Scheele: I would agree a lot of people see that and go, this guy’s insane. A few years ago, I bought a Tandem bicycle because there was this antique store that was closing down and they were selling the bike really cheap. I’d always wanted a Tandem bicycle. A Tandem bike, for those who don’t know, is a two-seat bicycle. The one seat is behind the other seat. As soon as I saw this bike, this idea popped into my head. I thought if you took the back seat and the back handle bars off of that bike and you built a horse’s butt back there, then when you sit in the front seat, it would look like you’re a centar. It would look like a centar, half man, half horse, is riding this bike.
I mentioned that idea to a friend of mine and for whatever reason, it seemed like, this is an obvious idea. Somebody has to have thought of this before. I mentioned it to a friend of mine and he said, “Are you going to do it?” I said, “Well, no. I’m not going to do it. I’m sure it’s been done before. Somebody’s done it. It’s a very obvious idea”. He looked at me like I was insane. He was like, “I don’t think that idea is obvious to anyone but you”. Finally, I decided to do it. I built this bike. I built it twice. I built it out of cardboard and PVC. It was just like a really quick dirty job that I did for Halloween. I built that and the joke that I made was “Now I could be the center of attention”. I rode it around. The horse’s legs were actually bolted onto the rear pedals of the bike. So that as you ride the bike, it looks like the back legs are of pedaling as well. I did that video seven or eight years ago. It did fine at the time. It did okay. It was just a video I posted on YouTube. It felt, at the time, it was probably pretty successful for me. But then I had completely forgotten about it. All these years later on TikTok, I got to one week and didn’t really have anything to post. I thought, “oh, I’ll tell them about this thing I did a long time ago”. Then that video blew up. I think that one’s done 10 million views or something at this point. All these comments pouring in from people saying, “Hey, where is the bike now?” Well, the bike was in serious disrepair because I put it in my parents’ barn. Then they had moved it outside at some point. It was just cardboard, so it got rained on and completely disintegrated. I decided I would rebuild it.
So last year I rebuilt the bike and its metal. It’s much stronger now. It has actual, fake fur on it. It’s a whole ridiculous thing. But I can now ride around my “centar of attention” bike all over town.
Chris Nichols: We work with a lot of community banks across the country. We’re a community bank. One of the things we struggle with is creativity and inspiration. Where do you get yours? How do you come up with these crazy ideas?
Kyle Scheele: I actually think that may be the most common question I ever get is, where do you come up with these ideas? I think that everyone has creative ideas. I think that the thing that I have done is learned to pay attention to the ideas that I have. I have systems in place that I’ve built over years and years and years of cataloging ideas and refining ideas. I always have a notebook on me. I have a notebook in my pocket right now. I have a drawer over here that it’s just full of notebooks that I’ve filled up over the years with ideas. I write down just about every idea that I have that has even an inkling of being possible. I think whenever people say, oh, I don’t have ideas, or I struggle with having ideas, I think you probably just struggle with keeping track of the ideas.
It’s the same thing as when you get a red car, all of a sudden you notice all the other red cars. Or when you get a Jeep, you notice all the other Jeeps. Our brains are pattern recognition machines. That’s what the human mind does. If your brain is consistently used to having ideas and you not noticing them or caring about them, they just fly by under the radar. But as soon as you start paying attention; I’m going to write down every idea that I have. You’ll find you have a lot more ideas than you thought. It’s a muscle like anything else. It’s just something that has to be exercised. I have spent a lot of time making ridiculous ideas and taking them through to fruition. I think at this point, my brain is like, I guess he likes this stuff so we’ll just keep coming up with it.
Chris Nichols: How do you go from a thousand ideas to the one that you want to actually invest your time in?
Kyle Scheele: I think it just depends. I don’t think there’s a science to it. I think of it like agriculture. As much as humans have learned about the ways that plants work. What we cannot do is start with nothing and make a tree. What we have learned to do though is go, “Hey, we can build systems where we can optimize for lumber, or we can optimize for fruit production, or we can optimize for basket making”. Versus the forest, which is just out there and optimized for nothing, I think ideas are like that. You can train your brain to have better ideas, to have more ideas, to refine them. You can’t ever, I don’t think, get to a point where you go, give me an idea and your brain just spits one out. For me, I have systems in place, but there is some looseness to it. There is a little bit of magic and mystique involved in the creative process. One of the things, when it comes to picking ideas that I come back to, this is a thing that I don’t actually believe to be true, but it describes a truth in the best possible way. I like to talk about it as what an idea wants. I feel like some ideas, they want to be written down. As soon as you write them down, that idea is like, “thanks, this is my stop”. You never think about it again. It never comes up again. Other ideas, they want to be talked about. You write it down and it still keeps coming up in your mind. Then you decide to talk about it with a friend and it might spark an interesting conversation. Then at that point, that idea is like, “thanks, I’m done. That was all I needed”. You just don’t think about it.
There are other ideas that for whatever reason, they just keep coming up in your mind again and again and again. They’re not going to leave you alone until you do them. My metric is I try to give every idea what it wants. If I can’t stop thinking about an idea and I’ve written it down and I’ve talked to other people about it, and it’s just still in my brain, I go, “I guess this idea needs to be made”. Again, I don’t personify ideas. I don’t think that that’s an actual truth. But that’s the only way that I know how to describe it.
Chris Nichols: That reminds me of Seth Goden when he says, when I know I have a book that I need to write, it’s like the idea is saying to me, “I will not let you finish me until this book is complete, or I won’t move on from you until the book is complete”. He’s like “in that case, I almost feel like I work for the book”. But you said something earlier, Kyle. Actually, I heard Mr. Beast say this the other day. It was something to the effect of the difference for me between a video with 1 million views and 10 million views, or I guess in his case 10 million views and a hundred million views or 200 million views is not the effort I put into the video. I worked harder on the 200 million video versus the 2 million video. He said, it’s the premise of the video itself. He said, I spend most of my time, not so much on the effort of the video, but coming up with better premises. I think that’s a great overarching marketing principle in general. Would you say that’s true for you? Is thinking through not just the effort, but the effectiveness and the premise of the idea as a whole?
Kyle Scheele: I think that that’s something that is very true. It’s the same thing as, a lot of times, I think these businesses aren’t around as much anymore, but back when Upworthy was a huge internet company, they talked about that they would have their writers write 20 headlines before they… They had to write 20 different headlines. I think BuzzFeed does this as well. Because the premise, the headline, the hook, that’s what actually gets people in, in the first place. I think for me, sometimes the idea does that on its own. The ideas that won’t leave me alone, that may just be that those are the ones with the most compelling premise. But I do think that that’s something that a creator has to think about, how do I get people to think about this? How do I get people to engage with this? How do I hook them in the first couple minutes? How do I hook them in the first couple seconds? How do I keep them engaged throughout?
I think that sometimes you can do that accidentally. I think I accidentally do that pretty well. What I have had to do over time is figure out, “Okay, what made that video work and what made this video not work?” Then I’ve started to identify, “In the first two seconds of this video, I gave you a pretty good hook. Then this other one, it takes a while to develop. That’s why that one didn’t do as well”. For instance, in that video of my dad, I start out by saying, I think I said, “This is the best gift idea I’ve ever had”.
It was right around Christmas time when that video came out. It’s just the time of year. You can see on my face that I’m laughing. It’s like, “This is going to be mischievous”. You can tell what the setup is right away. In the center of the video, the first thing I say in that video is “Here’s when I discovered that my brain doesn’t work the same way as everyone else’s” or something like that. I set up a premise.
I was actually talking to John Acuff recently. You mentioned John Acuff before we started recording. He mentioned that, a thing that he tries to do is ask a question that the audience has to answer. They have to find out what the answer is. I think that when you open that loop for someone and you go, “Hey, here’s how I learned that my brain doesn’t work the same way as everyone else’s” and you see this is a big account. This video has a lot of views. I’ll engage with it. I want to see where this is going. I think that’s super smart. I also think that Mr. Beast has probably thought about this more than I could ever think about it. That man is an attention getting Sivan. He is incredible.
Chris Nichols: Well, John Acuff, you mentioned him. We had him on the show, probably six months ago, something like that. One of the questions I asked him was, you’re great at getting across leadership lessons, business lessons, life principles, through the vehicle of humor. I think you do a lot of the same things. Why, for you, is humor important and how can people learn to embrace humor without it feeling forced? Kyle, we’re bankers, so we’re numbers driven. We love balance sheets, income statements and thinking through strategy. How can humor be a benefit to us as leaders, our culture, without it feeling corny or forced? What to you is the value of humor?
Kyle Scheele: Well, I think humor does a lot of things. One thing I would say is humor is a tool and you should apply it when it’s appropriate. I think you’re right, there probably should be a little bit more solemnity to the banking profession than maybe certain other professions. I want to know what my interest rate is, exactly. I don’t want to have a joke about what my interest rate is. There is a time and a place for it. I also think that humor is a thing that some people are naturally good at. I’ve always been naturally funny. I was the class clown kind of a kid. I was always getting in trouble for making my friends laugh, but then I could get out of trouble because I can make the teacher laugh. But what I’ve noticed that humor does for me is that humor gets people to let their guard down and it lets them take walls down for a minute. The way I’ve noticed that is that I got my start in speaking in the high school market. I would do school assemblies, leadership conferences. I still do a lot of that 12 years later. Whenever a grownup gets in front of a group of teenagers, is standing on the stage and is about to give a speech, immediately, teenagers just put walls up because they’re like, either this guy’s going to ask me to stop doing something I like doing, or he is wanting me to start doing something that I don’t like doing. Right away, that wall blocks almost anything that you’re trying to get across.
What I realized is that if I can get them to laugh in the first couple minutes, that wall starts to come down a little bit and they’ll listen to what I have to say. Humor is almost this thing where it bonds you, it endears you to that other person and you go, “You know what? This is a human being. I’m a human being. I’ll listen to what they have to say”. I think it’s just a connector. I think people like to laugh. It makes us feel human and it makes us feel connected. I think that that’s a really valuable tool.
Chris Nichols: Your humor, though, is so authentic. That’s one of the things I love about. I feel like I know you just because of your humor, your pranks and your stunts that I’ve lived through.
Kyle Scheele: Thank you. I think that’s important too. To be authentic and to be your own weird self. The thing about my humor is it’s not for everyone. No humor is for everyone. If I were to try to be a version of John Acuff, even though I like John Acuff and John Acuff and I have very similar versions, senses of humor. I think if he were to try to be me or I were to try to be him, it would just feel a little bit inauthentic. I think that’s where pursuing the ideas that won’t leave you alone, that’s probably the ideas that are going to feel most authentic to you and that are going to feel most true to you, which is going to end up connecting you with your audience.
One of the things that I was really lucky with was this TikTok of me editing my dad’s photo that went viral. That was very authentic to who I am. Sometimes what can happen, especially on TikTok, is you could have a platform where every day you’re posting videos about what it’s like to be a community banker and how you can help community bankers. You build this whole library of content about that. Then you do one video where you do a silly dance with your kid and that video blows up and gets 10 bajillion likes. Then, now, all of a sudden you have all these people who are coming to you for this thing that you actually don’t really do. You only did that one time and that’s not the kind of content. You see that all the time where people blow up for something and then they have to make this decision, do I continue to make that kind of content so I can keep that audience happy? Or do I go back to making the content that’s authentic to me? But it’s going to lose half of my new following. That’s tricky. I was really lucky that doing silly little dumb pranks, and taking a dumb idea and taking it way farther than a reasonable person would take it, that’s what I like to do. When that video blew up, I was a gif that it was like of all the videos, this one is act actually very authentically me.
Chris Nichols: On the serious marketing side, do you have a favorite social channel and any thoughts on how to amplify your content on any other channels?
Kyle Scheele: I think it depends on what you’re trying to do, where you’re trying to do it and what your end result strategy and goals are. TikTok is fascinating because of the growth potential on that platform. I’ve talked to so many marketers over the last year and change since I’ve blown up. I’ve gotten to have really interesting conversations with big brands, do some consulting and talked to them. They’ve all said, “We’ve never seen anything like this before”. There’s never been a platform like that where so many people have been able to gather a million, 2 million, whatever followers in such a short period of time. That’s very appealing. That’s a very ‘carried on a stick’ kind of a thing for a marketer. But you could build that following and then not have anywhere to take them or not have anything to offer them. If you build a following a of people who like dance videos, that’s not necessarily going to help you close mortgages or get loans or whatever out.
It really just depends on what you’re trying to do. I think TikTok is really great for short form content. There are some people who do serious content. There’s plenty of serious content on TikTok. If you’re trying to go more in depth and do more educational stuff, I think YouTube’s probably the place to be. Because you can post hour long videos on YouTube where you go into “here’s how a mortgage works and here’s how to find the best this or here’s what these banking instruments and tools do”. That’s a thing you could only really skim the surface of on TikTok. But I think a sophisticated marketing strategy would probably involve elements of all of that, where you’re doing some stuff on TikTok, you’re doing some stuff on YouTube and it all kind of plays together. At the same time, to contradict the thing I just said, I think that there’s also plenty of people who try to be all things to all people. They try to be in all the places at once and it doesn’t work. It really just comes down to what your strategy is and how well thought out that is.
Chris Nichols: There’s a lot of people listening right now who are leaders in their community. Their smalls banks are often the cornerstone of their community in many cases. Because of that, they probably get asked to speak to Rotary, to local groups in their community. I know for some of them, maybe they’re on the verge of thinking about retirement and the next chapter of life. Maybe for some of them they’d love to think about starting a speaking side hustle business of their own one day. Any wisdom or thoughts on the building blocks of what it takes to build a great speaking career? I’ve heard the old adage “Books sell speeches and speeches sell books”. But any general advice for how to think about maybe launching a speaking career in the business leadership world?
Kyle Scheele: It’s interesting because that’s actually what I’m doing right now. I’ve spent 12 years mostly in education. What ends up happening is kids who saw me in high school, 10 years later, they’re a vice president somewhere and they go, “Hey, we should have this guy come speak there”. That’s just the natural progression. You start out in one area and then over time you start getting asked to do more corporate stuff. Then, of course, all this TikTok stuff, the book I just wrote and all of that has led to more attention in that world. I think in corporate speaking it really is a matter of what problem can you solve for an event planner and what kind of events do you want to speak at. It’s really easy to think of speaking as this one size fits all. “I’m a speaker. I can go anywhere”. But that’s not really true. You should be thinking about who is the ideal person to hear the message that I have? What is the message that I have? How would it help them? What kind of person is looking for that? What problem do I solve? Who has that problem?
For me, I’m really good at helping people think about creativity, think about where ideas come from and think about how to tap into ideas that are latent inside your organization now. That’s the market that I target, people who are looking for creativity, innovation, ideas and ways to make that a part of their overall corporate culture. But there are plenty of people who aren’t looking for that. There are plenty of people who are looking for a solution to a different problem. I think if you’re a banker, I would say look for people who are looking to solve particular financial problems or creative financing kind of stuff or general leadership. If you’re the president of a bank, you’ve led a group, you’ve probably led a group through difficult times and good times. You have lessons about that. It really just comes down to what’s the message that you believe in the most? What problem does that solve for people and how do you get in front of those people?
Chris Nichols: As you’re creating your content, any thoughts or advice on how to seek inspiration from people you look up to and follow and who gets your ideas flowing without copying them? I think, for me, the book Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon was pretty helpful. I’m sure you’ve read that book before, where he talks about how there’s not really many new ideas, but you can curate them and combine them in ways that do come out as fresh and original without it being a rip off or a copy. But at the end of the day, you’re always going to be drawing from a preexisting source. Any thoughts on how you filter through that as you’re coming up with ideas and content?
Kyle Scheele: Austin Kleon is a great guy. Actually the 10th anniversary copy of that book just came out, the edition, just a week or two ago. That book’s been a huge influence on me. I was really honored that Austin Kleon endorsed my new book, that just came out a few weeks ago. He’s been a huge influence on me. But he’s right. There is nothing new under the sun. Every idea has been done before in some capacity. A lot of what idea, creation or ideation is, is combining other things and going, “You saw this with so many apps over the last 10 years”. They would go, “It’s Uber, but for this. Or it’s Airbnb, but for this”. I think that’s important to know than just to give yourself permission. There’s nothing new under this sun.
I had a thing happen once where I came up with an idea. It was a pretty specific idea. I did this thing on stage and then later I found out another person had done the exact same thing on national television, a year before I had done it. I know for a fact I had never seen it. I had never heard about it. It was two people that completely independently developed the same idea. That stuff is going to happen. That’s just part of the process. But I also think that an idea by itself is not really worth all that much. It’s all in the execution. If you and I were to write talks and I were to say, “Hey, let’s both write a talk about anything, pick a topic… how Shakespeare influenced whatever”. If you and I were to both do that, we would go into our separate little caves and we would come out with talks that had some overlap to them. But ultimately yours would feel like it came from you and mine would feel like it came for of me. Where you see a problem with creativity is when you try to write your talk like it’s me. When you go, “I saw Kyle do this thing. I’m going to try to say it like Kyle would say it”. Then what it ends up sounding like is it sounds like you trying to sound like me. I think people can sniff that out a mile away. But ultimately your talk is going to end up being a whole bunch of different sources that you’ve pulled in. Then you let those marinate and cook. Then you put out this thing that is your authentic thoughts and views on how all that stuff works together.
The other thing I will say is, and this is less true in the corporate space, but in the general motivational speaking space, specifically like talking to students about things, whenever a client asks me, “Hey, what do you talk about?” I always say, “I talk about the same thing that every other speaker talks about”. Which every motivational speech pretty much boils down to. You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and respond to it. That’s such a valuable, important lesson. That’s 99% of motivational speaking. Because that thing has to be attacked from so many different angles before a person will hear it. But how I say that and how you say that are going to end up being completely different because our life stories are different.
Chris Nichols: If I’m hearing you correctly too, you’re saying, be pretty intentional and focused about what your topic and expertise is. Don’t have 20 different keynotes and it’s like, what do you want me to talk about? I’ll write you a fresh content. Not to say you only have one talk. You only do one, and that’s what you do. Maybe you have a few. But it sounds like you’re saying, really master your craft, have a few topics that you can really speak into. To your point, don’t feel the pressure to be all things to all people. Any speaking engagement you get, don’t feel like you got to come up with a fresh talk for each one. Have, maybe, a few that you can specifically speak into.
Kyle Scheele: For sure. There something to be said for learning to play the hits. Figure out the thing that you’re really good at saying and craft that. Yet you can adapt and changes over time, but don’t reinvent the wheel. That’s something that can be hard, especially for creative types. It’s very easy. The thing that I am good at is coming up with ideas and making those things happen. That actually one of my weaknesses is getting all of the juice out of an idea. I will frequently not get enough publicity out of a thing because I’m already onto the next thing. I’ve had to learn to say, “Hey, put systems in place to make sure that you’re still talking about this stuff and still sharing this stuff, because there are plenty of people who haven’t seen it yet”.
It’s easy to go give a speech and be like, “That was incredible. Now I need to make a new one”. Instead of going like, “Hey, that was incredible and 500 people heard it in this room and there are 7 billion people on the planet. Maybe I should figure out a way to get it out to some of the other people who it would also be impactful for and learn how can I make it better the next time I give it? How can I make it go deeper? How can I come up with additional resources to really sink that stuff in after I’m gone and build a system around it?” I think that long term, counterintuitively, you’ll actually make a bigger impact that way. By picking one thing and going deep with it. As opposed to jumping around and being a Jack of all trades. That was one thing that I feel really lucky that I was just naturally wired this way. If someone presents an opportunity to me and I don’t think I can do it, I won’t even try to do it. I’ll just say, “No. I’m not really the guy for that. You should talk to this other person”. If somebody wants somebody to talk about gang violence or something, “I’m a white kid from the middle of Missouri. I don’t know anything. I have no references that will be helpful for that. Here’s who you should talk to”. Anything like that… here’s my lane. In the corporate space, it’s creativity, ideation and tapping into those things. In the youth space, it’s talking about things like kindness, empathy, understanding and making the world a better place. If you want those topics, I will hit a home run for you. If you want something outside of that, I I’m not even going to try to bunt. I’d rather call in someone else. I think that’s really good advice.
Chris Nichols: Before we leave the inspiration topic, I think you recommended somewhere on one of your social channels and in your boo, for that matter, which we’ll talk about in a second, Beauty is Embarrassing.
Kyle Scheele: Beauty is Embarrassing, is a documentary about this artist named Wayne White. If you have not seen that movie, I can’t recommend anything higher than that. It’s a phenomenal movie. I will warn your audience, the guy swears like a sailor the entire time. If that’s something that you don’t like, or you have kids around or whatever, maybe wait till they go to bed. But Wayne White is such a prolific artist. It’s kind of hard to even describe what he does. But he did all the puppets on PeeWee’s Playhouse. He did set design and animation on Beakman’s World. He’s done music videos for the Smashing Pumpkins and the Offspring. He does these paintings that are hilarious and often profane. He’s done giant installation art all over the country. I describe it as… I can’t remember how long it is. It’s like an hour and a half or something. 90 minutes of medical grade, artistic inspiration just directly shot into your veins. I watch that movie a couple times a year even to this day. It always inspires me to want to just get out there and make things.
Chris Nichols: I see a lot of overlap between his work and yours. When you suggested it, I watched it and was touched by it and moved by it as well.
Kyle Scheele: That’s a perfect example of this “feel like an artist” thing. Wayne White directly taught me how to do a lot of the stuff that I know how to do now. I watched that video and I’ve never made anything out of cardboard in my life when I watched his movie. He makes a cardboard mask in that movie. I saw it and I started, I was like, “That’s interesting. I’m going to try that”. That’s how everything starts. You always start by emulating other people. Every writer starts out trying to write like Hemingway or like whoever their person is. Then over time you develop your own voice. For me, I started making these masks because I had seen Wayne White make masks. Then I ended up meeting him in person because I was in a city where he was, and I had a day to kill. I went and volunteered at this art installation. He taught me how to make all this stuff. At the end of that day, he wrote on a card, which is over here behind the computer, he wrote, “Kyle, you are an expert cardboarder” and he signed it, “Wayne”. I have it framed in my office. But he taught me all that stuff. Then as I continued to do it, it was exactly what we were talking about. We were both making things out of cardboard, but my cardboard art was expressed the way that Kyle Scheele makes things and Wayne White’s cardboard art looks like the way that Wayne White makes things. Even though he inspired me and he directly taught me how to do it, our stuff looks different because we’re different people. I always think when someone’s like, “I’m worried I’m going to sound too much like this other person”. I’m like, “The fact that you’re worried about it means it probably won’t happen because it would be hard to do it, even if you tried. Since you’re trying not to, it’s pretty likely that you won’t sound like that person”.
Chris Nichols: Talking about cardboard art… and for our listeners, if you go on Kyle’s social channel, you can actually see his progression in cardboard mass making. It’s pretty interesting about how he’s progressed through various masks and then the bigger project which I want to talk about. I bought your book, or I got your book: How to Host a Viking Funeral. I read it, thinking it was going to be about your antics. When I finished it, I had to pick it up again, went back through it and started highlighting all the substantive parts in it that really touched me and taught me something. What I thought was just going to be a fun, humorous book, turned out to be life-giving book in many ways. Tell us about how that started because it’s an interesting story. What it is and how it progressed?
Kyle Scheele: In 2016, I was going to turn 30 years old. I was a few weeks shy of my 30th birthday and I was talking to my mom one day and she was asking me, “Hey, are you planning on doing anything? Are you guys going to have a party or anything?” I was like, “No, mom. I’m not going to celebrate turning 30. I’m going to have a funeral to mourn the death of my twenties”. My mom was like, “That’s ridiculous and weird”. She said, “Are you going to have like a coffin and you put your gifts in the coffin?” I was like, “No mom, not a regular funeral. I’m going to have a Viking funeral”. She had said before, “Hey, if you want to, you can have a bonfire”.
My parents have some property out in the country and I live in the city. They were like, “If you want to have a bonfire out here for your birthday, you can”. I was like, “Well, it’d be funny”. When the Viking funeral idea came up, I thought, what if I built a Viking ship and burned that instead of a bonfire? That idea just stuck in my head. The first Viking ship I made was 16 feet long and eight feet tall. It was completely made of cardboard and hot glue. It had these giant numbers and letters inside that said “my twenties”. I had hundreds and hundreds of hand-cut scales, a very ornate thing. I always mentioned that, especially on podcasts is that whenever I tell people I make things out of cardboard, I think that they think that it’s bad because most cardboard artists made by children and most art made by children is not very good.
Then whenever I show somebody my cardboard art, they’re like, “oh wow, that’s totally different than I thought”. It was a very ornate sculpture. Then I set it on fire. I had a bunch of friends over, shot Roman candles at it. I thought that would be the end of it. That it would just be this fun project that I did. But some friends made a video. I have some friends who run a video production company and they made a really short, two or three minute mini documentary about the project. They interviewed me for half an hour and they pulled out the two minutes of good stuff I said in that time. In that video, they asked if I was going to be sad to burn the ship after working so hard on it. I just said, “No, not really. You have to let go of the past in order to make room for new things in the future”. That idea just seemed to resonate with people. I started to get emails. That video went out and started getting spread around the internet. This is way before I was on TikTok. I started getting emails from people who were like, “Hey man, I saw your birthday thing. It was very weird. Somehow it inspired me though. You made me think about some stuff that I want to let go of”. I made this thing as a joke. During the two and a half weeks or whatever it took to build that ship, I really started thinking about it. What do I want to leave in my twenties? What are the things that I want to take into my thirties? What do I need to make room for? It became this meaningful thing that started as a joke.
A year after that project, I was still getting emails from people. They were all saying exactly the same thing, which was, “Hey, I saw your birthday thing and it inspired me to let go of some of my own stuff”. And they would always end by I saying, “I just wish I had a cool Viking funeral to do it like you did”. I was like, “Okay, well, if that’s what everyone needs, then I can help with that”. I decided I would build one more Viking ship and I invited people to send in anything that they wanted to let go of, anything from their past, anything. It could be a regret, a mistake, a heartbreak, a relationship, just write that down and send it to me. The prompt I gave was, what’s the thing that makes you say, “that used to be me, but I’m not that person anymore”. I thought if I could get 10,000 people to send in these regrets, that would be incredible. I’ll build a big ship and I’ll set it on fire. In the end, I think 21,089 or something was the final number. Just over 21,000 regrets from people all across the country, all around the world in multiple different languages. Then at the end of 2019, I finished the second ship, which was 16 feet tall and about 30 feet long. It was massive. When you imagine a Viking ship, it was about that size. It was just huge. I put 21,000 regrets inside of it and set it on fire.
That’s what the book is about. The book is called How to Host a Viking Funeral. The subtitle is, The case for burning your regrets, chasing your crazy ideas and becoming the person you’re meant to be. It’s just the story of that project from start to finish and about what I learned after. Because I read every single one of those regrets. I learned a lot about regret and letting go and moving on and what it takes to live a purpose-filled life.
Chris Nichols: So those are just some of the many lessons that I picked up from How to Host a Viking Funeral. I highly recommend the book. Any last thoughts? You have a community bank experience, right?
Kyle Scheele: I was mentioning this before we started recording. I grew up out in the country. In 1976, my dad bought 40 acres of land with a house on it for $44,000. I think those days are gone. But him and some friends, they all chipped in on this 40-acres. They lived in this little house and then eventually my dad… my mom and dad got married. My mom moved in, all the other people moved out. The land ended up getting split up into four 10-acre chunks. My dad owned one of them and another guy owned the other three and he just had this plan. But I grew up running all over that. We used to have horses that ran all over that land. I always thought I want to live here when I grow up.
I finally grew up and got married and bought a house and had kids and did all of that. But I always thought, “Man, I’d love to own a piece of that land. Every time I talked to a bank, they always said, “If it’s raw land with no house on it, you’re looking at 30 to 50% down”. That was just a chunk of money that I did not have. Long story short is, that I own that land today and I own it because of a community bank. I talked to all the other banks and they all said, “we can’t do it”. A friend of mine’s a real estate agent and I said, “how would you get this deal done?” He said, “Talk to this guy”. I called the guy. This guy’s name is Tom Fowler. He’s a fantastic community banker at State Bank of Southwest Missouri. He helped me get that deal done. That bank is financing our build, which is happening right now. They’re framing our house as we speak. Not actually as we speak, because it’s raining. But they’re working on that right now. I am eternally grateful for community banks because of that specific experience where it made something possible. That was not possible for me before.
Chris Nichols: Kyle we’ve been fantastic. I encourage all our listeners to follow you on social media. Do you have one channel that is best to keep up with your…
Kyle Scheele: I post most consistently on TikTok. I would say, secondary, would be Instagram. I post a lot of silly stuff on Instagram sometimes. Because of the way that Instagram works, it’s easier to interact with me there. TikTok doesn’t let you DM people unless that person follows you. If I don’t follow you, you can’t DM me on TikTok, but on Instagram, anybody can DM anybody. It’s easier to get in touch with me that way. It’s been a pleasure to be on this podcast. It was great talking to you guys. I’d love to do it again.
Chris Nichols: What’s next? What’s your next endeavor?
Kyle Scheele: We didn’t even talk about this, but I have a children’s book that came out last year, called A Pizza with Everything On It. That had been a lifelong dream of mine to be a children’s book author. I accomplished that. It came out in the middle of the pandemic and I was like, man, I don’t know anything about what’s going to happen. Book tours were canceled, bookstores weren’t even open. But somehow that book found its these people and Amazon put it on the Best Books of the Year list last year. It was in their Christmas catalog. It’s just done phenomenally well. I’ve been so excited about that. Right now, I’m working on a sequel to that book. I’m working on a new talk for the business world about exactly what we talked about today with creativity and ideas and how to tap into the creativity that’s already inside of your organization.
One of the things that I think is sad is that at every business, it seems like there’s three or four people who are allowed to have ideas. It’s usually like the C-suite and the marketing department. The truth is, there are people on your front lines probably have better ideas about how things should change than you do because you’re at the top. But they’re not asked for those ideas. So, a lot of times those ideas just live and die with them. The people in a manufacturing business who are actually making the things, they have way better ideas on how to optimize the manufacturing process than the guy who is sitting in his office. One of the things that I’m doing this year is helping more businesses tap into the inherent creativity that already exists inside their organization and do that in a way that makes their business better. But also empowers their employees and engenders a sense of community and just makes everything better because there’s plenty of ideas that you’re not tapping into right now.
Chris Nichols: Love it. Actually, worse than that is, a lot of businesses, we ask for the idea, they give it to us and then we kill it. Either because of bureaucracy or because we really don’t care or whatever it is. We give false sense of hope. But we are going to be anxiously awaiting that talk and we’ll have to get back in touch with you to figure out how we can bring it to our customers.
Kyle Scheele: Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris Nichols: Caleb, anything else?
Caleb Stevens: No. Thank you, Kyle. This this has been outstanding. We appreciate your time, insights. I always love a good discussion about ideas and creativity. It’s something that the banking world needs more of and so we appreciate you providing that for us.
Kyle Scheele: Absolutely and it’s my pleasure.
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