Interview: Dr Chris Stout

dr-Chris

Name: Dr Chris Stout

Where do you live: Chicago, United States

Known for:
“The guy that did the thing that was really underrated.”

Currently working with:
By the nature of my work (not job), I wear many hats. So, that said, I’m working on two books (one on terrorism — a follow-up that my publisher is interested in, and one on global health — a new one I’m interested in). I’m blogging for LinkedIn as an influencer on medicine, healthcare, and humanitarian intervention. I’m working on a new bike build on an old Ducati. I’m designing a tube-amp. I’m hacking away on a personal set of goals (“The 275 x 60 Project”) to visit a 100 countries, all 50 of the United States and 125 World Heritage, and photo-document it all. I’m also getting ready to launch a podcast interviewing creatives, innovators, and thought leaders on their work and perspectives. Designing a concept called “Ideas Lab” for research support of innovative healthcare startups. And of course, working with our Center for Global Initiatives and our Tanzania projects.

When did you realize that you were going to work with this/in this area?
Only once it happened. While I did have the benefit of benign neglect concerning high school career counseling, and as my mother came to realize the chances of my becoming an astronaut were slim, I was pretty much left to my own devices when it came to my career direction.

Dammit, only myself to blame?

Lacking a rudder but having plenty of wind is how I have defined my credibility as being an authority on the topic of career snafus.

I suppose my first mistake was to have no direction. Then it was to have the wrong direction. Then it was to have another direction, and then another, and another — you get the picture. I imagined my role in my career direction as acting like a nearsighted Mr. Magoo stepping off one gig or university program or internship and falling onto another (thankfully without missing a step ala my role model).

After undergraduate majors of math, then engineering, then science, then technology, then architecture, and finally psychology I entered graduate school concretely convinced that I would get my doctorate and establish an outpatient practice with adult patients. Of course I wound up treating children in inpatient settings. Then I did more and more administrative work, so back to school for an MBA. Dr. Magoo now reprised.

It’s not that I was “following my Zen” as I needed to make some dough, but when interest or opportunity came a knocking, I couldn’t open the door fast enough.

The good news is that in spite of looking like an overeducated drifter still searching for a major, all of my past dabbling — including mountaineering and travel — have all conspired into my creating what I love: Running a non-profit organization.

I didn’t — and I’d speculate I couldn’t — have planned it. Working in the “medical humanitarian space” was the result of organic happenstance.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
While I really love Barcelona, Vancouver, and San Francisco, I’d say if I could only live in one place, it’d have to be my boyhood hometown, Dallas. It has not only the charm that comes from one’s hometown and associated memories, but it has a vibrant and diverse community that would stimulate and augment my work and thinking. My wife and I have actually contemplated the opposite of staying put in any one place by going minimal and living a month or so in a different city every winter.

How would you describe your creativity?
That is a very difficult question. Honestly, I think it is the result of being so curious about so many things, then learning a little or a lot about them, and then when working on a problem or project, I seem to problem-solve, or augment, or combine relevant aspects of what I have learned. The result is often (not always) a combination that is at least synergistic, and that may appear or be, creative.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
I suppose it was high school. I was a bit of an oddity as I had a double major in math and also minored in art. In college I published a pencil sketch in a literary journal that was part of a poem. This was while bouncing around between the Schools of Science and Engineering, before getting degrees from both. One summer break backpacking through Europe, I shot major and minor art works for the Religious Studies Department. Grad school put much on hold, but there after I had some minor showings in some odd venues and my photography continued, and I use it to pair with my LinkedIn Influencer blogs.

What do you do at the moment?
As for jobs, they are serving as VP for the Department of Research and Data Analytics (thank you Richard Saul Wurman for teaching the world about data representation) at ATI Holdings, LLC, professor at the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Director of the Center for Global Initiatives.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
Well, to be blunt, you have to realize you are a small business owner/entrepreneur, and for some of us that’s a hard concept to accept. You can be great at what you do, and be super talented, but if you cannot manage your money or get the word out, you’ll have a hell of a time surviving. Fortunately, technology has made that a lot easier.

Tell us how it all started.
Things weren’t always so great. My folks divorced before my first birthday. Being an only child of a single mom came with some prejudice and lack of acceptance from some folks. Plus, I had more than my fair share of issues as a child — orthopedic problems, glasses, crooked teeth, pimples, obesity (and named “Stout” ouch!), being bullied, anxiety disorder, ugh… I loved my folks, and I think they loved each other, they just couldn’t live together. My mom loved the buzz of the city (Dallas), and my dad loved the farm where he had literally been born.

I lived my first 12 years with my mom and grandmother until her passing and overwhelming medical costs basically bankrupted my mom. As a result, I moved to the farm and lived with my dad (for the first time in my life) in the 120 year old house he was born in (sans indoor plumbing or electricity until the 1950s), and it had no A/C and a coal furnace when I lived there. It took some getting used to, but my dad was cool. And it was kind of Deja vu all over again with the lack of acceptance. This time it was with some of my dad’s relatives who pretty much said that I would not amount to much.

My dad worked hard on the farm, and when I was old enough, I did too. As a result, I knew for sure that I was NOT going to be a farmer. Also during that time I picked up healthy eating and exercise, and lost 64 pounds one summer. My dad’s parents didn’t graduate high school, and my dad was OK with whatever I wanted to do, so college here I come. I worked hard to deal with my learning weaknesses and was able to get scholarships to fund all of my undergraduate courses at Purdue (first as a math major, then a degree in architecture, and another one in psychology).

Off to grad school and a failed first marriage and gaining back 50 pounds or so. Then a six-figure debt of student loans by the time I finished my first doctorate and fellowship. To skip to the chase, I now have lost that 50, paid off the debt and done a fair amount more. Now, I want to be able to help others in their work and contribution.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
It’s having a good set of tools. They could be digital if I’m working with images, cover art, etcetera. They could be garage tools if I’m working on a bike project. If it’s electronics, it could be a decent soldering iron, the proper parts needed, and a maliciously clean work area. They could be pencils, paper, charcoal, smudge sticks, watercolors, brushes if I’m drawing or painting. In all places and projects, I prefer natural light, views/vistas, just a little on the cool side, and the option of ambient music.

What is your favorite film?
I am a nut for film. I geek out over documentaries, and someday would love to create one based on my New Humanitarians books. I can’t just name one, so here are my top picks, based on the fact I’d want to watch them with any/every member of my family: Gattica, Jacob’s Ladder, 2001, To Kill a Mockingbird, Inherit the Wind, Waking Life, What Dreams May Come, Altered States, Smoke, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Pay it Forward. I expect this list will grow…

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
Students. They are the most engaging, inquisitive, and in some instances raw. It’s even better if my family could join.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
I dream of a custom sabbatical or fellowship where I’d spend time every month for a year or two traveling to different schools and universities of different disciplines, startup incubators, you name it, and meeting with those working therein. It would be like an intellectual Disneyland for me, and I get to go on all the rides.

What is luxury for you?
Flexibility in my schedule to expand and contract when projects demand, and an understanding and supportive family.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
In my nonprofit work, totally unbeknownst to me, a Tanzania kindergarten was named after me in honor of my help in getting it established and approved. That was quite the creative project, and man, what an honor.

What do you fear most?
Becoming irrelevant. Period. Full stop.

What is a happy life to you?
Being able to go both broad and deep. That is, being able to satisfy my curiosities about so many different areas, and then bring what’s relevant to bear in the midst of a project or problem I’m working on. I love to create — books, art, blogs, interviews, ideas, and then use them to share with others in hope of helping, improving, or somehow adding to them.

What does a regular day look like for you?
No such thing, which is good. Some days are project focused with deadlines and anxiety. Some are project focused with flow and awe. Some are meeting-filled and generally frustrating. Some are lecturing with total loss of time, which is wonderful. Some are awakening without an alarm clock and going for a run with a voice recorder and coming back to work on a new set of ideas. Some are spent in the air crossing too many time zones.

Tell us about your dream project.
Hum. I suppose it would be to serially develop consortiums of experts from different areas of expertise but with a unifying thread of a problem or need to work on. Then go about providing or developing tools to augment the work, document it. Then rinse and repeat.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
Well without a doubt, it’s Buckminster Fuller. I corresponded with him when I was in college on a project. I have his letter to this day. I’ve read about every book by and about him. I was selected to write his biography for the Encyclopedia, and I visited his Chronofile archive at Stanford. He was such a charming optimist polymath. He was my gateway to nonlinear thinking, integrative perspectives, and the poster boy for combining art and science.  He also was human and flawed.

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
Collaborative. There are a lot of folks much smarter than I am, and I have the good fortune to be able to work with a number of them. That makes my work better, and all of us together create results that may be 5x better than if we were soloing. Even if I am writing or building something, I seek feedback and I’m always on the prowl for inspiration and fresh ideas.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
My partner, who conveniently is also my wife, as well as my best friend and worst critic. She makes me and my work better, and worth doing.

What inspires you?
Other’s work. It can be via the written word, a piece of music, a work of art, or a successful project, and whammo, I want to go out and make my work better. Bucky Fuller has that effect on me, as does Richard Saul Wurman.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?

Just like movies, I don’t have a single favorite that I can point back to and say, Eureka! This is it! I think what one reads is tempered by when and where you are in your life when you read it. I tend to be more author oriented I suppose. Some of my favorites include: Buckminster Fuller (bigtime),

Richard Saul Wurman, Walker Percy, Tom Wolfe, Oliver Sacks, and Richard Feynman.

Connect with Dr. Stout via LinkedIn and Facebook
Follow him on Twitter and Medium and Pinterest
Check out his Wikipedia page and his awesome websites here, here and here


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