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Episode 33 — How to Foster Imagination

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About this episode

Many of us look back with nostalgia to a time when we used to just live in our imagination. But for so many of us, the necessities of math and hard science have made us forgo all that. What if you could take all that hard won math and science forward and still have the imagination? In this episode, we will discuss how to make imagination a regular part of your happy scientific career.

Hosted by Bitesize Bio’s own Dr. Nick Oswald featuring Kenneth Vogt of Vera Claritas.

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Nick Oswald

00:19 Hello, and welcome to The Happy Scientist podcast from Bitesize Bio, if you want to become a happier, healthier and more productive scientist, you are in the right place. I’m Nick Oswald the founder of bitesizebio.com and with me is the driving force of this podcast Mr Kenneth Vogt, my friend, mentor and founder of the coaching company Vera Claritas. Today’s episode is called how to foster imagination so let’s bring in the man himself, Ken, how are you today.

Kenneth Vogt

00:48 I’m doing great, how are you?

Nick Oswald

00:49 I’m good.

Kenneth Vogt

00:51 So I wanted to start this off by pointing out to you folks how very fortunate, you are, there are so many jobs out there so many careers out there where imagination is not just unnecessary, it is frowned upon they don’t want you being imaginative they don’t want to think outside the box they don’t want you being creative in any way, shape or form. For instance, I know some folks who drive trains for the for San Francisco Bay area rapid transit system. At least, these trains are pretty complicated and pretty impressive you know there’s a is a big master computer system for this that that decides what trains are run on tracks and what which train is going where at all times and they’re a good system, you know that their trains are on time, I mean it’s not France but it’s good you know. But you just can’t as a train operator you can’t do anything yourself and, in fact, mostly that train is being run by the central computer. Because you the train operators, almost a misnomer you’re more like the occupants of the front of the front cabin that’s about it and you can override things in the case of an emergency, but not very easily and only in emergencies and there’s no creativity about it it’s you it follows the schedule, it follows it opens and closes doors it’s.

02:26 It travels on tracks and it tells you what speed you’re going to go, so you might want to get to the next station faster too bad the system says otherwise but that’s not how it is for you, you get to be creative so that the other side of that then it’s like oh you’re required to be creative well how are you supposed to be creative where you got to have imagination, imagination is one of those things that the connects well with where we talked about in the last episode it often is in the realm of what you don’t know you don’t know so how am I supposed to be imaginative, how do I make this happen. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today. So, before I launch into this, I give you a chance to interject if you’d like Nick.

Nick Oswald

03:17 I like that the way that you. You Segway from the last episode to this one. How do you access what you what you don’t know you don’t know you do that through imagination and I’m interested to hear what you say about this.

Kenneth Vogt

03:33 yeah so. I want to start off by pointing out that imagination is not the same is fantasy, and you know fantasies fun you just dream up all kinds of things Oh, if only it were like this that’s fantasy, imagination’s a little bit different if you’re going to make a statement like that in your imagination, if only were like this it’s going to be it’s going to be more like what if it’s like this. That you’re going to consider it you’re going to know to you’re going to do more than just. You know paint a fictional picture you’re going to go well, if this were the case, what would have to be and what else would I need to know in in what else would be going on, so you got to you got to go past merely dreaming and dreaming fun and it’s it’s it can be stress relieving.  But dreaming doesn’t get you very far you got to you got to up it in knowledge and imagination requires a little more engagement.

04:37 It means that you got to get involved with the ideas that that you come up with, and you got to you got to try and take them further and the thing about imagination is there’s no guarantee. That we’re trying to imagine, something that you want to pursue and it’s the data doesn’t go anywhere. And you got to be okay with that, because you know if you’re going to get if you’re going to get bummed out every time you come up with an idea that doesn’t that doesn’t work out, you’re going to stop coming up with ideas it it’ll become too painful for you, so you get an it’s got to be built into your approach to this that. I have imagination, sometimes it comes true sometimes it doesn’t sometimes it leads to the next thing and that’s all fine doesn’t matter which outcome, you get.

05:33 But I want to go back to something that we talked about in episode 14 the title of that was don’t seek results asked questions and I’m going to tell you something that sounds like it might that it might argue with that I’m going to tell you to pick an objective rather than a method or a protocol when you’re using imagination. Now, the reason that’s different than this notion of seeking results, the seeking a specific result. If you know that’s your specific, but having an objective is a little it’s a little more general you know it’s your you I’m talking about pick the vicinity that you’re headed toward? Not that you know we need this test to come out this way, but rather we’re seeking we’re seeking a certain kind of result and not a specific result but you know something I want to get something out of this where this is going to be, you know what’s an example, this is going to be more fireproof. Something very you know not specific to what all do I like to think that most biology doesn’t have to worry about being fireproof but You know there’s nothing wrong with seeking that, as a general objective now if you’re make if you’re seeking in an experiment that this experiment must come out that this is more prep fireproof no that’s not what I mean I mean that you’re seeking something and you’re still looking you’re not seeking something specific you’re still looking for something more general you’ve got your eyes open your open minded about it and it doesn’t have to doesn’t have to work out certain way you don’t have to get there by a certain path.

07:24 And a lot of times your imagination won’t be about the endpoint it’ll be about how you get to the endpoint so Again this is how you know it’s different from fantasy because fantasy you just dream that it works out but imagination here and how am I going to make a workout but I was just going to get done what I’m what am I trying to accomplish here, and so it involves. It involves mental engagement and involves intellectual engagement there’s nothing about this, this is that is just oh I’m pony and rainbow you know yeah you’re really engaging yourself.

Nick Oswald

08:04 it’s quite interesting actually when you think about it as a in terms of being a professional scientist that a lot of times people jump to that idea of imagination as being a thing that. Is kind of a rainbows and unicorns thing or it’s not it’s not rational thinking and so why you know kind of. As down played a bit, but actually when you think about what imagination, rather than fantasizing actually as its as the genesis of ideas and so actually being a scientist requires a lot of imagination you to imagine the design of an experiment before you can set up, you can examine, you need to imagine. You know what are the possibilities for the mechanism, you know from mechanism that you’re the different mechanisms you’re studying what offer a mechanism you’re studying, you have to imagine the different possible mechanisms that are you know that could be could be what the final answers. So that you have to allow yourself to explore that in your imagination before you can ever make it into an experiment and then translate that into a scientific fact.

Kenneth Vogt

09:21 Exactly, and in effect and add on to what you’re pointing out there. Most of you out there you’re actually fairly good at this already. You wouldn’t be where you are, if you hadn’t already exhibited an affinity for this and, as I mentioned earlier, you’re quite fortunate that you. Have a career where this is even among the possibilities, but don’t sell yourself short, if you’ve gotten, to the point you’re at right now. If you’re actually in the lab if you’ve actually got a PhD shoot if you got a master’s degree you’ve already proven that you’re good at this so don’t sell yourself short give yourself a chance to keep flowering with it.

Nick Oswald

10:04 So you’re going to give us some ways to supercharge that imagination, so that imaginative process, I guess. To get better results too, so the results would be what to be better at coming up with new ideas and or what’s, what are the benefits of your thinking.

Kenneth Vogt

10:23 yeah part of it will be giving yourself more sources for new ideas part of it will be coming up with better ideas and more engaged ideas, if I could put it that way, then it’ll apply to what you’re doing so, one of the things that has to start with is your own outlook.

Kenneth Vogt

10:42 If it really bothers you. Other people shoot at your ideas you’re going to have a hard time you got to shoot up a little bit you got to yet you’ve got to be willing to extend yourself and not take it personal and remember these ideas they’re just ideas they are you they don’t represent who you are and here’s an interesting little experiment, we can do you know. We all have thoughts right thoughts come into our head all day long all day long there’s this chatter going on in your head, well that’s That is where imagination, will take place now, a lot of that chatter maybe the same old same old same old same old So you got to get apart the quiet down a little bit so you can hear other things, but notice the way I’m putting that you have to hear them. We like to think that we think up our thoughts, but that’s not particularly true in fact most thoughts that come into our head we didn’t have any idea, they were going to arrive there until they arrived thoughts are things that we hear. We think our brain is creating thoughts know our brain is receiving thoughts it’s more like a radio transmitter Well, I can transmit also but you know. When it comes to these thoughts there for the most part, just wandering and by and we’ve all had that experience we’ve had a hunch about something that just something just popped into our head you like, where did that come from.

12:15 Well, it just came from us being open to hearing it, so realize that if you just give yourself a moment.  You can get all kinds of great ideas and the inputs will keep coming and they’ll come from all over the place now part of that you can direct so you know, for instance there’s nothing wrong with you know reading a newspaper or you know, a journal in your field To get ideas that’s a great idea this that that’s a great thought it’ll help you get inputs. Often, you can get input from unrelated sources, and I would I would recommend you that you broaden your interest because you’d be surprised, where you will find. Things that will then apply to what you do at the bench in the lab you know you might realize something when you’re in the kitchen. And cooking using a cookbook and go wow you know what I could use I could use this technique or there reminds me of something that I can do, back in the lab it might be, it might be something else you might be. Listening to some music, you might be working on your car, you might be cutting your grass, you know you might be folding laundry you might be reading a novel yeah it can be any number of things don’t structure yourself in such a way that everything has to be the only thing that I apply here at work is that are the things that are apply here at work, because that’s just not how life works, we get ideas from all over the place.

Nick Oswald

13:59 Interesting couple of observations on that, from my personal experience And I think I guess most people listen to this will have experienced the first one, and that is that one way to get really inspired for ideas and things is to go to a conference, because when you see what other people are doing. You know, in your field, and so on, that are feed into your idea, you know feed into your imagination and you’ll come away with tons of ideas and just allow that to happen that’s a great thing, because then you go back not only inspired, but you have different viewpoints and so on, and also in my kind of technical career, I was lucky enough to work in two different environments that were really inspiring One was where I was working with an in a company, so I was a biologist and I was working in a company, where the team can included engineers and computer scientists and so on and it was really inspiring to see it was really fertile, for you know for ideas to speak to work with those people who have a completely different approaches to the same problem, you know that the way that an engineer thanks is completely different from the way that a biologist thinks.

Nick Oswald

15:20 But when you put them both together that’s really quite it’s all really quite an amazing experience and the same another company or watching it was biologists and chemists and again the way that those two sets of scientists think is really different And I find it really good for my not only on my professional development, but just my personal development to realize that being stuck in one mode of thinking is quite restrictive and to open yourself up to other modes of thinking is a great thing to do.

Kenneth Vogt

15:56 Right in from the outside, in, you know I’m. As I’ve stated many times I’m not a scientist, you know computer scientist if I’m going to go that far, but For those of us over here on our side of this looking at all chemist and biologist it’s just another scientist to us we don’t even realize the difference And, of course, you know there’s a vast difference and so take advantage of those differences, you know recognize that there’s something there’s another way to see the world everything we’re doing is through perspective And our perspective is has been honed and in schooled and especially for somebody who gets to a high level of education they’ve been very path into a particular perspective and I’m sure you know, people like that that I’ve taken a they take a certain view of the field and they just can’t break out of it.

Nick Oswald

16:56 I think it’s just as valuable I would suspect there are a lot of people listening to this we don’t realize. The biologists and chemists think differently, because they don’t realize that well because they because they’ve worked with biologists all of their lives and until you’re exposed to that, I mean. The chemist that I started working with of surprise that that we biologists thought it’s just two different approaches to the same problem. And unless you expose yourself to the other side you probably don’t even know how restrictive your own mindset as sure and it’s just been taught it’s not a bad thing it’s just it’s a mode of thinking. And it’s to get yourself exposed to other ones as a really valuable thing to do, whether that’s through doing a course I find myself when I was working with chemists. Doing online or listening to chemistry lectures online and stuff so that you could you could get into that way of thinking, and you know so that was another way to do it, I just think whatever you can do to soften up your thought processes and just look at things from as many different angles, as possible as a good thing.

Kenneth Vogt

18:04 Absolutely, so I want to go back to something you said earlier. The value of going to conferences, because. Again, that gets you rubbing shoulders with other people who have other that are doing other thinking, but it’s sometimes the getting out of the lab is what it is, it isn’t even it doesn’t even matter what it is to in, for instance. In the years of work with Nick something that I have, I have I’ve noted over and over again when Nick goes on vacation he comes back with a lot of ideas. And it has happened over and over again, and to the point where I practically have to steal myself for when he returns because Oh, my goodness the floodgates will have open so give yourself a chance, sometimes to remove all the inputs don’t. Listen to anything or anybody just let your mind be silent for a minute and see what wanders interview, and you may get fascinating ideas. So, I want to I want to point to something very specific about this and you know and our reference an old book written in the 1930s, but it’s a it’s a seminal work it’s the greatest self-help book by sales ever it’s called think and grow rich By Napoleon Hill.

Kenneth Vogt

19:30 Now I realized this may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but bear with me for a minute and hear me out on this Napoleon Hill he went and he interviewed All of the most successful industrialists of his time you know men like Andrew Carnegie And, once he got access to one he had access to the rest so.

Kenneth Vogt

20:11 You get a chance to talk to all these very successful people, and I know, and I say successful I mean. In terms of you know they made a lot of money and in new build big companies and things like that I realized success can be measured in many ways, But you know they were they were unique and remarkable people who had accomplished big things, but he started to see patterns in what they did, and he interviewed also, Thomas Edison and Just to give you an idea, the kind of people do you went after but he found that there are patterns of things that people did In one of the things they did was visualization and we’ve all heard of the idea of visualize things So you know if you visualize your experiment coming up properly, that is, you know that the experiment will fail, not that it gets a certain result. If you do that visual as you often can head off problems or you can often see opportunities to improve things just by thinking about it just by visualizing how it would work, so a certain people that he interviewed had some very specific ways of doing visualizations and some of them had had add remarkable visualizations that came from just from dreams and I’m not telling you that to you know. That you should be dissecting your dreams I’m talking about dreams that they don’t need to be. Translated I’m talking about things that they realized in a dream and they work on oh that’s a good idea for instance the guy that invented the electric sewing machine his name was Elias Howe And he had a dream, where he’d been captured by cannibals and had been putting up in a boiling cauldron And he when he tried to get out they kept stopping him by spears that we’re going up and down and they had a hole and in the end of the spear, if any of you had a mother like I did, who did a lot of sewing had a sewing machine, you know that that a needle that you use by hand has a hole from the pointy end of the needle, but the needles on a sewing machine, the hole is near the point and that was what he saw in his dream and he woke up with that realization goes that’s the solution to my problem and that’s how he was able to invent sewing machine, you know, and that was a critical factor that that is still present in sewing machines today, now in his case.

22:59 This is just he just happened to you know, have a dream and think of that but Thomas Edison would go out of his way he would literally take naps so that he could dream, so he would have a problem in mind that he couldn’t come up with a solution to so he would go take a nap and by the way, I can really recommend naps they’re very useful for all kinds of purposes and I realized that it may not be possible when you’re at the lab but There are other there are other times, maybe it is but set yourself up you know if you’re going to you know a lot of times people they can’t sleep because of their thoughts, what if When you’re trying to go to sleep you go, you know what I need to go to sleep, because when I sleep, maybe I’ll come up with an idea here So you give yourself permission to go to sleep, then, and maybe you do come up with an idea and so it’s just an interesting way of going about doing visualization Now all of this stuff everything we pretty much talked about up till now can be pretty private you don’t have to tell anybody you’re doing it.

24:07 Because if you’re worried that people are going to think I’m nuts, that I did I’m taking a nap to get an idea, you know fine don’t engage them in that you’re going to have to involve other people in this, you know how to get other people’s permission or their approval or any of the rest of it However, sometimes it is a good idea to get other people involved, and if you, especially if you have a You know, a really big problem that you’re trying to overcome, and maybe it’s not just you maybe to your whole group is trying to overcome it’s a good idea to come together and it’s good idea to brainstorm and brainstorming. It again everybody probably thinks so I know what brainstorming is man, maybe you do, maybe you know. The idea of brainstorming in a group is getting people together.

24:58 And having them give each other ideas to trigger them to things so you’ve got to create an environment where there’s no rules where anything can be done. Where there are no bad ideas, everything is on the table and so you’re they asked me rules to stop people from bad mouthing somebody’s idea. So,  somebody says something you know I got this crazy idea what if we did this and somebody goes that’s stupid no you can’t have that because it stifles people that it stops them. Let people say whatever and see what it triggers and often it isn’t the what they bring up that matters it’s what the next person brings up. So that thing that is stupid triggers something that isn’t stupid, so you got to give it a chance and It made me think of the movie Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks which was really a great movie, I think. Going across Apollo 13 years is the flight that really went bad where they were trying to go to the moon, but they something went wrong on the craft and they barely made it back alive, but they somehow did and at one point, a problem they were having was that there was too much carbon dioxide being expelled by the astronauts into their own atmosphere, and so they were starting to have some real problems, and it was going to kill them if they didn’t do something about it and so back at NASA.

26:29 One of the same number of scientists got together one of them, took a box and dumped it out on the table and says, these are the things that are available on the craft that we can work with, we need to make a CO2 scrubber and it was you know some tubes and some You know, some netting and you know, whatever it was, but just a pile of stuff And that was a brainstorming session here’s what we got what are we going to do with it and they figured it out And yeah I mean that’s a real life story and that’s you want to talk about science, it has to be done on the fly I mean these. These guys are about to die, they had to do something now and they got it done, you know really was an amazing thing. And I imagine and correct me if I’m wrong here in this Nick but you know being biologists you deal with living things in in really does matter How quickly you do things, there are times when, if you don’t get something done in a certain timeframe thing that so would that be a correct way of assessing things.

Nick Oswald

27:38 Sure but that then that’s going to be in a planned protocol, I would have said okay I’m so it’s not there’s not there’s no lifesaving scenario there.

Kenneth Vogt

27:52 that’s heartening is it takes a little pressure off all.

Nick Oswald

27:55 But one thing that is interesting, though, is that, from what you were saying is you know you’re talking about these ideas of visual visualization and so on. And I used to think of that as being quite we’re quite you know well, if you visualize then you’re you know it’s somehow. You know you’re trying to magic something to happen, because you imagine that it’s not that at all it’s just taking your brain through the motions, you know, and you know my a few you’d sports be here port sports people doing it all the time, where they’ll just run through their routine, for whatever as they do, and they just run it over and over and over again until the brain becomes used to that. That pathway and just and just you know just follows it and it’s the same here all you’re doing is you’re running through your what how you imagine the experiment could go or whatever our how the talk could go, you know you’re doing a presentation, or whatever, and you get your brain literally used to that scenario or immersed in that scenario, so that it can come up with ideas or develop a habit, or whatever you need for that situation.

Kenneth Vogt

29:03 Here watching This one well known account that that had to do with a man named Jim Thorpe who was an Olympic athlete who, as any American team and was that the last Olympics that were held in Germany right before World War Two and at that time to get to Europe, you talk about you know the they were sailing over so he’s sailing over with a bunch of Olympic athletes and they’re all on deck and near exercising and doing what they do, for whatever their field is use a year in the decathlon so he did a lot of different things, but he was always just sitting there in a deck chair And people are like why aren’t you exercising why aren’t you aren’t you working out, you know he is, I am in my mind, and he was playing through in his mind each of his events and he went to went to Munich and he was you know he  won over and over and over again, he was he was very, very successful.

30:10 And you might think well that doesn’t even make sense, I mean your body’s got to be involved in this, yes to know your mind is to be involved too And we do have that we are aware that it’s we have not just the conscious mind but it’s subconscious mind Well, if you can engage your subconscious mind that’s where all these ideas are going to pop into you’re going to you’re going to connect with them there now I’ve got another link that will be in the show notes here and it, it talks about a specific technique that Napoleon Hill talked about and think and grow rich and it’s basically to create an imaginary Council so imagine you could have. The best counsellors in human history or even beyond human history, they can be fictional people, you can choose to have them as counsellors  so imagine you assemble a Council that that’s you know got whoever you want it’s got Aristotle and it’s got you know.

31:11 Think of somebody it’s got Superman you know it can be anything you want and where you can you can have a conversation with them and get answers to things, and it is shockingly effective and so I’ve got another link to something that’s the that’s entitled tap into the power of the subconscious mind with visualization And it will show you exactly how to do that, according to the protocol that that Napoleon Hill came up with which he got from people like Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie and others so it’s a long, long, long time tested method and I’ve used it myself for many years and I and it’s morphed over time, you know.

31:57 I’ve changed out counsellors over time, because you know what applies in a certain circumstance, you know, maybe right now I’d be better off with you know, with Francis Crick then then Mohandas Gandhi, you know, whatever I want to do you know it it’s all open season it’s just it’s all your own imagination, so you get to play with it as far as you want to And if you think about some of the people that we think of in life is being very imaginative like Henry Ford or Walt Disney they created amazing things now and I will openly grant you that they those two people are as an example, were very flawed characters. As far as you know where they were personally but it just goes to show you don’t have to be perfect, you can be kind of a regular human being and still succeed at this. So you know there’s a lot of opportunity there for you to come up with all kinds of new ideas to really have some imagination to go beyond just I wish you were better I wish the laws of physics were different, you know to wait a minute I got an idea and you’re having Eureka moments on a regular basis, if you want to talk about an endorphin rush man it’s the way to go.

Nick Oswald

33:17 yeah definitely the book that you talked about think and grow rich it’s an interesting one, because I as far as I understand it anyway it’s not about just it’s not about just the becoming financially rich.

Kenneth Vogt

33:32 Good point.

Nick Oswald

33:33 it’s actually about you know being rich and ideas and success.

Kenneth Vogt

33:37 or successes assign ritual or.

Nick Oswald

33:39 Whatever you want and it’s about using as a boat as quite a read actually um but it’s about different ways to harness your imagination to open up possibilities for yourself, I would say yeah.

Kenneth Vogt

33:55. yeah that is a very good point, this is not a book about money, although it could be applied to that if that motivates you if that’s what yeah whatever it is the youth feel makes life rich This applies and what’s interesting about it’s an easy read you know and it’s very it’s very quaint in its language you know written in the 1930s it’s got a certain voice to it, so it again it that it’s just another way of realizing he looked the world quite a bit different than the way we look at the world today it’s pretty interesting.

Nick Oswald

34:27 that’s The interesting thing what I think about books like that is that it might not be your cup of tea, but it’s like going and working with engineers for a while, your head you’re getting into the brain of someone who an insight into the brain of someone who’s looking at the world in a different way from you, and so, even if you only take One idea from it, or one improvement and viewpoint, or something like that from it that’s worth it doesn’t have to be that you. Completely take on board the whole thing and follow as he does, he suggests adjust layers on an idea that you can then use to or some ideas that you can then use or not use depending on what you think of them.

Kenneth Vogt

35:06 yeah indeed and there’s a lot of ideas in that book it’s not just the visualization thing you really, he’s got a lot of concepts that he wants to get across but what’s interesting about this, this is not. You know this is not the devil’s Bible, you know that kind of thing, where you go, I can’t read that that just flies in the face of everything I believe in well it’s not like that And, in fact, a lot of the things that we recommend in this channel, I mean it might be podcasts I might be books yeah, they’re a little far afield from what you’re used to. But, believe me, they can still they can still dovetail in just fine and there’s so much to be gained by having another perspective. And you don’t have to totally change your view of the world here, but to just open your mind up a little bit so you know, there is a different view of the world is very useful.

Nick Oswald

35:58 and getting as many of those different viewpoints, as you can is really useful yeah.

Kenneth Vogt

36:03 Right well that’s about all I’ve got for today and acting anything else you’d like to add.

Nick Oswald

36:07 I know just the usual housekeeping stuff that if you want to do you have anything in the show notes of interested, they can.

36:13 watch this stuff and send you.

Kenneth Vogt

36:14 The link to thinking or rich the link to tap into the power of the subconscious mind and visualization that’s a it’s a short read and a little video, if you want to watch that it’s really useful And then I’ll remind you to go back to episode 14 don’t seek results asked questions to hear a little different perspective on this

Nick Oswald

36:31 very nice somebody that’s taken every half of my job, Ken, So if you want to see those show notes you go to bitesizebio.com/thehappyscientist and go to episode 33 how to foster imagination and you’ll find the show notes right there. You can also find us on facebook.com/thehappyscientistclub and remember that if you’ve not done so already go back and listen to episode 1-9  of this podcast if you haven’t done that already then if you find this material interesting I episodes 1 – 9 contains some stuff that you might find very interesting for your foundational development. And I think that’s a wrap for today, Ken so again, thank you for imagining this episode.

Kenneth Vogt

37:26 Thank you.

Nick Oswald

37:27 And we’ll see you all next time.

 

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