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The Stories of the Super Athletes

Kerry Guard • Wednesday, January 25, 2023 • 47 minutes to listen

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Chris Cochran

Chris Cochran is the co-founder and CEO of Hacker Valley Media and Creative Director at Axonius.



Hello, I'm Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Oh man. Do I have a show for you this week! This guest is making waves in the cybersecurity space. He is an event speaker, podcast host, and ultimately storysteller. If you are a cyber security marketer I’m sure you have heard of him and if not what an honor to introduce you to him!

In this episode, I chat with Chris Cochran where we talk about the power of storytelling and the importance of it, especially in cybersecurity. We dig into language and how words matter. Every single one of them.

Chris Cochran is the co-founder and CEO of Hacker Valley Media and Creative Director at Axonius. He is a former cybersecurity leader turned content creator and marketing leader.

I absolutely loved this episode. I couldn't stop smiling through the whole thing because the messaging he has is not only really thoughtful and important, but the way he conveys it is you just can't help but lean it. You just can't help. So I guarantee that as you're listening if you're trying to multitask, good luck because you're going to want to hang on to every word.

Here is my conversation with Chris.


Kerry Guard: Thank you. Hi, Chris, thank you for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.

Chris Cochran: Awesome. So glad to be here.

Kerry Guard: So excited to have you. Thank you for sticking it out. I totally pulled a Monday and that was all the wrong zoom-like, so that happens. It happens to the best of us. It does totally to us. We're all human, right?

Chris Cochran: Absolutely.

Kerry Guard: I'm excited to have you. Before we jump into the core of our conversation, Chris Cochran, tell us your story. What do you do? And how did you get there?

Chris Cochran: I make content full-time, everything from podcasts to videos. We're even working on a mini-series, a fictional mini-series in cybersecurity. We have a web series talk show called Technically divided. My company is Hacker Valley media. We do a bunch of podcasts, really across the board started my career in cybersecurity. I had the opportunity to be in the United States Marine Corps, and I was attached to the National Security Agency. I was at Cyber Command. I've had other companies that I've created to build cybersecurity applications and programs. I've been all over the place. Got to spend some time at Netflix. I've been at Mandiant. A storied career in cybersecurity, but now I just tell stories.

Kerry Guard: When were you at Netflix?

Chris Cochran: I was that Netflix from 2019 to 2020.

Kerry Guard: My husband worked there from 2011-2012. I’m just curious. You never know where paths are gonna cross. The story is clearly a theme throughout your career, and I'm excited to dive into that. But before we get there, one last question for you. What's one challenge you're currently facing?

Chris Cochran: I would say the challenge I'm currently facing is figuring out what ideas you want to invest in and what ideas are left better on the cutting room floor. So it's just figuring out where we want to put our time, effort, or personnel behind. What are nice ideas to have, but don't necessarily want to put all our eggs in that basket?

Kerry Guard: Too many ideas, not enough time.

Chris Cochran: Too many ideas and never enough time.

Kerry Guard: How do you prioritize that? Is that based on what you feel will ultimately deliver results and get the most visual visibility? How do you even begin to prioritize those?

Chris Cochran: We base it on what is the hero and the world needs today. And sometimes, even if it's a cool idea that it's not necessarily we need. And so I really look at trends, and I'm looking at the way social media is kind of moving. And I'm trying to align all those things in a way that's like, this piece of content will be really useful for this particular time period. Because these are the trends that we're seeing, both from an individualistic and a personality from community and society, all the way through what the things in cybersecurity people are really talking about.

Kerry Guard: How do you find that information? Is that just a happenstance of all of this curated content you're working on? Or are you actively researching? How do you know that's what's happening in the YouTube community for your audience?

Chris Cochran: I wish there was a place I could go to and just pull all these learnings, that'd be fantastic. If you find one, that'd be great for me. I just watch, I've always been an observer. When I was a kid, I was the quiet one that will go to the party I didn't know anyone just watched how people interact and how people say things and watch the questions that were coming up. I would just kind of lay back and let all that information kind of soak in. I still do that to this day. I talk more these days, but back then, I didn't talk at all, and now I'm just watching how people interact on things like Twitter, LinkedIn and conversations that come up at conferences. I'm always picking up data and kind of formulating what's the next thing that's coming down the pipe that people might not see it.

Kerry Guard: Speaking of conferences, you were recently at a conference where you did a talk. We had done a prep call, and you're like, “I need to record this a few weeks ago because I have this conference coming up, and I did the talk, cybersecurity super athlete.” Did I say that right? How did it go?

Chris Cochran: It went fantastic. I did it right there in Nashville. I didn't realize how deep the cybersecurity community is in Nashville, but it was incredible. They put on a great event. It was the ISSA Mid-Tennessee chapter. It’s really a good event. They had musical guests and things. It was a really good time.

Kerry Guard: I mean, it's Nashville; you got to put out some good.

Chris Cochran: It was a fantastic trip. I definitely want to go back. That was the keynote that I gave there. How do you go into your role as a cybersecurity practitioner from the lens of being a super athlete or a champion and it was well received?

Kerry Guard: Why those words, super athlete?

Chris Cochran: At the beginning of Hacker Valley, before it was hacker-friendly media, we had a single show called Hacker Valley Studio and what we're finding in the very beginning is kind of the crux of why we were even having some of these conversations because we believe that cybersecurity practitioners are male athletes with no offseason. Every single day, they're playing chess against an invisible enemy, constantly trying to outthink and maneuver all the work we do on a day-to-day basis. How do you go to that next level? Everyone's probably doing their best, but how do you get strategic about developing as a practitioner, as a person, and becoming that super athlete so that you're just really knocking out a park every single day?

Kerry Guard: I kept wanting to say every time it's all superhero, but I went back and read it. This idea of an athlete is just so interesting to me because there's a difference between athletes and superheroes bestowed gifts upon them. They didn't really work for them unless you're Batman. But for athletes, there's a mental illness to how you show up and you are the next Michael Jordan. Is that really what went into that and why that language was so important to you?

Chris Cochran: 100%, because I'm big on personal growth and development, and so is Ron Eddings. He's my business partner and co-hosts all the shows we do together. It's all about getting 1% better than you were yesterday. Just move little iterations, little tests, little experiments all did that work, and all that worked up. Let's keep that in the toolbox. It's all about what we can do. As you said, a superhero, especially the ones you watch, things like Marvel, a lot of times it's bestowed upon them. Sometimes it's accidental; all of a sudden, they have these abilities. But unfortunately, that's not going to happen in real life, in most cases. It's something that you have to constantly train and get better at and be really intentional. So being an athlete, especially when we're talking about being a mental athlete and cybersecurity, you have to pick and choose where you're going to invest your time because you could spend a lot of your career going down the wrong path, if you don't have that strategy for getting better in that thing that you want to improve on.

Kerry Guard: Sounds like language is really important to you and what you do. It's not just about the storytelling, but the words you choose. absolutely awful. Yeah,

Chris Cochran: The words you use, even the word you say to yourself every single day, can change and dictate how you show up in the world; not super random, probably way off topic. But they were doing a study on how mental state can affect the physiology of a person. And what they did is they had a group of folks with this gene that made them good at endurance. They just had this gene that enabled them to clear lactic acid a little bit faster than everyone else. They had a group that didn't have this gene, and what they did during the study, they split the two amongst each other in one group. They said, “Oh, you have this gene that makes it easy to do endurance sports.” And then in the other group, they said they didn't have this gene. The folks that were told that they had this gene, even if they didn't have the gene, performed better than the folks that did have the gene, and the other group that said, “Oh, you don't have this gene.” And that tells you a lot about the words you tell yourself, the things you hear from other people, and how that can show up physically. You can imagine the time over time that these things can help dictate where you are in your life.

If people always tell you all you're a loser or a failure, you're going to start to feel like a failure. You might even start to tell yourself that, and that's the record we play back over and over and over again. If you change the script, if you change the words that start to come up in your mind, you can actually start moving in a positive direction. The words that we use and tell ourselves, the words that we hear all the time, actually impact who we are as people.

Kerry Guard: The placebo effect. It turns the story for you and cybersecurity in particular. This idea of super athlete is one story that you were able to cultivate based on what was happening in the world, but this is what you do. You create stories all day. What are your best practices, especially in such a rapid growing, noisy environment, like cyber right now? How do brands find their footing in getting their message out there in a really impactful way?

Chris Cochran: The first thing is to hone in on who you want to talk to. Because sometimes in cybersecurity and all marketing, we tend to say, “Alright. We're going to talk to everyone.” Or when you find yourself talking to everyone, you end up usually talking to no one. You have to understand who's that audience. If I'm a cybersecurity company or a company with services or a product, who are the people I want to talk with? Who do I want in my circle of influence? If you don't have that, you're just going to spin your wheels. And oh, this sounds like a good idea. Let's do that. But if you really understand and the plight of who it is that you're trying to talk to, you're standing on the foundation of strength. Once you understand who you're talking to, you understand what you have to say. Even if you understand who you want to talk to, if you don't know what you stand for, what is the why of your company, what is the why of the product that you have, or even your personal life, you don't have those things and alignment, the message isn't going to come across as powerful as it would if you understand who you are, your messaging, what you have to say, and how you can help the person that you're trying to reach.

Kerry Guard: How do you know who you want? The cybersecurity audience is pretty big in terms of the variety of people you can talk to right anywhere, from small business CEOs, who almost know nothing about cyber but know that they need it, to the big enterprise CISOs, who are so ingrained that if you don't speak their language, good luck, where you're talking about the audience you need to speak to, who is within that spectrum.

Chris Cochran: Who could use the product or services that you have, where the people are like, "Oh, wow, that's going to help me solve XYZ problem within my program," And then even the people that are on the fringes, maybe it's the boss of the person that's doing this, which can work, maybe it's even the people that are working for. If you look at the way Slack really came to prominence, it was from a bottom-up, sort of stemmed standpoint. You have a lot of engineers and people who are really techies. They say, "Oh, wow, this thing is so cool." "Let's see if we use this for work." And then that's how it bubbled up. Sometimes you go the other way; as I mentioned, you can work with leaders and say, "Hey, this is how we help solve problems for X, Y, and Z." Then the leaders pass it down. But then you could go direct. We know exactly.

Everyone is so frustrated about this problem that if they see that we have a solution, they will want to engage in conversation about it. It's figuring out who is it that you're speaking to, and it can go from a campaign level. We have this campaign, and we'll be talking to leaders, all the way down to individual things like a single tick-tock like, "Who is this? Who was the audience for this piece of content? Why would they find this interesting? What emotion are you trying to evoke in this? What do we want to teach them about the world? Or what tidbit? Can we give them anything useful in their day-to-day job?" Many folks want to get into content now, which is fantastic and a great thing. But many times, we forget that whenever you create a piece of content, first ask yourself, "Why are you creating it?" And second of all, why will it matter to the people you're trying to reach?

Kerry Guard: I just had a really interesting conversation with somebody. They're working with us now on building a podcast, but I asked that same question. They were talking about how they wanted to create a podcast and wanted to talk to sales folks, because they're a salesperson. I want to sit down and talk to salespeople about what sales used to be versus what sales are now, and I was like, "Well, is that who you're selling to?" And they were like, "Well, no." "How's this gonna help you?" It has to start completely, but it has to start with who you want to talk to. And I love what you said to around. Even within an organization, it could be a variety of people, from the leader to the practitioner. We're trying to create a piece of content that has to speak. Are you creating one piece of content that's going to naturally speak to all three folks? Are you tailoring the content for each level of individual based on where they sit in the organization?

Chris Cochran: It depends on the medium. It's all about intention. What is your intention? So, for instance, when I did the talk about being a cybersecurity super athlete, I made it so that if you were a student, all the way through being a CISO, or even an entrepreneur, it would apply to all of those folks, which can be risky to do something like that, but I wanted it to. It can be difficult to do because you have to balance experience and terminology and make it so clear and simple that anyone can get it and say, "Oh, this is how I can relate it to my world or my work." That can be difficult. But, especially when talking about smaller-form content, like a post on LinkedIn, TikTok, or something like a tweet, you have to get specific on who you're speaking to. Especially if you're looking at it from a demand gen capability, like who are the people that you want in this pipeline, you can't just say, "I want everybody. I want even the students in my pipeline because they'll not be able to buy anything from you." Being specific about what each piece of content will hopefully enable for your business is going to be important. But there are ways in which you can speak to a broader scope, from student through executive, for a larger piece of content, a Keynote or even a longer video.

Kerry Guard: Media matters. Before we get to that, let's talk about what you have to say. You narrow down your audience in terms of who you help at the core. We mentioned a whole variety of things. But in terms of who you help, on the premise of what it is that you do, how do you figure out what to say and what you need to say?

Chris Cochran: So that comes from a couple of different things when it comes from, like, "Who is this company?" Let's say this is an imaginary company. It's called ACME Corp., the one that everybody uses all the time. So, let's say ACME Corp has a cybersecurity solution, say EDR, or endpoint detection and response, and let's say that they have very awesome executive group, full of personality and experience. You have to really understand who you are at your core. Are you quirky? Are you funny? Are you serious? Are you passionate? Are you more in the bits and bytes, so more data-focused? Are you more narrative-so really pulling from the personalities of the people who will help pull together the content is super important? Because if you're more engineering-minded, does this make logical sense or not? And then all of a sudden, you're trying to play this witty, quirky comedy game. It might not come across as authentic in my naive and land at all is being funny. So really understanding the personalities, the passions, and the superpower of who people are at their core is really important.

Kerry Guard: Sorry, Chris, is that the core of the people? You mentioned the people who are writing the content, but how does that relate to your point? You could be quirky and fun with the people who are writing the content. How's that landing with your audit? There needs to be a bit of a balancing act there because you might be talking to very technical people.

Chris Cochran: To even get to the point where we're delivering this message to somebody, we must first understand who we are as individuals. Is there somebody on the team who's funny and can talk about our company? And in a funny way? Is there someone in our organization that's really good at telling the story of how the company came to be? Once you understand that you have people that can do these sorts of things and pull those stories together, then it's time to say, "Okay, now we're going to take this story, and we're going to map it in a way that's going to apply to our audience." Let's say the audience we want to reach is on different platforms; now, we need to figure out how to convey this message on a podcast. The form is great; you've got a lot to play with; maybe we're on someone else's podcast, making our own, or doing tweets. If we're doing tweets, how are we going to package this in a way that makes sense for that medium? So when you're starting to match up the persona, you're trying to reach with the medium you're using to convey the story. It's built on the foundation of understanding who you are as a company and where you're coming from with your values, philosophies, and the way you come across your brand. Once you pull all those pieces together, you can start testing and seeing what works and doesn't.

Kerry Guard: This is so interesting because a lot of the time, I'm starting to see a couple of companies do this well. But it's not prevalent, and it still feels really, I don't want to say, dry. There's still some edge to some of the messaging that's happening, but it's not a person; it doesn't feel like a personality. I love what you're saying about figuring out who you are as a company and then matching that messaging and channel to the audience. I want to help people along this journey because as we talk more about Gary, steering away from the idea of fear, uncertainty, and doubt messaging, we can't use spot anymore; we just know the audience does it. It's totally done, and this idea of personality is a great way to navigate, not using fear, uncertainty, and doubt. I haven't heard people talk about it in the way that you are from a storytelling standpoint, and to start with the foundation of that, now that you've talked, let's dig into this a little bit. I know it may feel really repetitive, but I want to bring this to life for people because I've never experienced it before. I want people to feel like they can walk away and be like, "I can go do this." "I can figure out who we are as a company from a personality standpoint."

Chris Cochran: That's trying to tell a story. How can I help?

Kerry Guard: You're trying to not just tell a story, but you're trying to almost bring your product to life as a character like you're proving you're putting a personality behind it. And so, to go back to what you said, it begins with the people in the organization. The people who are going to help you write the content to who are are those people. Is it the practitioners? Is it the marketers, or is it this? Is it sales? Who else, in your experience, other than your folks, generally comes in and helps create that personality for that brand?

Chris Cochran: I would say it really depends on who the main mascots are for the company. In some cases, we've seen where the main mascot is the Chief Marketing Officer, sometimes it's the CEO; sometimes it's the finance person that's just really passionate about getting the story out there. It really varies. And then a lot of times, you'll take a little bit of this personality, a little bit from the CEO, and a little bit from the people that are actually putting the content together. You start to meld this messaging, and you start to recreate or create this thing that hasn't existed before, which is the brand itself. If you have a CEO who understands the problem and product-market fit to the nth degree, then you want to get really clear as to the vision they see, asking them questions. What are the words that they're using? How are they bringing this up? How are they coming across? When do you ask them a question about the company? Are they getting really passionate, or are they almost looking off into the distance like we're not quite there yet? But that's where we're marching towards. Being able to pick up on these little cues of verbiage, passion, and body language—all these things really matter when it comes to creating content. And having someone that's just has an open eye for these things, someone that's just sitting in the meetings, maybe they're sitting in client calls, maybe they've seen some of the content that has gone out before, just someone that's always constantly aware and saying like, you know that right there, what you just said, is is really important. And that's the plight of the practitioner, and also how we help. Being super clear on what are the things you can pick up from each personality for each person to create, then the brand of the company itself,

Kerry Guard: You've mentioned sitting in on meetings and picking up on these nuances. Do you also conduct or recommend conducting your interviews with specific questions about digging into that or is it an observation? Is it all innovation?

Chris Cochran: If you're a marketing leader or at least leading some of the content for your company, you have to have these conversations with leadership and even people you might not expect. Maybe there's someone that's really good at creating other types of content and works at that company; you might have a conversation with them and say, "Okay, that's interesting." Do you ever see how the work that you're doing here helps you with the content you're producing or vice versa? Are you producing content that helps you with work? And they might even give you like a little nugget that's super useful for you and your role just having that open mind and just having that learning sort of spirit about. What are we all about? Who are we as a company? That's super important: having those interviews, being open during your day-to-day work meetings and things like that, picking up on those additional cues.

Kerry Guard: I love that sitting in meetings and picking up on those cues and reading people is that easy to do or is it harder to do remotely? Is it possible?

Chris Cochran: It's possible to do it remotely; I do it all the time. It just takes practice. I forgot to pick it up on keys again, and I'll let me do it the next meeting, but really being open and listening to words, like how words are put together and powerful ways. For me, I love wit, because what is short is brief. It's also very impactful, and I try to think about marketing and advertisements from that perspective. How can we get as condensed and powerful as we possibly can? And then, if we have to expand beyond that, we can. So a good tagline is "Beautiful." a good title. If people can understand it quickly, if you can hop on an elevator and convey your product in, like, a few words or a sentence, then you're doing great. But if you're like, "Well, we kind of do this." And then we have to do that. You lose the message a little bit, but you're constantly picking up on the best possible words to use.

Kerry Guard: I have two thoughts about that. The first one is where I'd love to hear your perspective. The quieter ones who don't speak that often but then have those quippy moments are very thoughtful about what they want to say. And so when they do speak, it's going to be good. Do you have that tear? How do you find that?

Chris Cochran: There is something to that personality type. I'm sure this is a complete overgeneralization, and on the extreme side, people are always talking. They aren't listening as much. That's just nature of personalities and humanity in society. The people that are more quiet, they're either in their own heads thinking, which is a possibility. But then all on the other side, they're observing. It's hard to observe why you're putting something out there. So for me, because I'm more of an introvert, I tend to have seasons where I'm like, "Okay, I'm going to the season. I'm going to be putting things out, and seasons could be good changes within a day, maybe in the morning." I'm really introspective, thinking, strategizing, and putting together connections that don't normally go together. And then from noon to the rest of the day, I'm having conversations, making pitches, doing networking, and things like that. And so in those situations, it is more transactional. But I would say that, if you can build in time for you to just observe, you'd be completely astonished at what you can pick up from those moments.

Kerry Guard: The other thing you said was in relation to the words you use, so when you're talking, when you're in these meetings, and you're observing and you're listening, how do you differentiate between thoughtful verbiage, like whether that's a sentence or a thought that people are having, and picking that up as an opportunity versus jargon? I feel like we love to surf jargon around so that we sound really smart. We know what we're talking about, like, go on, here are all these acronyms until the cows come home, like, telling a story and forming those taglines and titles. Is jargon important or not?

Chris Cochran: It depends. Some jargon gets a bad rap. And that could be from everything from miseducation or misunderstanding. Sometimes you have to use jargon, but I would say what's more important than the words you use at times is the intentionality behind it. So, for instance, if you're saying all we want to do is make as much sales this quarter as we possibly can, let's be sure to throw around artificial intelligence and blockchain terminology just so. People know that we're on the tactical, up and up. People are going to see right through that. But if you have something different, if you have something like, "You know what, we have the solution; it uses artificial intelligence, but it helps people in X, Y, and Z ways," then people are going to understand that. If that's a part of the story, we get it if this attack on because that's going to razzle and dazzle us, then you're going to miss the boat.

Kerry Guard: I love I think that's important. And a really important distinction between just because I do think there's an element to the reason why these words exist. We have to use them to convey a point, but we don't have to use them for the sake of using them. That's where people get hung up. And I love what you're talking about, problem versus solution. And when you're telling the story, once you find the audience and understand where they are, it makes this more of a question than a statement. Does it boil down to that simplicity of what problem you are trying to solve?

Chris Cochran: It's that easy. It sounds super simple, but it can be complex from an execution standpoint because, a lot of times, you have these companies, or even I'll make it even easier. Have you ever been to a restaurant that has a huge menu? They have all kinds of stuff all over the place, like burgers, Italian, and sushi, like a Cheesecake Factory or something like that. A lot of that stuff can be pretty good, but if you were to look at something like a food truck in California, like they're in LA. They do maybe two or three items really well. They can put all that attention into those things, and sometimes cybersecurity companies do what we want: take as much market share as possible of the cybersecurity pie. So let's try to solve all these different problems. But sometimes all you really need to do is solve one problem really well, and people can sense that if you spread yourself too thin, you try to solve too many problems. You might end up like everyone else. But if you get rid of it, if you become the expert, if you become the most thought-out, full leader in that space, in this particular problem, that's when you can start to move the needle for your organization and for the community across the board.

Kerry Guard: And your opinion when we're talking about cybersecurity and storytelling, who's who's the hero in that story?

Chris Cochran: I'm a bit biased. But when I talk about cybersecurity storytelling and the heroes that are in it, I'm often talking about the practitioners. In fact, the nominations just closed. Today, I'm not sure when this is going to come out. So it'll definitely be closed by then. But we have the difference makers award that we're doing in conjunction with Axonius, Hacker Valley, and Sands. It's really all about the unsung heroes in cybersecurity, because a lot of times, we don't get our 15 minutes of fame until something really bad happens. And I mean, I'm still appreciative of the people that get to, you know, have their three-minute segment on a new show, which is fantastic. There's so much more going on in the organization and in the community than most people know about—even more than I even know about. There are people doing research, and there are people doing open-source projects that are really pushing the needle forward. I don't know what's going on, so we decided to have this award show, just so we can start to highlight those folks and say, "Hey, thank you so much for all that you do in cybersecurity." So from my perspective, I'd say the practitioners and leaders in cybersecurity are the heroes.

Kerry Guard: I totally agree. I feel that's what makes us, as their supporters and guides, so passionate about what we do, because we just want to cultivate them and help them do their jobs as effectively as possible because they are on the frontlines.

Chris Cochran: Yes.

Kerry Guard: So in your messaging and storytelling, do you always put the practitioner at the forefront as the hero and then guide the vendors, and anything that they're going to the purchasers is essentially going to buy from you? Do you position it that way? I know you want to tell your story. I know you want to be the hero you like. Do you feel like you're still having those conversations about who really is the hero of the stories, or do you feel like everybody's on board and everybody gets it?

Chris Cochran: I would say it varies. Sometimes we paint the practitioners themselves as the hero, especially when you're talking about an interview based podcast right there. This is their story. They're the protagonists. Sometimes it's going to be the vendor. Someone who really has it nailed down and can help solve something. One of the moments and storytelling that really stands out to me is in "I Am Legend" with Will Smith. Such a good movie, and there's a point where it seemed like someone was becoming the protagonist, but they ended up causing the end of the world. And it was in the very beginning, when the lady said, "We basically cured cancer," We put 10,000 people through these trials, and 10,000 of them are completely cured of cancer. If you were to stop it right there, that's the protagonist. That's the person who changed everything; everything made everyone better, and that could be the vendor. But then, if you wait around long enough, you'll see that this cheer ended up making all these zombies come after people, but that's besides the point. So the hero can be a vendor; it can be a practitioner; it can be a leader; it really could be anybody. But you really have to understand who that protagonist is.

Kerry Guard: Who you're trying to help at the end of the day. So going back to it in running this conversation out and circling back, I felt like to do, Chris, to your super athlete. For you. It was the practitioners and that story of becoming a super athlete, where we talked about the language of that, but the whole premise of it, like, where did that even come from? Where did you feel inspired to tell that to stand up on a stage and make those practitioners so hero to the point where they felt like super athletes in that moment? Where did that come from?

Chris Cochran: It came from a couple places, but where it really started was with the original idea that cybersecurity practitioners are mental athletes in the offseason. And then I got really deep into performance in high-stress environments and ended up stumbling across Steven Kotler. He's the foremost expert and researcher on flow states. So whenever we get into the flow of doing our work, maybe we're coding, writing, or doing something physical, it's when the alignment of the challenge is in alignment with our ability, and we're just crushing it doing really well.

One of the books that he wrote was called "The Rise of Superman," which is all about the X Games and people and how they've been able to increase the abilities of their athletes compared to traditional sports. So in traditional sports, things get a little bit better; runners get a little bit better, like point 001 milliseconds faster, based on training, equipment, environments, and things like that. But what they were finding was that these X-Game practitioners, the people that were doing, big wave surfing, the people that were doing big ski jumps, all these very intense and very dangerous sports, were exponentially improving their sport, and what they found was that it was because all of these folks that are practitioners in this space are hyper-focused on what they're doing. They can't be thinking about something else. They can't be thinking about dinner, they can't be thinking about, "Did I leave the stove on?" or anything like that, because there's a threat to their livelihood during the sport. And so now it's like, "Wait, if they're focused on this to this degree, and that's why they're able to perform so well, how do we bring that into cybersecurity?" And through more research with other researchers, including Steven Kotler is that you bring in play. Having games like this, whether you're talking about war games or even just talking about something random, like thought experiments on a Friday, if you're doing any of this stuff, it's going to help improve you, so if you're doing like, let's say, an incident response team, whoever's on call, maybe you have 30 minutes or give them a fake scenario. And now they're under the gun, trying to figure it out. I'm gonna solve this. So that's where all that came from. My very first keynote was based on "playing like a kid and protecting like a champion." So I've always kind of kept this sort of analogy with all of the talks that I do because I do feel a lot of that can be applied to cybersecurity, all the sports stuff, taking apart big issues and bring it down to the smallest components, and then fine tuning the details and foundations. We could do something on cybersecurity, but sometimes you just have to remind people that that's what we should be doing.

Kerry Guard: This is so interesting because going back to what you're talking about in terms of personality, and bringing that through your brand, and finding what sort of at the core of it for you that sports and that makes total sense of how you then want to help practitioners be the best practitioners they can be. And in leaving brands with something right now, it's that moment where else within your personality and what's interesting to you beyond what you do as a marketer. Where else can you draw from to start finding that intersection of helping people along the way to being the best they can be? Thank you, Chris. I have podcasts about content and storytelling. I have never heard this perspective before. I'm so grateful. Thank you.

Chris Cochran: Thank you. Appreciate that.

Kerry Guard: Before we close out, Chris, is there anything that we didn't cover? One last thing you want people to know when it comes to creating content.

Chris Cochran: The one thing people should know when it comes to creating content is to get it out there and be true to yourself. Finding your voice will take time, just as finding your audience sometimes takes time. You have something to say, even if it is just questions. I will place questions. You can produce so much content that it's unbelievable. So first, get clear about questions, and then just start putting stuff out there and seeing what sticks.

Kerry Guard: And being consistent, which I think you're saying. But once you start, don't stop. Just keep up.

Chris Cochran: I did one post. I'm done. I'm a content creator now, but I'm not doing anymore.

Kerry Guard: I love that. Chris, you are a fantastic marketer. Before we close out, I do have my people's first questions to learn more about you beyond being a marketer. My first question for you is, "Have you picked up any new hobbies in the last few years since COVID?"

Chris Cochran: I guess NFT spaced a bit. But I would say even more than that. I started doing some voiceover work for the NFT project. I was making characters and writing stories, which is fun. I'd say that's the new one.

Kerry Guard: If you could be with your team in person, maybe you'd all get together on a regular basis or travel, whatever the case may be, but you are together, right? In this moment, you're brainstorming: what song would you want playing overhead?

Chris Cochran: I would probably say something from Rocky. The Tiger might be too cliche; I would say "Going the Distance" by Bill Conti.

Kerry Guard: Last question for you, Chris If you could travel anywhere in the world, we're all traveling now, which is great. It's easier. But let's just assume it's even easier where there are no lines, passports, and red tape. Where would you go? And why?

Chris Cochran: I would go to either Italy or one of the islands in Greece. I just went to Greece for the first time. But we stayed in Athens for the most part. But when you see all those pictures on Instagram of the beautiful places in Italy and some of the islands in Greece, they're just really uninspiring, so probably one of those two places.

Kerry Guard: Beautiful. Both of those places for the art. It is not what you see online or even in the books. It is breathtaking. Thank you so much, Chris. It's a joy to get to know you and have you on the show.

Chris Cochran: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.


That was my conversation with Chris Cochran. Are you ready to be a cyber security super athlete!? If you’d like to find Chris’s podcast head on over to You can also find Chris and his live roundtables and thoughtful posts on LinkedIn. Both links are in the show notes.

Thank you for listening! If you found this episode helpful please like, subscribe and share!

This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing the digital marketing agency that helps complex tech companies like cybersecurity, grow their businesses and fuel their mission through SEO, digital ads, and analytics.

Hosted by Kerry Guard, CEO co-founder MKG Marketing. Music Mix and mastering done by Austin Ellis.

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