Peter Bregman On Navigating, Overcoming, And Enacting Change


Change is uncomfortable, but it is also inevitable. Without change, we can’t move forward. So what can we do to not only be comfortable with change but also make the most out of it? Today’s guest is Peter Bregman, an author, speaker, the CEO of Bregman Partners Inc., and recognized as the #1 executive coach in the world by Leading Global Coaches. He joins host Tony Martignetti to share the flashpoints in his life that helped him be comfortable with change and ultimately achieve the success and impact he has today. He also shares insights and sneak peeks for his upcoming book, You Can Change Other People: The Four Steps to Help Your Colleagues, Employees-- Even Family-- Up Their Game. His book aims to help people up their game in a way that increases the likelihood of change and enhances your relationships instead of hurting it. Learn more about it by tuning in!


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Peter Bregman On Navigating, Overcoming, And Enacting Change

It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Peter Bregman. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners. He coaches, writes, teaches and speaks about leadership. He is a strategic thought partner to successful people who care about being exceptional leaders and stellar human beings. Peter is recognized as the number one executive coach in the world by Leading Global Coaches. He coaches C-Level Executives in many of the world's premier organizations, including Citi, CBS, Mars, Showtime, AMC Networks, Allianz, Electronic Arts, Pearson, and Twilio, to name a few.

He's also a ski coach on the weekends in the winter but definitely not the number one ski coach in the world. Peter is the bestselling author of five books, including You Can Change Other People. Peter created and led the number one leadership development program in the world, the Bregman Leadership Intensive, and also trains leaders and managers on the four steps through the Bregman Leadership Coach Training.

Peter is the host of the top ten business podcasts, which is fantastic. It's called the Bregman Leadership Podcast with over 1.5 million downloads. He has given four TEDx Talks and regularly delivers keynotes. He normally lives in New York City but he's now spending time in the Catskill Mountains where he spent most of the pandemic. Peter, it is truly my pleasure and honor to welcome you to the show.

Thanks, Tony. It's so nice to be here with you.

I'm thrilled. Of course, being in the Catskills, you're no stranger to campfires.

The scary part of transition is the ambiguity in the middle.

That is exactly true. It’s something that not a lot of people know but I used to be a NOLS instructor and an Outward Bound instructor, so I spent a lot of time around campfires. We used to call them Wilderness TV because everyone mindlessly stares at them.

The reason why I chose campfires is there's something about a campfire that brings in that intimacy, the ability to bring a conversation to another level. It's been happening since the beginning of time. That's what I love about this space that we co-create. I'm hoping to bring you on here to share your story through what's called flashpoints, points in your story that ignited your gifts into the world. That is what I'm looking forward to doing.

I'm looking forward to it as well. Thanks for inviting me on.

One of your books has been truly one of my favorites, Leading with Emotional Courage. It’s truly foundational for me. If I were to list my top ten, that is definitely high in my top ten.

That was a meaningful book for me to write, live through and continue to live through. I'm sure we'll get to that in the conversation.

It's well said because you live through a book. You don't just write it. You live through it. It's amazing. Without further ado, I'll let you take it away and share what you're called to share. Along the way, we'll pause and see what's showing up. Start wherever you like. It could be as early as your childhood.

There are so many. I haven't planned this out, so we'll go on a walk together. I'm going to start before I was born ancestrally. The first thing that comes to mind is I'm Jewish and my mother is French and was in the Holocaust. She was in hiding in France. In fact, we went back to the town that she spent at least a couple of years in hiding near the Swiss border. They tried to get over the Swiss border and they couldn't get over. They spent the rest of the war in a place called the Annecy.

For me, the stories of the Holocaust, perhaps even the ancestral energetic formation of who I am in the context of my mother's experiences in the Holocaust, are foundational. We all get formed. There are all sorts of things that determine and change our lives. Certainly, for many of us, it's experienced before we had lives and that was one for me. It was present in my life growing up and continues to be in many ways. I would say that's the first one.


There's something about that I love that you share this because we're standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us. We have to respect that and understand how did that inform the decisions that we make and how we are living out that lineage throughout the many things that we do. That's powerful.

On a side note, I studied Business in Eastern Europe and I went to Poland. I never thought I would ever set foot in Poland. It doesn't land on my top ten list. I'm so grateful to have visited Auschwitz and seen such a profound part of history and experience that. You have to understand the past to move forward into the future, personally but also parts of the past that are not yours particularly.

We're formed by that. I'm formed by the experiences my mother had and she's formed by the experiences her parents had. We're definitely not tabula rasa. We're coming from somewhere and we make tons of choices, but where we're coming from generally is not a choice that we make. What we do with that is a choice.

The next big transition point is I was involved in politics growing up. I was quite to the left. I was President of an organization called SCARE, which was Students Committed Against Rightist Expansion, and the youngest board member of Americans for Democratic Action. I was in high school, but I was going to DC a couple of times, maybe once every couple of months to be on the board with Senators and Congressmen. I was a Leader in this movement.

I went to college in Princeton for the public policy school for Woodrow Wilson and I quickly got disillusioned for two reasons. One is I sat in on a class where they were dealing with the American Policy towards Nicaragua. Two summers beforehand, when I was a junior in high school, I had worked for the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and I had written the Democratic Policy Approach to Nicaragua and El Salvador.

I was sitting there and nobody in the class was proposing as an option the policy that I had written, which was actual policy. My policy was simple. It's okay that the Nicaraguans are a communist regime but we should have diplomatic relations with them. We need to build relationships with people who have forms of government that we disagree with. If we hope to have any possibility of moving forward in any way, we shouldn't demand, “In order to have a conversation, you have to agree with me.” I thought that would reflect a misunderstanding of the point of a conversation.

The short of it is both the students in the class and the professor held the view that what I've written was not a viable policy for the US government. I didn't tell them who I was. I didn't tell them I'd written the policy. I just asked them, “Have you guys considered this?” They said, “No, it wouldn’t work.” It was at that point that I dropped out of the Woodrow Wilson School. I was in Princeton and I hadn't declared a major until junior year anyway, so I wasn't really in it. Conceptually, I dropped out of it and I didn't know what to do.

The other reason was that I was a good debater. Being an eighteen-year-old tasked with debating conservatives with a whole bunch of other eighteen-year-olds, I found it to be both easy. I leaned towards ridicule. It's easy to win debates. I also sat there going, “I'm in college in order to learn things.” I did not have the skill and did not know at that age, “How do I win a debate and still learn and listen? How do I engage in a conversation in order to listen?”

The idea that we have to know what we’re doing would make doing it super uninteresting.

I'm critical of the Woodrow Wilson School because they're not willing to look at other perspectives but I wasn't willing to look at other perspectives. I had my perspective and my goal was to win by making other people look dumb. I was good at it but I wouldn't have learned anything. I made the decision to completely and totally drop out of politics. I was like, “I don't know how to be in politics and learn at the same time. I'm not skilled enough to do that.”

I asked my father, “I wanted to go and study in France because I didn't know what I was going to do.” My father gave me terrific advice, “If there's someone you want to study within France or something specific that you want to study, great. I will support you. We’ll figure out how you can go to France. If you're doing it because you're bored at Princeton, don't know what else to do, and don't know what your next move is, you're going to face that the rest of your life. Figure it out where you are. Don't run from it.” It was absolutely terrific advice, which I followed.

For a couple of years, I did fine and I studied History but I didn't know what I was going to do. By accident, I went on a camping trip. I was supposed to go on a bike trip but the bike trip was canceled because the leader had broken her wrist. I talked my way into a camping trip to train other people to be leaders. I was training myself to lead camping trips, and then eventually lead other students on camping trips.

I didn't know what I was doing. It rained for six days and I wore all cotton. I struggled. It was the best six days of my life. That was a transformational moment. Being outdoors with a group of people moving from point A to point B, supporting each other and learning from each other, I fell in love with it and it changed the trajectory of my life.

There's so much to unpack, first of all. There's something about sitting in your discomfort and enjoying that moment of not knowing but seeing discomfort as being a way forward because, in that, you'll learn so much. Even taking on this ability to step in and being like, “I'm going to learn to lead these people through,” what do I know about leading these people? What do you know about that at that point? You didn't know much, I’m sure.

A question that came up for me as you were describing your experience of learning about politics, I wanted to understand what was it about it that drove you? The principles that you were standing by that you wanted to do what you're doing. Was it driven by a value around what was right? Was it about winning that drove you?

It was definitely values. This was in the ‘80s. I graduated high school in ‘85. For me, it was caring about people. SCARE, Students Committed Against Rightist Expansion, sounds political. It was humanitarian more than anything. That was the name. Mostly, we did stuff with homeless people. We did stuff with working to get the juice out of Russia. There's a lot of things that we did that were more humanitarian than anything. That was what I cared about. That was my focus.

There's something powerful about that. I hate to borrow from Simon Sinek, but the reason why you're doing it is what drove you at the time. When you lost that connection, “People are not seeing my argument the way I'm seeing it,” you may be fell out of love. You felt like, “I'm not going to be able to make this work,” so then you decided to shift out of that.


It's less. I wasn't having an impact and more that I wasn't learning. What I did at that moment was prioritized my own experience of learning. I didn't want to just fight a fight for the rest of my life. I didn't want to stand for something so strongly that I couldn't learn and listen to the other side. More than anything, I value learning and growth. I love it. I don't always enjoy being wrong but I'm open to being wrong. I love ideas and I love learning. For me, the thing I love doing, I'm not doing because I'm too focused on winning.

That's the kernel that comes from that period of time that led you down this path of what you're doing now, at least that's what I'm hearing.

In some ways, there are moments that you walk away from, and then moments that you walk towards. I was moving towards learning but I was really moving away from it. I didn't know what I was moving towards, which is why I turned to my father and said, “I want to go to France.” That's important to the conversation that you're having with me and with your guests about the transition.

The scary part of the transition is the ambiguity in the middle. I can be clear about walking away from something without necessarily knowing or being clear about what I'm walking towards. That's scary. It's like letting go of an unknown quantity and grasping for ambiguity. That's a hard move to make. I was more courageous in making decisions like that at eighteen than I am at 53 but that's what it takes. That's the scary part. The scary part of change is you're letting go of something you know to move towards something you don't.

There's also something about when the stakes are higher, there's a lot more at risk of what you're letting go and what you're getting into. People deal with a lot more emotions that come into play. Whereas when you're young and you're feeling like, “I have my whole life ahead of me. I can take some risks. I can figure this all out.” Later on in life, things get a little harder because you feel like you have a lot more at risk in making those decisions.

When I was eighteen, I had maybe five years of investing in politics like, “How much time could I have had?” I don't know exactly. Maybe I started at 13, more likely 15. I don't know how much time I had invested in it. At 53, I have a lot more time invested in anything that I've done. To make a decision to move away from something that you've invested maybe a decade or decades, eight years, or whatever it is, you've built something. To move away from it reflects a bigger risk. You have a mortgage, commitments or kids. Your ownership over the path you've already taken is heavy.

You can put yourself at the feet of people like your parents going through massive amounts of risk to leave where they were, make moves in their lives, and make things happen for you in your life. It's amazing when you think about it. What were the risks that people before us had to move in the direction of creating the lives that they did?

For readers, as you're thinking about changes that you might make, I'm reflecting on the challenge of that. You talked about being uncomfortable. In my book, Leading with Emotional Courage, you have to be willing to feel the risk of that if you're going to make a move. You have to be willing to feel that it is true that this may be the wrong decision.

You don't know because we know nothing about the future. I have to be willing to risk to an inventor to create something new. If you're waiting to make a change until you know for sure with 100% certainty that you're right, you'll never make the change because, by definition, you're leaving the past for a future. The past is always 100% certain, and the future is never 100% certain.

I hate to boil it down to such a simple quote, “Nothing ventured, nothing earned.” In a sense, that's what it comes down to. It's amazing when people feel such a connection to their past and they hold on to it with white knuckles. You got to let go and trust that sure, it could go wrong but it could go right.

By the way, I'm not advocating for change. It might be right to not change. There's validity in both. That's the charm of life in many ways. It's like, “I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, so I'm going to make some bets.”

I want to get back into your story and see if there are other moments. The last time we left you in your story, you were doing some leadership.

In the outdoors, that was a major turning point in my life. I threw myself into it 100%. I became a NOLS instructor, National Outdoor Leadership School, and an Outward Bound instructor. I spent months at a time in the woods and loved it. I considered going to law school. I applied because I didn't know if I didn't want to go because it was such a pain to apply or because I didn't want to go to law school and be a lawyer. I'd worked for law firms in the past. Much to my parent’s chagrin, once I have gotten in, I’ve decided I didn't want to go.

I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do but I loved being in the outdoors. I love leadership, which I was learning more and more about. I remember making this decision. I was on a NOLS trip and thought to myself in my early twenties, “This is not the life I'm going to live for my life. I want kids. I want a family.” What I also don't want to do is suddenly have to completely change what I'm doing in order to make a ton of money and do things I didn't like.

I didn't want to suddenly become an investment banker. No offense to the investment bankers who might be reading but that was not interesting to me. I didn't want to go into finance. To me, I can go into it and probably make a lot of money. I don't know that's true. By the way, that was the fantasy I had in my head but I didn't want to do it.

I stopped running NOLS trips and I started my own company teaching leadership in organizations and developing some methodology myself. The first year that I did it, I made $20,000. It was not my most lucrative business year but I learned a ton. I eventually ended up doing a project with a consulting firm called the Hay Group and we had this amazing success together. They asked me to come to join them and start a practice along with a number of other people. Beth Fletcher was running it at the time on transformational change in organizations.

That was another transition of saying, “I've learned a bunch. I don't know enough to run a company and build it beyond this. I have a lot to learn in business. Here's a bunch of people who are doing interesting work. We get along well. I have a lot to learn from them. I'm going to go in that direction.” That is a strain that moves through. Every change or move that I make is I meet some people and I feel like there's something for me to learn here, so I'm moving in the direction of the learning.

Follow your learning intuition. That's where we're getting towards. That's interesting. Knowing that they don't have it all. There are so many people who feel like, “To be an entrepreneur, I have to be the sole person who runs out at 100 miles an hour. I have all the answers and I'm going to be the one who rises to the top of that mountain.” In reality, no, you've got to raise your hand and say, “I don't have all the answers. I want people around me who can help me to figure that all out together.” Would you agree?

One hundred percent. This idea that I have to know what I'm doing would make doing it super uninteresting. I lived my way through Leading with Emotional Courage, the book. I don't write about things I already have figured out. My other book, You Can Change Other People, is the combination of 30 years of my working in this field of how do you help people change. That's what I do. Even that, I learned a tremendous amount as I tried to simplify my methodology to say, “How do you articulate this in a way that anybody can do it?” Had I already known and figure that out, it wouldn't have been interesting for me to write.

Failure reflects success because it reflects an attempt at doing something.

I want to get into the book because there's something about the title that’s almost triggering for people to hear the title and say, “You can change people.” You can't change other people. They have to want the change for themselves. I want to look at what have you learned about yourself in this long journey of looking at your past and saying, “I've done a lot of things. I've made a lot of mistakes.” We haven't even touched the surface of all the things that you've done. Tell me the highlight reel of what are the lessons that you've learned about yourself in this journey of becoming who you are.

I have a low tolerance for boredom, which makes it a little hard to scale my company because I keep wanting to do different things. There's someone I have to learn from or there's something that happens that I have to learn, and then I want to go in that direction. I have a low tolerance for boredom and that keeps me learning but also has challenges to it. Success is important to me. By success, I mean doing things that end up having an impact on people because that's what success is. For me, when I've succeeded in something, it means I'm doing something that's been popularized enough.

Success to me, talking about the book, would be selling a million copies of the book. That's nice for me and I make some money. Mostly, my publisher makes money. What that means to me is I'm having an impact. I've been successful. I'm saying things that have value to other people and they're using it to add value to their lives. That's what I think of as success. What have I learned about myself? I've scaled my business maybe three times in the 25 years or so that I've run the business.


The last time I did it, I was telling my mother we were growing again. She's French but with a little bit of a British accent. She said, “Darling, isn't that something you've done a few times in the past and you didn't like it very much?” I was like, “Yes, it's true but this time is going to be different. I've got a great COO.” In fact, she was right. I didn't really love it. The question is, “How do I continue to have an impact if I want to continue to have an impact and not scale?” To me, that's about who I end up working within many ways.

My coaching practice is with C-Suite. If I add up the numbers of people that are directly impacted by the people that I'm coaching, I'm sure I've hit a million because it's them, their teams and all of their employees. If I'm coaching the CEO, it’s clients and customers. That's how I'm choosing to make my impact. I would rather do it with 10 or 15 deep relationships with who I can have a deep impact, and then let them impact other people than for me to scale a company and make it big.

This sentiment is so beautiful. I feel like I want to react to this because this is something that comes to me and I feel it’s at the center of my core of desire like, “How do you measure success?” Impact doesn't necessarily have to be, “If I don't sell a million copies, then I'm a failure.” You have to look at it from many different points. It's about looking at, “Who have I impacted now and how will that person impact somebody else?” It's hard because there's this element of being so driven for an impact that you don't feel like you're making the impact on a grander scale and you're losing the forest through the trees.

A way of thinking about success is, “Have I tried different things?” The failure reflects success because it reflects an attempt at doing something. There are too many people who don't try. To me, it’s putting yourself out there. I wrote an article with my co-author of You Can Change Other People on CNN. It was about vaccines, the conversation on vaccines and changing behavior. I got some nice emails but I got a tremendous amount of hate mail. Some of it was pretty rough.

When I write articles for Harvard Business Review, people tend to be a little more genteel about their criticism than CNN but they also don't realize they're talking to a human being. If I ever answer them, they immediately change their tone because they're not just yelling into an echo chamber but they’re like, “There's actually a person on this one.”

I was with my daughter and I read all the hate mail to her and said, “I'm fine with this. I want you to know you get people to congratulate you when you write things. It's great. My picture’s on the front page of the CNN website. ‘Kudos to Peter Bregman,’ but I want you to know this comes with it, too and that's okay.”

That's the reality of taking a risk and putting yourself out there. You're going to get blowback. People are going to hate you and they're going to love you. Don't get swayed by either one. Don't get swayed by the love and the hate. Stay the course of what you're trying to learn, how you're trying to grow, and the impact you're trying to make, and then all this other stuff is going to be noise.

I can't thank you enough for sharing that because that message is something that the audience needs to see but also, I often need to hear again and again. That's something that is important. Take those risks because you do need to have critics and you need to have fans and champions along that road. Let's shift gears and talk about You Can Change Other People. Tell me what you want people to know about this book, especially the title.

First of all, you can change other people. I do it all the time. Every time someone says to you, “You can't change other people. You can only change yourself,” they're trying to change you. They’re trying to change something. The problem is the way we try to change people often backfires. Think about someone in your life where you wish would change.

If you have someone in mind, I'm betting you've tried 1 of 2 things. You either don't do anything because you can't change other people and you end up frustrated and annoyed, and yet living with it or you try to change them and their response ends up hurting the relationship. Either you're trying to help them change and preserve the relationship. Let's say those are the two things. Both ways, either not doing anything or intervening ends up hurting the relationship and not having an impact.

What the book is about, You Can Change Other People, is a third way. It's a way that after 30 years of working on this, I've reduced to the four steps that can help people up to their game in a way that not only increases the likelihood of change but enhances the relationship as opposed to hurting. That's what the book is about. I wrote it with my friend, Howie Jacobson, whom I adore. We have a ton of dialogues in there. It's about what is language you're using. It's not manipulative. It's not doing something to someone. It's helping them up to their game. We tried to write the book in a way that makes it super accessible to be able to do it.

I love the way you described it. That's perfect. It's almost like a cocreation type of process as opposed to us versus them or you versus them kind of situation because that never works. Oftentimes, when I'm working with people, I'm always saying you're separating the people from the problem. The problem has to be something that's on the table but you're two people looking at a problem together.

The first step is both mindset and behavioral, which is shifting from critic to ally and it's a magic move. One of the big mistakes people make when you're trying to change people is you approach them as a critic and you're seen as a critic by them. You're either giving them advice or telling them, “You're doing it wrong or can I help you do that? Let me give you some feedback.” You approach them as a critic. When you approach someone as a critic, your likelihood of helping them change drastically decreases.

When's the last time someone shamed you and you felt like, “I'm going to change.” It never happens. In fact, the most likely response to feeling shame is denial because I will do almost anything I can to not feel shame. The easiest thing to do is to deny the existence of the thing you're accusing me of. This is why so many times we end up in relationships where we're driven crazy because we're trying to point something out and the person's denying it. That makes us go even more into a critic, which makes it even harder and hurts the relationship.

I do have one last question that I want to ask you and it's different than the last. What are 1 or 2 books that have had an impact on you and why?

I should have a ready-made answer for it because I'm asked this question a bunch. I also read several hundred books a year because of my podcast and having people on. A lot of what reading does for me is it helps me connect either with an idea or with a person and an author. It's been connecting me with my kids. I am making an effort to read the books that they're reading. My daughter, Sophia, has read the Shadow and Bone series and the Crooked Kingdom. I've read those. It's super fun because we talk about it and we text about it. I like reading what she's reading because I get to understand her thinking a little bit and I get a lens into her world. I've enjoyed reading that series.

One of the big mistakes people make when trying to change people is approaching them as a critic.

I cycle through a lot of books. I don't keep all of the books that are sent to me and that I read. When I look at the bookshelf that I have, a lot of books are about Buddhism and Zen. I don't love the word spirituality but there are books in that realm, poetry, and books that allow me to sink more deeply into my own knowing. I find those are the books that tend to stay with me for longer.

Spirituality is a word that can be triggering to a lot of people but there are teachings in there that if you connect them to your own way of looking at the world, maybe they’re own leadership principles, they can add a little bit of connection and they can take it to another level. I also think about stoicism. Stoicism has always been around for years. If you connect it to some of the books you read nowadays, they're all there. There are lessons that are connected. It's all been said. It's just been saying different ways now.

I appreciate you sharing those insights. Your story has been truly a gift. I thank you so much for bringing it. I can't wait to dig into your book. It's going to be amazing, so I'm thrilled to get that. For everyone who's reading now, go grab your copy of this book. It's going to be amazing. Peter, where can people find you if they want to learn more about you?


They can go to That's the best way. Everything's there. You can find out information about the book. A lot of my articles are on there and things like that, too.

They'd have to be blind to not see all the places that you're showing up. Your podcast is fantastic. Books are fantastic. I can't thank you enough for coming on. This has been truly a blessing.

A lot of fun for me too, Tony. Thank you for asking these questions. It’s like I come to the podcast and I have an hour of therapy. It's great.

Thank you and thank you, readers, for coming on the journey with us. I know you're leaving with a lot, so go out and take this to the next level.

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About Peter Bregman

VCP 129 guest HSRecognized as the #1 executive coach in the world by Leading Global Coaches, Peter Bregman coaches C-Level executives in many of the world’s premier organizations, including Allianz, Twilio, Electronic Arts, CBS, Mars, Pearson, Citi, Charity Navigator, United Media, FEI, and many others.

Peter is CEO of Bregman Partners, an executive coaching company that helps successful people become exceptional leaders and stellar human beings. Blending his deep expertise in business, leadership and people, Bregman’s approach brings personal and quantifiable results including Turnarounds (Ex: turning a $30M loss into a $140M gain), Revenue/Stock Growth (Ex: growing revenue from $400M to over $1 billion), Executive Team Development (Ex: shifting from silos to a unified leadership team resulting in stock price growth from $19.38 to $107.50), and Personal Development (promotion to C-level, 10X stock price growth + sleeping through the night).

Peter is ranked as a Top 30 thought leader by Thinkers 50 Radar and selected as one of the Top 8 thought leaders in leadership. He is ranked by Global Guru’s as one of the top 30 best Coaches in the world and one of the top 30 best leadership speakers/trainers in the world. He is the award-winning, best selling author and contributor of 18 books, including most recently, Leading with Emotional Courage: How to Have Hard Conversations, Create Accountability, and Inspire Action on Your Most Important Work

Peter is the host of the Bregman Leadership Podcast, with over 1.5M downloads, and a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review, and his articles and commentary appear frequently in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Fast Company, Psychology Today, Forbes, The Financial Times, PBS, ABC, CNN, NPR, and FOX Business News.

Peter created and leads the Bregman Leadership Intensive, ranked by Global Gurus as the #1 Leadership Development Program in the world.

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