Transcripts > The Tim Ferriss Show > #210: Becoming the Best Version of You
Hello, boys and girls! This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss show. My dog just got really startled [Laughs] I am at home for the holidays, and in this episode - like every episode, it is my job to try to tease out the habits, routines, and specifics from world-class performers so that you can test them and apply them in your own lives. This is a special edition because the audio is coming from a live performance, although I’m not sure you would call it “performance” - conversation, a collection of grab-assing and insightful, hopefully answers, from my guests at the 92nd street Y in New York City, my first live podcast event on the East Coast, and we had a blast.
The guests are threefold: we have two favorites that you guys have loved in the past. Those are Josh Waitzkin, best known as the inspiration, the basis for Searching For Bobby Fischer. He’s thought of as a chess prodigy, but he has a framework and approach that he has applied to several different fields to become world champion in Push Hands, among other things. Now works with a lot of the top people in the finance world. Josh can be found at Joshwaitzkin.com, he very rarely crawls out of his cave, but he joined us on this occasion. Ramit Sethi (@Ramit) on both the Twitters and Instagram. He is the, I suppose you could call him “Personal Finance Guru” who has built a huge company out of his blog, which started way back in the day. He is the bestselling author of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” also has a site by the same name. Then we have a new guest, that is Adam Robinson. Very close friends with Josh Waitzkin, and, uh, where should we begin? Well, you can learn about him at Robinsonglobalstrategies.com but check this out, look at this bio:
Adam has made a lifelong study of outflanking the competition. It began with acting as the co-founder, one of the two co-founders, of the Princeton Review. So he developed a revolutionary approach to taking standardized tests. And his book became the first ever based on test prep to be reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and become a New York Times Bestseller. After selling his interest in that company, he turned his attention to the then-emerging field of Artificial Intelligence. This was in the early ’90s, and he developed a program that could analyze text and provide human-like commentary. He was later invited to join a well-known quant fund - this is in the world of investing - to develop statistical trading models and then following that and currently, he is an independent global macro advisor to the chief investment officers of a select group of the world’s largest hedge funds as well as family offices. And he has a degree from Wharton, he has a master’s degree from Oxford University, and not only that, he is a rated chess master, who was awarded a life title by the United States Chess Federation. As a teenager, he was personally mentored by Bobby Fischer in the eighteen months leading up to his winning the world championships. So, seems like too incredible to be non-fiction, but that is Adam. And he his hilarious, so I think you guys will really enjoy those three guests.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and I must mention that the live event was helped by MeUndies and Exo Protein: they provided all sorts of goodies to the attendees, so check out some of my favorite underwear and lounge pants - I’m wearing them right now, in fact - at MeUndies.com/Tim. You can check out Exo Protein, these are the only bars that I eat these days, and I like them so much that I ended up becoming an investor, an advisor to the company. No soy, no dairy, no grain, no gluten, but paleo; 10 grams of protein and it’s real food, you can check it out. It is based on cricket protein, of all things, which is about as pure and unadulterated as you can get with full-spectrum proteins. Check it out: exoprotein.com - without further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Josh, Ramit, and Adam.
So you guys may be familiar with Mr. Waitzkin, the esteemed Mr. Waitzkin. Uh, I’ll give a little bit of context, for those who might not know him, and then I’ll let him correct me. Uh, well, many people think of him as a chess prodigy - if you’ve read or seen Searching for Bobby Fischer, very much based on his life, although I don’t think the word “prodigy” applies to Josh insomuch as he really has an extremely methodical and conscious approach to learning and mastery, and he’s applied that to Tai Chi Push Hands, in which he is a world champion, he’s applied it to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, first black belt under Marcelo Garcia, who is the phenom, probably the most successful - best grappler who’s ever lived. And, uh, I’ll leave it at that for now; works with a lot of interesting top performers, and, uh, we’ll get into that, I’m sure.
Ramit, where should we begin: it starts a long time - with the long walks on the beach, both of us, and turned a blog way back in the day into one of the most successful destinations and resources for personal finance and very much more than that. Has a hugely successful company, has been featured in - was it Fortune? In the spread, right aside to, uh, Warren Buffett, that’s pretty good company.
Adam? I think I’m gonna leave the introduction; Adam - our mystery guest - to Josh to give just a little bit of context on who Adam is.
Okay; Timbo, it’s great to be here with you.
Yeah! Thanks for coming.
Adam is a dear friend of mine, um, my five-year old son, Jack would say he’s a closer friend with him, which.. He’s a beautiful human being, um, Adam, back in the day, in the 1960s was a chess master, he’s still a chess master, but that was when he was really, um, actively playing chess.
[To audience] Don’t laugh at that!
After that one, then we were very close friends with Bobby Fischer, for better or worse [laughs] in the ’60s-‘70s, um, to really the center of the chess world, back then. Then Adam founded the Princeton Review, so he’s one of the most fascinating educational minds; he’s written ten educational books, um, and I’ve watched Adam just work with my little boy, with so many people in education, he’s a brilliant mind around the learning process. And then Adam took his kind of uniquely versatile mind and applied it to economics, macroeconomics, and that’s the world in which he and I met a number of years ago. Adam is a consultant with some of the - I can’t say their names ‘cause confidentiality is a huge part of what Adam does, but some of the most brilliant and well-known names in the, um, finance industry. He’s an incredibly brilliant thinker in a lot of fields, and I love the guy, he’s a really beautiful human.
He will charm all of you with his charisma; he just captures the room. He tried to pinch Ramit’s nipples earlier.
Wait a second, wait a second!
It was a welcome, welcome approach! [Laughing]
[Laughing] So this is a common greeting where he’s from, as I’ve been told.
He and I have safety words, so..
Yeah, we do have safety words. And, uh, we’re gonna get into all sorts of nonsense, ‘cause that’s kind of my style. We have a very smart crew here, I thought I would just begin by dumbing it all down. Josh, can you tell us - just gave me a warning before we got started - it was a.. tooth caveat. Uh, what’s happening with the tooth?
Be very careful with the things you say to Tim right before he pulls you onto the podcast; I’ve learned that several times, I forgot it this time around. I have a, um, a number of years ago, I was spear fishing, free diving, or something. I was spearfishing and it was actually an interesting moment, ‘cause I had just, um, speared a couple mutton snapper for lunch with my family down in an uninhabited island in the southern Bahamas and I was just taking target practice with this, kind of, Hawaiians think it’s like a bow and arrow, and I was shooting these little shells, 20-25 feet away, just stroking it. I had reached this realization where if you barely touch the spear, barely grip it.. As you know from bow and arrow, I was just missing by a quarter-inch versus longer. And I was in this beautiful zone and my sister screamed: “Josh!!” And there was big, big barracuda swimming with her so I released the wrong side of it, it exploded into my tooth, and, um, so I had this wonderful snaggletooth and I just told Tim right before that it came loose right before now.
So I might, I could very easily have a snaggletooth with a screw hanging out within about five, ten minutes of the beginning of this discussion, which will add to the flavor of it. I’m not sure why we’re talking about that, but there it is.
For those of you listening on audio only, this is what you miss when you don’t come to a live Tim Ferriss show. I thought we’d begin: maybe Adam, we’ll start with you. We are recording this towards, say, the tail end of a year. How do you think about the transition from one year to the next? Do you have New Year’s resolutions, or do you have any particular routines or approaches as you close out a year?
I try to take stock of what I’ve learned the past year, and I’ve learned three things this year, two of which you exemplify, and I wish I had known them when I was younger, and I’d like to share them. I think they’re the keys to success, and again, you exemplify them.
The first is the importance of enthusiasm with everything that you do, absolutely everything. The second is the importance of connecting to people. You know, I live in the world of ideas, and it’s only this year that I’ve learned the importance of connecting with brothers like you guys. And the third - this is best illustrated with a metaphor - about 20 years ago, I met the dog who was in The Mask. Do you remember the Jim Carey movie, The Mask?
So was that just like a personals ad?
No, I met the dog and his trainer!
Oh, okay. I got it, I got it, I got it. Alright.
Right? Okay, so I met the dog and his trainer and we were walking down the street in New York. And the dog - so this is a star dog, right? A Hollywood-starred dog. And he was walking down the street, little Jack Russell terrier. Walking down the street, and every time someone passed by, he went like this… [Mimes a friendly dog greeting]
Walked a little further and then… [Mimes a friendly dog greeting] And I thought: That’s so perfect! He expects magic in every encounter. And I think that’s one of the key things that I’ve learned: that if you expect magic in every encounter, you find it. And, uh, like this: I’m really excited for you guys, ‘cause I know the magic that’s gonna happen here, with this crew. So that’s what I’ve learned this year; that’s what I do with my New Years.
Now is that something that you ruminate on as an internal dialogue? Is that something you write down? How do you.. Are there any ways in which you attempt to ensure that you continue to pay attention to those things?
I just try to live it. I mean, there’s no, uh.. Expecting magic, I just.. Again, I picture that little dog walking down the street like.. And I lean into every moment expecting magic the way that dog leaned into every person. And, uh..
Well I think we saw that in the green room, just before [laughs] we’re not gonna name names, but to everybody in the room, even people he hadn’t met. If he heard their names, sort of, uh, from far away, he would go: “Jack!!” And just walk straight up and the person would be like: “[Uncomfortably] Hi?” And then big hug and then thick as thieves, right from the get-go.
Ramit, what about you? How do you think about the end of years, the beginning of new years?
Uh, I think about relationships. I think in the past, it was, you know, I’m 23 or I’m 25, or I’m 28. Where am I supposed to be? And I think at a certain point, that sort of loses its - you realize there’s no real road map, right? You’re gonna carve out your own path. The thing that became more important for me is: Who am I meeting? What’s the quality of those relationships? And so if it was up to me, I’ll basically sit in my house and work all day long. And that’s just like, I love it, that’s what I wanna do, and I would just do that forever. And that’s probably not the healthiest approach to life, so I try to force myself to go out, um, you know, not only maintain the relationships that I have, but build new ones. And I think end of the year is a really good time to take stock. So I actually have a list of every single person I met the whole year. I have it in a Google Doc. I just look at it and just say, like, first of all: “Is this the right level that I wanna be doing?” Like if I’ve met five people, that’s not good for me. Um, and also, is it just making a list, or is it actually making new friends? Like I said, it would be easy for me to just sit around and work all day.
So are you then, each.. Let’s say you come home, you’ve had a number of meetings that day or that week, and on a weekly basis you’re inputting those names?
No, I just write it down; I just write down their names, that’s it.
Just so I can go back and look and say like: “Hey; these are amazing people that I met.” And now I’m remembering. I look at it every week: “Oh, okay, wow. I found this interesting article, I wanna send it over. Oh, I’m going to the museum; let me text this person to come hang out.” And it’s just a good reminder for me that the business is the business - it’s gonna grow, this and that. But the one thing that I wanna fight for, to make time for, is to build those relationships.
What would you like to improve upon most, personally or from a business standpoint, next year?
Um, oh my God. Easy, easy by a factor of a thousand. It’s becoming a better leader and manager. Like, I feel like in my business, we get the human psychology part of what we do; that’s what we do. But management and leadership is so infinitely complex that I think I could spend the next twenty years just getting good, not even great.
How do you think about, and this might be one that we get to as a group, but: manager or management, I think, is relatively easy to grasp. People can envision what that means; what is a Good Leader? How would you define a Good Leader, or what are the characteristics that distinguish them from someone who is merely a good manager of, say, a team fifty people or a hundred people?
Well, first of all, I’m a student, so I’m trying to learn that, myself. But the leaders that I’ve seen; first off, I think they know when to speak up, and when not to speak up, almost like a good parent. A good parent knows when to get in there and: “Oh okay, you’re about to fall off a cliff, lemme save you.” But if you’re just gonna fall down on the grass, lemme let you make that mistake. And that’s something that I’m trying to learn, which doesn’t come naturally to me. If it were up to me, I would wanna get in there every minute. And that’s not a healthy way to be a leader. So that’s something that I’ve been working on; my team’s been telling me, and I have to listen to that.
You know, other leaders, I think create a vision to where they wanna go, and it’s more than money. And it’s something that I’d like to get better at, as well.
Well, you know, I wanna underscore something that you just said, because it’s something I’m also trying to get better at. This falling on the grass? Like letting people fall on the grass? I don’t recall the exact person this came up with, but it was someone who’s, uh, in the B club - billionaire of some type - and they explained, actually I do remember exactly who it was. Uh, and it was not somebody necessarily - I don’t think he’s in the B club, but he’s certainly very very successful. Astro Teller: so he’s the head of X - formerly Google X - this is Google’s Moonshot Factory, I guess now Alphabet’s Moonshot Factory, where they are working on things like Loon and contact lenses that can act as glucometers, all of these really incredible, uh, bets on the future, and he was describing how - in his organization - people would come to him for conflict resolution and he would make a point of insisting, even though it would take a lot more time, that they figure out how to solve it themselves. He said: “Because if I step in and I solve your conflict, I’m the parent you come to for the quick and easy path: you will always come to me. And I need to train you to actually develop the skillset of handling this dispute - this type of conflict - on your own.”
What about you, Josh? You’re an introspective guy; you’re very good at blocking out time for deep work, I think something that I try to emulate to the extent possible when I’m not running around [laughing] scattershot, twenty-four seven. Uh, what do the last days of a year and the first few days of a year look like or mean to you?
I think that that’s a particularly intense question for me right now, because - first of all, I just turned forty a few days ago. I took off for Costa Rica and surfed some big waves in my fortieth and I was reflecting on the year quite a bit. I came extremely close to dying a year ago.
[Laughs] I thought you were gonna say “again.”
No. No, no, no, no. [Laughs]
Like, there’s a pattern here! Just, can I pause for a second?
Although on the one wheel, that came really close! [Laughing] A couple weeks ago, too, but nothing like this.
The shallow water blackout?
Yeah. And I think most of you have heard me speak about it with Tim on the podcast last time he pulled me onto it. I was doing this breath hold work and cold water immersion work. I made the mistake of doing it in the water; I’ve been a lifetime free diver, but not doing hypoxic breath work. I didn’t know, even though I’ve been free-diving my whole life, that it was actually Carbon Dioxide that gave me the urge to breathe, ‘cause I’ve never done breath work that would actually wipe all the Carbon Dioxide out of my system. So I went from this ecstatic state to passing out - blacking out underwater, shallow water blackout. And I was in the bottom of the pool for three and a half minutes plus, um, after blacking out before someone pulled me out. All the doctors said 45-60 seconds, I should be brain-dead or dead. So I’ve been reflecting on this year through the lens of that experience, and it’s been.. As I mentioned to you before, I’ve had this year of just waves of love, gratitude, and beauty flowing through me, and I’ve never felt a more powerful dedication to every moment in life and to living life as fully as I can possibly live it.
And, you know, a core lesson - you asked about lessons - for me, that I think about broadly and across disciplines, is how insanely important it is to be focused on the most important question; to know what it is. In this situation, I had a technical oversight; I wasn’t present to the most important question, which is: Carbon Dioxide is what gives you the urge to breathe. But when you work with brilliant investors, for example, there’s no better way to train someone than developing their ability to focus on the most important question. Same thing with chess players: know where to look. Or martial artists: Know where to focus on. The great ones don’t focus on more, they focus on less, actually, and better. So that lesson, for me, which I have applied to intellectual and physical disciplines my whole life, I blew it on in this critical moment of my life. And so it feels much more, um, potent to me.
Do you keep, say, the most important question in X - let’s just say it’s a project or challenge or a problem, whatever it might be - I know that you have a very consistent journaling practice. Do you keep that question present so that you don’t make, for instance, mistakes like that, using journaling? How do you go about ensuring that you don’t miss that most critical thing when you need it most?
Well as you know, my journaling system is based around studying complexity, reducing the complexity down to what is the most important question. Um, sleeping on it, and then waking up in the morning, first thing, and pre-input brainstorming on it. So I’m feeding the unconscious material to work on, releasing it completely, and then opening up my mind and riffing on it. And then - you were gonna say something?
I was, uh, you saw me pursing my lips like a goldfish. So, here we go: [laughs] the question I had was “Could you give somebody an example of the type of thing that you would drop into your mind so that you can digest it overnight?” What - could you give us an example or examples of the types of things that you might use?
Yeah; I actually, at this point, have been doing this for like twenty-something years, personally, and now I use ‘Question’ somewhat metaphorically. So often studying complexity: I’ll study, like if I’m gonna be working with someone, I’ll study a 20-page psychological diagnostic that somebody’s responded to, and then I just release it completely. And that whole thing will be the question. Then I’ll wake up and sit with it, or I’ll do a workout and then sit with it and I’ll just see what arises: what core patterns, what core themes, what core blockages did I pick up in all of that, right? The unconscious is so much more powerful at studying complexity than the conscious mind.
And are you then just jotting these observations or emergent thoughts down on paper as you capture them in that way? Is that, uh..
Yeah; I actually use Evernote. I’m riffing on Evernote. But there’s often a question as well: I find that most great thinkers are slicing through complexity like a knife through butter, and then they arrive at an area of stuckness, and they’ll spend a long time on that stuckness. And they can spend - consciously at that point - days, weeks, months, at that stuck point. But they can also study everything involved at that stuck point, sleep on it, wake up, and just slice right through.
And so, you know, for me the question is usually that area of stuckness after I’ve studied all the complexity. That rhythm between consciously integrating technical information into my being, and then releasing it, and then seeing what arises is a huge part of how I approach creativity.
And for those people who haven’t heard my conversation with Reid Hoffman, uh, co-founder of LinkedIn, who is called The Oracle of Silicon Valley, oftentimes by A-players in Silicon Valley, he has a nearly-identical process; but he, I believe, does it effectively right before bed; you do not.
Am I right? Okay. Okay, could you explain your rationale for when you sort of infuse your mind with, say, some particular problem, data set, challenge, whatever it might be, and then let it go? What time do you do that and why?
In my experience - Reid Hoffman’s awesome and I’m sure what he is is just crushing it for him. But for me and people who I’ve worked with, I’ve seen the pattern of if they’re thinking about it right before bed, they’re actually thinking about it consciously; they’re not releasing the conscious mind, which is a huge part of that, right? So you think Hemingway’s core principle, which you were speaking about in that podcast you did about our best hits, or whatever you called it? [Laughs]
[Laughing] Josh Waitzkin Distilled!!
Core Hemingway principle of writing and then finishing his work day leaving something left to write, right? As opposed to tapping the well - finishing it all up, which most people who are, um, externally-driven in what they’re doing or thinking about how they’re looking or moved by guilt as opposed to something more intrinsic, they feel guilty if they’re not - don’t do everything they have to do. Versus Hemingway’s principle of doing just that - it’s very interesting, but he would always speak about.. I remember this when I was eleven years old, it was a big part of my foundation, I think, in this habit. He’d speak about the importance of stopping your thinking at that point; then he would relax, he would drink wine, he would really sit there.
Drank a lot of wine.
And also for me as a chess player, I found that if I studied chess openings up until bed, I was thinking chess positions; if I studied it earlier and then released it, then I was able to dream about the insight.
So for you now, earlier, does that generally mean “end of work-day, pre dinner?”
End of work-day, pre-dinner. Yeah. And I usually have a work out, post work-day. Um, like, right immediately then my work out. After my work day, I have some kind of exercises to flush my physiology. So before that workout.
Okay, we’re gonna come back to the workout, but I wanna rotate. I could spend seven hours of each of these guys, and we have spent seven hours together, certainly. Uh, Adam! I’d love to know - and I’ve wanted to actually ask you this for quite a while: In your calendar, say, your weekly calendar, do you have any particular things blocked out, or that occur on a weekly basis that are particularly important to you? I know that’s super specific, so if nothing jumps to mind..
Nothing jumps to mind; I, uh, advise clients very large hedge funds on all global asset classes, so equities, currencies, bonds, commodities. It’s 24/7, so usually - by the way, it starts Sunday night, which is when markets open up in China. So there’s a brief window in the sense that what Josh does about consciously turning off his mind, I do that about 3:00 on Friday, and for the next 24 hours, I make a point of not thinking about global markets. And then already, come Sunday morning, I have to get ready to hit the ground running, so that’s usually when I get my ideas, it’s Sunday. I’ve given the week over on Saturday to just ‘unconscious dreaming’ and then I have to hit the ground running.
What are the first, uh, few hours of Sunday look like? Do you have any particular morning routines or any boot-up sequences that you use for yourself?
Work out, meditate, Josh introduced me to heart rate variability training, which is outstanding. I’m the kind of person who can’t sit still for normal meditating.
So what does your meditation look like?
It’s just heart rate variability training; just watch my heart rate for twenty minutes, do it a couple of times a day.
So I started off the day with that.
So it’s like the cardiac equivalent of bio-feedback or neuro-feedback.
And the workout, what is the workout?
Uh, weights, very intense, get it over with, and then, uh, sometimes cycling, and then I start to write down what I expect to happen. I think the key to, certainly investing, is to have expectations and then wait to be surprised. One of the key things with investing, I don’t know how many of you invest, but I think this is a life truism, it’s: to be aware when you hear a voice in your head that says.. Usually, squint your eyes, or you’ll hear someone say the following words: “Doesn’t make sense.” And that’s always a sign of something really powerful. So if somebody says to me: “Doesn’t make any sense why gold keeps going lower.” I know that it’s got a lot lower to go. Because what that person just said, in saying it doesn’t make sense, is this person has a dozen logical reasons why gold ought to be going higher, and it’s going lower. And he says: “That doesn’t make sense.” But the world always makes sense; what doesn’t make sense is his model. And this applies in life.
In June, about a year ago, Donald Trump announced his candidacy. And his first, I think his first thing was: “We’re putting up a wall. And they’re gonna pay for it.”
Um, and his numbers shot up in the polls; and somebody said to me, and I heard pundits on TV saying: “That doesn’t make any sense.” And I thought: “Oh my God!”
Wait! But that’s precisely it! It means it’s going higher! If a stock goes up and there’s no rational reason, it means that there’s some X factor that you haven’t considered, ‘cause it makes total sense now in retrospect, but then it didn’t. So whenever you hear someone say something doesn’t make sense, I was talking to Sam Zell, great real estate investor. And all he does, he reads the newspaper and all he’s looking for are things that don’t make sense. So I said: “Give me an example, Sam.” And he says: “Okay! I’m reading the newspaper and I see that there’s a Starbucks that’s just opened up - this like 15-20 years ago - in Mongolia.” Right? And he thinks to himself: “Mongolia?! I thought they drank tea! What’s with that?” He’s so curious about this ‘cause it makes no sense, that he takes his jet - private jet - flies to Mongolia, and he discovers that they’ve started mining. This was the beginning of the Big China Infrastructure Build. And the only reason he knew about it was it didn’t make any sense. So I’m telling you that’s the key thing: people stumble on these ideas and they dismiss them, ‘cause they go: “Ah, it doesn’t make any sense.” And I’m telling you, that’s where the gold mine is: things that don’t make sense. That’s all I pay attention to.
Love it. On Sundays, when you’re trying to come up with expectations or, uh, I suppose educated - or just hunch..
And I’m looking for things that don’t make sense.
There’s so many things in my life that don’t make sense, but this isn’t a therapy session yet; wait until the tequila comes out! What is the timeline? Are you looking for things that day? Are you looking for things that might occur over a longer time horizon?
Sometimes I’ve set expectations weeks or months prior. Um, and then I wait to see the things unfold as I expected, and if not, you have to revise your hypothesis.
And I’ve, uh, one of the reasons I wanted Adam to be onstage is because we hadn’t had a real chance to catch up in a while! [Laughs] And I was like: “Well, why don’t we just do it in front of 900 people?” Uh, so the question that - I know we chatted about it just a little bit, but you have such an eclectic background; so you have the Princeton Review, you have the chess, and now global markets. What makes you good at those different fields? If we were talking - you’re a very humble guy - but if you were talking to your closest friends, and we asked them: “What is his superpower?” or “What are the unique abilities or combination of abilities that have made him good in these very seemingly unrelated fields?” What would they say, or what would you say?
Uh, well, mmm.
I might have to pull in Josh.
Uh, uh.. I’m, I’m..
I can help with that.
I’m a heretic. So I always approach things, uh, to disrupt the order. And I start with looking for things that no-one else will spot, and there are two places that I know people don’t prospect. And I’ve already told you the first: things that don’t make sense. And the second are things that are really obvious. If it’s obvious, no one bothers to examine it, and, uh, so in, uh, global markets, I start from the premise that, uh, understanding is an illusion, that explanation is impossible; the world is simply too complex to understand, so I don’t bother trying. All I do is I watch investors attempt to make sense of the world, and they form views, so they’re looking at the world trying to predict what’s going to happen. All I’m doing is studying them, ‘cause they’re the ones who are gonna make buy and sell decisions and affect asset prices. So they study the world, I’m behind them, it’s like playing poker, and..
I was gonna say, don’t play the hand, play the person across from you.
Exactly! So I see the hand that global investors are playing; I don’t try to understand the world, I just try to get into their heads. In the same way I did with chess, right? Getting into the head of the position or the other player, and in, uh, in the S.A.T. getting in the head of, um, the test. This is worth sharing, take about 30 seconds.
We got plenty of time.
I, um, I went to Wharton undergrad and I got a law degree at Oxford; I come back to New York, and I thought that what I wanted to do was write screenplays. So I go to a friend of my, uh, my father’s, and he said: “So what are you gonna do now, kid?” And - all expectation - I said: “I’m gonna be a writer.” Just like that, full of expectation, you know? Recent grad. And this guy was one of the top producers on Broadway, ever, of all time. And he looks at me for about a minute, doesn’t say a thing, and then he says: “Well then! If you’re gonna be a writer, I guess you better have something to say.” And I.. “Oh. Fff.. Shit!” I, I.. What do I know?! I’m 25, I have nothing to say!
And I thought: “Okay, well I have to support myself, somehow.” And while I’m writing, and I knew if I went to Wall Street or worked in a law firm, I would never find the time to write. So I thought: “I know what I’ll do: I’ll tutor kids!” And I thought: “What could I tutor them? I know: the S.A.T.” You don’t know this, but back then, nobody was getting tutored. And I wrote to every private high school in New York, and I remember there were 31 at the time, ‘cause I had to type 31 letters, the same letter, 31 times. It’s like..
“Dear Dalton..” or “Dear Spence..” You know? “I have just graduated, if you have any students who want to prepare for the S.A.T.’s, send them my way.” And after that mass mailing, I got one student.
Just a single student. And so I gave her a practice test, I said: “You do this, and we’ll go over it.” And what was fascinating was that she got all the easy questions right, and all the medium questions right, but she missed every single hard question: every single one! Just closing her eyes and guessing, you get one in five; she was batting zero! And she was smart, she was really smart! And I said: “Oh, Jo-Anne, what are you-“ I still remember her name: Jo-Anne. And, um, I said: “Jo-Anne, could you just tell me your thinking process?” And what was fascinating was that she’d cross off, let’s say, choices A, B, and C; get it down to D and E, and whichever one she chose, the answer was the other one! And I said: “Jo-Anne, could you just explain the logic?” Again, trying to get into her head, always by getting into the head. It’s all about appearances; it’s all about thinking: “There is no reality.” Plato would have made a lousy investor.
Anyway, to get back to Jo-Anne.
Short Plato, exactly! So she says: “Well, I cross off the ones I know that are wrong.” I said: “Good, good, then what do you do?” She said: “Well; I pick the one that I think is right!” So I blurted out: “Well you gotta pick the one you think is wrong!” And then I realized: “Oh, right. I just cracked the S.A.T.” The only reason a hard question is hard is whatever seems plausible can’t be right. That’s why it’s a hard question! And that was my first insight, and then her score shoots up, she tells a bunch of friends, and their score shoots up; 10 students, 100, 200, and I teamed up with a guy and then we started the Princeton Review - John Katzman.
Who was - and I really apologize if I’m misattributing this, but was there a sort of fictional character that you used to typify..
Yeah, I said I didn’t want to hurt a.. So, you get schizophrenic, ‘cause then she would think: “Okay, well I think that’s right, therefore it’s wrong. But wait a second..” She’d get into a feedback loop, right?
Just like every day of my life.
And her mind would explode! So when I was at Oxford, my Don always referred to Bloggs as the man on the street. So I thought I would Americanize him and I said: “Okay, well. Ask yourself ‘What would Joe Bloggs’ do?’ Whatever he would do, on a hard question, you do the opposite. By the way, if you’re stuck on an easy question - the ones at the beginning, you follow whatever Joe Bloggs would do.” By the way, the test - because of these techniques, they had to change the S.A.T. because of the stuff that I was doing!
That’s how you know you’re doing something right.
Yeah! So it’s very different now; you can’t use those techniques.
Did you ever cause irreperable harm to someone who actually had the last name “Bloggs?”
I don’t know! I hope not!
[Laughing] Just one point. Do you mind if I throw in one question to dig in on Adam a little bit?
Sure, sure. Then I have a whole slew for our silent partner here.
So one of the things that’s so amazing about Adam is how prolific he is, and how high-quality it all is. And he’s, he’s in this realm of economics in which maybe one of the first principles is “Don’t speak publicly about one of your views, because then you’ll get locked into it and you won’t be able to change your mind.” And yet, he’s able to. And so, one of the, the things I think might be really interesting to hear you talk about is how do you avoid falling into constructs, yourself, when you’re giving advice so consistently?
Because I never have views on the market. I’m always agnostic. So all I’m doing is reporting how the market is positioned to respond. So for example, early last November, thirteen months ago, U.S. interest rates - I don’t know if this’ll make any sense to you, but - were 2.32 percent on the U.S. 10-year (fixed income securities) and Janet Yellen was due to raise interest rates five weeks later. I sent out an alert to my clients, saying that, um, interests rates were about to plunge to multi-year lows. And they said: “That makes no sense!”
And I said: “Precisely!” But I gave them the logic, and they understood the logic. It’s because one group of traders in the world has never been wrong about predicting interest rates, and it’s not who you would think. Um, I’ll tell you: It’s metals traders, they’re always right about interest rates. And um, anyway, so, I always.. Once a client asked me, I said: “Okay, rates are going lower.” And he said: “Well, what would you need to see to change your view?”
Well, that’s a good question.
It’s the best question ever, right? It’s the scientific method: if you can’t falsify your hypothesis, you don’t know whether it’s true. If you don’t know when you’re wrong, you certainly don’t know when you’re right. So I said: “Oh; well, if we see Copper versus Gold rally sharply, then rates’ll rally. But if Copper-Gold is going lower, then interest rates are gonna go lower.” And they plunged. [Yellen] raised rates in December, and by July, they were at all-time lows, which made no sense. It certainly didn’t to Janet Yellen, right? She was expecting them to go higher, and they went lower. So always, that’s the key thing with anything, and probably, you could apply that question to relationships. This is what I think; what would I need to see.. You set that up, you set up that marker ahead of time, because otherwise, confirmation bias will come in, and you’ll start to rationalize.
Yeah, well you’ll not only have confirmation bias, but then you might even have, depending on the position you take, some type of sunk cost fallacy, and just start layering problem upon problem, right? And it’s also - by the way, just as a side note - a great way to avoid debates or arguments that will go absolutely nowhere. If you ask someone - this is slightly different, but - “Is there anything I could say that would lead you to change your mind about X?” If that’s what they wanna have a debate about, if they say : “No!” you’re like: “Great! I’m gonna go get a burrito. You can argue with this empty chair, cause it’s a pointless exercise to begin with.” Uh, such an important question.
Ramit, you have, uh, you’ve really intelligently run - I mean, from my perspective - the company you’ve built, and set policies in place and really made a study of management. And I’ve watched you refine it over time, where you’ve not only become more successful as a company and an organization, but you’ve become more relaxed, and you seem like you have as much bandwidth as you’d care to have, even though your default is just jamming, jamming, jamming. What are some of the most important decisions or different decisions you wish you had made in the early days, when you were hiring the very first people, let’s say?
Oh, I mean.. First things first, I wish that I had understood: It’s okay to let people make their own mistakes. And the idea that I don’t have to be instrumental in every single decision. Now, you know, we have a much bigger idea, a much more refined concept of Big Wins: Focus on the big things in life, like for example the thing that a lot of people may have heard me say is: “Don’t worry about lattes.” This is a classic thing in personal finance; everyone says: “Oh my God. Don’t spend $3 on lattes!” Which is the worst possible advice that you can ever listen to, because we have limited cognition, limited willpower. We don’t wanna waste that precious resource on a $3 purchase, right? Get the big things right in life, and you don’t have to worry about that. I wish I would have applied that earlier on in the business to the people I started working with.
That was sort of unconventional. The other thing that was very conventional was: Hire great people, fire fast. Sort of things you sort of hear thrown around? Everybody hears it, everybody nods, and everybody ignores it until it happens to them. Every one of my friends who runs a business, we get together behind closed doors, and everyone talks about the mistakes they made, where they should have listened to typical advice. I think one of the problems: if you get any level of success, is that you start to think those basic rules don’t apply to you, when in reality they apply to you more than ever. So it’s very important to just remember: get the basics right. And if you get the basics right in life, you don’t have to worry about often optimizing at the margins. Like, life works pretty well if you have a good job, if you have good relationships, if you have a solid roof over your head; things are pretty good, and that’s a good basic thing.
Yeah, not majoring in minor things. Uh, and, uh, this is the lesson I had to learn for myself, well, I had to learn for myself repeatedly, uh letting the small bad things happen.
Yeah. It’s gonna happen.
To get the huge good things done. On the front of hiring, were there any particular books or resources, I know there’s a book called “Who” that a lot of the startup CEOs that I know have found very helpful, which is sort of a distilled version of top grading. Were there any particular resources or bits of advice, I know you’ve done quite a bit with Jay Abraham, but maybe not on the hiring front. What were the resources or books or otherwise that you found most helpful, if any?
I wish I could recommend one, but - this is something that I hear - a lot of friends who are starting to hire and build their teams. They have 10, 15, 20 people and they’re starting to realize: “Hey, this is actually pretty important.” And they come to me, and they go: “Uh, I wanna hire a project manager. How do I hire the best project manager?” And I say: “Basically, get ready to eat shit for the next two years.” Because it’s really hard! And there’s no great book that’s gonna lay it out, because it is inherently complex and messy, and the fact of the matter is that the first hire you make is gonna be not good, the second’s not good, the fifth.. Eventually, you’re gonna find, you’re gonna learn what works, what doesn’t. And by the way, it would be different for my company than another company. We just worked with it, we did a partnership with this other company, and they start their meetings off by doing like a cheer, and, you know, they sing songs, and our company does not do that.
Ramit’s company starts with a ritual caning. [Laughs]
Singing Kumbaya! [Laughs] Like, that’s great! Their company is awesome, and our company is awesome in its own way. So, uh, nothing I could say would help them, except that the best advice I could give them is: you have to go through the fire. You gotta do it, you’re gonna make mistakes, just kinda accept that.
It reminds me of this story that the, uh, director/writer/musician/polymath Robert Rodriguez told me, where he goes to these film festivals, and he’s had all these huge blockbusters now. Film students or would-be filmmakers come up to him, and they go: “I want to do this, but this happened. And we didn’t have enough money for that, and you can’t do A, B, or C, because this happened!” And he said: “What they don’t realize is that’s the job of filmmaker: nothing is going to work.” And it’s up to you, like that is the starting point. Literally, the job description begins with: “Nothing is going to work.” And then you have to figure it out. Uh, now I wanna talk to you a little bit about something we were chatting about in the green room, which, uh, I think you’re particularly good at. And that is interacting with haters and belligerent people on the internet.
[Sarcastically] What?! I’ve never had anyone send me an e-mail like that in my life.
[Laughing] So some people like golf, some people like boxing, some people like, I dunno, badminton. You like interacting with belligerent people on the internet! So, can you describe for us the rules of engagement and sort of the best practices for this sport?
Okay. Lemme break it down for you. Everybody listen up, ‘cause you’re gonna get one of these people in your life, I’ll tell you that right now.
That’s so twisted. [Laughs]
First of all, when - it is very, very sadistic. Okay. When do you get the chance to talk to somebody who runs up to you in the street, and says, like: “F you!” Never! It never happens, ‘cause people don’t do that in the street, right? But online, they do it all the time.
And then I think about, like, I don’t really feel much at risk, because if I went to a comedy show, if I go to Comedy Cellar, I would never dream of heckling a comedian, because that’s their job. They’re always gonna win. So I sit there politely, and I listen, and I laugh, and then I leave. When somebody comes in and sends you a message but you see fifty or a hundred of them a day, there’s no chance of them winning. I actually.. I love it because I get the chance to interact with someone I normally would never interact with. If you play it right, you can get to see inside their mind, and actually learn something pretty interesting. Sometimes, they might just leave it at like “F you.” But over time, I’ve come to realize it’s very mathematical. Of 100 people that e-mail me, they’ll say something like: “F you.” or whatever - just very..
Just to translate - that’s Burmese - it’s: “Fuck you.”
Yeah! [Laughs] And I’ll go, I’ll say something like: “Why?” Cause what you need to do, you need to bring it down, you need to tone it down, okay?
Or I’ll say: “What’s wrong? Are you having a bad hair day?”
And then it’s very fascinating what happens next. So 50% of people never respond. Do you guys find that interesting? They sent you this e-mail, you respond back, they don’t respond at all. So what’s up with that? And if you really wanted to find out, you could re-reply a day later and track that.
So what is up with that?
Okay, I’ll tell you. 25% of people are gonna double down and get really, really angry. In which case, you double down, and put a picture of someone with a really bad hair day.
And now, they don’t know what to do! 25% - and this is why it was all worth it. They go: “Oh my God. I didn’t know you were actually gonna read this.” And now you have a discussion. Now you can find out why did they send that! And this happens to me all the time, I cannot even tell you how often. And it is_ so_ fascinating to get the chance to talk to someone who’s been on my e-mail list for, say, four years. They never have written me. They’ve literally gotten_ tens of thousands_ of pages of material we’ve sent them for free. And the first thing they’ve wrote is “F you.” I go: “What’s up? Why did you say that?” And they go, you know: some random joke I made on page 3 of this e-mail really set ‘em off, and they just had to write back. They had to write back and most of them, they still say: “I didn’t think anyone would actually read it.”
I find it so fascinating that in the world where we are so connected to other people, there are so many people that feel that no-one is actually listening. That they would send an e-mail, knowing that no-one’s gonna read it. That’s what they believe. They would send it with all this emotionally-loaded language, and they would just send it out there. But when someone actually listens, they’re struck. And that’s when you can start engaging with them. I find it totally fascinating.
So another technique, another Judo move that I’ve seen you do on Twitter specifically which I admire. Chris Sacca is also very good at this, you should check out his technique. When someone’ll be like: “Hey, fuck you, scam artist! What the fuck, gah, get rich, hahaha LOL” You know? And You’ll respond with something like: “Interesting. I’m intrigued. Tell me more.” And then they don’t know what to do, because they’re expecting you either to respond with some anger, respond with something trying to be clever, but instead you’re like: “Interesting.”
Okay, so here’s the thing: people are pattern-matching, right? If you read Cialdini’s book: Influence, he talks about click-whir. You do something, and people are gonna respond. It’s very programmatic.
Wait, what? “Whirr?” Oh. I got it. Whir.
Yeah. It’s: people are programmatic. So if you write someone an angry e-mail, they’re almost always gonna write back really angry. But for me, there’s no - I’m not angry at them, right? I haven’t done anything. All they did was send me an e-mail, which I’ve seen 1000 other people send, and I know it’s not me. I know that because that e-mail that they’re reading got sent out to like a million other people, and they all loved it. So it’s probably not me, it’s probably something going on with them, and I wanna know. So when you sort of respond in a way that’s not the obvious, then all of a sudden, you shift the entire conversation. Now if I wrote back, and said: “F you!” Now that’s what they expected and they feed on that. But when you change the whole dynamic, I think that’s when you can have a really interesting discussion. Same thing for business, by the way. If you’re looking at markets where, for example, if you were trying to create another Princeton Review today, or you’re trying to write another personal finance book, you probably don’t want to go with the same click-whir programmatic strategy. You wanna try to analyze what is missing in the market, how are people not being taken care of or responded to, instead of going with the same thing that everyone else is doing?
So Josh, I wanna ask you a question: Are you famous on the internet for handling haters well?
[Laughing] I don’t even know, barely know what the internet is.
But you know, this is actually a really great fight principle. Now I don’t have any experience interacting with haters on the internet, but I do have quite a bit of experience interacting with people who essentially say that in person. And- [Laughs]
[Laughing] Wait. So wait!! Wait, wait, wait! So you opt not to be on Facebook, but then you go out and find people who are gonna say: “Fuck you” in person? What, what are you doing?
No, I’m talking about competing in martial arts.
Oh I see. Alright.
Right? And it’s amazing. I’ve spent years, training at how to deal with, um, fighting dirty opponents. So, you know, people who, in some kind of martial arts exchange, after the bell, will target your eyes.
Or chess. Chess is like kicking you under the table, or cheating with like talking with a coach in the chess world. But in martial arts is a little bit less subtle. They’ll actually try to like kick you in the balls or like take out your knees in between rounds. It gets pretty wild, targeting your eyes, neck. Initially, it will throw you off, but I trained for years, because I had to win national world championships, you know it’s a big deal with these guys. And be at your best when they’re at their worst, and so I spent a lot of years bringing the dirtiest players I could find and learning how to play with them in the gym.
And then I remember this time in the 2002 world championships in Taiwan. I was fighting this Austrian guy, and he was just the textbook dirty player. He was doing this, he was trying to bust my knees up after the bell, he was all, hit me two solid, straight-up groin shots, which were well placed. [Laughs] But I had done all this training at this, and so I was focusing very purely and I was smiling at him, which is kind of your move. And he was so used to people responding to his dirty play with anger that when I didn’t give it to him and I smiled at him, he got desperate and he kept on, you know, doing more and more outrageous things and when I responded with no emotion, at the end of the fight, he was basically throwing himself on the floor. I mean, he was completely destroying himself, ‘cause he needed my response like a leg: that was a leg he was used to leaning on. And so, like, I think your principle’s brilliant, and I practice the in-person version of it a lot.
It’s interesting how much they apply, and also I noticed something you just off-handedly said, that you trained with dirtier players. And that’s something you’ll find true of a lot of people who are at the top of their game. They find something that is interesting that is helping them develop, and then they will actively seek it out. What person in their right mind would seek out dirty players and fight against them? Only someone who wants to be the best.
Well it’s a very interesting thing that happens in different forms of competition, which is that if somebody plays outside the rules, the typical response is righteous indignation, right? Because that person isn’t playing by these rules which are arbitrary rules, anyway. So the weakness of almost any martial artist is the dogma of his sport. And we could go through different martial arts, like Judo guys, for example, are incredible fighters, but the rules of Judo is you can’t land on your back. So they’ll like turn themselves and land on their stomach in the middle of a throw, which as you know exposes their back to being choked out in a real fight, right? Or Jiu-Jitsu guys might have a bias against footlocks, or may not be such good strikers. Like in Chinese Martial Arts, people believe it’s not honorable to fight on the ground. You build all this, you kind of make a cult of your inhibitions.
“Make a cult of your inhibitions.”
Yeah. I think that’s actually the, it actually comes from.. My dad used that line in one of his books, I think it’s a great term. People basically have some kind of insecurity or inhibition. And they build a cult out of it: they protect it. Instead of taking it on, instead of finding the dirty player, to go at your neck and your eyes. For example, as a fighter, the way this manifests is that: someone takes out, like, targeting your Adam’s apple and your eyeballs, and you don’t know how to deal with it, you’re gonna be furious, ‘cause you don’t know - technically - how to deal with it. But if you train at how to deal with it, then you’re not gonna have that emotional reaction.
So you’ve talked about fighting Austrians, I wanna talk about dancing bears - this is going somewhere, bear with me. I’m not on LSD - yet. No! That’s a joke! Don’t try this at home, kids; we’re trained professionals on a closed course. So Josh is, a recluse? Is that fair? So Josh, when he’s not fighting dirty Austrians, prefers to be left alone for the most part. Occasionally, I’ll drag him out to do something like this, in part because he will most certainly text me the next day and go: “You fuckin’ fuck; you fuckin’ fuck!” Which I find endearing. But he does not engage on the internet, does zero media, and I admire that, because you’re able to get a lot of deep work done. It’s a challenge for me: I’m able to do it, but it takes a lot more effort, because I’ve exposed myself - not in a criminal way, but in a very public way. And, uh, could you explain - we will sometimes joke, when we’re forced - or volunteer, in my case - to do something, uh, in front of a lot of people or to do something like a speaking engagement. Dance, baby, dance. And we’ll talk about the bear. So could you give us some context on where this came from?
Yeah, so I have some history with this theme, ‘cause when I was eleven years old, my dad’s book: Searching for Bobby Fischer came out. And then when I was fifteen years old, the movie came out. And it was a big deal, and so I was thrust into this mainstream media spotlight without, you know, asking to be. And that was in the middle of my chess career, and so I had this deep love for this art, and I was so passionate about it. But I had so much, um, attention on me, that I found myself getting pulled into this externalized relationship with my first love, and it was heartbreaking. And I didn’t have the internal tools to resist that pull. And I’ve had several times in my life when I’ve kind of had to do some.. I used to develop this computer chess program, we called it Chess Master, and I had to do, you know, press things for that.
And then I wrote the Art of Learning, and I had to do this big, you know, what you’re doing right now, which you’re awesome at! And, um, during that time, I got pulled into the public speaking tour quite a bit, because everyone wanted it. But the thing is that nothing really calcifies the growth process in my opinion like people who are on a speaking tour, because they’re being asked to speak about the same ideas they spoke about the year before, and the year before they wrote about three years ago, as opposed to breaking new ground. And I’m personally allergic to anything that will calcify or slow down my growth process, because I love learning more than I love anything. And so I have this ingrained allergy to anything that externalizes my relationship to the game. So the last public like keynote that I ever gave was a whole lot of years ago. [Laughs] Some speaking agency convinced me to work with them, and what I did was doing some talks. And I was conflicted about it, and I had all these ethical constraints on them, and they talked me into going to this event in Florida.
What were the [Laughs] ethical constraints?
Just that I would only work with, like, beautiful companies that were helping the world, and that were awesome, and..
They’re like: “God, one of these guys!”
[Laughing] One of these guys! So they just completely bullshit me about what I was gonna go do. And I went out to Florida, I was working with this group, they told me it was like giving, donating all these medical supplies to, um, to countries in Africa. I thought it was awesome and beautiful. Turns out I was going to the national sales convention of this, like, big group. And I just was literally the follow-up act to a monkey on stage.
Like, a literal, literal monkey?
And I was speaking about- it was actually a monkey. There was a monkey on stage that was doing like: Are You Smarter Than a Monkey? Or something.. I was, my realization: I live my life in the realm, like. Authenticity is the most important thing to me. And I was gonna speak about, like, my pain and my ideas from chess and martial arts, and stuff that I kinda love. And I was just feeling this wild hilarity of being the follow-up act to a monkey and being just.. Yeah, that was the way the Dancing Bear thing came from. That was the last keynote address I ever gave. And so now, I only will only do a public- I mean I only do public things, frankly, with you.
I mean, I think for the last many, many years, that’s all I’ve done. And then, um, if I give a talk, it’s always a Q and A, which is a dynamic dialogue where I actually can feel I can learn from, ‘cause you’re speaking to a small group or a big group of really brilliant people who are all in on their training process. And, um, it’s an exploration I can learn from from their questions. And so that’s where the Dancing Bear comes from, follow-up act to a monkey.
[Laughing] A real monkey. Are you smarter than a monkey? [Sigh] That’s coming up next, folks, so stand by. Uh, what book or writer or it could be thinker has most influenced you in the last, say, year? Or someone who has really just influenced you? Adam, do you have any thoughts on, uh, who or what that might be?
Well I’m always foraging for ideas, so uh, for example Cialdini’s book: Influence. But I read far afield, because the ideas in investing come from outside the domain. If you wanna have an insight in whatever your field is, it helps to look outside your field. So I read constantly, and I read poetry. I like Rumi, ‘cause he’s got me in touch with the mystical and the mysterious and the magical.
Do you gift many books?
Do you gift books to other people?
I gift all the time. I’m a world champion gift-giver.
If so, what are your- [Laughs]
It’s true! Adam gives so many books, gifts, it’s amazing to me and my son, Jack. He’s like, he’s a world champion gift-giver, I think that’s absolutely true.
So, this is gonna be a digression, which is kind of my thing. Uh, so I remember once reading a bedtime story to Jack, long story. Uh, and the book was Giraffes Can’t Dance.
And this book, for like two weeks, has been just decapitating me on Amazon. This book is a juggernaut. It is, it is just-
Killing! The Top Ten list on Amazon. Every Christmas, Giraffes Can’t Dance will kick your ass.
[Laughing] And you just blew it up on your podcast.
I think that’s like harakiri. That’s what it’s called.
Jack loves that book.
I will have to delay the publication of this esteemed podcast, featuring Giraffes Can’t Dance. First one’s on me, guys. Um, come sponsor my podcast. Uh.. [Sigh] where the hell was I?! Oh yes.
So you’ve given a lot of books as gifts. What books have you gifted most often to other people? Is there a shortlist, or just those that come to mind that you’ve gifted more than once?
No, it’s really unique to each person. Um, so there’s no one book, ‘cause each gift reflects something I wanna share with that person.
But I would imagine there would have to be, uh, some generally applicable books that you’ve enjoyed, that you’ve given to more than once person, or is that not the case?
Oh, I’d have to think about that.
Okay. We’ll come back!
Yeah; come back to that.
We’ve got Ramit, we’ve got Giraffes Can’t Dance.
That’s a tough question. By the way, I can’t let Ramit’s “Fuck you.” thing go. If any of you wanna get in touch with him, you now know how to get his attention!
[Laughing] Oh God! What have I done?!
So if you have business opportunities, anything.. And I believe this works well with.. [moves away from the microphone] with everyone.
Thanks so much.
And if you want Josh to do a speaking engagement, you have to practice your dirty fighting skills and figure out..
Kick him in the groin!
That’ll get his attention.
For all the people who’ve been asking me to introduce them to Josh to do media, he’s not gonna do it. He would rather be fighting and cooking turkeys and, uh, riding his one wheel around.
And surfing, which is a big thing.
So Ramit, what about you? In terms of, uh, thinkers or books or anything, really, that’s influenced your thinking a lot in the past year?
Um, I read a lot of military books. Um, I think that the military is amazing at building training programs and identifying people who are good and then making them great. Especially at the special operations level, and having met some of those folks and doing some work with them, it’s pretty outstanding, the way that they can cultivate mastery. So that’s great. Books I gifted? Gift of Fear is an amazing book, particularly for women, but I actually think everybody. Learning to trust your intuition..
Gavin de Becker?
Yeah. Gavin de Becker. And he talks about..
Who, by the way.. Not to interrupt, but does, has a company that does very high-end security details for high-profile folks.
Exactly. Trusting your intuition, knowing when the little antenna at the back of your head goes up and you can’t see anything, and we so often say: “It’s nothing. I’m gonna walk down that alley.” or “I’m gonna just go into my house like normal.” But listen! And learn to trust your intuition, because we have it, but it kind of gets suppressed because we don’t wanna be that weird person. So that’s a great gift, I can’t recommend it enough. Two books I wish I could gift more: Charlie Munger’s…
Poor Charlie’s Almanack?
Yeah! Amazing book on mental models. Super dense, and nobody wants to get that book as a gift. I mean..
It’s a gift you have to buy, not get gifted. Uh, that one and also Breakthrough Advertising, which I think is one of the most sophisticated books on marketing ever written. Super dense, I read it every year, I learn something new.
Who’s the author?
Um, Eugene Schwartz. And amazing, amazing book on copywriting and, really, human psychology. But again, nobody wants to get that as a gift. Look it up, and buy it if you want, but it’s fantastic.
What about you, Josh? And I’ll give you two options here. It could be someone or something that has really changed your - or informed your thinking in the last year. Or it could be something that you’re really looking into, subject matter-wise or a particular thinker (you’re) diving into in the coming year.
Well, you and I have talked about books a lot, and so we’re just gonna set that.
Well, we don’t have to..
Yeah. We’ve done a lot of Best Books
We don’t have to set the record on the platter and play the same track, but subject matter-wise?
Yeah. I um, so my foundation of books which we’ve discussed, you know, Lao Tzu, Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Robert Pirsig. These are books that are really important to me. Recently - and we’ve discussed all thse, so we’re not gonna..
Yeah, but I have a question for you about one of them.
Can we jump in?
So the Tao Te Ching?
The Dao De Jing. Yeah.
Okay. So this has come up a lot in the podcast. A lot of people like it: Rick Rubin, yourself. But if I recommend that book to, say, ten people: of those ten, two may seem to enjoy it, and eight are like: “What is this?! I can’t make any sense out of it! It’s just like a book of fortune cookies. What is.. What the hell is this?” So what are they missing? How should they read it?
My favorite definition of wisdom comes from the, um, glossary of Robert Thurman’s translation of the Vimalak rti Sutra. And it’s tolerance of cognitive dissonance. And that’s what Lao Tzu is about, right? So if you read the Dao De..
First of all, I think it depends what translation you read. You need to read, in my opinion, the Gia-fu Feng and Jane English version.
Say that one more time?
Gia-fu Feng and Jane English translation of the Dao De Jing, I think is the most true that I’ve run into, and I think I’ve read them all. I don’t read ancient Chinese, so I’ve had to kind of circle it.
And a lot of these.. I almost took up learning ancient Chinese years ago for that one purpose. But the, reason, a lot of these translations are sort of thesis statements which take away the ambiguity. And I think a lot of people don’t want to tolerate cognitive dissonance. I mean, Lao Tzu doesn’t tell you what to do. It’s..
Okay, so is it the lack of specific prescription that is kind of almost a Rorschach Test of sense? I mean you’re looking at the tea leaves and what you see tells you - how you interpret it tells you what you need to know, as opposed to..
Well this principle that Ramit was speaking about, um, you know, the response to aggression with empty space, with non-violence. This is at the essence of Lao Tzu. For me, it was very important during the period where I was transitioning, where I dealing with this existential crisis in my chess career. I had been working with a coach for several years who was urging me to study the opposite style from what was natural to me.
I was being pulled into this externalized relationship to things, and it was kind of the entrance into my philosophical exploration of self-expression, of authenticity, of a deeply intrinsic relationship to my search for truth as opposed to being driven by the external. Competing from the inside out as opposed to the outside in. So it was a big part of my foundation in, um, in self-development. So maybe that’s.. In all those books, those authors that I just mentioned were a huge part of that.
In the last year, um, I have to tell you. This is a brilliant book. Tim sent me an advance copy. This Tools of Titans is.. Tim and I are dear friends; I love the guy, but I give him so much shit. Trust me, I’m not saying this if it isn’t true - it’s a goldmine. I mean your podcast is brilliant, and I believe it’s your calling in a lot of ways, at least in this period of your life. Because you’ve taken the art of deconstruction, which I think is your finest art, and you’ve developed this medium with which you can study people and get to the essence of them so quickly. And I’m stunned by how you can have so many conversations that are deeply meaningful. You can really get to the essence of someone, studying them for a few days or a week. I mean, I couldn’t fucking do that! It’s a beautiful thing to see.
Then you have this, you bring it to the world, you’re gifting the best ideas of a lot of, who you consider brilliant people, through this podcast. But if you listen to 2-3 hour talks, which is awesome but a lot of people don’t have the patience, this is a way of just short cutting your way in, so I think this is actually a goldmine. I’ve been reading it and loving it myself.
Thanks, Josh! Thanks, man!
It’s true, dude! I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.
Thanks, man! I didn’t slip him a twenty; he’s an expensive date. Thank you, Josh.
Another book which I think is really important right now, is a buddy of mine who you had on: Sebastian Junger. His book, Tribe.
Yes. a hundred percent agreed.
Yeah. I think your interview with him was beautiful. You guys really - the introduction of these two guys was hilarious. The text exchange to get them to like loosen their shit up with one another was really funny, but finally they did, and I thought that was.. Sebastian’s been studying evolutionary psychology. [Laughs]
So we were.. Josh introduced us instead of doing this like: [Excessively formally] “Very nice to meet you, sir.” “Yes, good day sir!” This very kind of weirdly subtle formal exchange.
“Have your publishers talk to my publisher.”
So Josh jumped in a few levels down, he’s like: “Guys, loosen the fuck up!” [Laughs]
I was like: “Okay, alright.” Tribe, I highly, highly recommend. It’s a great short read. So I’ve asked people oftentimes, and we are gonna do some Q&A in about 12 minutes, so hold your horses, but we’ll definitely get there shortly.
Uh, the question I’ve asked often - and there are many - but is: “What advice would you give your 30-year old self, or your 20-year old self?” Tends to produce one or two of the same answers. “I wouldn’t say anything, because I wouldn’t wanna change where I am.” or “Enjoy it.” Very common. But the question, though, that I’d like to pose is a bit different. And it is: “What advice do you think the happiest version of your 80-year old self would give you now?” Anyone who wants to tackle that is welcome to give it a shot.
Well, lemme riff off something that Josh said about.. You’re talking about the book where 2 people love it and 8 people are like: “What is this?” And I think that in this day and age, we are given so much advice. And as someone who’s in the advice industry, I see it and I have a healthy disdain for a lot of advice. And, you know, if you follow the advice that people give you, you gotta wake up, and by 3 AM you need to be hustling, and you need to be doing all this stuff. It’s crazy! You can’t do all this stuff and feasibly be a normal human being.
I had books that people told me I need to read. And I opened them up and I’m like: “This book is shit! Who the hell-“ But like twenty people I liked told me to read it! And then..
[Laughs] Wait! Gimme an example, can you think of one?
Yes, because I ended up loving it. So here’s a classic, simple example.
Four-hour Workweek! [Laughs]
In my early 20s, I read 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. And I’m like: “What is this?” And then I picked it up again when I was like 30 and I was like: “This is awesome.” I wasn’t ready for it, and I’m glad that I gave it another chance, because I didn’t have the context. And I’m willing to bet - I’m not saying that I got better, things just changed and by the time I was 30, I was ready for it. Guarantee this book, maybe some other people don’t like it, and that’s fine. But maybe some of them don’t have the context, or they’re not ready, or it’s just not integral.
Right now, everybody - including in the book, which I love - meditation’s a classic thing. I don’t meditate. And I try not to feel guilty about it, because I don’t think it’s the right time in my life. I wake up, I have a very calm mind, and I have the ways that I like to enjoy, a lot of stuff. It just doesn’t involve meditation. But I’m sure, because I believe that most of us are basically the same in most parts of life, and if we embrace that, then we can optimize it and we can free up that 2% that we’re different and get really unique and special. I bet you that as I get a little bit older, I will become more spiritual, I will probably meditate. These are classic things that happen.
Um, I think if I were 80 years old, I would look back and say: “Listen to the advice and hear what people are telling you to do. But if it doesn’t feel right, it’s okay to say ‘You know what, I’m gonna put that aside.’ Come back to it in a year or five years, and maybe at that point, the book will be great, or I’ll be ready to meditate.” But I don’t have interest in it right now, it just doesn’t feel right, and that’s okay. I don’t need to do what everybody else says, I wanna do what’s right for me, be a great version of myself, improve, but be really judicious about who you’re listening to and what you’re applying.
Oh, I think also, you mentioned intuition and the Gift of Fear. This is something I’ve really tried hard to resurrect for myself in the last few years, because I’ve been driven by pro and con lists and spreadsheets, and this, that, and the other thing. Using my left side of the brain - simplistic, obviously - just trying to use an analytical framework for everything and took a lot of wrong terms.
I’d be like: “This deal is great!” And I remember at one point, ages ago, this girlfriend says to me: “Wait, do you trust this guy at all?” I was like: “Not really.” And she’s like: “Whoa, Jesus.” And then I did the deal and of course it was a disaster! So I think the intuition is also really important to develop an ear for when you’re making those types of decisions to put things aside. Adam? What would your 80-year old self tell you now?
Well, one of my favorite quotes was by one of my heroes, Juan Belmonte. Juan Belmonte was sort of the Rocky of bullfighting in the early part of this century. He fought pre-antibiotics, so even a scratch of a bull’s horn, you could die from that. They used to call him ‘The Flying Matador’ because he was so bad, the bulls would just keep tossing him in the air. But he was-
[Laughs] I did not see that coming!
And there’s a quote in there that I love, and actually one I’d really like to share, ‘cause it’s germane to everything we do. We hear about achieving and performance and being our best selves, and he said - mind you this is a bullfighter who rose from poverty to be the best bullfighter of all time. And, um, with no aptitude for the sport, really! You know, you’re bad at martial arts or surfing, whatever, you know! But if you’re bad at bullfighting, you die!
Anyway, so he said the following: “No life worthy of the name consists of anything more than the continual series of struggles to develop one’s character through the medium of whatever one has chosen as a career.” Which is fascinating because now your career becomes reframed as merely something with which you’re gonna develop your character. I think that’s what my 80-year old self would just remind me of that: “Keep working on your character; really, it doesn’t matter what you do.”
What aspect of your character are you most trying to develop in your current primary?
What was that?
Uh, Josh? It’s a tough act to follow.
That was beautiful, man!
[Laughing] I have trouble remembering four-word quotes! That was amazing! I’m like: “To be or not to.. have? Uh..”
Alright. Josh, uh, what about your 80-year old self?
Well, I’m in the midst of this transition from being a fighter, a competitor, um and then literally a fighter to being a nurturer, primarily. And my relationships to the sport that I’m taking on now, which is paddle surfing, which is my fourth big mountain in terms of my own training, is much more about receptivity and feeling the ocean and entering it, like entering that sweet spot of enormous power, something that’s traveled thousands of miles.
And so, a big reason that I’ve gone that way is because I feel like the art of receptivity is just a neverending pool, I intuit from here. And so, receptivity and love is a huge part of what I intuit is where I’ll be focused for the next 10, 20, 30 years. And so I would say from here that from my perspective now, that’s what I think what my 80-year old self would be telling me to focus on. Deep Listening to humans and nature and what’s moving most elementally inside of myself. I’m a completely devoted dad and I think that I can’t imagine my 80-year old self saying anything but: “Seize every moment that you can with these little dudes and give ‘em every ounce of love that you can.”
I feel in myself a commitment to living life, you know, every last drop, as fully as I can live it. Honestly, I live in New York, now and this is putting that into question. I’m so passionate about.. I love New York, I’m a New Yorker, I love this city, but I’m yearning for nature right now. I feel, in some ways, that living on the water is what’s needed for this next surge of me living life as fully as possible in my own development. And so, I think that’s the direction my 80-year old self would be giving me a kick in the ass, but, um, but he’ll be a lot wiser than I am.
There’s so many questions that I wanna ask; we’ll have to continue this. but let’s start with one, which is: What is some of the worst advice that you hear given out in your world? You can choose “World” however you wanna define it. That could be past career, current career, it could be circle of friends, anything like that, or a terrible piece. Doesn’t have to be the worst, but a common piece of advice. I’ll buy some time here; for me, I remember applying to college as having my guidance counselor in high school tell me to lower all of my standards. Because I wanted, I had my reach schools, my A-list, I had my “I think I can get into” B-list schools, and then my safety schools, and he said: “No, no, no.” He laughed and he said: “Silly, silly boy! You need to take your safety schools and make those your reach schools!”
“You’re like five paragraphs too high, here.” Not realizing at the time, I’d realized this soon thereafter that his incentive was to be able to say: “X percentage of my students got into their first choice college.” Easiest way to do that is to make everyone lower their standards. That was a terrible piece of advice that I received and a terrible piece of advice that I hear a lot. The antithesis of that would be: “Hold the standard.” Which is the advice, for instance, at The Fat Duck, which was at the time the number one ranked restaurant in the world. Heston Blumenthal said that to someone I’ve had on this podcast: Chris Young. It’s like: “Hold the standard.” ‘Cause he tried to pass something off that was like 99% perfect but not 100%. So anyone wanna take a stab at that?
“Do it the way that guy did it.”
“Do it the way that guy did it?”
Yeah, like people give advice all the time that you should follow this prescriptive path to success. And I think that excellence is all about self-expression. And so people look outside and try to replicate the path of someone else, but then when the shit hits the fan, as it always does when the pressure is on, it’s not coming from inside of you.
How much of “self” let’s just say: Tim, Josh, and so on, is discovery versus creation, in your mind? In other words, like do you start with the raw materials of everything that Josh represents and then it’s a process of pulling back the layers of the onion and discovering these different pieces? Or is it really just Tabula Rasa?
I think they’re entangled. I think that as we’re discovering ourselves, we’re creating ourselves. I think about this in the context of someone taking on an art. They have to understand who they are. I think people should do what they love and they should do it in a way that they love. But that evolves, and so it’s not static: it’s dynamic. It’s dynamic quality versus static quality.
And so, there’s the act of creation in the discovery process. And I mean, I’ve experienced the biggest losses that I’ve had and the biggest disappointments that I’ve had have led to the biggest wins of my life. Um, in many ways, that’s because I created myself based on the response to that experience. I think that’s actually a really important part of, this, you know, unobstructed self-expression: doing it from what’s inside out. That’s always changing, and you have to be attuned to it. So the way I would respond to that would be that intuitively, they’re fundamentally entangled and navigating that entanglement is a big part of the genius and the growth curve. Do you agree?
Uh, I do agree. Well, I agree that that is an interesting viewpoint to have on it. It’s something that I’m, uh..
That sounds like a dickish way of saying: “I didn’t understand anything that you just said.” But it’s not! It’s just that I don’t have a firm position on it, it’s something that I’m exploring myself, and thinking through myself. That’s why I hang out with these guys, is to get something to chew on, so I have to chew on that. I don’t know if I agree with it!
I don’t know either! You just asked a question, I thought.. [Laughs] That’s what I think.
I heard one of the most interesting pieces of advice, recently. And it, uh, blew up something I’d believed my whole life. My friend Nick Gray runs a company on museums. He takes peoples in museums and he gives ‘em tours that are really cool. He was talking about how he goes to a museum himself. And he said: “If I go to a museum, I’m spending 90 minutes, max. And the first 30 minutes are in the cafe, planning where I’m gonna go.” And I’m sitting there saying: “Wait. What?! What do you mean?”
The way I was raised, you know, we would go to a museum maybe once every five years, maybe, as kids. We’d save up our money to go there, and we would spend seven hours going every level, ‘cause we knew we were never gonna go back. And what Nick was saying was, in so many words, have the abundance to know that you can go back and don’t think that it’s once and done. Also, know that.. leave at the peak. There’s power in leaving at the peak. And it blew my mind to think that my whole life until that point: thirty four, that I had just thought: “Gotta go through every single thing and check the box.” But really, he’s talking about curation, he’s talking about abundance. All in a simple one-sentence example.
Oh, I love it! Also reminds me of - we won’t dig into it right now - we’ve talked about it before, the ending on a good rep. Ending on quality, really closely related, for both achievement, in that case, in skill development, but also for appreciation and quality of life. Uh, Adam, what about you?
Which question we talking about here?
Uh, yeah, what are your thoughts on the last [laughs] ten minutes of conversation? Uh, bad advice that you’ve received or heard? Or that you wanna give?
[Laughs] I remember I had sold my interest in the Princeton Review, and I was wondering what to do next with my life. And I was speaking at the time with two older, very successful, like mega-successful, businessmen. And, um, this is about twenty years ago, and one of them said I should go into ball bearings.
Like he thought for a second, and he said: “Adam, ball bearings.”
[Laughing] Great, I love that!
Right, and he said: “Okay, stay with me here. All the smart talent from universities, they’ve gone to Wall Street and they’ve exhausted whatever is to be found there. You’re crazy smart, but you’re competing with other people who are crazy smart, and why do that?” And by the way, I thought he was.. He said there were no more possibilities there, which, that also was wrong. But the second part was interesting. He said ball bearings!
[Laughing] Ball bearings!
Right! But you’ll see the relevance in a second. He said: “Ball bearings has not had its Edison, right? No one’s gone into ball bearings, so it’s.. No one’s ever thought about ball bearings.”
It’s fertile ground!
Little round things, different shapes, but- I mean sorry, different sizes. Um..
So it was a metaphor, right? The metaphor was: “Go with something that no-one’s ever looked at!” And you look at Uber, like who thought about taxis? Look at AirBNB, you look at the most successful companies, and they’re pursuing the ball bearings philosophy, right? And so the first part that opportunities on Wall Street had been exhausted, that part was wrong. But the ball bearings part was right.
You know, and I was talking to a friend and I passed on, who was wondering what she should do with her career, and I said: “Oh, ball bearings!” Find something that.. There was a pencil on the table, like a #2 pencil. I said: “There! Why don’t you re-invent the pencil? Who thinks about pencils? I don’t!” Which means there’s an opportunity there, and the wonderful thing about the world is today, you can find any niche, and there are enough people in the world that you can make a fortune on #2 pencils. So if any of you are wondering what to do with your lives, there! Number two pencils! Or ball bearings, or.. But find, really! Cups! It doesn’t matter, find something that - tables - find something that no one thinks about and think about it!
No, it’s great advice, and it actually reminds me of a trip I had, recently. I went to Utah, and we went to this, it’s not even fair to call it an estate. It was just A state! A single individual basically owned a state. It was this gigantic property; he had his own airstrip, he had tons of buildings, he had his own fishing pond, ludicrously wealthy. And I asked what he did to make all this money, and he goes: “Oh yeah, you know those little, like, those little parts of the wing that flip up vertically?” He figured those out. Like 10 years ago, something you probably barely notice and in the aviation world, it’s kind of like the equivalent of wheels on luggage. It was like: “Why didn’t anybody think of that earlier?!” And now, it just prints money, but it was because he took something very un-sexy and was willing to dive into it.
Well I wanna let these gents have a shot at cavorting and causing trouble in the back. Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s give a hand for Josh Waitzkin, Ramit Sethi, Adam Robinson!
Thanks a lot!
Hey guys, this is Tim again. Just a few more things before you take off.
Number one, this is Five Bullet Friday. Do you want to get a short e-mail from me, would you enjoy getting a short e-mail from me, every Friday, that provides a little morsel of fun before the weekend, and Five Bullet Friday is a very short e-mail where I share the coolest things I’ve found or that I’ve been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I’ve discovered, it could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I’ve somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric, as I do. It could include favorite articles that I’ve read and that I’ve shared with my close friends, for instance. It’s very short, it’s just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. If you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to fourhourworkweek.com and just drop in your e-mail. And you will get the very next one! If you sign up, I hope you enjoy.
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