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Welcome to another episode of Conversations with Coleman, my guest today is Tom Billu Tom. Billu is the co-founder of the billion dollar brand Quest Nutrition, as well as the co-founder of the Impact Theory podcast, which I've been a guest on. Tom was named one of Success magazine's top twenty five influential people in twenty eighteen and Entrepreneur of the Year by secret entourage in twenty sixteen. Tom and I talk about how he became such a great interviewer, we talk about the problem with self-help, we talk about the benefits of believing things that aren't true as a mechanism of self-improvement.
We discuss the side effects of taking pride in one's intelligence. We discuss council culture and political correctness, we talk about the significance of racial identity. We discussed the complementary roles of the political left and right. And we discussed the psychology of victimhood. So without further ado, Tom, Billu. Tom, thanks so much for coming on my podcast, dude. I am excited to be here. As mentioned, I had a lot of fun with you on my podcast.
I love the way your brain works, so I'm looking forward to spending this time together. The feeling is absolutely mutual.
I went on for listeners. I went on Tom's podcast Impact Theory podcast, which I really recommend a few months ago. And this was in the context of the craziness of the George Floyd riots. And it was I think it was really in the thick of that situation. And from my perspective, I was doing two podcasts a day because obviously the the work I do is extremely germane to what happened to be the biggest news story for weeks and weeks and weeks.
So I was in unusually high demand, which caused me to frankly become jaded on doing people's podcast, because I repeat myself and I you know, I get asked the same questions. I have a slightly shorter fuse for what whatever I perceive to be the other. The podcast hosts either lack of familiarity with the topic or just my my whole approach gets slightly more impatient. And then I went on your podcast and it was like an oasis in a desert, because the level of preparation that you do on your guests and your your style of interviewing was just such a breath of fresh air that I you know, I found I didn't I would have given you four hours if you wanted it.
And I think so I highly recommend people just listen to your podcast for that reason. And more and more, I try to make my guests feel how you made me feel in that context. I love that dude. Yeah, I think that's that's been a big key to my success when I started and nobody knew who the hell I was. I thought, OK, how do I get the kind of breakthrough that I want? And it just seems self-evident to me that the only way that I was going to pull that off would be to.
Do more more research to understand people better, to pull things out that nobody else is pulling out to, because as like you were saying, people get in these death loops, right? They just repeat the same shit across every interview. And we live in a world where people oftentimes will take in that same person from multiple sources. And if they hear them just in their loop, which is what I call it, it gets very uninteresting, really fast.
And so my mission in life to be able to enjoy being an interviewer was to get people out of their loop because I'll spend Jesus, dude, there's people I spend 12 hours researching before I come in to do an interview. And so I've heard them say the same thing. So for me not to be bored out of my mind, I've got to find new and interesting places to take them.
I put you in the category with Tyler Cowan. I don't know if you know about him. I don't. But now I'm intrigued. So he he's nothing like you in that he's as as academic and nerdy as a human could really be. And he's probably the smartest person I've ever had the pleasure of talking to. OK, but he is you know, he'll have academics on his show and he'll ask the three questions they've never been asked before. And he so often gets guests saying, how how did you know that?
Know I put you in Tyler Cowan and Nardwuar in that class?
Actually, I've always wanted to be compared to Navar. That guy is on a level, but I am beyond inspired by the stuff he pulls out. I've often fantasized, like, what is he doing for real? Does he have like investigators like because he'll pull shit out from, like the neighborhood where it's like, how could you possibly know that the ripped teddy bear that I had when I was six was blue? You know what I mean? And right.
You can see people being taken aback by, like, how the hell are you doing that?
And it's every interview to it's like every single interview he manages to do this. So I'm there. I'm not as far as along the path as you are, I think. But I'm getting there.
I like him too. So it's hard to know where to start with you. You're kind of a hard person to define, which is part of what makes you so interesting. You've been passionate about at different points in your life, comedy, filmmaking, security, software, tech, entrepreneurship, nutrition, entrepreneurship and motivational speaking, podcasting. So I want to touch on your general approach to motivation and, you know, the kinds of growth mindset ideas that you are often talking about on your podcast and elsewhere.
I want to talk about I think more recently you've been talking about current events more or at least the big themes that you're seeing with regard to current events. I think that that was part of having me on your podcast is a foray into. Not if not politics per say, then the wider concerns that one might call political. So I want to start, though, with you being a someone who either is or could be characterized as self-help in that genre.
To to come clean, I've always had something of a judge, mental outlook towards self-help and determining what amount of that is my pretentiousness and what amount is that. I'm perceiving a genuine smell of happiness all over this self-help genre.
And I think I have to imagine I'm not the only one who feels this way when they go through the self-help section in the bookstore.
And so on one of your podcasts, you recommended, I think, a book called Mindset by Carol Dweck and coming from you, I take the recommendation very seriously, but I think if I just saw it in a bookstore, I would immediately dismiss it as best self-help. So how does one distinguish snake oil from real advice? And can you help me adjust my attitude towards the genre so that one having that degree of skepticism is very wise.
And I think people should have a skepticism with this stuff. It really is an industry fraught with snake oil salesmen and the human ability to give yourself over to what you want to believe versus what is actually true is is very scary. And, you know, as the quote goes, madness is rare in the individual, but it's the norm in groups. And so when you start looking at what I think we're living through, now is a time where people's desire for something to be true has hit like this weird crescendo.
And so people are acting as if there actually is data to back up that the way that we're trying to move actually gives us the outcome that we want. So if you focus on the notion of outcomes like what do we everything that we do is a test and we run a test and then we look at the data. And if you find people in the self-help industry that have a results based orientation, like Carol Dweck with the book Mindset, she's a Stanford professor that's looking at decades of research into does this sort of fundamental frame of reference that a person approaches the world.
Does it have real world implications? And the book makes a very compelling case that if you believe that the world is out to get you, that your talent and intelligence are fixed traits and there's nothing that you can do to improve them, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And everywhere that you look, you will see the evidence for the fact that the world is against you. You will see evidence of the fact that your talent and intelligence are just there.
You're born with them and that's that. But if, on the other hand, you believe that. No, no, no, I may not be good at this right now. That doesn't mean that I can't get good at this. And that fundamental switch, what I have come to call the only belief that matters. Once you believe that energy put into getting better results than you actually getting better, then that changes the way that you behave. And ultimately, the whole idea behind self-help should be to improve your skill set and governing your behavior through the belief that time spent on improving will have a real world consequence.
So the most important thing that I want people to understand and when you find self-help stuff that adheres to this rule, then a world opens up to you. But I want people to understand is skills have utility. So being an architect means you can build shed that doesn't fall down. Right. And that that's a thing. And being able to build a bridge that spans a body of water and people can drive cars, that's real building a house. It's real.
GPS is real like cars. A real like that was people having to figure something out, whether it's material sciences on better tires or machining, so that we can actually build the parts that we need or understanding internal combustion, like all of this shit tear reforms that it can terraform a planet, it can literally shape our societies, and that's skills having utility. And that to me is all self-help is it's just about skill acquisition. But because you first have to shape the mindset to create the right frame of reference, the lens through which you view the world, you get a lot of charlatans and a lot of people that bullshit about things, about the mind.
And because of that, it's a mixed bag, some real and some is total horseshit.
Yeah. So you touched on something there, which I think is is really important. And this gets into the topic of objective truth versus subjective truth. This is something you spoken about in a self-help context and a self-improvement context. You don't believe in the notion of objective truth or you think it's useful to believe certain truths that may not even be true. Can you talk a little bit about. So you think about that? I can. And this is my version of the third rail.
Like this is the dangerous thing about my frame of reference, that if people misunderstand, they're going to get themselves into real trouble. What I would say is truth, as in I do a lot and I get be consequence. If you don't understand that you are really fucked and you were just going down a path that nothing but woe awaits you now regarding yourself because of the way the mind works. So the human brain uses heuristics to get you to be able to navigate the world.
The human brain has absolutely no interest in objective reality. The human brain has tremendous. US interest in keeping you alive long enough to have children that have children, so that's the brain's job now reality is the number of photons falling on an object that reflect back to your eye. And so if you were looking objectively at the things around me, I would be a mathematical equation having to do with the volume of space, having to do with the reflected photons like that's objective.
And so when you realize that your brain is actually encased in total darkness and light never touches your brain. Sound never touches your brain. It is literally chemical and electrical signals that your brain then creates a virtual reality. And it's it's a very compelling and useful virtual reality that lets you move around without bumping into too much shit. But it isn't objectively real. Now, why does that matter? It matters because of things like you're something like five times more likely to believe something that's negative about yourself than you are to believe something that's positive about yourself.
You are 50 percent hard wired, so says science and 50 percent malleable. Now, back in the eighties, everybody said, no, no, no, there is no malleability. You're just hardwired. You are where you are now. It ended up not being true, but you wouldn't have faulted somebody for believing that that's true because that was certainly what was being propagated out into the world. So I came into brain plasticity. And this will illustrate the point of why you have to have a very well thought out relationship to truth about yourself in that eye because of the dominant scientific narrative, which is that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, that you go through this hyper period of plasticity in your early years, that Peter is out somewhere and sort of your early teens.
I was sliding towards depression because I thought that I was as good as I was ever going to be and I was not very impressed and I wasn't making my way in the world very well. That just really scared me that I had these big dreams. And no, I didn't have the skill set to pull them off. So I start reading about the brain and it was like this debate, is the brain plastic or not, in adult years? And I just said, I'm going to act as if even if it's a lie, I'm going to act as if it's true that I can make change.
And even though I didn't know if it was true, acting as if it were true put me down a path of trying to get better. And that ended up changing my life because it really was true. So even even if it had been a lie. So I always tell people you should believe that you can do anything you set your mind to without limitation. So I have these rules, the beliefs, really. Twenty five beliefs. And I think it's belief number five is you can do anything you set your mind to without limitation.
Belief number six is, hey, guess what, believe number five is actually a lie. You can't do anything. You set your mind to it. Certainly not without limitation, but it's an empowering lie that will get you to act in a certain way. The pursuit of skills being the way that I'm talking about. And if you pursue the acquisition of skills, you really will get better. And getting better then allows you to build bridges, houses, teach better, help people improve your life, whatever the case may be.
So that was a belief that I had put into my life, not in any way, shape or form, being concerned about whether it was true. I was just concerned about whether it caused me to act in a way that improved my life. So let's talk a little bit about pride. You have that one thing you often say that struck me is that you shouldn't pride yourself on being smart or at the very least, you don't pride yourself on being smart and you don't recommend it.
This is interesting.
It was thought provoking to me because I agree the moment you pride yourself on being smart, there is a little door in your brain that closes to new ways of thinking into ways in which you're wrong and you take all of you, no matter how smart you are, you take all of Daniel Kahneman cognitive biases on board in order to protect the things that you believe or have publicly said at the same time. I would be totally lying to myself if I said I didn't pride myself on being smart.
At some level that's deep in my psyche. Like, I think I'm smart enough to figure out what's true in the world. I'm a writer. So it's a balancing act where clearly at some level, pride and intelligence is a core part of my personality. But I, I totally by and readily believe that to pride yourself on being smart inevitably leads you to actually, paradoxically, becoming less smart over time. So how do you think about something like that?
Yeah, this is going to be the most fun I'm going to have in a long time because you're you jump right into the complexity, into the nuance. And I struggle a lot when I try to explain these concepts of people, because you want to simplify things far enough that they can get it and implement it, knowing that they're going to discover the nuance as they go, but better to get them on a path that's going to be useful. But there there is so much nuance to knowing when to lean on.
No, I really am good at this. So take myself, for example. I have a tremendous amount of verbal ability. I didn't do anything to earn that in the beginning. I've just always got disproportionate response from energy that I put into getting better at something that has to do with verbal ability. I'm going to get, let's say, a one point three X return compared to somebody else who might not even get a one X, they might get a point seven X return.
And so now it's going to be a pretty big difference between someone who really struggles verbally and then somebody like myself who is gets a disproportionate return. And as I put more and more energy in that, I get better and better and better. So now there are times where I'll go, I'm a bad ass motherfucker, like when it comes to verbal ability, not only if I trained my ass off, like I do have an innate ability. And there are times where I will say to myself to call my nerves like, you know, you'll show up in this moment.
You're going to show up. And part of it is, yes, you've just you've put in the reps. But part of it is you're good at this. Now, the reason that I warn people against investing in that, like I'm a bright enough guy, right. I'm not blind to my level of intelligence, but I think I have a pretty accurate view of where my intellect actually sits. And because I don't pride myself on my intellect, I can build strategies that allow me to work around the areas that I'm we can leverage the areas where I'm strong.
But to really put a fine point on the direct answer to your question, when you build your sense of self-esteem on being something, it is inevitably a very fragile position, meaning Albert Einstein was once asked, what's it like to be the smartest man in the world? And he said, I don't know. You'll have to ask Nikola Tesla. And it it is a case of and then, of course, Nikola Tesla struggled his entire life and could never really keep things together and wasn't able to build all the things that he wanted to build.
And so I'm sure he struggled with his own crises internally. So if you meet somebody who's better, faster, stronger, smarter than you, that that sort of dings your own sense of self. So read a book by Nassim Taleb called Antifragile, and he talks about the need to realize that the human animal should not just be resilient or strong or robust, because those are still all ultimately defined by their breaking point, which is their breaking point is farther away.
They should instead be like the human immune system, which is truly antifragile. The more you attack it, the stronger it gets. And so I was at a point in my life, I was really struggling and I want this answer to take too long. But I was in a period of my life, I was really struggling with low self-esteem and I realized that I was moving myself away from my own goals, fighting for ideas just because they were mine, not because they would actually move me towards my goal because I needed to be right, because I was bringing on all of my pride in my life from being smart.
So I had been one of the smarter kids where I grew up. Then by the time I got to college, I was no longer one of the smarter kids that was very damaging.
And then when I got into the real world, then it really wasn't one of the smarter kids. And so that was outright terrifying. And when I realized I was trying to become an entrepreneur while arguing for my ideas rather than getting behind the ideas that actually worked, that I had put myself into the super weak position, I hadn't yet read the book. Antifragile and so I just realized, OK, what I build my self-esteem around matters, it's important to feel good about myself and it does feel good when I'm right, feels very bad when I'm wrong.
I'm now making stupid decisions, meaning they move me away from my goal to be right, to feel smart. And that doesn't seem like a winning strategy. So can I change what I value myself or can I change what I build my pride around? Can I develop self-esteem based on something else? And what I realized in that moment was the only thing that I could find that. And again, I didn't have the word antifragile then, but recognize that's exactly what I was reaching for, was if I thought of myself as a learner, then I could take tremendous pride in my very willingness to accept that I was wrong, to admit publicly that I was wrong, to then see the right answer, put all of my energy into that right answer, and that if I could feel better about myself when I was willing to stare nakedly at my inadequacies like that, the very act of going, Oh, I'm blind here, I'm not good at this, I really failed.
That was terrible. But that I would reward myself emotionally for being willing to do that thing, which most people wouldn't do. Could I, six months down the road, actually get the neurochemical response that I was previously getting from being right? And the answer is yes. So now when I get kicked in the teeth and it always stings in the beginning to be like, fuck, I really screwed up or I was wrong about that thing. This really sucks.
I feel stupid, but I know, hey, if if I'm willing to stop and look at this thing, I can actually learn and if I learn, I can get better. And so my life has been that, that on a long enough timeline I can win at just about anything. But I just have to be willing to get kicked in the face as the the analogy that I use is somebody throws a nugget of gold at you in the form of some painful truth that hits you in the head.
It hurts. It sucks. And most people try to put up some sort of deflector so they don't get hit in the head with the knowledge that they're too dumb or they're not good enough yet or whatever, but then they don't have the nugget of gold. So I let it hit me in the face. It hurts, but I bend down and pick it up. Now I have a piece of gold and so what can I do with that nugget of gold?
And my whole life has become about that and realizing that everybody needs self esteem. But what what you build your self-esteem around matters tremendously.
Yeah, it's interesting in this space. I'm in the incentives. Aren't clear, so if you're a quote unquote, public intellectual, the incentive is generally to come across as an expert who knows everything on the subject that you're talking about or else why are we listening to you, man? Like we all have fuckin opinions. Like you're the guy that's studying this, so you better know everything. But then you just you run into, you know, unless you're someone like like Tyler Cowen, he's just the first person that comes to mind of a person whose IQ is just truly scary.
It's not a joke to say he read several books a day and just it's just you should really check them out. But I'm nothing like that.
Like, you know, I was always one of the smarter kids in school.
But you you very quickly realize when you're completely outclassed by people. And I've been lucky enough to know people who just outclassed me by Miles. But the you know, the incentives for this kind of work, I guess you're increasingly maybe coming into it by talking about current events. But the incentives generally aren't to be vulnerable and to say, well, I don't know about this. I actually don't know I was wrong about this. Here's the emotional core of what I'm trying to say.
Here is the life experiences I've had that lead me to be passionate about this.
The incentives are generally to put up the walls, be the smart asshole that's going to own all of your opponents.
And I find that to be very boring at the end of the day and or at least relative to the to the alternative of being vulnerable. I think one of the things that makes you so interesting is how vulnerable you are. And it was one of the things that makes you credible and an effective communicator. And the way you're talking about it just now fits into your wider way of thinking because you're essentially speaking of vulnerability as a practice and a skill. Right.
It's like anything else in life. It's like you try tried the first time and you suck at it or it doesn't feel right. And then six months from now, after having done it often you realize it actually feels good and the social consequences of it are almost universally good. Like so this is something increasingly I want to cultivate with my fan base is I want them to if I say that I got something totally wrong, I want them to not say, Oh, Colman's an idiot.
I want to say that's why I like his podcast is because he's he's going to say that. So I think that's just a great nugget of wisdom for people. And to cultivate an identity as a learner, as a podcast is great. And it's just an attractive quality in a person. It makes people want to talk to you more time that you that you are a learner rather than, you know, you're not going to get on there and lecture me.
But so I want to talk about current events and what you see in American society today. Sure.
Before we move on to that, which is obviously super important, especially given your platform. But I want to to really put a fine point on that if if for no other reason than to encourage the shit out of you to do that. So here is the reality. You will build a smaller audience if you do that, because it's it isn't as flamboyant, it's not as easy to market. It's not as sort of clear cut. But if you play the game long enough, you've got a chance to then really dominate.
So when you look at people love and invincible winner and people love being on a team and people love overly simplistic ideology and as a leader, as a so I at this point I'm an entrepreneur like that's what I do. And sort of the punditry that I'm getting drawn into, which I think we're about to talk about has is something else entirely to sort of do with my life. But as an entrepreneur, when you're trying to lead people, you have to be honest about the realities of being a leader.
You've got to be right a lot, dude. And if you want people to follow you, your ass better have some shit nailed. Like you better really have some shit that you come through. And people are like, yo, by listening to Kohlman, I have this insight and it's played out wonderfully in my life. And so now nobody can tell that person shit about who you are, right? Like you changed my life. I took a piece of information.
I have used it. My life is better for it. Right. So now that person will come to you right now, some percentage. I don't know what it's going to be. It's probably going to be something like you're going to be just ultra hardcore, about 70 percent of the things you say and you're going to be mostly right on most of it. And then thirty percent, you're going to be cataclysmically wrong. And in those moments, if somebody points out like Kallman, you got this wrong and inside, you know, shit, they're right.
I got this wrong. In that moment, your whole brand is going to be made because it. If people think for even one second you double down on a bad idea, then they're going to lose faith in you, just full stop. But if in that moment you're like, oh, my God, you're absolutely right. I see the wisdom of this. I don't fucking waste a second defending an old position because I care about one thing, what actually works.
I know what the fuck my goal is. You just gave me a piece of information that now lets me move more towards my goal. And my thing is long timelines maybe never worry about looking the fool in like a narrow window. So I always tell people, don't judge yourself through the lens of a moment, judge yourself through the lens of a lifetime. I was an idiot when I started in business. I was an idiot, dude. I knew nothing about it.
I couldn't have helped in any way, shape or form. I was just a copywriter, but I wanted to learn about business. And so I got in there and I tried things and I failed a lot and I learned and grew. And as I got better, I actually had a set of skills that had real world utility. And so I started using those people could see it like he can actually do things other people can't do. And so knowing that certainty in a leader is something that that is intoxicating, it is absolutely required if you want to get a large group of people moving in a certain direction.
Now, the bad news is you don't have to be right to get them moving into just running hard, hard, hard in a direction. But you need that clarity. You need that certainty. Now that gets people moving. That's how I get my companies going. That's how I've had the kind of success that I've had. But when I realized, oh, I just realized part of what we were doing was wrong, I admit it. I own it.
Tell people publicly, here's what I thought. Here's why I thought it was totally wrong. We're now moving in this new direction and I can regenerate the certainty. I can give them the clarity again. I can get everybody moving. And they see over time, like, yeah, I kind of bump off the, you know, the rails every now and then and do something that didn't work. But overall, the trajectory is progress. And when people see that combination of progress, meaning I'm right more than I'm wrong and that I can reorganize, admit when I'm wrong, reorganize and get everybody moving in the right direction.
And then quite frankly, and this is a business context, maybe doesn't apply everywhere, but in a business context, when you celebrate people for having the right idea that you didn't need it to be you, then what you find is those people want to stay closer to you because you created the fertile soil where their idea could rise up and you celebrate them. You're not trying to steal their ideas. They want to bring their ideas to you. And then the thing that most people don't understand, it's being the energy.
It's following something through at the end. Nobody cares. Like the bad news is I end up getting people thinking that an idea was mine when I have very publicly made it clear that it wasn't because I was the energy that saw it through. So if you can create that sustained enthusiasm, ultimately that's what matters. So it is it is a very powerful cocktail to be right enough that people are right to follow you, but always willing to admit when you're wrong.
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Yeah, yeah, that's the way I see that less and less in public nowadays. I was recently and this is maybe a good segue way into current events, but I was recently reading old blog posts by Andrew Sullivan and Tallahasse Coates back in the early days of Internet blogging. I don't know if if you've if you've read these folks, but I'm vaguely familiar of housecoats, largely because of my involvement with comic books.
But the other name I did. So so Andrew Sullivan is a great writer.
I plan to get on this podcast more, but and he's a conservative, a gay Catholic conservative who is at the forefront of the marriage equality movement and a deeply interesting person and someone who you would have a deeply fascinating conversation with, I think. But what struck me about reading these blog posts from 12 years ago. Was that they would go back and forth. They couldn't disagree more. They had a kind of respect for one another, but they were quite vulnerable.
They were vulnerable in a way that you don't see writers or journalists being vulnerable. Today on Twitter, they were there was just a level of humanity to their interactions, which were public on blogs that seems totally stripped away from the writing landscape today. And it's clear to me at least, that a writer coming up today has to be terrified that if they're honest about something that goes against one of the taboos, that the ever changing taboos, that could be a death sentence for their career.
And I've sort of come up in this era. So it's it's second nature to me, just like someone who comes up in a culture with taboos that seem weird to us Westerners.
It's just second nature to them that, you know, you bow when you meet someone older than you or whatever the important that you take your shoes off if you're in Japan before you enter home.
And that's very important, or you grab the business card with both hands and look at it or else that's a sign of disrespect. Seems totally these taboos seem emotionally natural to me.
And I'm talking about taboos specifically around race, racism, gender, sexuality. But, you know, seeing writers write at a time that was sort of pre cancelled culture. I'm envious because it's clear that they're they're firing away at each other in good faith with a kind of ease that I'm not sure anyone speaking in public or that many people feel now because of how because of the fear of a social media mob coming down on you for for even for thinking out loud.
And I could list examples, but I don't I probably don't have to for it for this audience. But you're, I guess, someone who's old enough to have seen a change if there is one or if I'm imagining it. So what do you think about that now?
There's definitely been a change and it is for the worse. So to understand any comment that I make, people have to understand sort of the framework with which I approach the world. So, one, to me, everything is is an echo of your goal. So if you don't have a goal in life, then you're you're going to be bouncing all over the place or if you have a goal, but you actually don't know what it is, which is often the case, like people are moving towards something, usually feeling good about themselves.
And but they've never thought going back to what you build your self-esteem around, never thought about that. So it just is built around some random shit. And when you have an ultra clear goal, then you can just judge, oh, did what I just did. Did it move me towards my goal or did it move me away from my goal? And so that's how I judge everything in life. And when I think about this, you know, counterculture or I think about what you were talking about, that vulnerability and this sort of beauty with which you could take in these these voices, which now probably feel very unlike that.
Certainly Tanigaki Coates speaks with just a lot of certainty. And this is the way that it is. And it's a very powerful way to galvanize people around you. Going back to what I was saying a minute ago, like I get it, I get the temptation right. You can get your team amped up and behind you. But my goal is to see what actually works and so work, meaning that it moves me towards my goal. And when you take like if if we're going to take race relations, for instance, as what what is our goal?
If your goal is reparations, you feel that something unfair has befallen you and that the way to make good on that unfairness is to now swing the balance. Right. So we had it was going this way for far too long. And now for the world to be right, you have to swing it back this way. And I think that there is a human desire for that that's probably a little too closely akin to revenge, the very thing that makes revenge so thrilling.
And we all have it. I fucking love revenge porn, kill, bill, love. So, like, I totally get the impetus to that. Love it. Fucking fantastic series.
So I certainly understand the mechanisms at play. But when I think about what I want, which is I'm just like a die hard Martin Luther King guy, like he fucking nailed it, in my opinion, to where you don't think about color as being in any way, shape or form. Interesting. It's just what what do you about what are you trying to accomplish? Are you good? Are you kind you know, do you bust ass you hardcore what your value system is.
Right. The content of your character. And so that to me is my goal. So when I talk to people that have that same goal, then it's like we each sort of understand each other. We may disagree on exactly how we achieve that, but we're not two ships passing in the night because we have the same goal. So part of the problem that we see today is the goal for some people has become to win the culture war and to win is to be victorious, to stand atop the other.
To be in control is probably the right way to say it, to control legislation, to control narrative, to control perception, all of those things. Now, once you get into like the if you find yourself saying out loud, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, it's like pump the brakes because that's going down. What I would say is a path of the ultimate outcome of that gets really scary really fast and. Being able to write your gold down, I think is super important, so to bring this back around to the willingness to be nuanced, it was just they were playing a different game, almost certainly.
And it was a moment where they were trying to discover and figure out what the truth is. And it was early days of social media and they say whatever can be measured can be improved. Right. So once social media give us metrics by which we could redefine what works means because now works was, well, how many people are behind you? How many people are saying you're saying the right thing? How many followers? How many likes? How many shares?
And so people began to game that. And like right now it would be in my sort of pre contemporary issues world for me. If I had flaunted my wealth, I could have 10 folded my following. But I consciously did not do that because one of my goals is how I feel about myself when I'm by myself and I want to respect myself. And to me, that means I can only ever say then what is true? Because if somebody uses what I say, that makes our life better, that that actually does make me feel good.
If I spout bullshit to make money, that doesn't make me feel good. And so just knowing what that goal is, forcing me to stay in this nuanced world where I need to constantly be open to new information, better information. But as a marketer, I feel the instinct to play the same game that some of these guys play where they go ultra hard in the paint and they have like this really hard edict. And it's like it's just so clear.
And, you know, when your team won or lost, like I'm sure you paid attention to the Khateeb Candice opens like fight, which is probably the right word. And depending on who you're rooting for, you can find video essays on Kandace winning. You can find video essays, incredibly winning. And it's because people aren't interested in any goal other than winning.
And that becomes a very different it's also a very at odds with having a curious mind. Like that's one of the things I find so disturbing about the desire to win. I think what I hear you saying is being concerned about two kinds of divisiveness. One is the divide between parties and the other is the divide between races and the divide between parties is I would say probably. It's hard to judge which of these two is a bigger issue, but. The Khateeb versus Kandace Owens divide, that that's very much a left right divide where, again, we know from all of the Daniel Kahneman studies that even the smartest people, once you associate with a team, you just start doing all of these clever but invalid methods of reasoning to prove that your team is right and the other team is wrong.
And I just see this all the time in journalism in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and right wing and left wing, it's just it's absolutely rampant.
The double standards people hold those on their own side to. And I try my very best to not be sucked into this, but it can be difficult, of course. And then there's the racial divide, which is related but different. This is what is your goal for the country, given the fact that the country and ultimately the world has people with closer to my kind of skin color, people closer to your kind of skin color and facial structures, and you can instantly tell what quote unquote race people belong to.
How should we think and talk about those differences? Should it be that my blackness is a place I locate my pride because the truth is a hell of a lot of black people locate their pride in their blackness and not not too dissimilar from, I don't know, white people who do this other than actual racists. But I know Jews and Italians who locate pride in their Jewish heritage or Italian heritage, so.
How do you view as someone who thinks a lot about identity and pride, the tendency, the need, the urge, the warmth people feel from attaching to an ethnic group?
So it is a very complicated question. And this is where you have to it's easy to give a platitude, get people amped on one thing or the other. But the reality is this. There's a real name for the phenomenon. I forget what it is, but I call it the school of fish phenomenon. So if you go in the ocean and you see fish swim with their same kind of fish, it's always a school of the same kind of fish.
And humans are the same. You you find yourself drawn to people that look like you came from where you came. Whatever the case may be, you're actually more likely to rate somebody as likeable if they share your same initials. So let that sink in. When I meet somebody that have the same initials as me, I'm more likely to feel warmly towards them. There's just there's something about like, oh, we have this thing in common and that that is real.
Now, I don't think it goes anywhere. Very interesting. So if I were going to hierarchically rank the things that I'm proud of, I would put that really, really low. Now, I happen to be fascinated by Japanese culture as somebody who's in comic books is sort of inevitable that you you find yourself very deep in that world because they're putting out some of the greatest stuff and have been for decades. And so having gone to Japan a couple of times, suddenly you actually get what it what it means to have white to be something that bonds you to somebody else because they are Japan does not fuck around.
It is Japanese people, period, like that. The number of other ethnic groups is almost zero. So when you see a white person, it's like legitimately you're like, hey, so there's that moment of like, oh, shit. Like here's another one in six million. And so there is that recognition of, oh wow, we have something in common or we're both Americans or whatever. And so that it is an organizing principle and the human mind loves organizing principles.
So to say that, you know, it doesn't exist or you're truly blind to color, whatever, that isn't real. But what I say that it ranks really fucking low on the list of things that I give a shit about. Yes. So I would say the thing right now that terrifies me infinitely more than race is left. Right. That divide I feel for the first time in my life feels like civil war is an option on the table.
And I never felt that literally in 40 plus years. Never once did I think, oh, that's real. That was something that happened in the past. That happens in other countries. Definitely does not happen in America. Things are too good. There's no way what would we go to war over? And now here we are finding ourselves in a left, right split. It's not even a race split, as far as I can tell, in a left right split, really for the soul of the country.
Now, it becomes, like you said, it becomes tempting to get drawn into which side of this am I on. And I think everybody sort of goes one way or the other. And this is where I was going to write a book called Build Yourself. And it was all the things that you need to do to actually actively construct who you want to be. So forget who you are by birth, just who do you want to be? And again, goal oriented.
Everything is goal oriented in my mind. And one of the things is you just have to have rules and you need to have rules, things you do, things you don't do. So I have a rule around the left right divide, which is I'm not picking a side, even if I can feel myself pulled one way or the other. What what I realize in just doing the thought experiment of how do we get the outcome that I want, which is human flourishing where every human flourishes regardless of race.
How do we get to human flourishing? We need that friction for for a modern society to thrive. We need the friction between the left and the right. And this is exactly the same in business. You need a visionary and then you need somebody who can actually execute. So it's typically the CEO and the CEO and and you get what they call the kite in the string effect. You need the person who's the kite, the big dreamer. They're not worried about how you pull this off.
They've got a grand vision, something you think of Steve Jobs. Right. Things that he wanted to bring into existence that didn't exist. People thought he was crazy. You can't do this. And he just refused to believe that he could. But who is the CEO? Tim Cook, a guy that is a fucking master of supply chain of actually taking a dream and making it hard and fast reality, or when he was working with Wozniak. Right.
And was you can actually build the things that Steve Jobs was dreaming about selling. And it is precisely in the tension. By having a string, the kite can actually stay aloft. If you lose the string, it just flies off and ends up crashing. And same with a string. If you just have a string, it just lays there on the ground. So it is the tension between those two. An airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.
It's the tension. It's the friction that lifts the airplane into the air. So we need the left and the right. So the left being people who are compassionate, they don't want anybody left behind. And then I'm obviously oversimplifying. And the people on the right who are saying I'm not going to be taken advantage of and people have to carry their own weight. Both of those things are true. People really do have to carry their own weight. The human animal must rise up.
It must take responsibility for itself if you want human thriving. So again, everything for me, goal oriented, every word out of my mouth. So my goal, human flourishing. So for humans to flourish, we must as a fluke of evolution, we must do hard things, carry our weight, push ourselves. We are designed to want to get better. And if you're not pushing yourself, you won't feel good about yourself when you're by yourself.
Which punch line for anybody who thinks that getting rich is going to solve your problems, it won't. It all comes down to how you feel about yourself when you're by yourself. So if since I have a rule that it I must acknowledge that it is the friction between these two things that is necessary, then it's like, well, how do we bring people together and closer to the middle? And that becomes my obsession is how do you get people to acknowledge the worth of the other side, that the other side is needed, that they're a fucking human, that they have value.
And even if you don't agree, we have to find a way to leverage each other to actually keep society stable.
Yeah, like the way you describe that dynamic between the left and the right. I've thought of that dynamic in a few different ways, not too different from what you're describing, how they're both necessary.
Like in in one sense, the left part of the left's role, at least recently, is to throw out ideas that to someone on the right are going to sound utopian. They're going to sound not cynical enough by half, which is to say not not sufficiently, not sufficiently, taking into account the on the ground realities of, you know, it's like the the national equivalent of we're going to go into Iraq and build democracy.
Right. That's how the ideas sound like to people. More on the right. But at the same time, without a left, I wonder, would the right ever get around to letting felons vote or something like that? Right. Would there be sure there would be people on the right who would who would agree with that?
But would there be energy behind it? Right. The left is like this engine of sort of, I guess, progressive in the sense of progress towards some vision for society that is radically different and judged to be better and what the right people on the right are often in the position of pointing out. Well, actually, that can't happen for X, Y and Z reason. If you did that, this catastrophic consequence would be the result. And without it, I don't mean to imply that either side is more correct than the other, but that that's sort of how the roles play out.
And there's one interesting fact that I think reflects this dynamic. And the fact is that right wing journalists are much more likely to follow left wing journalists than left wing journalists are to follow right wing journalists. What that demonstrates to me is people on the left are putting out these ideas, abolish the police, defund the police, abolish the criminal justice system. Or I could cite any any number of positions like this. And people on the right are often very concerned, you know, the the peace about whether abolish the police is going to work, that's going to be coming from National Review or City Journal, where I write.
And but for the most part, the people on the on the right don't tend to have huge ideas that like that that can fit into a slogan. And so the right is often in the position of reacting to always negatively and often with a lot of backing to positions on the left. But I wouldn't want the engine of the left to cease existing because I'm not sure that energy for change would ever come from the left. But but I don't want the the left to to ever be left to its own devices unchecked, because when the police are abolished and we're all living in the Chazz unpoliced zone and it's hell on Earth and nobody wants to immigrate to America and so on and so forth, the left doesn't necessarily have the mechanisms to correct itself on its failed experiments.
So that's one way I see things.
Yeah, I think you've got your finger on the right thing, which it you know, it goes back to you have to value the friction. And if you value that and just the the most dangerous game that we're playing right now is this sort of shut down stem post-tax world. And it's like if you have a goal, you need what I call the physics of progress. So I call it the physics of progress, because it really is. It is as boiled down as you can take it.
There's nothing below that. And the physics of progress is this. You're doing something and that informs you on that thing and that allows you to create an informed hypothesis about how you go from where you are to where you want to go. And the informed hypothesis is very specifically about how you overcome the obstacle that stands between where you are and where you want to get to. And then you run that experiment. So you do that thing and then you look and see, did that work or did it not work?
And if it worked, then you've taken a step closer to where you want to be and let's do more of that. And if it didn't work, then you try to figure out why it didn't work and I postulate something new and then run that new test and see, did that work? And it's really basic blocking and tackling stuff of making this incremental progress over and over and over until you get where you want to go. And what we're seeing is that when you say there is no such thing as objective reality or whatever the words are, the people use or shut down stem stem itself is racist.
To pursue doesn't equal for, I mean, legitimately crazy shit. What you're doing is by breaking the bond between I do this and I get this result and this result tells me something about what I should be doing next. When you break that, you just get into a free for all of sloganising and. If you want to make progress, it it is a series of experiments that give you data, but you have to be willing to look at the data and adjust course accordingly.
And Thomas sole to me is the he's the closest thing I've ever come to, to somebody who feels like a superhero to me, where I'm just like, no matter how you come out, this guy like he's so well researched and so eloquent and just so generally intelligent that he makes very compelling arguments about how to look at the world, how to proceed towards progress. And what scares me is that he's been around since the 80s and people don't seem to be heeding his advice.
And his thing is just look at the evidence, look at what the actual data shows you. And that's my thing, because, man, like you were saying, the the right left to their own devices devolve into tyranny and the left left to their own devices devolve into madness. And we've seen this right. The left becomes Mao's China. And we're really fucking flirting with some of that right now in a way that freaks me out. And I cannot believe that people don't see it.
And I guess because I think it never comes for them, which of course, it always does. And when the right becomes tyrannical, then everything also grinds to a halt and truly becomes tyranny. So understanding that, OK, we don't want to end up on either of those sides. And the only thing that's going to stop us is data of knowing what our goal is. And then looking at did we actually make progress towards that? And then something a concept in business that people should really be thinking about, which is to go from strength to strength to strength.
So what they're talking about now, and it may have been you that gave me this analogy and I thought it was so brilliant, which is if you're in a boat and it's sinking, you don't just jump out of the boat and go, all right, now let's build something new. Like you take every moment that you can with that to try to repair it, to try to make it better because you actually have a boat, may have a hole in it, but at least you have something that's keeping you out of the water.
And right now, people are talking about turning over the table and then just sort of, well, we'll figure it out once we're there. And so they're only thinking about destroying and they're not thinking about building up, which in business we would call jumping from lily pad to lily pad. It's like you've got sort of a rough idea of what you want, but you don't know it's going to work. And so you're jumping from one place to another that's both are potentially weak.
So even if I'm willing to accept that you think where we're at is not a position of strength, you haven't built anything new. And to justify leaving where we're at, instead of building it up, you need to show me that it works. And not just that it gets people high.
Yeah. All right. So the last thing I want to ask you about for now, and I hope to have you back on the podcast at some point, but the last thing I want to talk to you about is the intersection of identity and meaning making and narratives of victimhood and oppression. And the way I'm coming at this is, you know, I, I I've been in very privileged spaces in my life, but I've also been through my family pretty close to poverty.
I've been proximate to poverty enough to to see it and understand it as not as an insider can, but at the very least as an outsider can. And what I've noticed is that a lot of people my age coming up in the last 10 years or so, a lot of kids that I went to Columbia have this deep yearning to to be victims of something at the same time that they are actually extremely privileged. And it's not a cynical yearning, it's a spiritual yearning, there is some kind of deep meaning that can be found in being a victim of some system of oppression and where people aren't victims of oppression in today's society, they will become victims either through creating a false narrative or playing up aspects of their identity.
And I'm curious, as a person who thinks a lot about psychology and self-improvement, what what do you say to a person that is making their meaning in this way when if you accept that what matters is how you feel about yourself, when you're by yourself?
Now, we just have to start asking how you want to feel about yourself. And I will say that there are energies that this is going to sound woo. And I don't mean and if people look inward, I think they'll understand what I mean. So there are times where you feel elated and it feels good and there's times where you feel righteous indignation. And there's there's an intoxicating quality to that. You feel powerful when you're like that, but it's a darker energy.
It's not the energy you want to bring to your daughter's second birthday party. Right. So there's something about being loved that feels light and like it's lifting you up and it feels wonderful. And when you know that you're in the right and you are sort of the righteous hammer of God, it's that's also a good feeling. But it's it's an aggressive, darker energy. And so my thing is, OK, I'm just trying to recognize you are having a biological experience.
This is actually a game of neurochemical management. OK, so feeling like a victim comes with neurochemical rewards. It makes you you get that righteous indignation. And when you have that righteous indignation, fear and anxiety are greatly diminished. You have meaning and purpose which feel fucking wonderful. It gives you a cause, something to lay your life down for, to go hard for, like we are wired to be drawn to that.
It just isn't a bright, uplifting, like, for lack of a better word, like a yogic energy. Right. So you've got the what you feel when you're with your loved ones and you're supporting them and loving them and dreaming with them and, you know, imagining an uplifting thing in your singing and dancing together like all of that shit. If people know like that feeling. Right, you know what I'm talking about that type of energy. And then there is like the I know I'm right.
I'm going to fucking kill anybody that comes after, you know, this person like I love. I am legitimately prepared to lay my life down for my wife. And I would fucking fight tooth and nail. If anybody ever broke into this house and came after her, I would be a fucking madman. I would be a psychotic dude. I will kill like it doesn't matter. And I have spent so much time making sure that that's a real part of my personality.
And if Jordan Peterson can be believed, the whole notion of the meek shall inherit the earth. Meek, according to his reading of the ancient texts, is somebody who knows how to fight like a bad ass motherfucker, but keeps their their swords sheathed. So you could fight, but because you could you know, that you often don't see Mr. Miyagi OK. Right, exactly, said Bruce Lee Shin.
So like when you have that. I think that's important, but the it is a very different energy when I think about somebody breaking into my house and trying to attack my wife and how fucking harm I would go. And I'm just saying I get why people want to channel that. I get that it's super powerful.
But is that the world that we really want to create? Or would we rather create a world where people feel uplifted, loved, unity together, song, dance? We're not going to be able to be there all the time. Friction. One hundred percent. Just saying what what is our goal? What's the energy that we want to spend more time in? So I've always ballpark it to 80, 20, 80 percent of your time should be in the beauty, the gratitude, the uplifting, the joy, filling your heart for even for your enemies, finding a way to see their humanity, to feel connected to them, to want them to find a path to joy and beauty and all of that 20 percent of the time.
Don't fuck with me, motherfucker. OK, now I just feel like people have lost sight of the hey, 80 percent of your energy should be over here right back to Martin Luther King nonviolence, finding ways to love these people as a reason so much that was grounded in religion and appealing to a higher God. I'm not religious at all. I don't believe in God one bit. But I see how powerful that notion can be of keeping people grounded and focused on something beautiful and uplifting and all of that and getting people to just identify what kind of energy are you trying to bring into your life and when.
If they can identify that, then we just start asking questions about how we actually get there, what are the things we have to do to move ourselves there? Because victimhood as a narrative, as a self identity is going to pull you into a darker energy. It's not the vibe you want to bring to your daughter's second birthday to say that one again. So people get like what I mean by that. And then the other energy of like Nelson Mandela.
Right. Talk about a hard core guy but wanted to reunite people, bring them together, was just always looking forward. He knew he wanted a united country and that he knew that by oppressing somebody else, by living in a victimhood narrative, you give up your own power, you give up a more beautiful sense of identity. And in giving your power away to somebody else by playing the victim card, you just weren't going to feel neurochemically the way that you wanted to feel.
And when you get people who understand that, who want people to live in a more positive, uplifting energy and that they do things that move people towards that, it's like. I don't know that to me is ultimately the answer, and the most terrifying thing about the victim and mentality is you probably have every reason to grab onto it. You probably have actually endured hardship and wrongs and things like that. But it isn't going to take you where you want to go.
Ultimately, emotionally, it's not going to unite people. It's going to divide like it's just it it is a powerful energy. It's the dark side of the force. I know that that's going to hit some people, Cheezy, but in the movie, they talk about how the dark side is actually really fucking powerful.
But it's the dark side. Yeah, you got to be careful with that shit. All right. That's a beautiful note to end on. Tom, Billu, thank you so much. Thanks for having me on. I will come back any time that you want to do a part two. I am mortified that we are already at the hour mark. That went by extraordinarily fast.