Ultimately, you're kind of a game designer as a manager and as a leader, and you want to design the best game that both Aline's company incentives and employees desires.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project podcast, exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you learn from the best of what other people have already figured out. You can learn more and stay up to date. First up, blogs, podcasts.
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And you can learn more at F-stop Blogs newsletter. That's F-stop blogging newsletter. Most of the guests on the show, our subscribers to the weekly newsletter. So make sure you check it out. On the show today is Daniel Gross, former partner at Y Combinator, A.I. expert, now founder and CEO of Pioneer, the time he was accepted into Y Combinator. Daniel was the youngest founder ever. We're going to talk technology, but not too in the weeds.
We're going to compare being data driven versus design driven feedback loops, video games, A.I. sleep, optimizing your life and so much more. It's time to listen and learn. Before we get started, here's a quick word from our sponsor. Farnam Street is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab has helped some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day. You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and so many more.
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One of the things that when I was doing research for this interview, which was some of the most fascinating research I've done for an interview in a long time, one of the things that you wrote was the most important skill you can develop is an innate sense of curiosity about yourself. What does that mean? Can you expand on that?
Yeah, I think the most interesting thing to me is when one kind of looking at people that are hyper successful is not trying to kind of reverse engineer their current daily patterns or what they currently do day to day. And it's not even to reverse engineer how they started. It's going even a level deeper and trying to figure out what was the catalyzing moment that led to kind of the positive feedback loop that subsequently led to where they are today.
I'll give you an example.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Olympia, governor of California, I'll be back by that person and really only get started when he goes to a small gym in Austria and they give him a small award for kind of the way I think he did a clean and jerk really well.
And that moment of kind of positive feedback sets him going and propels him to trying to win another small trophy in another small trophy, in another small trophy.
And so that creates Arnold, which which I find quite fascinating. It's the small trophy that created Arnold. That's what kicked off this positive feedback. And so with curiosity, one of the things I wonder quite a bit about is what is the way to kind of kick off the feedback loop in people that gets them innately curious and willing and excited and motivated to kind of explore themselves in the surrounding environment.
And ultimately, what pioneers kind of trying to do is provide that almost drug as as as a service to millions of people around the world. We want to start almost a movement where people become kind of innately curious about themselves and follow their dreams a little bit more and start kind of responding to that feedback loop. So, you know, I think a lot of what drives curiosity is, is you as a human feeling, like it's safe to go explore in a particular direction and feeling that you'll be positively rewarded for exploring that direction.
That is to say, you can kind of envision your proclivity or willingness to be curious about yourself as kind of your willingness to play a game where you're kind of trying to predict. Is it worth going down this path, being curious in this particular direction? Will I learn much if I'm vulnerable? Will I be hurt? And I think the kind of important thing is to figure out a systematic way of getting many more people to answer yes to that question.
And so we could kind of dig into the ten thousand different ways one might do that and what that means. But I think fundamentally, being curious about yourself kind of means that you positively predict the outcomes of kind of taking some step forward. And I think the thing the world needs for a lot of different reasons we can get into is many more people that kind of end up doing that, that end up being curious about themselves, the things that came to mind, as you were saying, that the first is I'm wondering where your innate sense of curiosity came from.
I mean, and the second thing is, like so much of what we consume today, either online or through the education system, seems to be the antithesis of sort of like the safe to explore the positive rewards for exploration and positive in this case, not the dopamine response of sort of like reading this click bait article, but like having an actual positive impact on your life. Can you talk to me a little bit about this?
One thing I think would be interesting to you and your listeners is what when you ask the question, how how did it all start with me?
I think we as humans are quite terrible at reverse engineering the neural net in our head, much like it's actually quite hard with the modern machine learning techniques for you to figure out that that individual thing you fed the neural net led to that specific result. One kind of composite and it's a soup.
And I kind of feel like when you ask me, where did my curiosity start? Boy, I don't really know that I could accurately answer that question.
I could hypothesize, but I actually think I'd be better answering that question when looking at other people. And it does seem to be the sense of, to your point, getting some type of positive affirmation that it is OK to do a thing fundamentally like our brain is constantly making predictions based on what will happen if you take certain steps. And so you will. Feel great if you eat the chocolate bar, you will feel maybe great if you go work out, you feel great if you talk to this person, you'll feel bad if you put your hand into the fire.
And so we're constantly predicting the environment and curiosity is a lot of curiosity is about cultivating a situation where you positively predict the outcome of following some type of thing. And this is kind of brings us to your second point, which is the world where we're in today is there's a shortage of positive feedback, especially positive feedback to the right people. It is scary, in my opinion, to read the amount of stories. Great. And it's really started when someone kind of accidentally gave positive feedback to another person.
Maybe you got an email from someone you admire or maybe you've got a smile from a girl. Maybe you got, I guess in modern parlance, every tweet from someone you respect and then something really interesting happens.
Then you humans, you know, ultimately I think we're tribal species. We have a collection of people we admire and respect. And the software in your head, I think, starts to change a little bit. When you get positive feedback from someone you respect, you start thinking, how could I get more of that? Felt good. This is a way for me to know that I'm societally kind of doing the right thing, headed in the right direction.
And so the the thing that scares today are people who are kind of micro influencers to others, giving them positive feedback and catalyzing this loop that ends up creating everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Elon Musk to Ramanujan or Albert Einstein.
And I think the interesting question is to figure out how to scale that up, especially in a world that very quickly kind of becomes sensationalist and negative. I totally agree with you.
What are the other sort of like catalyzing moments that you've discovered looking at some of these people other than like Arnold Schwarzenegger, maybe Elon Musk?
Well, another interesting, nonintuitive, catalyzing moment, especially if we look at Elon, is how small and almost silly all grand things seem today. I think it's actually very rare to observe the pyramids of Giza being started and proclaimed as the Pyramid of Giza. This occasionally happens with government level projects. The very famous We Will Go to the Moon speech, but with startups and researchers, it often starts out very small. So Space X, I believe, was conceived as the Green Mars Oasis project where the idea was.
It's a very Los Angeles idea.
We're going to go buy a bunch of rockets from the Russians and we're going to try to launch a bunch of stuff onto Mars.
And we're going to take a photo of a green plant planted on Mars, and then we'll shut the company down. And, boy, we'll get a lot of tweets to be an amazing media moment and it'll increase NASA's budget. So it'll do a good thing for the world. But that was the goal of the company. And juxtapose that today where he's built the largest private space company on the planet. And in many ways, he didn't really expand NASA's budget.
He became the alternative to NASA.
And so, like, that's a great example of something pretty humble, given his standards that turned into something really massive. And the other thing I occasionally like to do is you could go online and you could look at the landing pages of, say, early Google, Facebook, Dropbox, whatever company want it look awful.
And it really gives you a sense for what was going on back then. These amazing interviews with Mark Zuckerberg in twenty two thousand five sorry, where he says, yeah, our goal is to really be a good director at Harvard, maybe other a few universities.
What what happens, of course, is is quite funny is the market incentive, obviously, as their products grow and then they suddenly need to reverse engineer a much more compelling narrative because no one wants to hear that, oh, Facebook was just a director at Harvard and that was our plan all along.
But the reality is when you do some digging, everything has this. This almost everything has this. The common pattern of it basically lapsed into a positive feedback loop, but it started really small snowball effects are everywhere.
So I think that's another really interesting kind of trend.
What sort of feedback loops do you keep track of personally? Like, what's your your personal sort of like metrics that you look at or what sort of guardrails do you put in place to get quick feedback so you can adapt yourself?
So I think a lot of people are interested in kind of individual things, say I would do very specific stories, like what time do you wake up, what do you eat? What's your workout regimen?
And I think I think that that is actually the the wrong message to send, because I tell you what time I wake up. But the more interesting thing to me. Is the fact that I am obsessed about optimizing the thing for an outcome, and that is I think that the takeaway that I think more people should be in the business of self experimentation is actually more important than the results, because the time that I wake up is pretty individualized to me.
I think a lot of what happened to today, I wake up very early. I think a lot of people do much better if they wake up much later. In fact, you know, if you would have caught me five, six years ago, I was definitely in the camp of waking up as late as possible and staying up as late as possible. And I believe all these rationalizations why I was that way and my grandfather told me he was that way.
And so I suddenly built up this whole, obviously false theory about it.
But these variables might be individual, though, are the things that you track. I mean, that's what I'm really interested in. Like what sort of things that you're tracking? Doesn't matter what time you wake up, but you track what time you wake up because you want to keep track of your sleep quality. What are the other things that you you sort of like keep tabs on?
I guess the ultimate point system or metric I look at is, am I doing things that to the people I care about to the to the local influencers I care about seem good. I think that is the kind of ultimate feedback loop. That is to say, I have a bunch of people in my life and I think every human is like this, that where I kind of use them as a gauntlet, as a almost a board of advisers for figuring out if I'm doing the right thing.
And this could be your parents, could be your close friends. It's very occasionally people who are kind of slightly above you in the latter of whatever game you're playing. And I try to check myself against them. And so this is a very kind of lagging indicator. If I don't sleep well, it's not like, you know, it's not like my kind of critical board of advisors will tell me the next day you didn't sleep well, but over time I'll start making mistakes and I'll start maybe talking to people and being a little bit more kind of snappish.
And they should be or not being as kind and not being as polite or start screwing up kind of product decisions within my company. And I slowly start getting feedback from those people. But I have found folks don't really want to say this because the misinterpretation of this is that you're hyper socialized mindset and all you care about is to go to Piegans framework. I very much enjoyed your podcasts about that topic. Socialized mind that as the author and your self transforming mindset.
But I actually think it's kind of innate in everyone and very important to use others as a way to kind of gut check of where you stand.
So that is, I would say, the ultimate kind of metric I track.
And then the weird thing about Pioneer is we are literally trying to operationalize that metric into a point number and kind of put it in software and it attempts to have it reach more people.
Talk to me a little bit about Pioneer. What do you guys do? Where did the idea come from?
Yeah, I mean, it goes back to reverse engineering ideas. It's always a tricky one, I think. I think it was so so my my back story is kind of weird, not weird in the context of Silicon Valley, but but weird in the global context.
I'm originally from Jerusalem, Israel, where I was born and raised as an Orthodox Jew for being very different from the one I'm leading now. And I had no idea that. Flash forward a couple of years I would have started a company company would have been acquired by Apple.
It'd be running a massive organization working on machine learning at the age of twenty three at the time, the world's largest company. And all this kind of got started and see a pattern of this whole feedback loop that started because I almost accidentally applied to this thing called Y Combinator, which funds early stage companies, and I didn't really even realize what I was doing at the time. I was sitting in an Israeli military prep camp and I remember hitting submit from my old Nokia phone at the time, waiting for the GSM network to accept my bytes.
And that would change my life. And I had no idea at the time, but that would seriously change my life. I thought I was going to be an Orthodox Jew married with seven or eight kids at this point living on a hilltop somewhere in Israel. And I'm definitely I'm definitely not that. And and the twist about that is how weird and small and kind of almost accidental this that whole catalyzing moment scene. And then I started came out to Silicon Valley and had more of these moments where what led to my success wasn't really my intellect, ambition or talent.
It was really luck.
I just happened to bump into someone who knew someone who knew our first engineer, one of our major investors literally overheard me pitching at a coffee shop and reached out to me. So there's an inordinate amount of. Involved in these stories, and I think over time that started to build a very strong emotional distance and me, because I felt very uncomfortable about that.
I mean, it shouldn't be the case that luck is what's causing success here. And then I started meeting other founders and I started sensing this pattern that there's so much happenstance involved.
And so at some point over the course of the past year or two, that that really started to I reached the point in my life where I kind of started asking myself, how would I pay it forward to others? And and I really came back to this point of I've got to remove luck from the equation of success.
And one thing led to the next. And suddenly I started my second company, even though I was kind of told myself that I wouldn't because starting companies, it's hard. And to quote Elon Musk during glass and staring into the abyss. But I think it's it's a kind of a worthy goal. So my belief is that in a nutshell, you can kind of work on the world's largest problems. You can work on global warming, you can work on curing cancer.
You can work on, I don't know, making flying cars.
But I actually think it's much more leverage to work on creating a planet that has 10x the amount of people working on flying cars or global warming or cancer. I kind of want to work on the meta layer of the problem, and due to the amount of luck involved, I actually believe the world could stand to have 10x the amount of these extraordinarily productive people, the greatest scientists, researchers, thinkers, musicians, artists, because story after story, there's so much happenstance involved.
So I think I think that's how the idea spread throughout the neural net of my mind and kind of what we're trying to accomplish. This is really interesting.
Right? So we have this component that is like you can kind of think of it as like nature versus nurture. Right? You have this individual bit of luck that you start with, which is like where you're born, your parents or your socioeconomic sort of status, which you have nothing, no control over whatsoever. But it sets you on a path or a trajectory. And then you have at some point you have your your own predisposition. So your genetics and your your sort of horsepower and that that propels your trajectory.
But at some point you take control over things and then it becomes a little bit I wouldn't say less about luck because I think all extreme success has an element of luck. But there are things that you can control within to increase the odds that you have luck or to just take control of your life. It seems like people are sort of like tuning out more and more and they're just thinking, oh, they're lucky, right? I can't be lucky.
And you're talking about something that's really fascinating to me, which is like, what are the things I can do? Like, I don't control luck, but how do I make it a little bit less of it, like every day?
I think that's right. I mean, you want to set up a world where kind of you kind of want to mixture.
Right. You want to be able to continually kind of improve where you are in a fairly linear fashion. And in many ways, these are the goals that a company should be seeking, and that is to say continuous improvement. And this is where tracking metrics, figuring out what other people think, whatever your rubric is, that's important.
And then you also constantly want to have this background thread, 20 percent of your time, 10 percent of your time, whatever, where you're trying to be incredibly opportunistic. And I like seeking opportunity. And in many ways, being lucky are kind of the same thing. And what I mean by that is the the trick to basically becoming more lucky there's a cool study about this is you can actually increase your odds of luck in the world. You don't even really need Pinery.
You just have to do this interesting part, psychologically hard task of no one kind of walking around the planet with a metal detector. So you have to constantly be listening for opportunity, even if it feels psychologically uncomfortable to pursue that opportunity. And then second, and this is the trick, I think most people, including myself, could could do a much better job of doing. You have to learn to act on it when it fires you, when that metal detector fires and that weird opportunity comes up in front of you.
The thing most people do is they go back to their local maxima and they they they don't explore. They they continue exploiting.
Can you give is an example that comes to mind as you're thinking about that, to make it more tangible for people?
Yeah, I mean, the super, emotionally resonant one for me is, you know, for every time I was about ten times I landed on my commentator's website or someone sent me an article about it where I self edited myself away from the plane. That's not for me. That seems weird. You got to understand my context. I mean, I'm literally sitting there on a very clear trajectory to kind of serve in the Israeli army and kind of lead a life in Israel.
And this is like a Burning Man California startup accelerator thing. Very weird and remote. Why would I do that, but at some point I just decided to go for it. I really don't even understand why. I think if I think about it a lot and I know and if I treat myself as an observer, I'm going to interview people who knew me back then. I really thought it just wouldn't work. And so I thought I'd mostly be kind of funny to it to give it a shot at the bare minimum.
So I think the that for me was the moment where I broke out of my exploitive framework of just like let's climb the existing kind of leaderboard that I'm on and let's try something totally different.
And it's very interesting to draw this parallel actually, between what we're talking about now, which are kind of personal frameworks for self development and the struggles companies go through. Let's actually think there's a lot of parallels. There's a trend in Silicon Valley today of being incredibly data driven and kind of the meme. And by data driven, I mean for for context is you collecting a lot of metrics about how people are using a product and then just trying to improve those metrics over time.
And there's this funny meme or story of Google got to the point where it was B, testing shades of blue. They could not get into a room and just decide what the best blue should be. So they constantly experimented with micro variations until they landed on the best shade of blue. And I actually think companies more often than not tend to be over data driven because it's the easiest way to kill the conversation is to say, let's just take the test both options and not get them stuck in a local maximum.
What they actually, I think would be the benefit of doing is it doing one thing? Apple was is legendary up, which is saying let's let's take a break from the current metrics and let's just try to envision some type of blue sky idea. Let's not even collect data about how it's going to be. Let's use our intuition and taste to just make a decision and go for it. And this requires, just like in the personal context, a lot of bravery, I think, and a lot of psychological safety and belief in yourself to kind of go for it.
But that's how you get the iPhone and that's how you get in. It's time the iPod. You can't really collect metrics around it. Your metrics are telling you to just improve the Mac. And so I think if you want to in your own personal development, have your kind of iPhone moment, I think you need to focus on doing something that may not seem intuitive, that may not align with the metrics you're collecting, may seem a little crazy, but have the potential of really changing your life.
That's really interesting.
As you were saying, the comparison between Google and Apple, where you used to work and how they go about solving business problems, what happens when those people compete? How do those business models iterate over time?
Well, it's always interesting, I think, to view really everything in life as kind of an emergent property of the system. That is to say, you could kind of think of Apple as a company with all of its culture and stuff and Google and its differences because of its culture. And the other way to think about it is they kind of maybe they both made very small decisions at some point with decisions that seem small, that have massive ramifications, and they're all emergent properties of their business model.
So in many ways, I think the cultural differences between Google and Apple or Facebook and Apple are just emergent properties of an app driven business model versus we sell you shrink-wrapped pieces of hardware business model. When you have an app driven business model, you must become quantitative, you must become data driven because you're trying to figure out how like what variant of ad works best. And that just creates a culture where you start maybe testing design as well. That's just the religion you must subscribe to in order to succeed.
It is the organizational imperative was you to make shrink-wrapped kind of hardware. You design everything, you think of everything differently. You take organizational, you suddenly find yourself like, know, not really talking to people because you can't. It's not like I can give you micro feedback adjustment about the iPhone. You can actually react to that. The hardware changes are incredibly expensive and kind of have to make broad strokes adjustments. So when the companies tend to compete, it's funny.
It's all a byproduct of this emergent property of how their business models are set up, because ultimately they're both maximizing this capitalist game, getting points on the board where points are dollars. And so they're going to approach the problem very differently as a byproduct of all of that, where Google, I think, will be very obsessed with like even if you if you look at, say, the same product that they're making, let's take the iPhone as an example.
They're going to be very obsessed with showing it to different people, trying to judge reactions, trying to get a sense of whether it's good or not. And that is a byproduct of this is basically all properties about their latest phone or leaked like literally people the physical phone in their hand. And I think that's somewhat related. Whereas Apple has this culture, it comes at the phone with an entirely different approach, incredible secrecy, not really interested in what the outside world thinks, a strong in a culture, a belief that the outside world doesn't know.
And again, this is all a byproduct of a feedback loop 20 years or so of reinforcing this idea of like we know more than the customer knows or the customer doesn't know how to describe what they want.
And again, all the byproduct really of the business model. And so you come at things in entirely different ways, and that's really why you end up with and I think this will always be the case, that we'll try to always fix this, but it will always be the case that Google will be amazing at services because as requires a service business model and Apple will be amazing, that kind of user experience and hardware.
And so Apple Maps will always be, I think, second to Google Maps and its agility. And then the pixel will always be in second place to whatever beauty they come up with for the next iPhone. Which model, if you had to go all in on one, would you would you go all in on in terms of longevity or the most likely to survive changing environments?
Right. That's a great question. I think the challenge is I pick the model that was best suited to the you're trying to traverse. It's kind of like you're starting you're starting a shooter game and you're wondering, do you go for, like, the mech or do you go for the sniper or do you go for the like? These are all suitable things. You just want to get a sense of what's the map that we're trying to traverse through five.
But there's one interesting flaw that Google's trying to fix in its alphabet model. We'll see. I'm happy they're running the experiment for the case study 10 years from now, which is does this kind of continual improvement? Let's slowly implement the numbers that that mindset get you stuck in a local maximum where you're unable to reinvent yourself because you have this kind of innovator's dilemma and challenge where usually in order to reinvent yourself, you need to both cannibalize existing business models and certainly redirect resources in a way that doesn't immediately make sense.
And so so the core Google unit, I think, will not be able to reinvent kind of the next ad model because of traditional innovator's dilemma. But the broader question is, will Alphabeat be able to do it? Or and so the positive take is that Google is really figured out something majestic with its corporate structure. Somehow an alphabet, we'll be able to reinvent the next Google and maybe it's Kittyhawk of flying cars or, I don't know, new cities or whatever they end up doing.
The negative take is humans have a tendency to just repeat experiments that already failed, which is probably great as a concept.
But like the corporate structure won't really matter much. Resources will always get directed to sustaining innovation and then we'll get disrupted. That will get disrupted by some magical maybe despite having invested in it or by some other unknown thing. So if I had to pick, I'd actually be much more optimistic about Apple merely because they have reinvented themselves once or twice. If you if you believe iPod and iPhone are distinct moments. So it's just proof that it was possible with far less resources than they have today.
But that's also my personal preference, having been there.
So consider my intended audience to to what extent do you think the ability to reinvent yourself is cultural in the sense of the business model or cultural and sense of the people working for a company versus the actual business model? As you were saying that it strikes me as like the Google model is really good for incremental innovation, whereas the Apple model, at least on the local level, is really good for possibly going from zero to one or step changes. Or maybe I'm thinking about that wrong in my.
No, I think you're right, I mean, they managed they went from bankruptcy to not, and then they obviously went from success to success between the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and obviously know large question mark looming over all of their heads now.
And they have they have been the mythical Phoenix rising from the ashes multiple times, reinventing themselves. Google has business lines that are incredibly important, that are not the core products, but they did buy them. So I actually believe it's kind of a tangent, but I actually believe YouTube is more important to Google than Web search. If you're thinking about a. That's an acquired asset and they nurtured it properly, but it's an acquired asset. Facebook is kind of similar where obviously it's it's popular now that Instagram is kind of more important than the core product.
But again, it's an acquired asset. And so I think that I think that it remains it remains to be seen how how it will play out between these guys. But I do think the approach of having confidence to not really look at the data and go into a little corner and just restart from scratch is, I think, a very strong moat. Apple has in addition to kind of another interesting cultural property that Apple is, there's constant, constant paranoia and fear of going bankrupt because as the company almost did that once, and I think that build a lot of strength.
It's in many ways in scarcity where where you build culture. It's not in an era of plenty. And one of the most challenging things, I think, for Google and Facebook's culture is they've really stuck a toothpick into the sand and had a massive oil company gushing out. Whereas if you look at a company like Amazon, they have to struggle for a very long time to succeed. And I think it's the struggle that that really makes you successful as a company.
Whereas if you have the curse of plenty of very early on, it's just it's really hard to develop that right. Organizational muscle in order to be successful. You see this in people, too, right?
I mean, it's really hard if you're the child of a billionaire to be successful, too, because, I mean, you're there's no reason your muscle should be strong, that there's no gravity.
Can you walk me through why YouTube is more important than search to Google in your mind?
Yeah, I can't I can't just, like, move on from that.
It's it's it's a it's a really big underrated deal. And I happen to I'll put this out there. I mean, I happen to believe that pioneer, obviously. I mean, given what I'm doing is the is the most important thing to work on, the kind of meta problem of creating more more geniuses with with kind of cheap interventions. But the only other thing that tickles me is just running you to that end. I think that that is an incredibly important job.
Here's why. First, the reach is incredible. I was in Africa over the week of Thanksgiving. A couple of friends were there and one of my friends constantly asking Cleverley, constantly asking every single person if they watch YouTube.
I think we found and we were in remote locations in and around Africa and Rwanda as well. I think we found out of dozens of people we asked. We only found one person. And I mean, this is seriously remote. This was like in a church. This is the guy responsible for like a church that was built in the 12th century in the middle of nowhere in Ethiopia.
I think he may have misunderstood the question, but he didn't watch YouTube.
Everyone else did. So the reach is incredible and the reach is bigger than kind of Google search results for a second.
I think one of the things that explain this is you could kind of view the written word as a temporary blip up actually in human communication where we did not have a way to transmit the spoken and seen words of people globally. So what we did is we minified everything. We compressed everything to this format where you write stuff down. And so now you can distribute kind of learnings and insights from people. We kind of now can say, thanks, Gutenberg seems great.
We can actually go back to the way we started, which is by listening and watching people. And this is one of the one of the kind of ancient reasons why I think you see the sudden rise of, say, podcasts as well as stuff like YouTube, kind of goes back to what we started with, which were much better at the fidelity that you get from talk, from watching a video of someone is much higher than text. I actually think the right analogy may be the text is just different as opposed to better or worse, but it just goes back to what we've already had.
So that's the second reason. The third incredibly important reason is that YouTube is proactive and Google is reacting.
So when you go to Google, you come with an intent and they have to satisfy that intent.
I mean, since they made this fix in 2012 where they tweak the algorithm a little bit, we could talk about that in a minute. YouTube has really become a destination. YouTube used to be the link you follow from your Facebook feed, but it's now a thing you go to and they drag your intent because when you go there, you don't exactly know what you want. You know, you want to be entertained.
But suddenly you're watching one video after the next and that algorithm. I was really driving what you're watching, what you're thinking, and so I find it fascinating that the person controlling that, I'll admit I think they're probably optimizing for the right thing and they're very smart and they have the global context in mind. But I mean, they could create and eviscerate countries if they wanted to create civil unrest, all by these micro adjustments to what gets shown to you, given the fact that you watch one video, one one final note on that is I think your evidence of this is you're seeing the rise of these what I would almost think of as quasi spiritual leaders that are really emergent properties of YouTube.
Jordan Petersens, a great example, Jordan Peterson is you can imagine the world basically has YouTube is a massive foser where people are trying every possible permutation in terms of communication, style and content language. And what emerges is the best and the most addictive and the most interesting to listen to. So you have suddenly a Jordan Peterson emerge and he's a byproduct of that platform. And I'm not taking an opinion on whether his his teachings are good or bad. I just think he's a really interesting figure in that sense.
And I think he'll be the first of many more to come. So, yeah, I mean, I think YouTube is is is the most one of the most important technology platforms going on right now, if not the most zummo to this algorithm.
Change a little bit here. To what extent does the algorithm creator have a responsibility to society versus just showing you maybe what you want to see or maybe creating civil unrest? Or what if it's machine learning and we don't actually quite know what's going on behind the scenes because there's forty six thousand variables that are weighted differently than we can comprehend in our mind. Walk me through. Like, how do you think about where the responsibility for that lies and how you think of it that.
Yeah, I think about it a little bit in a weird way, which is so if you start a company again, you're you're kind of starting a game and you got you start with zero points and you try to get as many points as possible. That's just how the game works and the points are dollars. And so a lot of people view this as wrong or evil. But I actually think that my view on it is it's created everything around us.
It's created the podcast up that you're that you're using or listening to. It's bring to the table in the room that you're in the life, whatever. So it's a wonderful way to get people to do things.
The problem is it has a short term outlook. I mean, this is a basically thing. I think you can trace almost every major problem that we have in the world today to the fact that capitalism has a very short term outlook. So it maximizes for what is good today, not what is great 10 years from now. And so the Hershey's company gets rewarded for selling you a chocolate bar. It makes you feel good in the moment. It may give you diabetes long term, shortening your life and incurring massive cost, a massive societal cost.
And in many ways, this is obviously the chatter with Facebook today. Is there optimizing for engagement and optimizing for ads? And again, you click on something because you were curious about it. So that was a good dopamine hit our serotonin. And it was obviously bad in the long term because it creates Great Society, which is incredibly reactionary. So I think the main question is twofold. One, how is it is it possible to fix this in a systematic way?
Is it possible to develop an incentive scheme which rewards long term thinking as opposed to kind of short term reactionary stuff, a variant on capitalism and to how? If not and I'm optimistic you could do the first, but if not, how do you develop how do you create or sell into organizations the cultural confidence to break away from the kind of video game? And I was at first increasingly or ever pessimistic. You could do this because I'm kind of like a system thinker.
And so I don't I don't I think all actors just follow the laws of the system, really. And so I don't think you can break away from the laws of the system. And I don't I don't get offended or angry at people for breaking away again. It's just a system that they're in. You've got to fix the system, not the person. But while I was at Apple and this is before the whole Cambridge Analytica Facebook debacle, I noticed as very strong organizational tilt towards privacy, towards customer and user privacy.
And I got to tell you, I was in the room. I was a little bit of the the devil here where I I was in charge of machine learning, which obviously means today, although this may change over time. But today, machine learning needs a lot of data to succeed. And I'm thinking I can point very clearly to ways where this will hurt our products. The fact that we don't necessarily have all the data that we need and the fact that Google will be able to get to market for some very, very specific particular things.
And the cultural response was customer privacy is a right. We've got to go there. And and it's easy to say this today because they a the bet paid off, if that makes sense. The the short that they bought, the stock ended up taking. But back then it was very, very unclear that this is the right that. And I remember release after release, the internal meme was we're going to make a big deal about privacy and that will be a selling point that will counteract the fact that this thing may not be as really good at X, Y or Z.
And I remember thinking, gosh, 2013 14, no one really cares about this. I remember these all these articles. Privacy is over. Everyone all the millennials are getting addicted to Facebook.
And it turns out it turns out, and I really believe this genuinely came from the leadership's like just it was a Boy Scout level emotion. It was just wrong to collect data in certain situations and it really paid off over time. So this is kind of getting to that second point. Can organizations break away from the capitalistic imperative? I guess I deserved one example of it, but it really requires I think it requires a very strong leader, like incredibly emotionally strong and a sense of plenty.
Like I don't think this would have worked at Apple was about to go bankrupt. You had to have a sense that everything's OK and we can still win in other ways.
That's a really interesting sort of connotation to to businesses in and of itself. Right. If you look at professional coaches, there's also a parallel where if you don't have to worry about your job or getting fired, you can do things that other coaches who might be on the bubble can't do. And so if you're Apple and you have hundreds of billions of dollars in the bank, you can take a stance and let it play out over time again to your time scale things.
So you're still playing the capitalistic game, but now you're doing it in a way that's harder for people to copy and you're doing it in a way that is leveraging your sort of strength to to maximize the odds that it pays off. I think that's right.
Although it would be interesting to paint the. The contra and kind of interpretation of all of this, which is there are plenty of carcasses in the closets of capitalism, of companies that got too big, too fat, suffered innovator's dilemma, and now they kind of exist, but they're away, petering away into the abyss or they're really gone, your HP or IBM or whatever. And I think that actually stems from having the autopilot work a little too well.
And so that's really where I think you see leet like leadership really matters. And I think that the even more slightly more controversial claim is that unless you have the founding team, maybe the founder involved, you're not going to be successful there. And it's not because of the founders or these mythical beasts where they're epigenetically or somehow different from anyone else. It's more that you need the people who saw the thing start out as small to realize you can go back there and to have the strength and more importantly, the organizational support to say, you know what, if all fails, we will go back to where we were and we will rise again from the ashes.
And I think it's harder for executive talent to do that. There's just a level of confidence they don't have no good asking in return. Obviously. So excited about Apple here. Where is Tim? Paul in this equation is not the founder. It's true. But I think the whole crew that saw the company nearly go bankrupt has that same sense of like, it's fine if we have to rebuild everything from scratch. I mean, it'll be annoying, but that's fine.
And so I think I think you kind of it's funny how a common theme I'm noticing in a lot of what we're discussing is hardship.
I mean, really formed people, formed companies and people. And if you don't have that and this is the I mean, this may explain many of the differences between Mexico and North America is that the culture of excess and 20, if gifted too early, can really distort you over time and just doesn't build a good, good organism.
Want to come back to leadership? You mentioned the importance of leadership. And one of the talks that you gave, I think it was called How To when you talk about how do we become a better leader? What is your answer to that question?
Yeah, becoming a better leader. And I'm saying this as someone who is still learning know, I'm still level and out of X where X is a much larger number. I guess the things I've observed in myself.
A couple of things. First, probably the most important thing is the ability to distance your thought patterns in your emotions from your actions. And I find it fascinating that across the world, Western or Eastern, there's different concepts to this. Some people call it mindfulness. Some people call it being observant. Some people call it having a better sense of purpose. Whatever it is, it's the same thing over and over. And pick your pick your religion and then pick where you want to subscribe to.
But it's the idea that you can kind of play the game of life and kind of third person as opposed to first.
That is incredibly important for the very simple reason that you're going to have good days and bad days and you're going to be sitting at some point in a one on one with someone and it's going to be a bad day and they're going to deliver you some bad news and you're going to have to react appropriately. You're going to have to press the right buttons in terms of the actions you can take that that cause the right reaction. And I think you've got to be you've got to be able to exert yourself in the third person to do that.
So practically speaking, this means thinking a little bit less. Gosh, I am angry and a little bit more. I'm feeling anger and I don't know exactly how I got better at that. It could be it could be meditation could be just getting feedback from people on it. But that is probably the number one thing. Like if if you just have that, I think you will become a better leader because everything follows from there. Right. So if you now know, if you're able to just step away from the frame for a moment and say, I experienced a lot of anger today, you can kind of ask yourself why and you can start fixing that.
And so everything so many positive things lead from that. So that's one very important thing. The second is it's somewhat related, but not I think it's the ability to kind of figure out when you're just being very when you're acting out of insecurity. I think a lot of bad leadership comes from very deep insecurity. And it's funny, when I'm in a meeting and I see someone do something like that and this could mean something like they feel the need to be very pompous and kind of talk about some achievements they have or they feel they need to cut someone off or they become very neurotic and kind of paranoid.
I always have this thought, which is I always think to myself, who is the girl? What was her name and how old were you in high school that caused this deep sense of I'm not good enough? And sometimes it drives people, but it can cause really bad action. I think just becoming aware of your own insecurities is incredibly important. And the realisation that you can be vulnerable and in fact, you need to be vulnerable as a leader to succeed is incredibly important.
And the trick here is not just to talk about it, but earlier we talked about these catalyzing positive feedback loop moments. Making yourself lucky, you could try to make yourself lucky today, but just trying to be vulnerable in meeting and I think you'll be surprised or I certainly was surprised by how positive the reaction is. It really changes the nature of the meeting. If you talk to a team, you'll have all these worries in your mind as a leader about how things are going, whether this person is good, this person is bad.
It's kind of surprising that the best thing you can do is just vocalize all of that to everyone, I think. I think some early leaders have a tendency to bottle up again to this insecurity and fear that things won't go well. But I think we just need to to treat other other folks are leaving as adults and kind of give them the full context.
It's weird, too, because in a way, like culturally, there's this this idea that the leader and maybe I'm just Western culture, obviously, but where the leader can just handle all of this pressure and they don't need to be vulnerable and they just, you know, they're charismatic and they can do all of these things. And I think that the holding people up like that is a it's not it's not accurate. It's an accurate sense of who people are.
And I don't necessarily think that that makes good leaders either. Yeah.
Here's the here's the kind of framework over Rationals twist on it. So your fear of, say, sharing comes from a good place. It basically is. You realized, I think, a truth, which is people ultimately want to work for other people they find compelling. I think you work for your manager, enough for your company. It's kind of the local position on the leader board that you look at, not the global one. And so you don't want to say things that kind of reduce your complaints as a person.
But the twist is you are, I think, incorrect, or one would be incorrectly predicting that being vulnerable reduces your score and actually increases your score because it is not a common thing to do. And if you use the right words, it's actually an incredibly, incredibly rare thing to do to kind of be both vulnerable and at the same time. So I'd like I think the mind is coming at it from a right place. It's just not perfectly calibrated.
So and it's predicting the incorrect result.
And one final thought on this is it is helpful to think back a little bit and reverse engineer the leaders you look up to what is going on with them. Wouldn't surprise me if a common theme is they kind of say what's on their mind. So we have third person, not first.
We have acting out of insecurity. What else would you add to that?
I think another really important thing is especially people when being thrust into positions of leadership very quickly for the first time, tend to drastically overwork themselves. And I think this is coming out of either some internal psychological narrative they have. So the chip on the shoulder thing again, I always wonder what your name is or comes out of this kind of macho. The mindset that the way to get as many points on the leader board is to just input basically just be at the office all the time, work really hard, hundred hour work weeks.
And in many ways this isn't wrong like that. That is true. That is somewhat inspiring that you're in the office on the weekend and I will poll punch a little bit above my weight because, gosh, you're doing an unimaginable to it gets wrong when you start taking it to the point where you start making foolish decisions. Very specifically. I think it's wrong when you start not sleeping. Well, I what I think the fact that we don't talk about sleep all the goddamn time is it's going to be one of the largest changes of, say, 40, 50 years from now.
And more and more science comes out just kind of like a view. Pioneer is kind of working on the meta problem to curing cancer or global warming or civil unrest in the world. I kind of think the meta problem to productivity is just to focus on sleep. That is the largest needle mover.
Imagine if I told you there is a nootropic out there, you could take that will. I mean, improve your performance, not five percent, but like 10x. And then you drop it just takes eight hours to activate. And it's called sleep and good sleep, good quality sleep. And that means different things to different people. If you're gifted with that weird gene, if necessary, you can sleep four hours a night. That's fine. If not, you should sleep as much as you need to sleep.
I think setting alarm clocks is wrong. And so the third practical tone here is, I mean, take care of yourself. No one's going to tell you to take care of yourself. So you should and very specifically just sleep. I think if you start making foolish decisions or not having empathy because you're you're irritable and tired, your point decrease. People think you're less impressive. Here's the first thing. I would say that, again, the fourth kind of leader piece of leadership advice that's changed to me.
And I don't exactly know why it is a sense of real empathy towards the people that you're working with. You actually need to be innately interested in their lives and problems. I think a big thing that helped me here is I just realized that learning a little bit more about someone's. Story, personal story that actually really helped me understand them and motivate them to have a great job, ultimately you're kind of a game designer as a manager and as a leader, and you want to design the best game that both Aline's company incentives and employees desires.
And the real way to understand people is kind of this deeper substrate level where you actually become a genuinely interested in them and you have to you have to really imbibe that as a concept. Otherwise you can't really develop empathy. Empathy is not like weightlifting where you can force it. You it has to really innately come to you.
And the way it did to me is just realizing, actually figuring out what this person's upbringing was like and their relationship with their parents and how their day has been today.
That could really help me understand that. And I said, I suggest you just give it a shot and see where it takes you.
That's really good advice.
Switching gears just a little bit here, how do you feed your brain? Like, what do you read? How do you read it? Is it books online, long form, short form podcasts? I mean, you listen to the college project, I'm sure you listen to other podcasts.
How do you consume information? And like, if your brain is a pattern sort of recognition machine, how do you prime it with intelligent preparation in advance of encountering those patterns? That was really like one long winded question. No, no, no.
It's a great question. And I think it's it's interesting to ask the hypothetical is optimizing your food diet more important than kind of optimizing your mind diet? And I wonder if the answer is now.
I wonder if the main needle mover is like optimizing your brain, because I actually find if I want to get myself to do something that is hard, I actually read books about it. And the brainwashing effect in books is actually quite strong. Many people talk about the length of books and the fact that the content is repetitive and books should be shorter than when people would read more. But I actually think the potency of it is that it's long and the narrative is repeated over and over and over and over again.
I'll give you a very small anecdote.
I used to be still addicted to running long distances, multiple marathons a year, that type of thing, and as a result developed the body that are long distance runners have, which is incredibly weak. And so at some point I got frustrated with that and I wanted to get into weightlifting. And the question became not like, how do I live, but how do I really get interested in weightlifting? And it turned out the solution was, I guess, once surrounding myself by an environment where four other friends weightlifting, but too importantly, just reading a couple of books about it, it really changed things for me.
I like it changes the room in your head, the kind of background processes, if you will. So I think like information diet may actually drive food diet and it may be more important, practically speaking.
So when it comes to books, the largest gift someone ever gave me and this may sound stupid, but for me it was a big deal with my OCD mindset.
I always demanded myself to finish books and I actually heard Bill Gates actually say something similar recently. He always finishes the book. I could not think of words, advice. I think the main goal is to be reading a lot. And if you find yourself caught in a rut discarded, there's an infinite number of books and you will probably die before you manage to read them all, unless we really cure human longevity. So I would like I try to read as much as I can in any format I can.
And if the books that I immediately discarded, I basically will cycle through any information, any way of getting long form content when I'm exhausted of one and we'll just cycle to another. So if I'm too tired to read a book or it's actually it's interesting, people say to try to read a book, I actually think it's your your brain is too active to read a book. At least that's what I find. Too much chatter. I will listen to a podcast.
I listen on flights. I just listen to the podcast a lot. I find the best form of in-flight entertainment to be noise canceling headphones. And I'm asking a podcast that is great. And when I run, I listen to podcast quite a bit. I try to be very careful of my usage of Twitter. I do subscribe to this narrative that it is kind of chocolate. It's really good in the moment, bad long term, the practical hacks there are not, of course, real power hacks.
Those don't work because you're fighting against a system. You have to build your own system in defense. So I have enjoyed and turned on and enjoyed all the kind of time spent features in the new iPhone. But I just I keep my phone outside of my bedroom, if I can, definitely away from bed. I oh, another interesting tip. And I said it wouldn't do practical tips, but I'm quite excited about this one is I, I turn on the color filter on the iPhone is quite useful.
So everything's black and white, which makes it just far less appealing. It's kind of like I don't know what would be the equivalent of salting a chocolate, although that probably makes it taste better. But you get the idea that's your default is black and white, black and white now. Yeah, I have some interesting kind of side effects, but I found that super compelling. I do that on my desktop as well, black and white, and it just makes everything a little bit more bland, which is kind of what I want.
It helps my accomplishment goals. I obviously do not disturb turn on a. I mean, I just I don't think people should be I think the the problem is the social cues are calling someone are much more different than barging into the face and shouting at them. But that's what I experience it like when my phone starts vibrating. I do not disturb on.
I try in terms of the genre of content I read, I guess I very much believe what I said in earlier. Whatever is interesting, I try and not really limit myself. I do try to I do try to interest myself in fiction more than non-fiction. I actually think fiction has a more potent effect. In your mind, it's a little bit harder to track in terms of how you think mental models, how you kind of view the world and I think reduces as you age.
It's interesting to talk to people about the books. They ask someone what's what's the best fiction book you read all time? Very frequently. The answer that you get the commentators, it's books that they read when they were kids or teenagers, and you read that book as an adult and you're like this. Isn't that good? Ender's Game? It's fine. It's not great. But, boy, when I was a teenager, it changed my life. And I think that's because fiction books inject information at a much deeper level in your mind about how the world works, even though it's fictional, you kind of get lost in it and it really changes your view on how the world works in a way where you're not.
When you're reading a nonfiction book. I think if you're kind of a disagreeable, rational person, you have this judgmental mindset where you're constantly judging and thinking, well, is that true? Is it not? Or is fiction kind of slips right below that looks right below the brain blood barrier, if you will, and really enters your psyche at a deeper level.
Now, as you develop more and more models about how the world works, it becomes less and less potent. Hence why Harry Potter is really only useful to read if you're a child. But I still think I have a little bit of neuroplasticity left in me. I hope so. I'm trying to read as much fiction as I can while while things are still fresh, it's a little bit about my information diet. I could rant about this forever, but that's the yeah.
I had a couple of questions out of this. One was I mean, just to get a little bit what noise canceling headphones.
He's so flying. I think you want the Boase. I think it's E C QC.
Is there any more noise cancelling headphones. And the benefit of those is you can fall asleep with them, which I find much better than the older ones. And then I also have a cheapo Bluetooth headphone thing. I don't think the noise cancelling though, but that works well for me. I, I felt very comfortable buying the both headphones in the first place, the two hundred dollars. And so I did not allow myself to buy really any other noise cancelling gear.
Beyond that, I do think if I were to upgrade I can sure make it even better. In your noise cancelling model.
That would be interesting to explore and walk me through some of the fiction books in the mental models you've got from them recently that sort of like stand it in your mind as something that's had an impact on you.
Yeah, one thing I'm now realizing this is I'm talking to you, but it's very evident in Pioneer itself is in Ender's Game. One thing that really blew my mind, I only realized later in life, but it really kind of reconfigured my mind is and this is somewhat true in Harry Potter as well, the children on charge. Oh, yeah. And I'm sure it's not the first time this has been done in literature, but that really gave me a sense of the fact that I had a lot of independent autonomy and authority if I just wanted to ask for it.
I'm reading Ender's Game with my kids right now.
Oh, man. That's what you're doing, your job as a parent. That's that's a delight. It's fascinating to to watch them and see this sort of empowerment as they realize that this kid effectively saves the world.
And I think that's right.
And sadly, I don't know what your opinion is on this other than under shadow, the series goes very quickly downhill. Yeah, the first one is really good. I always wondered why, but that's a conversation for another time. Like what? What what went on in Orson Scott Card's mind that kind of just stopped at some point. So that was a big one for me. Harry Potter was a massive one for me there. There's a lot of fascinating things going on in Harry Potter and I might do the literary analysis now.
The mistake that people make with Shakespeare, which is read into it more than J.K. Rowling attended. But that's fine. One incredibly important thing I think, in Harry Potter is that I took away from it is the strength of made up tribal bonds. I mean, here you have four houses kind of competing with each other and all these things, and it's totally made up.
And the other fascinating game mechanic is the randomness of the sorting that I find really interesting is the sorting out is the thing that decides what house you go in and Harry Potter and no one can really figure out how it works. People spend forever reverse engineering and people build their identity based on where the sorting out selects them.
And I have kind of always wondered if the ultimate truth there is. It's totally like random spin of the dice. And that and what's happening is. People are emerging as different, everyone's kind of the same, they're emerging as different based on the house and the myths surrounding that house that they get selected to, and then you become part of that tribe and you have to signal to that tribe, you're part of it.
See, you signal the virtues of tribe. And the longer you signal that, the more you become.
And that's that's very, very, very true. And the the component that AIDS in this, which is kind of another thing I got out of Harry Potter, is just games. They have all sorts of games that they play, notably Quidditch. And the games are very interesting way to reinforce tribal bonds because games are simulations, right? So the outcomes are not catastrophic or fatal. If you believe in Quidditch, it's not like you die. So it's a helpful way to kind of embellish tribal bonds and certainly see the outside in the in the world today.
I mean, it's it's kind of weird if you're an alien species, you'd be arriving here and you'd be watching a soccer game or a football game.
And you kind of wonder, especially when you realize the magnitude of it, why are you guys doing this? There's no there's literally no purpose in soccer. But humans are obsessed with this concept of if we can agree on the rules beforehand, we can all play a game together. And that will kind of be fun because it'll reinforce tribal bonds, you know, one team versus another. And and explain that to Harry Potter to me was was really, really interesting.
I like that a lot.
One question that's related to sort of like how we feed our brain is how do we go about changing how we think? So when I'm observed what caused me to change how I think it's it's been occasionally so.
So the one common answer here is that it's read different books and try to do things from the other side. My mental metaphor for that is like reading a book in terms of changing, I think is you've got these two rocks to flints or Tinder's or whatever, and there may be a spark, but it won't really catch flame. It's hard like a book is a good starting position, but it won't. What's the largest thing? It's caused me to change my opinion or thoughts on things that are very deep level is really the environment and in particular the people I am surrounded by.
The people you are surrounded by will rewrite your brain whether you like to or not. And I certainly have noticed myself both in political affiliation and well as like answers to things like nature, nurture.
It's the micro influencers and micro in the sense that these people are not globally known. But they matter a lot to me or I think highly of them.
And there's something cool, scary where when a micro influencer or someone you respect says something to you, I think you are, no matter how disagreeable or analytical you are, you are you eat it a little bit faster than you would anyone else in. The same thing is true for people in your tribe. You consume information from them with a little bit less of a firewall than you would anyone else and the the tribal one. But you had the influence of tribal boundaries even stronger because they literally have to use a computer science metaphor.
They literally have route access to your brain. And so those people can really restructure how you think. Like, look, let's imagine there's someone you really admire, like a business innovator and you finally met them. And it turns out that there's conservative in their political leanings. I suspect you will slowly become more conservative as a person over time and you won't realize it in the moment. But like one thing will lead to the next, especially if you remain in touch with them, they'll send you content that's conservative.
You'll read the content, you're finding yourself getting more conservative. And this works in all sorts of directions. So I think in general, we walk around the world and we have a pretty strong firewall set up against things other people say or most of us do. And I think there's the firewall gets minimally toddled off when it's someone from your own tribe. So someone from Gryffindor says something and you're slightly more willing to believe them and it gets really shut off.
You become really vulnerable when someone you respect to something. And so if you want to change people's opinions, the thing to go after is you can reinvasion. The world is kind of a tree of influence who people respect because I'm sure for every person I respect as an influencer, there's someone they respect as well. Sometimes it's it's a loop. And that becomes really interesting, too. But I would just I would just try to traverse that tree as much as possible and change change people's opinions that way.
And I think any change we've had as it goes throughout society always goes, whether it's awful things in my opinion, like, say, Marxist communism or Bitcoin, it always goes through this world. And so I think the interesting thing to do would be to try to map it out for yourself and for your friends. And if you want to open the more open minded or change your opinion about something, try to figure out. I would try to figure out, like, how you can respect someone who has a different mindset.
Have you had any problems doing that? I mean, when somebody thinks just totally 180 from you, what do you do internally in that situation?
Well, OK, so there's the. There's the. What would this be, the Keagan self transforming mindset, action of. Well, you're actually willing to instantly reform or have their views kind of chew on them, process them and then spit them right back out. And I would say it would be ideal to work toward that. I'm certainly not there. I, I try to find interest intrigue in the other side. I think that that is a better exercise for my brain.
And so sometimes all I can end up doing this is a little bit of a copout.
I end up telling myself, let's try to again envision this person as an emergent property and figure out how did you develop that opinion, like what happened to you that led to you spinning that out today and that at least can let me empathize with them or understand where they're coming from a little bit. It won't necessarily mean they adopt it properly, but it's at least a half step. That's interesting is to somehow get interested in how they ended up with their opinion.
And basically, I don't think there are at all. Actors are locally rational, even terrible ones like Hitler. So it made sense to them what they were doing at the time. And it's an easy thing to just call them evil. But I think the more interesting and important thing, if you really want to suppress that evil, is to understand how that seems normal to them. And so that's what what I try to do. And I want to hear an opinion.
I don't agree with the other. The other interesting thing you can do is you can try to meet people who you respect and talk to them about things that are different from the area that you respect them in. So, you know, if you talk to someone you really respect and business about their political affiliation, that could be an interesting way to shift your mindset a little bit. Because if you if you buy my hypothesis that whatever they say, you're slightly more in tune to believe and suddenly I'll end up eating up the political stuff just because of their business affiliation and vice versa.
Like, if you find him, I don't know if you meet someone you really respect because they're opinions and art and you talk to them about business, that may change. You may surprise yourself and how much that changes your views as well.
A little while ago, you tweeted out looking for information about how to make major life decisions. I'm wondering what sort of framework you landed on for major decisions.
Yeah, I mean, in particular, I remain fascinated and would love to fund research on the topic of how people come to make large life decisions.
It is surprising to me that this is not like a well researched topic. As far as I can tell, there's literally nobody on the planet working on it. And I think it's one of the most important things to do, because if you could decode that, then you could figure out how to have more and how to have people make more informed decisions. How do people decide when to change their job? How do people decide political affiliation? How do people decide who to marry?
And maybe we can find that together. I would love to to expand that. I'd be super happy to. I think the problem actually, I believe all problems in life kind of resolve to finding the person to do it. But if we could, that would be amazing. The the the and so the enlightened belief is that it kind of happens in the moment.
So there's one day you wake up and you're like, I'm done with this job to think more nuanced view. Is it a composition of a bunch of different things? So if you take career decisions as an example, I think it could very well be that when you reverse engineer what Bob decided to quit company axiom of the company, why it actually happened three months prior because he was at a dinner with his friend and his French casually mentioned how much money he's making.
It's more than what Bob was making. And it turns out that that's been shooting in his head for literally three months until the opportunity came up. So it's not that the recruiter at the new company deserves any credit. The recruiter is just like a father. He's trying all the people, all the combinations, all the algorithms have wanted someone who was primed. So the timing was you kind of viewed someone in your tribe kind of doing a lot better than you position slightly higher on the leader board than you and you kind of overtime that started festering in your head.
It goes back to that wonderful Chris Nolan film Inception, where I think is that scene where DiCaprio is like an idea, it's the ultimate virus or something. So that's one possibility. Kind of another related possibility is in particular with job and career decisions. I've wondered a lot of resuming basically changing environments causes people shock. And so they're there in a different mindset.
So when someone comes back from vacation and they re-enter work, I think you enter a little bit of cognitive shock. Everyone experiences that work. And I think I always wondered if you just catch people in that moment, are they is their mind much more open to other alternatives? Because they're because I think in general, the brain, when you're experiencing environmental novelty, the brain is a little bit more open to different things. This is why companies have offsets.
You go to a new place, the brain becomes a little bit more open. And so I kind of wonder that you go back to work on vacation. Not only is a jarring and maybe slightly painful or monotonous, but you're kind of more susceptible because of that novelty thing.
The ports in your mind are open, if you will. And then a third thing that I mean, this is just from self reflection. Again, there's no research on this topic that I can read about. How people make these these large life decisions is, again, just goes back to this point of the micro influencers of someone who you kind of respect, said something to you and it just started eating, eating away at you, and then something else caught you at the right time.
It would not surprise me if the outcome of this research was it was kind of the messy moment and then the catalyst moment. And those are actually distinct. There could be many months, weeks or days or what surprised me, four hours in between. And and the interesting research is to try to identify more and more the genres of these moments.
Once you once you have a seed, I mean, it's kind of hard not to make those decisions. Right. And what I think part of what you're doing is you're struggling through to rationalize it to yourself or you start going through sort of like all the possibilities and you're comfortable with different outcomes. But at some point you've maybe subconsciously already decided you're going to there is a decision to be made and you're going to make it even no decision. And a lot of these cases is a decision like should I spend my life with this person?
If the answer is no, you know, that's that's one path. And if the answer is yes, that's one path. And if the answer is in the middle and you don't really feel compelled to make a decision, well, that's also a signal and sort of a decision to the other person. Right. And so you have all these metal layers to it. Yeah.
I think one thing that resonates from what you were saying, that that that I think is that I think is very true. There's also an element of kind of mental exhaustion that comes into play, if that makes sense, where you're basically your brain is trying all the different parameters, especially if this is a decision actively chewing on where there's like a bunch of different options. And you can see a microcosm of this very small microcosm if you try to book a hotel or a flight where there's like a lot of permutations to go through and you slice, you slice it.
And then at some point it's interesting, if you're if you're observant, at least for me, it's just like this interesting moment of kind of giving in where you kind of say, I'm just going for one of these and it's the exhaustion. It's not that you fully rationalize the issue. There's in these situations. There's usually I think what is actually going on that is quite interesting is by the time you reach like the third variation, your brain has unloaded all the variants of the first variation.
And so you can't keep everything in your head at once. And so you enter the cycle of doom of let's think about it a little bit more. Let's try this combination of the flight. Let's try that combination. And so you end up basically in a situation where you run on the treadmill of exhaustion. And then I think that is just a recency bias where you go for the thing that was on your mind last.
But again, look, no one's going to listen to decoding this stuff. And I think if I a Honeyman level book to be written here about about what's going on in your head, these moments, I agree with that.
And if that book's being written, please reach out to us. We want to tell your sister, I think when I was doing research, she's a psychologist.
Wow. Yeah. You went deep. Yeah. My sister is a psychologist today. How how did that help you design better products?
How did that relationship with her and the sort of knowledge of psychology that you guys chatted about help you?
Yeah, that's a good question.
I mean, my sister was always running experiments on me. I remember think when I was like five years old, six years old, she repeatedly asked me to draw maps from where we were to how we would get home, because I think there's a lot of spatial development that happens at that age. And she was curious about. And so being subjected to basically being a guinea pig of someone certainly enlighted my mind to how my mind was changing as a child quite a bit.
And if you think we have no agency as humans, there's just like some mumbo jumbo in their in their DNA plus environment. And and we kind of are on autopilot. It's kind of interesting that I ended up building component and software that has an incredible, I hope, fairly deep sense of human psychology as well. I mean, I think literally equal parts kind of software and psychology in terms of the different psychometric profiles we used to select people and how we motivate people.
There's a lot of human psychology there. So it's kind of interesting that from our same maybe it's all genetics, right? We kind of ended up doing the same thing as Adults of the Mind is a software flavor to it in terms of the research flavor to it, that the thing that is top of mind for me when building anything that may be from her, it's always hard to reverse engineer where these things come from is the idea that that what the person wants really, really deeply wants is not often like what the organizational imperative that you're building is?
I'll give an example. Gmail. Gmail is a product suited for communication, but ultimately, when you open up a session of. There are things he wants to accomplish, and I do not think Gitmo works for you to accomplish that goal. I think it works to accomplish the organizational imperative goal, which I mean, I'd imagine and keep some eyes around the center engagement or how often you use it. What you want is you want to open up Gmail and you want it to, like, ask you what are the things you need to get done, which may be answering, like for emails instead of staring at your inbox.
And instead what you're greeted with is a UI, which has a lot of red on it, which calls attention constantly to your brain bolded text so that you have to like, pay attention to all the new emails that have come in a refresh button so you could continually get opening hints in the odd circumstance you happen to get a new email from people and tricks you into working on the pseudo productive goal of answering a lot of email, which is not what you really want.
And so I think it's really important when building software to figure out the human's goals and try to align that with the organization's goals. And and I think those are often only Venn diagram overlaps.
They're not perfect. And certainly being surrounded by someone who is innately interested in the human psyche has kind of reformed my thinking around that quite a bit. Do you have any other siblings? Yeah, I have.
We're four total, so that's sort of another two siblings and one has their hands full with their family, five kids. And then my brother is studying law school.
I think I want to end on a bit of more personal, sort of deep philosophical question, if that's OK.
Sure. Yeah. Now I'm intrigued. Oh. What's happiness to you? What does happiness mean?
Happiness to me is flow. I actually think we think all humans are seeking in life. And this is kind of weird way to say it, because we usually use different words. We usually use words like meaning, fulfillment. But I think it's flow. I think you want to be in kind of the there's a Russian psychologist that defined the zone of proximal development where you are learning just the right amount, like you can envision a game. And if the game is too hard, you're getting too much negative reinforcement.
It is uninteresting to play because there's no novelty there. If the game is too easy, there's no novelty there. And so my goal for me to be happy, I need to be flow as much as possible. And I try to design my day around flow in terms of when I schedule meetings and when I try to just do work where it's me versus versus the laptop. I try to design my day and flow in the sense that the difficulty of what I work on, I have a massive problem that feels too hard to very much try to break it up.
I want to be in flow as much as possible, and I find it a very interesting side effect of the human condition that it seems like the thing we pursue more than anything is the ability to forget our mind as opposed to kind of be in it. Because when you're in flow, you don't notice time flies. You don't really have a sense of self. But that that to me is happiness. And if I if I can if I can get flow with a sense of with a sense at that, at the end of the day, I somehow move the needle on the planet.
That's kind of the ultimate goal because I think cheap flow is accomplishable by everyone in the world, by just playing video games a lot. And I actually think it's everyone talks a lot about Dubai. I think that's finding kind of meaning and satisfaction and novelty's the more important thing. And I think video games are one way of getting that. But the challenge with video games is it's hard to make the case that they're that you're improving the lives of others.
And I certainly think I have a little bit of a situation here where I happened to be born in twenty first century in Silicon Valley. And I know how to write software and hopefully not be totally awful at motivating people to write software as well.
And so that's a little bit like being a merchant in Venice on the 17th, 16th century. I have like the right skills at the right time, but so I have a responsibility to kind of pay it forward. And so dream is to find constant flow as well as work on something that improves the lives of others. And my hope is that with Pioneer, I can do that both in the style of work. We hire people that are fun to work with and I end up working on things that provide me flow as well as dramatically reshape the world.
Because, again, I actually think the the underrated thing to work on is not to try to build AGI, not to try to work on cancer or fix cancer, human longevity or global warming or any of these things. I think it's to try to create ten times more people who work on those things.
So if I can if I can find flow while doing that, I'll be really, really happy to be an enabler.
As you were talking about that the game thing keeps coming up. I mean, your Silicon Valley is one of the hotbeds of the world for talent. It's not the only hotbed. It doesn't have a monopoly on it, but it's fiercely competitive. The same way that Wall Street is super competitive and attracts really type a high quality people who put a lot of effort and time and sacrifice a lot of things in order to try to achieve their goals, whatever their goals are.
One of the things that strikes me that possibly separates successful people and unsuccessful people in these endeavors is obviously luck. But one of the things that we've talked about today is flow. Do you think that that's accurate? And what else do you think separates successful people in these environments of rife gladiatorial competitiveness?
Yeah, my belief is what separates success is sadly, there's a component in that that I do think is kind of luck by birth. I will never be seven feet tall. It's kind of dictated by my genes. I can certainly modulate and I can certainly stunt my growth by not eating properly as a baby and as a child. But there's there's kind of a band. And I think that that is also true for one's ability to reason through complicated problems.
But I actually think that that band, that kind of intellect component here is vastly overrated.
And I say that it's not even rated that highly, but I still think it's overrated because I think that the real thing that separates successful people from not in my opinion, is they get stuck in what is a really tight, great feedback loop where they're getting positive affirmations for doing the right thing. And so they continue to do it. And that positive affirmation is kind of a reward from people they admire. Maybe it's money. There's a lot of different alternatives here, but they kind of get stuck in that and then it just continues to iterate and over and over and over, you can kind of imagine if you're an engineer, there's kind of source code and you just get tight, you get stuck in a tight loop.
That's positive. And I think it is true for negative as well. It's very interesting to read the stories of people stuck in the opiate crisis. And it's all it's it's a negative feedback loop. It's that everything was going fine. I then I got into a car accident and then I needed cheap meds. And then I started taking fentanyl. And now I'm on the street and my life is terrible. It's just it's that moment where you took fentanyl for the first time and of the negative feedback loop.
So it separates, I think, successful and unsuccessful people is these loops that they get stuck in. And I think the most important interventions, people don't think about it this way, but the most important interventions basically change the loop. And certainly that's what we're trying to scale up. We're trying to basically give people a we're trying to give people what is basically a package to kick start a genius. But the idea is it's not really the money that we give.
It matters. It's the psychological motivation of kind of playing the game that is pioneer over and over because like Kickstarter into a positive feedback loop. I mean, pioneers literally like taking all the stuff I just them and kind of putting it in software. We try to find we try to map you to a person you will respect. We try to have a literally a visual leaderboards. You can look at other people's scores and kind of get motivated to do better.
So we were trying to basically operationalize all of this in Python and Ruby. And so if it works, I think it'll drastically scale up the amount of successful people because we'll be able to have them of a massive inject into society a lot of these kind of catalyzing moments that lead to positive feedback loops.
I think that's a great place to end this conversation. This was remarkable. Daniel, I really appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you so much for taking the time. I mean, the questions are great and hopefully I didn't bore you all too much.
You did awesome. And where can people find more about you?
So Pioneer is the thing I'm working on that may be worth checking out. The website is Pioneer Dot app that AP and I am pretty active on Twitter despite my best efforts. So you can just find me on Twitter. Daniel Gross, thank you so much. Thank you. Yeah. This is the.
Hey, guys, this is Shane again, just a few more things before we wrap up. You can find show notes at Farnam Street blog, dotcom slash podcast. That's fair. And am s t r e t blog. Dotcom slash podcast. You can also find information there on how to get a transcript.
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