Malcolm Gladwell: Working From Home Is Destroying Us! | E162 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Malcolm Gladwell: Working From Home Is Destroying Us! | E162".
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Sorry, now I'm getting emotional. Malcolm Gladwell. Author of five New York Times bestselling books. Business guru. The rock star journalist. I just want to explain things to people. It's not in your best interest to work at home. If you're just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live? We want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary. And if you're not here, it's really hard to do that. What have you reduced your life to? The language of happiness has to go alongside this question of what contribution you're making to the world you live in. If you could make an amazing contribution to society, as you have, at the cost of your own happiness, would you choose that? Oh wow. We are social animals. Casting someone out is the great sin. It's not conflict that drives people away. It is neglect. That's when you do harm. Sorry, now I'm getting emotional. It's very... I don't know. Sorry. If we don't feel like we're part of something important, what's the point? So without further ado, I'm Stephen Bartlett and this is the diary of a CEO. I hope nobody's listening, but if you are, then please keep this to yourself. Welcome.
Personal And Professional Journey
Early years (01:38)
First of all, I want to say thank you. I feel obliged to you because your books, Outliers, Blink, have been very formative for me over the last ten years. As I was running my businesses and trying to understand certain dynamics that I didn't understand, those books seemed to arrive in my life at the right time. So it's a real honour to get to speak to you today. Oh, thank you. Going back then, you've become a tremendously well-known, highly acclaimed writer and thinker and podcaster. But when I think back to your early years, say before ten years old, what were the factors that you look back now in hindsight and connect and say, "Ah, that's the reason I ended up becoming the person I am today." Oh, wow. You mean, you say before the age of ten? Yeah, like sub-ten. Well, at the age of ten, I had already lived in three countries. Wow. Jamaica, and maybe even four. Well, Jamaica, England and Canada. And it's possible a brief stint in the United States. So I was well travelled. Although, you know, you're dimly aware of these things at that age. And I had a, you know, I have an English father and I had an English father and a Jamaican mother. So I was conscious of myself as an outsider a little bit, which I think is very useful. And I was living in that point in kind of southwestern Ontario the kind of one of the sleepiest but also most amazing places in the West. I mean, a place of kind of almost absurdly happy people and no crime or dysfunction and, you know, ten churches in every village and a kind of, I realize now in retrospect, a kind of magical place to have, I grew up without any kind of broader anxieties. So I was never scared of anything. There was nothing to be scared of when I was growing up, which I realize now was probably an enormous blessing. On that first point of realizing that you're a bit of an outsider, why do you cite that as being a good thing? For a lot of people that leads to bullying and feelings of sort of social inadequacy, but why do you say that's a good thing? Well, I think of it as liberating. You know, I'll give you a small example. When I first came to Canada, I was six years old, and in rural Canada when you're six, all the boys have been playing ice hockey since they were, and skating since they were four. So I remember very distinctly being aware of the fact that everyone played hockey and I didn't, and also being aware of the fact that, wrongly, but I felt that it was too late for me to learn. So I was permanently outside of hockey culture. I was the only boy who didn't play, which is incredibly liberating, which meant I could choose. None of them got to choose what they wanted to do, right? I did. You know, so it was like I didn't have to participate in these kind of compulsory rituals of the Canadian upbringing. And having choices, being an outsider does allow you a kind of range of freedom that is denied people who are embedded in a culture. And what did you choose? Well, eventually running. But I think I chose just to, you know, the amount of time seven-year-olds spend playing hockey in Canada is enormous. I mean, it's just, so I think I just had more time to read and kind of, it's a full-time job for an eight-year-old or a seven-year-old. You know, I just, I had quite a solitary childhood, which again, I think was a blessing. You know, I think a lot of, I didn't, I had time to kind of indulge my curiosity and read lots of books. And I wasn't kind of, I see a lot of children today pushed into unwanted social interaction. I don't understand why, is it really necessary? If you're seven and you'd rather spend an evening by yourself, isn't that fine? I think it should be fine. One of the things that I, you know, I read about in the story of success was about the impact that parental involvement at that young age, and this is kind of maybe somewhat linked to what we're talking about, parental involvement can have on someone's outcomes. And I, my parents were, I was the youngest child of four, so my parents had resigned to the fact that they had to parent me. So I had this huge freedom. And I think I always cite that as being the reason I went on to become an entrepreneur, because I had this huge void of independence. But, so I wanted to get your take on that, because that led me to believe that less parental involvement would lead to greater independence, which would lead to better outcomes. Yeah. But except that, yes, I actually completely agree with you. But I wonder whether, you know, the kind of, so if you describe me a kind of benign neglect, which is, which youngest children, I'm also a youngest, often encounter. But benign neglect is not the same as a lack of parental involvement, because it's benign neglect. It's also, it's considered neglect. It's that your parents have simply, they haven't removed a safe structure around you. The structure remains in place. What they've removed, they've just stopped hovering over you. They realize it's no longer necessary or productive, or they no longer have the time for it. But they've not abandoned you. So, you know, I think it's, you know, sometimes I think we, those of us who are youngest, do our parents a little bit of a disservice when we describe their absence from our childhood. They're not absent. They're just simply wiser in the way that they choose to parent. Yeah, I thought my parents were absent, but you're right. The house was still hot. We had a roof over our head. I was still attending school. I got expelled ultimately for like 30% attendance, but I was still kind of going. You know, I did the same thing. Yeah, I read about that. Yeah, you were similar. But my mother was complicit in my, my mother would, was quite happy if I chose to not. Oh, really? Well, I think she realized, my mother is quite subversive in a very, very quiet West Indian kind of way. And I think she understood that if she chose to, I didn't have any great desire to go to school on a regular basis. I think she realized that if she opposed that desire, she'd make it worse. So she decided instead to endorse it. And so it kind of, she sort of diffused whatever rebellious intent I had just by saying she would sign fake notes for me to give to the principal. I mean, she was. Wow. Wow. What about your father? What was he like? He said you were very, very competitive. I read that somewhere. Yeah, he, I think he thought, I think he was competitive. I don't know whether, I think I was quite competitive, but in a kind of at games. And at running. My father was a very, very Englishman. He was from Kent. He was, he liked dogs and gardening and long walks in the rain. He was exceedingly intelligent, but it combined with a kind of humility that was, and I realized that as I get older, it's the humility that was the more important aspect of his personality. So he would never, he was probably smarter than most people he met, but he would never, ever make that explicit. And he was, if he thought that you even had a slight edge of knowledge in some domain over him, he would defer to you. Which made him an incredibly curious, he was curious about everything and would ask. He had friendships with people who had dropped out of school at the age of 10. I mean, he was, and he was a man with a PhD in, you know, in mathematics. So he was a wonderful, he was, he was a really wonderful role model for a, for a little boy.
How did you learn humility (10:20)
How did you, and what, why and how did you learn the value of that humility and the impact and the importance of it when you're dealing with other people? Well, I think it's because you can't be a good journalist unless you have a kind of a baseline respect for what others can teach you. If you're going to interview, be a good interviewer, you must enter into every interview with the expectation that you know less that the person you're interviewing has someone, something to tell you. Right. And that's actually much more difficult than it sounds because in normal conversation, we have an urge to assert ourselves and we think we have a kind of intellectual advantage, informational advantage. That's why we, you watch people talk, interruptions are all about, often about the other person asserting their superiority on that point. Someone says, oh, it'll take me forever to get here. The other person says, no, it won't, right? You can't be a journalist if you have to turn that off. If you want to be an effective interviewer, you have to trust that this person ultimately can teach me something that I can't learn on my own. Even if in the moment I'm not getting anywhere, you just have to quiet that voice and let them keep going and keep, you know, asking the right kind of questions. That requires an assertion of humility. Took me years to kind of perfect that as a journalist. And I would watch it when I worked at the Washington Post, I would watch the great journalists and they all had that, they just had ability to kind of to make it plain to whoever they were talking to, I know less than you. That's why I'm having this, that's why we're having this conversation. Right. It's a beautiful thing when it's done right, when it's done well. It's made me reflect on various people. One of the people that made me reflect on the interest in you was Joe Rogan, how he feels like such a bridge to his audience and listeners, because he does come across as being tremendously humble, regardless of who he's speaking to. He always seems to understate his intelligence as well. He always calls himself a monkey. Yes. He has a kind of, yeah, well he, yes, he, well he has this wonderful thing where he can put himself, he's squarely in the position of his listeners, which is really, you know, for a host of any kind of show like that is, if you can do that, you're going to win, you're going to win, right? He's having the conversation that his listeners wish they could be having with the subjects on his show.
When did you know you'd be a journalist? (13:04)
On that point of journalism, at what point in your early years did you, was there any inclination that you might become a journalist, you might go into that profession, if any? Never in near, I mean, I had thought about, I liked writing, I didn't imagine that it was a profession. It didn't occur to me that you could actually make a living doing it. So I always was thinking of other things I wanted to do, and then I kind of fell into it by accident after my, after I graduated from university. So I never really, I just, I thought of something you did on the side, you know, I didn't, it seemed unimaginable that somebody would pay you to do this kind of work. Lack of role models, lack of examples? I mean, I think it's a little bit of it. If I had grown up in, you know, New York or Toronto or London, I would have been much more aware of people who, you know, were in the creative professions, but I grew up in a town of 4000 people. There were no one, there was no one in my town who made a living in the creative professions, right? You wouldn't live in a small town like that and do that. So I didn't know, I have friends who grew up in, you know, Manhattan, and they knew, they knew film, filmmakers and actors and, you know, fiction writers and as part of their parents circle when they're growing up, I knew none of that.
The impact location has on your career (14:29)
What advice would you give to people around that age, say that, you know, early 20s, just maybe just graduated and thinking about going off into the world? Because I hear a lot of these, these stories about certain small factors can have such a tremendous impact on your outcomes, like the city you live in. Would you encourage younger people to go and get into those big cities if they're, if they're trying to have careers in things like journalism or media or whatever, or business? And how much of a, how much of a swing does that have? Because I always think, you know, I'm on Dragon's Den, and I see these entrepreneurs coming in and pitching tech companies. And I always think, sometimes I think you're at like a 90% disadvantage versus just being over there on the west coast of America in San Francisco. I think sometimes I think it's more than a 90% disadvantage, but situational environmental factors on outcomes. It's always been this puzzle in many countries, but particularly United States about why do immigrants do so well? And, you know, the one of the explanations was immigrants to the United States have always been very aggressive about seeking educational opportunities, or maybe they brought with them education. And that was one argument for the longest time. But now we realize actually it's less that and more that they, unlike many people, many Native Americans, are willing to move where opportunities are. So the immigrants are mobile in a way they don't have any roots, they don't have family that's keeping them in one place or another. They simply make a beeline for the places where they can, you know, further their own economic and personal interests the quickest and the most efficiently. Native people don't do that because they have too many encumbrances. And so my advice to people, young people, is always, where do you want to move? That's the first question you should ask yourself. Your default should be, you're going to move somewhere. Right? Don't fall in the trap of doing when you're 23 of doing the comfortable thing and staying near family and friends. There'll be plenty of time for that later. The only question on your mind should be where should I move? And once you decide where you move, I think a lot of other things fall into place. So if you are someone who imagines that you would like to start a company in the tech world, then yeah, move to Northern California or Austin, Texas or Tel Aviv or whatever. You know, go where the, I think you're absolutely right, you need to go where the opportunity is. It's not going to come to you magically. And you are at a huge disadvantage if you're not there. It's just no question about that. People have confused the efficiency of digital communication, the kind of, the logistical efficiency of digital communication with emotional efficiency and kind of psychological efficiency. It is only logistically efficient. It does not resolve the question, help someone trust you more or take a chance on you or get to know you and all of your complexity. Yes. I wish. Yeah. It's one of the things my parents said to me at a very young age was we lived in Devon, which is, you know, Devon right down in the corner on the farm.
Are people that work too much happy? (17:33)
And they were very clear at a young age. They said, you've got to leave here. So just so you're all well aware for the four of us, you have all got to go out of this city. So we were all very clear on that. And all of my friends are still there, every single one of them. And all of my best friends are still in Plymouth. Even if they went to university in another city, they came back. It's not to say that they're not happier than me. And this is maybe my next question, which is because I hear that immigrant tale all the time that immigrants tend to have better outcomes relatively, whatever it might be. But my question becomes, are they happier? And I say this actually because of a conversation I was having last night with my friend who has built his family, built a billion dollar company in this country. The dad was the first generation immigrant here. The dad is just completely overwhelmed with work. Like he is obsessed to the point now the son said to me last night, I don't actually think he could. He knows what makes him happy at all. But because he was in survival mode when he came here, they've bought a billion dollar. It's actually I think it was worth 5 billion now. But is he happy? And I sometimes ponder that the first sort of generation immigrant is in survival mode. The second generation has the chance of being in a maybe a thriving self actualization situation. But I don't know if you had any light to shed on first generation happiness. I'm always dubious of this. So I all this happiness stuff. And I say this, and I'm fully open to the possibility that I'm wrong. But my understanding of happiness is because of the research on happiness is that it's a fairly stable trait. In other words, there are people who are happy, regardless of where they are, and people who are not, or people who don't appear happy, or people for whom happiness represents itself differently. So I would say of your friend's father, you know, maybe he is happy, he just expresses it differently. He built a massive business. He's made his family stable. He's created a secure beachhead in a whole new country. You don't think that makes him happy when he puts his head on the pillow at night? I think it probably does. It's just not the kind of lie on the beach, read a good book happy. But it sounds to me like a pretty amazing set of accomplishments that would make him. Will he die happy having done that? Yes, he will. I think. I don't know, I never met the man. But I'm just I'm wondering... Just billionaires generally. What's that? People say they've never met a happy billionaire. I just don't, I don't believe that. I think they derive, I think people who've accomplished something like that, they derive a different kind of satisfaction from it. But it doesn't, it's not a lesser kind of satisfaction. You know, do I work more than most people? If I look at the cohort of people I went to college with, university with, do I work more than most of them? Yeah, probably. Do I spend less time, you know, watching movies and reading books and going on holiday? Yes, absolutely. Does that mean I'm less happy? No, I think I'm pretty happy. You know, I don't have a problem with it. I'm a little bit skeptical of this narrow definition of happiness. So, I think it's based on this idea that to be happy or whatever, you have to have this kind of recipe of ingredients and they have to be equally balanced. You have to have, you know, strong interpersonal relationships or meaningful connections. You have to have, you know, exercise, you know, these kinds of things. So when you see an individual who's so out of balance because they just work, you know, every waking hour of every day and they don't make time for friends, families or walking the dog, people and they're, you know, consumed by it. People from the outside go, well, that's not a happy person. And I would think the science would support the fact that people tend to be happier when they have stronger, more meaningful relationships and they have more of more balance in their lives, generally. Yeah. No, I think so. I understand I'm making. So let's go back to your friend's father. So your friend's father is not someone about whom we can generalize. Yeah. He's clearly a, you know, he's an outlier of some sort. He's probably, he's in an, I imagine there's a whole series of traits that he's in the 99th percentile on. Probably incredibly intelligent, incredibly driven, you know, list them all. So that kind of person is never going to have a balanced life. I mean, you could put him in, you know, the cornfields of Iowa and say, you're going to be a farmer. That's all you can do. And he's going to live, he's going to be someone who's like working, you know, 80 hours a week. Right. That's just his temperament. So the question is, what I'm saying is happiness for him is probably going to look differently than happiness for lots of other people. But he's highly unusual for the average person. Yes, balance is appropriate. But you didn't ask me about an average person. You asked me about someone who's built an enormous business from scratch. Yeah, I worry, I think I worry sometimes. Part of the reason I think I ask the question is for myself that I'm being dragged by my own, like, insecurities. So I sit here with a lot of successful, maybe billionaire CEOs that have built these great companies. And you find out that the reason they built them is because their mother, in the case of one of my previous guests, which was on two weeks ago, and he said this on the podcast, he's got a billion dollar beer company. You find out because his mother, when he was a young kid, basically always convinced him he was never enough. He should come into his room, smash his toys and say things to him to convince him that he was just never good enough. So he's had this almost neurotic, obsessive drive to prove to the world that he is good enough. And you wonder how voluntary that drive is and what it's come at the cost of. And is he really, you know, is this individual really happy and fulfilled or are they just being pulled by their insecurities? But, you know, there are maybe another way of saying this is that, so to use that person as an example. So he took a kind of trauma and made something productive out of it. He had a great deal of certain personal costs, but he took something that might have defeated others and ended up contributing substantially to society. I wouldn't, he may not be happy, but I would describe his life as a triumph. Right? And the other thing I would say is that the language of happiness has to go alongside this question of what contribution you're making to the world you live in. That there are many people who are not personally happy but who make enormous contributions. And that's a parallel and in many cases far more important function. You know, was Florence Nightingale happy? Probably not. Probably not. I can tell from what I know about her life, she had all kinds of psychological issues or whatever. But she made an enormous contribution that continues to this day. Right? She started a whole, you know, so there are, like I said, I would like to have a kind of, I would like to evaluate people's lives along a whole series of dimensions and understand that not everyone can satisfy each of those dimensions in any moment. One of those, you know, being happy feels like something that I would like. For me, making a great contribution to society feels like something that others would like from me.
If you could make an amazing contribution to society at the cost of your happiness would you? (25:22)
And I wonder, you know, which if you could make a huge, this is just a rough and a tangent here, but if you could make an amazing, you know, contribution to society as you have at the cost of your own happiness, would you choose that? Depends on what the contribution was. The contribution you've made in your life, you've helped millions and millions of people. Oh, I see. Would I have done what I did if I thought it was coming at a significant cost to my own happiness? Yeah. Probably not, but then I think the world, you know, but if I was doing, if I was a, you know, a biologist who had working on a breakthrough for some disease, I might, the calculation might be different. I mean, I'm not saving lives. I'm entertaining people or enlightening them, but if it didn't read me, they would be enlightened somewhere else. And I'm not crucial to the functioning of society, but if I was, I might feel very differently. I think, you know, it's funny, I'm over here because I have this book now in paperback, the Bonra Mafia, and it's the story of these group of men, pilots in the 1930s in America, who have a dream about a better way to fight wars. And they're all down in Alabama, and they have these ideas about how the bomber, high altitude precision bombing can revolutionize warfare and save countless civilian lives. Their dream turns out to be they can't pull it off in the Second World War. They start out the war with high hopes, and by the end, many of them have had their careers destroyed because they pursued an idea which didn't work. It didn't work at the time. And that's how it does work. They really pioneered a kind of warfare that is essential to the way we think about war today and as today saves countless lives. It didn't work in their timeframe. So in a sense, they sacrificed their career and large part of their happiness for a future cause. They were long dead before it paid off. Am I glad they did that? Absolutely. You may be glad if you resurrected some of these guys from the dead and you said, look, I know in 1936 you had a vision about how to make war better. And it was finally realized during the Kosovo campaign of the 90s, 60 years later. Are you happy you did what you did? You do feel now that it was worth sacrificing your entire career over this lost cause because it turned out not to be a lost cause. And they would, I'm sure from the grave, they would say, I am so grateful that I did what I did. Right. Even though one of these guys, one of them, one of the heroes of the book is a man named Heywood Hansell. He was this brilliant, passionate, romantic figure in the Second World War who has this extraordinary set of ideas of how to revolutionize the air war in the Second World War, which he tries and fails to implement in the war against Japan. And by his, by the age of 40, he's, this is a man who devoted his life to the Air Force. He's a career, his father and grandfather, they're all like career military officers. He, this is his whole world. He's basically through by the, by his late 30s. He's just pushed out to pasture and spends the next 30 years of his life basically as the guy who failed in the Second World War. Right. He would say it was worth it, I think. If you think so. Yeah, I think he did. I think he would. And I'm, we should all be enormously grateful to him for making that sacrifice. I am grateful for them for making that sacrifice, but I tend to believe that people are more motivated by their own ego than they typically often allow. Their own sense of like wanting to accomplish something so they can be someone that accomplished something. And I tend to actually think this probably from doing this podcast so much where I often get to the root cause of a successful person's achievements and find out it was just time and time again. It was just an insecurity from their childhood. It was they had, you know, they were bullied, they were beaten up. And it's this almost involuntary pursuit to prove the bully, my mum being outcasted and being the only black kid in an all white school to fit in or to prove someone wrong. And if, and then you look at it from the outside and you clap and go, oh, they were courageous or they were brave. No, they were insecure. So why, wait, why, why does it bother you that insecurity manifests itself as courage? It absolutely doesn't. I did a tour of this country where I open the show and say, you call me brave. I was actually just insecure. I just think it's reality. And I think obviously in hindsight bias, we, we sell this person was so courageous. They were so intentional. They had the most of the time they were just insecure. Like they didn't get Christmas presents and they were. But that makes, I like that though, because it, to me, to my mind, it makes courage far more accessible when we realize that courage can have many, many fathers. I love it. Yeah. I think it's beautiful. It's a beautiful notion. And the idea that people can take what can be harmful, damaging, traumatic things like I was saying before and spin them into gold is, this is the, this is the, at the heart of what is so kind of joyful about the human spirit. Right. It's, it's incredible. Like. That was actually the headline of the Guardian newspaper two weeks ago was my face with the title that said insecurity was my greatest motivator. And it was, and it was because I never understood this idea that I was, cause I expelled from school, dropped out of university after one lecture. I never understood this idea that other people thought I was brave. When in really I was like a coward running away from things I didn't like fueled by insecurities. Like it was actually cowardice and insecurity, if you're really being honest. Yeah. So go back to your point about these, you know, these, these people from the 1950s? Yeah. 1950s. 30s. I wonder what their driving underlying force was cause. Well, they were, it's funny. So there's a little group of men and they call themselves the Bomber Mafia. And they are, they're all in their 20s. They're young men in the 1930s and they're in the army and there's no such thing as the Air Force in the 1930s anywhere. Air Force is a division of the, of the army in most countries. And the people running armies in the 1930s think planes are a joke. They're a toy. Right. And here are these young guys and they actually think planes are what the future of warfare is. And they feel, they feel overlooked and ignored and they're, you know, in the 1930s, if you were in the army, you had to spend time, you know, learning how to ride a horse because the cavalry was still a thing. And they would, you know, you'd have to groom your horses and, you know, trot around the, and these guys think this is a joke. Right. They're just, this is the most absurd thing they've ever seen. Why are we riding horses when we've invented this thing called an airplane, which can fly hundreds of miles and drop bombs and revolutionize warfare, and no one's listening to them. And they, they are, they feel like they're outcasts who are in an institution that they don't belong in. And they're, they're really at a loss. And their solution is, they're all up in Virginia, right around the, where military headquarters is in America. They decide to, as a group, move to the most remote Air Force base in America, which when they say remote, meaning as far as possible, kind of psychologically from Washington, DC. So they moved to this little tiny corner of Central Alabama, Montgomery, Alabama, which even today Montgomery, Alabama is the middle of nowhere. And they want to be, they want to be off by themselves and left a kind of dream. And they have a massive chip on their shoulder about who they believe to be the morons running the Army. So again, you have a, and they, they spark this kind of technological revolution. They dream big and reimagine what war can be. But it's all born of frustration, isolation, alienation. Rejection. Rejection. I mean, it's, it's exactly what you're talking about here. Their motives, they come across as these heroic idealists and these brilliant kind of technological thinkers. That's not, that's not how it begins psychologically. They're disgruntled. It begins as these kind of lonely upset disgruntled. They're like, I'm sorry, we're out of here. We're going to Alabama. And they would, they would, they would gather, it was only about 10 of them. And they're on this, I've been to this Air Force base even today. It's like, it is literally in the middle of nowhere. And they're just like, don't call, you know, basically they're like, we're hiding down here. Don't call us. We're like, you know, as it happens, such a marvelous story. The Second World War then breaks out when they're in the middle of all of this dreaming. And there's no one else who's been thinking about air war policy. And so all of these disgruntled guys get whisked out of Alabama. And they occupy all the top positions in the US Air Force at the beginning of the Second World War. So by magic, by sheerst chance, this group of misfits gets plunked into the center of the American military machine when America enters the war in 1942. So it's like they get a lucky break. I mean, if the Second World War never happened, they might still be there, you know, fussing and groaning and grumbling. And which is this other thing that, you know, I think that I've observed in I'm sure you've seen the same thing in doing this in doing this podcast is the amount of times that sheer serendipity unleashes this allows the innovator to turn their disgruntled and neurosis into gold. Right. It's just something random happens and boom that they see a window and they think that's it. Right. That's a shaft of light. That's my light. But if the window had been closed, they could still be disgruntled and running around. History will never know. History will never remember that. We never look back and see that that outcome. So even in that case, it sounded like that one of their initial driving motivators was more like, I told you so. So going back to your point about would they be happy today because they never got that particular I told you so moment before they... Before they died, no. Yes, they would have had to live to, you know, 100 years old to get their I told you so moment. The question I would have liked to ask them is did they did they still have faith at the time of their death that their vision would be realized at some point? So there's a whole class of innovators who pursue an idea and then they're just early. Right. And it comes to fruition afterwards. There's a famous case of a I forgotten his name, but it was an American biochemist who had this idea for how to fight cancer tumors by starving. The cancer tumors grow, you know, blood feeds them. They have all these blood vessels that they connect. That's how they and his idea was let's choke the supply of blood to tumors and kill them that way. And it's called angiogenesis. And is it called angiogenesis? Someone will correct me. Anyway, he had this idea in the 60s. And it takes him sort of 30 years to figure out that it works. And I have often wondered and then he dies. But he gets he just before he dies, he has this kind of finally boom. He demonstrates that his life's ambition actually works. I've always wondered, had he died like just before the moment of would he have died happy? Did he die believing it would someday come his notion, which is kind of if you think about it, it's intuitively it makes sense. If I can starve the tumor of its blood supply, I should be able to choke the tumor. That's an idea. If I just explain that to you, not if it's new or anything I'm guessing about medicine. It makes sense, right? So he has this idea in 1960, whatever it is. And I think his faith was strong enough that had he died before proof of concept, he would still have died happy. I think. I don't know, though. I would love to have asked him that. To ask him that hypothetical question. I mean, another thing I've learned from this podcast is generally that the destination is just a thing. That goal, ultimate goal is just a thing that gives us orientation. But we're always on a journey. And I imagine if he had accomplished that one, he would have set off on another one, another journey. So one would assert that because he was striving towards a meaningful goal. I always say, you know, when people ask me what I want for my life now, I say I'm striving towards a meaningful goal surrounded by people I love. And I feel somewhat challenged. I am happy. And the minute I'm no longer striving, so the goal is complete, I'm not around people I love. And it's not challenging me. It's not on the outside, sort of the outer limit of my comfort zone. Then you're not satisfied.
The key to Innovation is delusion and lucky timing (39:09)
So he sounds like someone that was striving towards a goal, a meaningful goal. And that was challenging him. So I imagine. Except that lots of other people began to believe that he was wasting his time. So he has that. He has he is surrounded by a small core of people who believe in him and presumably a long suffering wife. But the general world in which he's operating is rolling their eyes by the end. And that's his that's his challenge. That's his challenge. So I mean that, by the way, as you know, incredibly typical of I mean, this this goes into one of I'm actually obsessed with this. And this is one of these I wanted to write the bomber mafia because it is a perfect example of this idea that is incredibly simple, but is so often overlooked when we look at innovation. Everyone, including the innovator, radically underestimates how much time it takes to bring an idea to fruition. So the reason most innovators do what they do is not that they have a clear picture, but rather they are they are massively deluded about their own and their own idea. They think it's so obvious and they should be able to pull it off in five years. If they realized it would take 30, they would never do it. Right. So their their their success is based on the delusion. They're by definition delusional. And everybody, everyone, everyone involved always thinks that just because I can describe it clearly and I can make a case for what I'm doing, I should be able to will it into being overnight. Right. And I there's not a single. Can you come up with a single significant innovation that took less time than the innovator imagined? No. Just never happens. Yeah. For so many reasons. Yeah. I mean, legislations that were often the big one. Yeah. Like, because there's a hundred reasons why everything is takes longer. Yeah. Like the bomber mafia honestly believed in an idea they hatched about completely revising the way war is fought. They thought that you could fight a war entirely from the air. You would no longer need armies, tanks, Navy, anything. All you would need is bombers. They thought you could fight the entire Second World War with a fleet of bombers. Okay. They had this idea in 19, let's say 35. They thought they could pull it off. When the war starts in 1942, they thought they could pull it off seven years later. We can't even pull it off today. We're getting close. But like it's been they underestimated how long it would take to bring this idea to fruition by like basically half a century. That's the depth of their. But everyone has this delusion. Do you know how long my favorite example is? The the automated teller machine, the cash machine is invented, if I'm not mistaken, in the early 1970s. Now, if the guy who invented it, there's a guy, I forgot his name. We had him right here, right now. And we said, when you came up with this idea and whatever it was in 1973, how long do you think would it take to spread this idea throughout the entire world? He would have told you it'll be all done by 1980. It's a no brainer. Couldn't be easier. I'm making everyone's life easier. Banks like it. Consumers like it. It's cash out of a machine. All you got to do is punch in a code. This is the this is not like computers or I'm not changing anyone's life. Everyone wins. You know how long it actually took? It took 25 years to make an ATM machine, to make it popular. ATM machines take. They're not. So they're invented in the early 70s and they're not really everywhere until the mid 90s in the West. Why? You tell me. Takes a long time. Consumer behavior's got to change. Then they got to make space for them. Turns out it's complicated. Consumers took a long time. My mother is still not taking any money out of an ATM. You know, she's 90. She may eventually. But, you know, it turns out people, the thing that that guy and all of us didn't understand is that when it comes to how we handle, how we deal psychologically with money, we are extremely conservative. So I can give you the I can sit you down and say, never have to line up in a bank again. Twenty four hour access to money and you will still it'll take a generation for you to warm up to a generation. Yeah, that's it, isn't it? Because the generation has got to pass because they're too stubborn to change. Interesting.
The importance of timing (43:48)
You write a lot about this idea of timing. You've written about it in OutLives, I believe, about the importance of timing. Now, everything you've said there makes me feel maybe a little bit scared as an as an innovator, an entrepreneur, because I might be 50 years out. And listen, I'm trying to quench these insecurities now, so I can't wait 50 years. What have you learned about how we can improve our timing or understand if our timing is good? Is that even possible? Is it possible to know if our timing is good when it comes to inventing things, creating things, launching a podcast? Are we too late? People say that to me a lot. Is this too late to be starting a podcast? Yeah. Is timing something we can control or does it just live in hindsight? Well, I do think a lot of people claim to understand timing. And really what they're doing is they were just lucky. And they're after the fact assigning themselves. You know, a pat on the back for what? That is not to say, though, that there are people who have a kind of, at least in flashes, have their finger on the pulse of some kind of marketplace. Steve Jobs comes to mind with. Yeah. The thing about Steve Jobs, of course, is that he's not a pioneer in anything. So he's always late. He's late to every market that he eventually wins. So his genius was an understanding that being first is massively overrated. He's 10. He's 10 years late on the smartphone. He's, you know, every all of the ideas that go into the first the Macintosh computer are all taken from Xerox PARC. He didn't know any of that stuff. He's so his genius was an understanding that if you are the first person in, you're probably too early. Interesting. But also and he understands as well that that in that world of consumer electronics, you're better off being the person who tweaks the idea than the person who truly innovates. In other words, what consumers are interested in is a kind of mature experience with their electronics. The average consumer doesn't want to be the one who's pioneering how to work a kind of, you know, stage one laptop or home computer, or they don't want the member that if you remember the Palm Pilot. Palm Pilot was an early, a way too early smartphone that was big in the 90s. And it was for it was used by a very small number of very technically technologically focused people. Jobs would have looked at that and said, you're never going to win selling a Palm Pilot. It's just not you need to kind of tweak it two steps and make it something that an average person would want to use. He was very commercial in the way that he approached product innovation. That was his genius. So he's in some sense, I think he is exactly what you're talking about. Someone who who had an uncanny sense about a bring something to a mass market. And when the time was right to do so. Yeah, although he yes, when the time and when the time was right. Yeah. He did a very good job of never being too early.
The power of writing (47:10)
It's a weird concept of being too early, but not one that people are familiar with. Between the ages of 24 and 34, you spent 10 years working at the Washington Post. Yeah. What was what did you you know, that was your 10,000 hours per se. What did that give you that in hindsight you realize has been so sort of foundational and important and significant to what you went on to do those 10 years? Well, it taught me when I was talking earlier about that thing about reporting, requiring a kind of fundamental humility, it that was was hammered home. In those years. I also learned to write without anxiety so you can't be a newspaper reporter. If you have any neuroses whatsoever about the act of writing, you just have to, you know, you have a limited amount of time, the discipline of being forced to write something every day in a limited amount of time for 10 years. Cured me of writer's block, writing anxiety, you know, you can't be that way. It's just like, it's like a, it's like a boot camp for writers, it just is it. That was enormously useful in, in kind of freeing me up to spend my mental energies on other parts of the writing process. Right. What about writing generally, and the value that and role that writing has played on your self awareness, your personal development. Because, you know, we're living in a generation, I think, where writing is becoming less popular, and maybe even less necessary. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. But I, because I do this podcast, because I have other obligations to write, because I have an Instagram following of millions of people that expect me to write things every day. I started having to write like it was a discipline, I had to do it at 7pm, I had to post something. And it only in hindsight, I've reflected on how much that changed my life, it helped me understand the world I was living in, because every day I have to say something that's true. And in hindsight, I go fuck, I wish someone had told me how, how much I think I could advance my wisdom, understand myself, just by having having some kind of commitment to publish every day. More from like a personal perspective, you know, I'm wondering if that's, if it's, if you found a similar thing. I tend to think writers, people that have something making them write every day and publish are infinitely, just so much more wise and incredibly more self aware. Similar thing with podcasters, to be fair. So I think of curiosity as a habit, not a trait. And I think that too often, we think of it as a trait, not a habit. By that distinction, I mean, it's not, people are not naturally curious or not naturally curious. They, there are people who have cultivated the habit of curiosity and those who have let it lie, lie fallow. What you're describing is an institutionalized, a way of institutionalizing the habit of curiosity. If you are required to write something every day, then you are, you've put yourself in a position where you're forced to think about and look for things to write about every day. That's institutionalizing the habit of curiosity, right? I think all successfully curious people do that in one form or another, put themselves in situations where they have to come up with some new idea or have to, are forced to look for interesting new things or, you know, why, you know, anyone who has ambition does this for many people. The idea, you know, ambition is very often rooted in a sense of dissatisfaction with your current state of knowledge or practice. What does, what does dissatisfaction do? It is another institutionalization of the habit of curiosity. It forces your, your, your unhappiness and dissatisfaction with what you know, forces you to go out and look for a solution to that feeling, right? Find things that to keep going and, you know, instead of stopping, get up and look again. And so these are all versions of the same, of the same thing. So I think I sort of agree with you that there's writers who have obligations, writing obligations do, it's a tremendous advantage in terms of, of, of pushing, pushing them to kind of think freely about things. The tipping point in, you wrote that book in 2000? Yeah. Did that change your life? Well, it, it was, it allowed me to think you could make a living writing books. And it validated my feeling that the way in which I wanted to write books had an audience. So I was, I don't, I didn't know, I had a particular way that I wanted to write books, but I didn't know whether anyone else liked it, shared my approach. So that book made me think, oh, okay. There's a, there's a universe of people out there who, who are into this kind of thing. And that was, that was again, freeing, you know, at each stage in my career, I've been lucky enough to go through experiences that allow me to shed various anxieties. The Washington Post sheds anxiety about writing. Tipping Point sheds anxiety about whether the kind of writing I want to do as an audience. Those are two enormously freeing things. What was the way that you wanted to write that you were unsure if the public would receive? I wanted to jump around, go on lots of digressions. I wanted to use, I wanted to make ideas as, make adventure stories around ideas, not about necessarily around people or narratives. I wanted to kind of ransack the academic world for really interesting insights and apply them to kind of everyday stories. I wanted to kind of like, it's an idea of like, thinking a book that is a jumble of different genres, right? So in the course of reading a chapter, you should entertain a new idea, meet an interesting person, be, have something that you believe challenged. It should be fine to have all those components in one chapter of a book. And the next chapter, it should be fine to move on to something completely different. That was what I wanted to do. I wanted to jump around.
Public speaking tactics (54:03)
All the success you've had as a writer has resulted in you now being doing a lot of public speaking. One of the things when I was reading about your sort of philosophy towards public speaking that surprised me was that you say you don't try and start a public talk with a wow. With a wow moment. I think the quote was that never starts his talks with a wow moment or anything to hook them in, but instead tries to draw them in slowly. And this surprised me because I've always thought that the opposite approach was better. As in like when you walk on stage, people are typically on their phones, whatever, and you don't have their attention. So trying to get them to pay attention within the first 10 seconds by saying something that is somewhat, I don't know, provocative was a better approach. So I was keen to hear why you take that stance. The question is, what do you want your audience, and in this sense, it's no different from writing, what is the experience you want your audience to go through? You have them for whatever, 45 minutes, an hour. And I want them to feel that they have progressed. I don't necessarily want them to agree with everything I said, or think I'm wonderful. That's not important. I want them to be in a different place than they were at the beginning. So to have thought about something that they hadn't thought about, to have moved their position on something a little bit, to be emotionally in a different place. So they started out one way, I want them to be something somewhere else. They started out distracted, I'd love them to end up being focused. I just want movement, right? So my worry is, when you start with a bang is you compromise the movement. So, if for example, I'm, I want them to be amused, their journey to be a journey towards amusement. If the first thing I do is tell them an incredibly funny joke, the journey is over. Right? It's about time. So the central problem of these speeches is that they've committed, like I say, 45 minutes to an hour. That's a long time. And everything has to be about that. You have to think about that timeframe. You're telling a story within a 60 minute window, right? And they're going to judge you by how they feel in the 60th minute, not how they feel in the minute one. Movies, you know, the movie that fails, you sit in a two hour movie, and you're enthralled for the first 90 minutes, and then it falls apart in the end, you leave unhappy. You have never, you have never given a movie recommendation, where you said the following, you should totally go and see that movie. The first hour is amazing. Now, I will warn you, the second hour is terrible. You never do that, right? You would actually, but you would say, oh, you should totally see it. It'll be, it'll start a little slow. And you'll wonder why you're there. But wow, the last hour. That you would say, I've described to you this, you know, from a logical perspective, the same experience, 50% good, 50% bad. But all I've done is, if by by putting the bad first and the good second, I've made it something you recommend. And by reversing it, I've made it something that you would never tell a friend to do. I actually talk a lot about to my team about how people remember this, the peak and the end of an experience and all the like psychology tests they do and big tech companies use this as a way to create a more memorable recollection of any of the sort of customer experiences and also the studies they've done on whether if someone misses the flight at the start of their holiday versus if they miss at the end of the holiday, the recollection of the holiday is drastically different. Exactly. They missed it at the end. It's like an awful holiday. Yeah. So that makes sense. But my I think my thing is, I wouldn't even have their attention at the peak of the experience or the story if I haven't held them at the start with some kind of promise. And we actually see this with like MrBeast, who's the biggest YouTuber in the world. Much the reason he says he's successful. And now 100 million subscribers, fastest growing YouTuber over the last five years is because he will at the start of the video, and this is a little bit to do with algorithms, he will tell you the promise he's making you that you're going to get at the end. So he'll do something in the end, like he'll basically create the plot in the first 10 seconds and go, in this video, I buy a million iPhones, and then I text them all at the same time. And you're now waiting till the end to see the plot realized, I guess. Well, he's promising to tell you a story. Yeah. Right. So with most stories, if you go and see a if you pick up a mystery book, mystery story, it's the same thing. By virtue of being described as a mystery, it's making a promise. The promise is I'm going to, you know, create some, I'm going to lead you to a dark place where you don't know where the solution is, and I'm going to give you the solution. So like that, yeah, he's, when you when you when you make the contract with your audience, and the contract says, I'm telling you a story, you can hold them without, you don't have to, you're not wowing them, but you are, you are binding them to you. If you can, if you're promising a story, then you deliver on that. Now, he's probably promised, successfully come through so many times now, that people believe him when he says, I'm going to tell you a story they believe, and they're quite willing to sit and wait for the, for the, the, you know, the, the, the story to be completed. He actually does say that he says that the second thing is you actually have to deliver the punchline of that story. 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Are you an emotional person? (01:01:49)
Are you an emotional person? Do you consider yourself to be an emotional person? Yeah. Does that impact your writing and your storytelling and your authorship, if that's even a word? In my podcast, very much so. Less so in my books because audio is so much more emotional. So a lot of my religious history episodes, many of them are quite emotional and they're the ones that I value the most, particularly the ones that kind of... In this season, for example, there's two episodes which one will almost certainly make the majority of those who listen cry. And that's something you can do in audio and that I think is a great accomplishment. Real tears, not kind of... There are some people who kind of cheat their way to tears, manipulate their way to the audience, but well-earned tears. I love that kind of storytelling where you can move someone so deeply that they will respond emotionally to what you're saying. I saw a quote actually from you that said, "I cry, but I don't get mad." I cried, but I don't get angry. That was it. Yeah, I don't really get angry much. I don't come from a family that does anger. I don't see the point. It never gets you what you want. It doesn't make sense rationally. It feels terrible emotionally. It just makes everything... Everyone is worse off and unhappier after the angry episode than before. So it's like, remind me why this is so... I mean, if I have... I try to kind of squelch it whenever I have an impulse to do and then I just find it goes away, the impulse. When was the last time you cried? Oh, I don't know. Two days ago. Really? Yeah. I tend to cry most often when I'm by myself. I think about something that causes me to get emotional. Is it typically in your writing or is it... you think more... No, I'd be walking down the street and I would... Really? I will be pursuing a line of thought that will bring tears to my eyes. Really? Yeah. Is that what happened two days ago? Oh. You're walking down the street and... Oh. Are you able to share what that line of thought was? I was thinking about my father. Right. I was with my daughter. Taking her... She's 10 months. She's in the little baby carrier. And I... My father never met... He died before she was born. And I would dearly have love for him to meet her. And they have a lot in common, I think. Although it's hard to tell at 10 months. But it seems to my mind they have a lot in common. And I was just reflecting on how lovely it would have been for them to meet. You're a person of faith, right? So you believe... You're Christian? Christianity or...? Yeah, that's the tradition of Griffin. Yeah. Yeah. Same. I grew up in Christianity. You were always in church growing up until I was about 18 years old. How has that impacted the way that you see the world and your work and your writing and even that particular moment? Because being of the Christian faith, I imagine that... I'm guessing here. So excuse me if the guess is wrong. But I imagine that your belief is that he is here. And he has met her. Yeah. Yes, I do think that... Sorry, now I'm getting emotional. Yeah, I do believe that. Why does that make you so emotional? It's very... I don't know. Sorry. It's very difficult for me to talk with my father without... His loss was the saddest thing that ever happened to me. Sorry, I'll be fine. It's in many respects a very beautiful thing what you're saying in the sense of his... the love you clearly have for the man. I always feel particularly moved when people talk about their fathers and I've talked about this in this podcast a lot because I'm living with this kind of ongoing regret. Ongoing forecast of regret that I'm going to regret. My father is not at a young age and we're not so close and we don't have a close relationship. And I can't seem to figure out why I don't do something about it. So stories like that, I think it's this really stark reminder to me that like parents don't live forever. And I'm living with that illusion that my parents are going to live forever. And I'm also forecasting the regret based on speaking to people like you if that makes sense. When people say, "What do you regret?" I say, "I think I'm going to regret not having a closer relationship with my parents when they're gone." Yeah. Well one of the ways you realize that your grief is one of the ways you keep them alive. You know the thing I feared the most when my father died was that I would forget him. And my grief reminds me that I have not. So it's very valuable. If I was not moved by thinking about him, that would be a great tragedy in my mind. Is there a cost to that grief? I don't think so. I mean, I think it's a kind of, like I said, it keeps him alive. And it reminds me, somebody, a friend of mine once wrote in a book about his own father that my father, he wrote the following line. "My father died 25 years ago. I know him better now than I ever did back then." Which I think is one of the most beautiful lines and true lines that I've ever read. And as time passes, I see that more and more true of my own father. That I feel I know him better now than I did when he was alive. It's hard to explain why that's true. And I feel like if I were to ask my father about how sad he was about dying, the knowledge that I know him better now than he did, than I did when he was alive, he would find that fact would make his passing easier in his own mind, if that makes sense. It's getting awfully convoluted. But I feel like it's one of the things that makes death of a loved one less tragic, is that you have an opportunity to get to know them better. I realize that's hard to explain. It's a very hard concept to explain. It's very difficult for me to explain. When I read that, it just seemed so enormously resonant and true. It's something about the opportunity to kind of reflect on them over an extended period of time. And to see them reflected in, you know, I mentioned my daughter, to see my father's reflection in her clarifies my father in my mind. You know, that specific traits that are popping up in her. Everything from the size and my father had an enormous head. My daughter has a truly enormous head. And I look at her head and I think, that's him. That's, you know, like, we have wandered off into all manner of complex territory. Yeah, it tends to happen in these conversations. But it's really interesting that expression because I was thinking about how I recently had someone I knew passed away. And the process that happens in the wake of their passing is you first, as you were perfectly saying, they're a fairly well known person in this country. They trend number one and you see this outpouring of the impact they had on others. And you go, oh, my God, it wasn't just me that felt that way about this person. But then their parents came here and sat on the sofa and we just compared notes about this individual. And you can start to see, as you kind of described it, that the patterns and oh, yeah. And it's almost like the investigation starts once they're gone. And so that's why that was that quote, particular quote was so resonant to me.
Why some relationships last and other don’t (01:12:22)
On the topic of relationships, one of the things that I am in your book Blink in the first chapter, you talk about John, just John Gottman. Oh, yeah. I read about John Gottman completely separately. I read about his when I was trying to read about relationships and what ruins relationships. I read about this idea of contempt. As being them. Yeah. I actually when I talked about my show that went up and down this country in the show, I talk about Professor John Gottman. I talk about contempt and how that's this insidious little hard to see force in relationships. But you actually got to meet him. What did that teach you about relationships and the ones that are going to last and those that are going to fail? Well, you know, it's it's this it's a kind of obvious but crucially important point, which is a reminder of how we're social animals. And casting someone out is the great. Is the great sin, the great injury, not being angry with someone or or anger is wrong word, but it got me is clear that anger is not a predictor of the expression of anger is not a predictor of the failure of a relationship. The expression of contempt is. And he makes that crucial distinction that if I confront you over something that I'm unhappy about, I am the implicit understanding is I'm doing this because your our relationship is of such importance to me that an injury needs to be addressed. Right. Contempt is where you have given up on the relationship. Like I was the point, right? It doesn't matter. And that idea that it doesn't matter, whatever is worse than I can't believe you did that. That's super interesting. And it made me kind of think a lot about what it you know, if you're thinking about building organization structures, relationships, family, anything that's that that is keeps people engaged and happy over the long term. Understanding that distinction is crucial. It is not conflict that drives people away. It is neglect. Right. And not every encounter has to be positive to be useful. And you know, when I when I thinking about the team I work with on my podcast revisions history, for example, you know, many of them are much younger than me. And there are things I can teach them. And I have a choice. Do I bring this up? The guys we screwed up on that this isn't good. Or that it slide. My personality is such that I often would let things slide. And I was no no, that's wrong. And that's, I am, I am impairing our relationship by letting I think I'm in the moment helping things just by letting my irritation not get the better of me. No, I'm impairing the relationship. When I say to them, this isn't good work, and here's how it can be better. I am affirming to them that they are part of my team. And when I just shrug and say, whatever, then they become superfluous, right? I have truly injured them in that moment. This idea that that's a lot of what effective management is, is, is implicitly implicitly ensuring subordinates that they belong, that you're, you're part of the team, even if that's manifested as in, in terms of approbation or conflict or what have you. And that neglect is the, is that neglect is the enemy. And this is true in families as well, right? Neglect is the enemy. The thing that you can't, we were talking earlier about, about benign neglect. Benign is the key word, right? Consider neglect is fine. But when you turn your back on a child, that's when, that's when you do harm. And, you know, neither of us were talking about our parents turning their backs on us. They were watching from far and not doing anything. Totally different. It's actually completely changed my perspective on my own childhood, because you're right. I always thought of them like it being a form of like bad parenting, but it, but in fact, I, they loved me very much and they were there at a house and I was safe. And I had a, I just had a foundation to flourish in. Without that, if I wasn't out on the street, you know, foraging, foraging, yeah. We're lovelessly, which I actually would have been even worse than being hungry. Just being loveless, completely loveless. And love again, even in my child, we weren't maybe an affectionate family. I still don't call my parents by mum and dad. I still call them by their first names. But I knew, yeah, it's weird. It's very strange. It just, I think it started as a joke. My mum saying she felt old if we called her mum and she wanted to be our friends. And it was just a joke that I was born into and never knew otherwise. So I call them by their first names, but I was still well aware that they loved me because it was, it was, it was actions. It was like trying to, you know, being there whenever I was at danger, those kinds of things. As opposed to smothering. That's really interesting though, that idea. And it kind of does, it's a bit of a narrative violation that by giving feedback and by being honest and constructive in your feedback, you're actually showing people that you, even in a professional sense, that you, that you care and that you are together on this.
Opinions And Perspectives
Feedback & meaningful work (01:17:38)
Yeah, you're not, you're, yeah, that they are necessary to the process, right? It's that feeling of, of, of that they've, if they feel they are necessary, then you have, you know, we've noticed this, I've started this little company, this audio company with my friend Jacob Weisberg called Pushkin, produces all of our podcasts and others. And, you know, we've noticed that the people, like every small company, we have people who come and go. And the people who go are the ones who, this is an obvious observation, but it's an interesting one. The people who have tended to leave are the ones who are the most socially disconnected from the organization. So who came into the office the least, or who were not, were based in another city and we hired them largely to do remote work or they have, they don't feel, it's very hard to feel necessary when you're physically disconnected. And, you know, as, as we face the battle that all organizations are facing now and getting people back into the office, that this people, it's really hard to explain this core psychological truth, which is we want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary. We, and we want you to join our team. And if you're not here, it's really hard to do that. It's not in your best interest to work at home. I know it's a hassle to come to the office. But like, you know, if you work, if you're just sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, is that the work life you want to live? Right? Don't you want to feel part of something? I mean, it just I, I, I'm really getting very frustrated with the inability of people in positions of leadership to explain this effectively to their employees, that if we don't feel like we're part of something important, what's the point? It's not, you're not just doing this to get a pay, if it's just a paycheck, then it's like, then you what have you reduced your life to? Right? It has to be. I don't know, I guess this really is getting me kind of, I was in I was in Los Angeles, a few weeks ago. And I was pitching some idea to a studio, which two studios, I won't name them. Both have these beautiful, gorgeous, fancy offices of the sort you only see in LA, right? Fantastic. So sun is shining, you go into the parking lot, and there are no cars there. And you go into these places where they normally would have 500 people and there are four. Now they say it's because of COVID, it's not COVID. It's just they just did, everyone's just decided they want to work at home. Like, this is a business that is in, they are in the business of forging an emotional connection through storytelling to an audience. And they cannot even form an emotional connection to their own employees. Right? What is going on here? It's nuts. You're totally preaching to the choir, by the way. Because I've had this conversation with all of my companies and all of my teams, and even the people in this room now, I've spoken to them about it. I wrote a letter and I said, listen, we believe in interpersonal connection, the value of it. This is why we've never done this podcast on Zoom, even in the pandemic. Because part of the reason I do it is because of this. I'm not doing it to publish an episode, I'm doing it because I like to meet someone and connect with them. If you take that away from it, I don't want to do the podcast. And it's the same with my work. Like, we ran a company that we had 700 employees, we were notorious for company culture, for having this, where the office was like a community centre. You know, everything happened there. And our employee base, again, as the BBC wrote, we're on average about 21, 22 years old. The minute the pandemic comes around, for the first time ever, we see people quitting en masse. Because suddenly, it's them doing a to do list in the boxer shorts at home. And the only upside we're bringing them in their life, the only sort of remuneration we're giving them, other than you know, the work is interesting, whatever, is pay. It literally then becomes the pay we're giving versus the company down the road that are paying you to sit in your boxer shorts and do your to do list. So it became pay versus pay. And to be honest, there were other people that were willing to pay more. So we saw tons of people leave. And I realised that central to the value that we bring to these people's lives is community, and togetherness and connected. So I fully, fully believe in it. And I also think that, and this is a controversial thing to say, people don't typically know what's right for them. And I'm not saying this just in the context of work, I'm saying like, look at other areas of our life where we've sacrificed community for productivity, or efficiency, where maybe we now sit at home and tap a glass screen to get our food and then swipe on a glass screen to get a date and then click double tap photos. Like, that's probably what you would have chosen through convenience, but then the cost on happiness, which you don't get to see when you make that transaction. So I think I said to all my companies, and even some of my foreign companies, like, the most important thing for me is to give you clarity on who we are, then you can decide where you work. And the problem we've seen over the last couple of years is spineless virtue signalling, scared CEOs, specifically that are in San Francisco, like the Facebooks and the Twitters, who all had to follow the same kind of leftist, do whatever you want, without realising that company culture should be reverse engineered from your company's mission. And when you think about your company's mission, the thing that will help you achieve your company's mission is connectiveness, is employee retention, is a sense of community, is all the other things other than just pay. So when you think about it from that perspective, you think, in fact, bringing people together, giving them freedom, I mean, they can still have as much freedom as they like to decide the days and what, you know, they've got to have freedom because that's also connected to them fulfilling the mission. But saying that we are a group of people that get together because we believe in that. We believe in the value of it. And every time I say this, you know, there's a big crew cohort that yeah, amazing. And then, I mean, I was at an office this morning, and it's exactly what you've described. They said there's usually 500 people in there. My team were there with me, empty, empty, completely empty. I went to another office, a big ticketing company. They'd built, they'd started building the construction of this building in central London during COVID. They spent what I believe hundreds of millions on this office, completely empty. And I go, what's going on? They go, well, we're trying to get people back in. We do pizzas on Tuesday downstairs, people still don't come in. Why don't you give them clarity? Why don't you say this is who we are? Because they're scared. They're scared to be clear. Just do whatever you want. Decide whatever you want. That's not how teams work. Name a team that runs on that basis in sports. Do whatever you want. So I think I believe I have a hypothesis that we're going to return not to where we were before because I think that was somewhat broken as well. But I think we're going to return to a nice middle ground. Well, sadly, if an economic recession will have that effect. I mean, if when people start to get worried about their job, I think that might be easier to get them. It's sad that it's going to take a lot of pain. But yeah, I suspect that will bring that will change the culture somewhat, the kind of climate. I think it will be and Jack is a good example here. Jack was freelance. So in the company I described with the great office culture, whatever, Jack used to come in as a freelancer. So he wasn't part of it. So he was one of the people sat at home in his boxer shorts, I'm guessing. And he was he would part of the reason why I'm this I don't want to speak for Jack. But from what I understand, do correct me if I'm wrong, Jack, is Jack wanted to move from that from being this freelancer to being full time in our team was because he saw that he was missing something. Jack, please correct me. Is that accurate? What were you missing? What did you? Well, I'd come to your offices and I'd see what it was like being part of a team, which I hadn't seen before. And yeah, I just realised that's what I've been missing from my work the whole time. And so he was in the freelance sitting at home and then saw this group of young people that were all friends and played football and went out on Fridays and, and thought, you know what, that's actually as important as just getting a check, you know, so. Yeah, that's my hypothesis. I'm actually going to start using our office culture as a way to employ people, which kind of bucks the trend that it's going to sort of disincentivise people to work here. Yeah. Oh, I mean, if it could have it could have a really lovely thing where if you preferentially select people based on their desire to work in an office, that's a really wonderful way to kind of build a nice office culture, right? Yeah. Just for the moment, you can just sort of cream skim all the people who lose value in that. Exactly. What a party that would be. Those are the people I want to be with anyway. So yeah, another thing that I found very curious was this idea that too much information when making decisions can sometimes distort reality and be unhelpful.
Why too much information is bad (01:26:50)
Because, I mean, in most of the pursuits in most of the businesses I run, the phrase is like the more information, the better. And even when we're trying to figure things out, we're looking at the analytics, we're trying to get as much data as we possibly can to make our decisions. Now, now in Blink, you kind of contest that idea. Yeah, but sometimes less information is much. Well, particularly, you know, if these are unsupported decisions, so if you're going to be using decision making tools, analytic, you know, advanced analytics, and you are confident in whatever algorithms you're using to kind of then fine. But for the, for sort of much more human decision making, you know, we have all kinds of problems. A classic one would be, you know, you want to buy a car and there are six things you're concerned about. And you fall into the default mode of weighing all six equally, when in fact, you know, price is probably five times more important than color of the car. You know, but you have these, you make the mistake of thinking, oh, I don't want to buy that one because it's the wrong shade of green, when it's, you know, far and away that I that parallels with something that I, I didn't really understand until I started this company with, I've observed a kind of startup in operation with this company Pushkin, which is, it's really, really hard for decision makers to focus on more than a handful of things. The idea that focus is a limiting variable in a lot of crucial decisions is something that I didn't, I understood it abstractly, but now I understand you simply, the reason as a company, you want to pick, you know, two lines of business, not five. It's not that two lines make more rational business sense than five, but because you can't focus on five. Yes, you're being, you only have a limited amount of space in your head, right? And like, so that idea that we have a limited amount of space in our head, Obama, President Obama used to, every morning he would, he would have someone lay out his clothes for him so he didn't have to think about what clothes he was going to wear. I know on the theory that if you spend, if you devote space to what you're going to wear that morning, you have less space for other stuff. He's absolutely right. Totally true. So we clutter this idea that cluttering our decision making process with extraneous information in the hopes that makes us better off in the end is a fool's game. Don't clutter. Like I said, if we're talking about unsupported decision making, if you are, you know, IBM sorting through some complex fine or, but I mean for everyday kind of stuff that yeah, clear away, prioritize, be very clear about your priorities, focus on what is crucial. And that's the way to be a more efficient decision maker in, in, in the kind of in the, in these immediate unsupported domains. I really need to do that with my wardrobe upstairs, because I've just, I've got hundreds of, I wear two of the black t shirts. And there's 100 in that like, in that cupboard, but I could just take the others out. And I could, I could really just thinking about my life generally how I live. It's kind of a cluttered, cluttered experience. My rule is every time I buy an item of clothing, I remove an item of clothing from my closet. So I have homeostasis.
Is alcohol bad? (01:30:40)
Slightly obscure topic, alcohol. Do you drink? Yes. Because I read about your, I've seen various sort of opinions you have on alcohol. And I assumed that would mean you didn't. Why are you laughing? These are things I've read about, which I love to kind of opine. It's half tongue in cheek. Wait, what was so yes, what's your question? Well, the really interesting thing that I was actually reading about just before you came was about how alcohol is such a situational thing. And how in for many people, it's a depressant, if they are sad alone, it can make them more anxious if they're anxious. And then at a football stadium, it can make them jubilant and feel connected and happy. What's your opinion on alcohol? Do you think it's a bad thing for society? Do you think it should be banned? No, I mean, I mean, like I said, I do drink not to excess but um, I think of it as we're stuck with it in a good way. I mean, we I do think we have we're relatively cavalier. I mean, this is a big theme in my book, talking to strangers, and a whole chapter on alcohol and how a lot of what we talk about is that, you know, we talk about a sexual the culture of the problem of sexual assault, particularly on young people. It's really an alcohol problem that's driving it, right? It's very, very few cases of, of, you know, accepting violent rape. We talked about what we think of as sexual assault, where one party thinks it's conceptual and the other party does not that kind of, which are the problematic cases in many of with young people. Someone's always one or both parties are always drunk in those situations. It's very rare for that not to be the case. And understanding that, oh, if we want to tackle really, really serious things like sexual assault, we have to get our hands around drinking problems first and understand that something weird is happening and drinking has happened in drinking culture in the last generation in the West, which is that the fringes have gotten more extreme, more young people abstain from alcohol than ever before. But at the other end of the continuum, what it means to be a heavy drinker today is very different from what it meant to be a heavy drinker 50 years ago. Heavy, there is more binge consumption, and overconsumption of alcohol at the fringe today than there was in the past among young people. That's really problematic. And trying to understand how to reintroduce a culture of not necessarily sobriety, but of, of, of balance in, of moderation in alcohol consumption is one of the kind of I think one of the sets of central tasks facing society today. Why is that the case? Why is there more binge binge drinking on one end? I don't really have a good understanding of why. Part of it is, I think that norms around female drink, I talked about this in talking to strangers, norms around female alcoholic consumption have changed very dramatically. So 50 years ago, if a man and a woman go out on a date, there is zero expectation. In fact, they would be a, it would be considered problematic if the woman drank as much as the man. Now there is in many situations, particularly in colleges, universities, there is a, an expectation that the woman will match a man drink for drink. And that is so incredibly problematic for a whole series of physiological reasons. Not just that women, not just by the way that women are, tend to be, have a lot, weigh a lot less than men. It's not just about weight. It is that women process alcohol in a fundamentally different way than men. So to a man and a woman who weigh exactly the same amount can have exactly the same amount to drink and the woman will be a lot more inebriated to the end of that process. That is a physiological fact about men and women. So if you have as a norm that women should match men drink for drink, you are asking for trouble. And our failure to talk frankly about alcohol abuse among young people, I just think is criminal. It's just like, it's a, I feel the same thing about, in some sense about, about cannabis where I don't have a problem with people smoking dope. But the idea that we can have THC levels in cannabis that are north of 25 or 30% is insane. Are you kidding me? It was a 1% a generation ago. And people are smoking the same amount and it's 25 times as, I mean it's just like nuts. Like, why do we suspend the laws of biology when it comes to mind altering substances? It drives me nuts. Yes, money is the reason. But anyway.
Last guest question (01:35:45)
Another time. Another time. We have a closing tradition on this podcast where the last guest leaves a question for the next guest, not knowing who they're leaving it for. And so it means that all of our guests are kind of speaking to each other, I guess. This guest has asked the question, what is one thing you regret not saying to somebody? And why didn't you say it? Oh wow. What is one thing, I mean the obvious answer everyone's going to give is I didn't say I love you to some loved one. So I'll skip the obvious answer, try to do something less obvious. I think it would be, this is not a cop out. There is a genre of politeness that I have neglected. And that is people doing everyday things at a lower, the person who being kind, kinder and more appreciative of the person, of the janitor who sweeps the floor in the office you work in, or the woman who cleans your hotel room, or the, you know, I could make a long list of the nurse who picks up after, you know, you in the hospital or that. Those kinds of people doing thankless things. I have been, I believe, I would be, I regret that I have not over the course of my life been more obviously thankful to them. Why? Why that? Why did that? I mean I agree, but what's made you realise that now? Well my mom was in the hospital, she's out now, a few weeks ago, and I just realised, wow, like I don't know, it's just something about that, it's obvious but it's not obvious, it's just like here are people doing, you know, very elemental things. Caring for people who are, you know, in that moment helpless, not getting paid an awful lot of money, working really, really long shifts. Just went through an experience where they were risking their lives by going to the hospital for a couple of years. I mean, it's like what we asked, what we put these people through? And the idea that we were taken for granted seems, that I have taken them for granted, seems to me outrageous. So maybe that's why. Malcolm, thank you so much for being so generous with your time and thank you for the conversation. You're a very special person, very important thinker for very many reasons. I love the way, there's so many observations I've had from speaking to you. One of them is that you really listen, which is strange because often I sit here with podcast guests and it's the whole like listening to speak thing. But for some reason when I speak you listen and it sounds like a strange thing to say but that is really, really surprising because you're very, very, very smart. And maybe that's your dad, maybe that's the, because that's what I saw in it. It's like that's what you described of your dad was that humility almost. So that's incredibly surprising. But then the way that you think and how considered nuance and your admittance that you could probably be wrong, which you said many, many times, I think is also incredibly refreshing. But it's also why your books are so great and it's why your podcast is so great. It's why I would recommend everybody to go and check out the bomber mafia because there's a certain curiosity and wonder and beauty to the way that you write and the reason why you're writing that is very rare. And I hope to one day emulate in my own writing. So thank you for all of the inspiration and thank you for doing this. Your podcast, you're in season seven now? Season seven of Revisionist History. And that's coming to a close. Is it two episodes? We're in the middle. We're in the middle. Yeah. And people can get that everywhere. Spotify, Apple everywhere. Yeah. Amazing. Thank you so much, Malcolm, for your time. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.