#136:Naval Ravikant on Happiness Hacks and the 5 Chimps Theory
Hey. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world class performers, to tease out the routines, habits, favorite books, etc. that you can apply to your own life.
This time around we have an in-between-episode. But it is not really an in-between-isode. It is an experimental Q and A episode with Naval Ravikant. The first episode we did with Naval was a massive, massive success. It was nominated for Podcast of the Year.Naval, @naval on twitter, is the CEO and co-founder of Angel List. He previously co-founded Epinions, which went public as part of shopping.com and vast.com. He is an active angel investor and a good buddy of mine. He has invested in more than 100 companies, including quite a few unicorn, mega-successes.His deals include Twitter, Uber, , Postmates, Wish, Thumbtack and OpenDNS. OpenDNS was recently bought by Cisco for around $635 million in cash… so he is doing alright.
He has developed an incredibly diverse set of skills and even if you have zero interest in startups or investing, this episode, just like the one before it, is well worth the listen. Naval answers your questions; the top ten questions that were submitted and up voted on Reddit. And that ranges from artificial intelligence and his thoughts on the pros and cons, the bull side, the bear side– if that makes any sense– to money making… very practical, pragmatic, Silicon Valley or non-Silicon Valley money making success. What would he would teach in school.Favorite books. What is on his kindle as we speak. His most popular tweet of all time, and the story behind it. The five chimps theory and how it applies to your life. Happiness hacks. Conflict resolution… the list goes on and on…So say hello to Naval on Twitter. Let him know what you thought. Ask additional questions: @naval.Please enjoy this incredibly fascinating monologue with Naval Ravikant
Hello everybody and welcome to the Tim Ferriss Show. This is Naval Ravikant. I will be now going through a large set of questions…
What are your thoughts on the AI industry, which seems to be dominated by an unusual amount of analytics startups, most of which do the same thing in an anti-Zero to One fashion?
Yeah, so artificial intelligence is all the rage and people are writing books about it, and talking about, and thinking about it. I think anybody who’s really talking about true, general purpose AI– the SkyNet kind that will take over the world and kill us all– doesn’t really write code much anymore.Because no one has yet made any of the fundamental breakthroughs required to get to where the general purpose AI. We’re just basically making/writing similar code to what we had written in the past, but it is being executed faster or it’s working with more data. But the way in which the human brain works is actually very different than the way computers work. I don’t think the fundamental, theoretical breakthroughs are in place for general purpose AI. So I think it is most technophiles, or end of the world types, or wishful thinking– in a weird way– for people who think we are about to get a general purpose AI.With that said, the field of AI has now broadened into specific AI, so computer vision for example, self-driving cars.. drones that pilot themselves. These things are real and they’re using huge amounts of data, as well as lots of processing power plus pretty good code to solve problems that before we would have thought are in the human domain. But the real test for AI is passing the turing test, which is can an AI trick someone into thinking that they are actually a human being. I think that we are actually barely any closer to that than we were 20 or 30 years ago.Now there is another kind of AI that might emerge, which might be an emergent AI. For example, if you take all the computers in the world and you stitch them together, say through the internet, it could just happen that that much compute power, that much data, that much interaction, could create something almost socially out of that computer network– a social AI, if you will.But an AI like that is likely to be slowly, softly emergent, probably not self modifying in the way we think of a general AI. And one that is probably more designed to serve humans because it emerges from a network that is built by humans. Or it may just also co-exist or be completely woven into the human fabric in such a way that it might be inseparable from humanity itself.
So I am not too worried about the general purpose AI. I also don’t think that the general purpose AI companies have much of a future. But the specific AI companies, the ones that are solving a very specific problem like the computer vision example, those, I think, could be very real.
You mentioned Coase’s 1937 paper in your first interview and how tech is bringing down the transaction costs that led to corporatism. What do you think the job/labor market will look like in 20 years? How can people prepare?
Well, I mentioned in the first interview that the industrial revolution sort of brought people together because minimum efficient scale to do something, especially with a factory, was very large, so you need hierarchy, you need to have people working for each other, and working together.Now I think information technology is lowering the communication cost, lowering transaction cost.People can be intermediated, or even disintermediated, by computers, and work through computers… a not so great example is an Uber driver, who would be getting orders through a phone, but a better example, a more hopeful example might be independent contractors who are using twitter and online sources to find jobs, or at Angel List we have tons of start-up jobs, or there are places like Pickcrew or Gigster, where you can go get part-time job Elance, Craigslist, oDesk etc.
I think that the “gig economy” is going to be much more of the future. It can actually be a very positive development. For example, if you were a great journalist today… if you were a world-class journalist… you take great photographs, you report great news… you don’t really need to go work for the NewYork Times. If you are willing to start in your spare time with a blog, with Twitter, you can build an independent brand, and although you will start off making no money early on, kind of near the end of the curve when you are a Youtube star or a very popular blogger, you can literally be charging people for access to your blog. You could be making a very good, and very independent, living, where you’re getting paid for books and newsletters and working from wherever you want.
So I think the best way to prepare for the future in 20 years is find something you love to do so you have a shot at being one of the best people in the world at it. Build an independent brand around it with your name, not with a company’s name or other people’s name around it. Try to make it creative work so you’ll stay interesting and stay ahead of the game. Anything that is not creative, society can replicate and then not pay you full value over time. So it is better to always solve new problems and doing new things. Get comfortable in working in a boom-bust fashion, where a couple of weeks at a time you may have a lot of work and then a couple of weeks at a time you are on vacation. So I think that is kind of where the future is headed. It will be gradual, and then it will be sudden. But the best way to prepare is just to not give up your independence in the first place.
Confucius says that “You have two lives and the second one begins when you realize you only have one.” When and how did your second life begin?
It’s a very deep question. I think most people, who are past a certain age, have had this feeling or phenomenon where they have gone through most of life a certain way and then gotten to a certain stage and then had to make some pretty big changes, and I am definitely also in that boat.I think for me it was I struggled with a lot of my life to have certain material and social successes.
When I achieved those material and social successes, or at least be on the point where they didn’t matter as much to me anymore, I realized that my peer group, and a lot of the people who were around me ,and the people who had achieved the similar successes and were on there way to achieving more and more successes, just didn’t seem all that happy.
In my case, there was definitely hedonic adaptation. I would very quickly get used to anything. So, let me get to the conclusion, which seems right, that happiness is internal. That set me on a path of starting to work more on my internal self, and realizing that all real success is internal and has very little to do with external circumstances.But one has to do the external thing anyway that’s how you’re biologically hardwired. It’s lip service to say you can just turn it off. You have to do it. You have to have your own life experiences that then brings you back on to the internal path.For me, it was basically getting what I wanted was the problem. Very related to that
Do you feel an inner urge to know yourself fully and has your worldly success satisfied this urge?
I would say, yeah, I absolutely do have an inner urge to know myself fully. If anything, the worldly success has taken me further away from satisfying that urge. The more worldly success you have, the more your ego gets built up, the more fearful you might be of losing it all, the more you care what other people think, the more you have to lose, the more you get caught up in this dream of who you think you are.
I think worldly success actually hurts. If from a young age, you know that you want to know yourself and discover yourself much better, if you have that foresight or insight at an early age then material success will actually take you away from it.
I am not christian, but there is that famous line in the bible that Jesus says, “Easier than a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven.” I think that I understand what he means.
In the first episode Naval talked about a few topics that should be taught in school rather than learning the capital on Montana. He brought up topics like teaching what we knows work for happiness, nutrition, etc. Can you ask him to elaborate on some of these, particularly happiness?
If I am running a grade school curriculum for children, I would probably optimize happiness, nutrition, diet, exercise, how do you build good habits, how do you break bad habits, how do you have good relationships, how do you find your spouse, meditation, how do you build basic skills– not memorize lots of facts, what kind of books should you read– preferably older ones, not newer ones, that have withstood the test of time.I would probably have them run a lemonade stand or small business. Earn money so they can understand how that works.
Probably have them work on something charitable related, or take them to the third world and show them suffering, true suffering so they can get some context.
Probably teach them public speaking, business writing, basic persuasion, may be a little bit of programming on top of the reading, writing and arithmetic. I would probably eliminate chunks of geography, history, maybe even, honestly, second and third languages, music (unless they had musical inclinations). And I know this is going to horrify some people but the time has to come from somewhere so the question is what do you emphasize.
I think that is not necessarily good to educate every child in every thing. You have to find out what their aptitude is for and what’s more practical. We’re now living in the Wikipedia era. We’re living in the internet era. So a lot of the factual memorization that used to go on is now completely irrelevant. You can just look it up. So those kind of things, I think, need to go away.Think about the fact that if you have young children right now, or you are planning on having children, that your children probably will not need to know how to drive a car. There are all kinds of time savings to be had and it can be used for these other things
The happiness one is a very complex topic. I actually don’t think happiness is its own thing. I think a lot of what we think of as happiness is actually just pleasure. It’s physical pleasure, other from “oh, that tasted good,” or it might be momentary pleasure from “oh, she loves me or he loves me.”But I think true happiness comes out of peace. And peace comes out of many things, but it comes out of fundamentally understanding yourself. It comes from looking inside yourself and understanding how much of what you are reacting to are emotional reactions or attachment — self-inflicted suffering.
It’s desire that you have for things that you probably shouldn’t care that much about.There is a great line that my brother, Kamal, quoted in his book. He has a great book called Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It, and another one called Live Your Truth. He is actually the philosopher in the family. I am just the amateur…. But he had a great line in there, where he said, “I once asked a monk what is your secret to peace and happiness. And the monk said I say yes. To everything that happens, I say yes.”That’s very hard for us to imagine because in life we are used to fighting for everything. We are used getting whatever we want. We are used to reacting. We are used to immediately saying, “that stinks… that’s good… that’s bad.” We’re used to constantly judging things. And the act of judging something separates you from that thing. Over time, as you judge, judge, judge, you invariably judge people, you judge yourself… you separate yourself from everything then you end up lonely.
That feeling of disconnection, of loneliness, is what eventually leads to suffering. Then you struggle, you resist against the world, the way it is, that is what your ego does. It helps you operate in the real world by resisting against things you don’t like. That is the source also of a lot of unhappiness. I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace. And that comes from just being very careful about desire, judgement, and reactions. Realizing that you don’t really need something anymore. That that something is not important to you.So to get very practical about it, I have a whole series of tricks that I use to try and be happier in the moment. I started doing these a few years ago. At first, they were silly and difficult and required a lot of attention, but now some of them have become second nature. I think doing them I’ve, just religiously, I’ve increased my happiness level quite a bit.
The obvious one is meditation, an insight meditation. So working towards a specific purpose on it, which is to try and understand how my mind works. But then just being very aware in every moment. So if I catch myself judging somebody then I can stop myself and say, “well what’s the positive interpretation of this.” I used to get annoyed about things. Now I always look for the positive side of it.
It used to take a rational effort. It used to take a few seconds for me to come up with a positive. Now I can do it sub-second. My brain is trained to do it automatically.Similarly, I try, there are other hack. I try to get more sunlight on my skin. That’s an easy, cheap one. Look up and smile. Tell your friends that you are a happy person then you will be forced to be, to conform to it. You’ll have the consistency bias. You’ll have to live up to it. Your friends will expect you to be a happy person.These are little hacks. I mean they add up over time, but they are not going to pull you out of a severe depression. That’s a much deeper, more difficult thing. But, if you are just trying to upgrade your happiness ever so slightly, you can do it.Another hack would be any time you catch yourself desiring something, say is it really that important to me that I would be unhappy unless this goes my way. You are going to find that for a vast majority of things it is just not true. I think that dropping caffeine made me happier. It made me more of a stable person. Working out everyday makes me happier. If you have peace of body, it is much easier to have peace of mind.
So there are lots and lots of these things. I could go on and on. This could be a full podcast. But I am still discovering and learning these things myself. I think it would be interesting to maybe catalog them. But I suspect a lot of them are deeply, deeply personal.
If I step back for a second and answer the question properly, the most important trick, I think, to being happy is to realize that happiness is a skill that you develop and a choice that you make. You choose to be happy and then you work at it. It’s just like building muscles. It’s just like losing weight. It’s just like succeeding at your job. It’s just like learning calculus. You decide it’s important to you. You prioritize it above everything else. You read everything on the topic. And then you work at it.Again, I think the Buddhists have done a lot of good work on this. I don’t think modern science has good answers here. I think the modern world is actually really bad. The modern world is full of distractions.Things like Twitter and Facebook are not making you happy. They are actually making you unhappy.
You are essentially playing a game that is created by creators of those systems. And yes it can be a useful game once in a blue moon, but most of the time you are just wasting your time. You’re engaging in envy, dispute, resentment, comparison, jealousy, anger about things that frankly just don’t matter.
How do you tend to handle conflict when it arises?
I handle conflict very poorly. I get angry. I am an angry person so I have to catch myself in the moment and I have to talk myself down. I have to recognize the anger for what it is. I have to sense the bodily reactions and then I have to see if I can stay calm.
Usually it is very hard for me. It’s my nature to try and solve a problem the moment it arises. I don’t do well with long term stress, where there is an unsolved problem hanging out there. Probably the single best piece of advice I can give other than being mindful and just aware when you are engaging in conflict is to not to associate with high conflict people.
We all know people in our lives who just tend to get a little more angry, a little more judgmental, or they are always in a fight with somebody else. If you see someone who is always fighting with somebody else, they are eventually going to fight with you. So I have just slowly cut those people out of my life, not in an overt, explicit way, but just by choosing to hang out with them less and less. There are plenty of smart, successful, kind and happy people in the world. You just have to make space for them in your life by letting the people who still have lessons to learn drift off and go learn their lessons. It’s not your job to educate them.Sometime very unhappy people sort of have this air about them, like a drowning person, where they are thrashing and making a big ruckus. But if you grad them and try to save them, unless you are an extremely happy person yourself, you are going to drown too.So I would say the first rule of handling conflict is don’t hang around who are constantly engaging in conflict.
What insight about life have you acquired, that seems obvious to you but might not be obvious to everyone else?
This is a tough one. It’s a deep question.
I do have one fundamental, recent belief that I have acquired in the last few years that I don’t think most people would agree with, but it’s such a personal thing, and it came about in such a personal circumstances that I am not sure anybody else will get there in the same line of reasoning. With that said, I will lay it out anyway, which is I am not afraid of death anymore.
I think a lot of the struggle we have in life comes from a deep, deep fear of death. It can take form in many ways. One can be that we want to write the great american novel, or we really want to achieve something in this world, we want to build something, we want to, you know, build a great piece of technology, or we want to start an amazing business, or we want to run for office and make a difference.And a lot that just comes from, sort of, this fear that we’re going to die so we have to build something that lasts beyond us. Obviously, also the obsession that parents have with their children. A lot of that is warranted in biological love, but some of that is also the quest for immortality. Even some of the beliefs in some of the more outlandish parts of organized religion I think fall into that.
I don’t have the quest for immortality anymore. I think I came to this fundamental conclusion. I thought about it a lot… and the universe has been around for a long time, and the universe is a very, very large place. If you study even the smallest bit of science, you will realize that, for all practical purposes, we are nothing. We’re like an amoeba. We’re bacteria to the universe. We’re basically monkeys on a small rock orbiting a small, backwards star in a huge galaxy, which is in an absolutely staggeringly gigantic universes, which itself may be part of a gigantic multiverse.
This universe has been around for probably 10 billion years or more, and will be around for 10’s of billion years afterwards. So your existence, my existence, is just infinitesimal. It is like a firefly blinking once in the night. So we’re not really here very long, and we don’t really matter that much. Nothing that we do lasts. Eventually you will fade, your works will fade, your children will fade, your thoughts will fade, this planet will fade, the sun will fade… it will all be gone.
There are entire civilizations that we remember now with just one or two words like Samarian, or Mayan. Do you know any Samarians or Mayans? Do you hold any of them in high regard or esteem? Have they outlived their natural life span somehow? No.
So I think we are just here for an extremely short period of time. Now from here you can choose to believe in an afterlife or not. And if you really do believe in an afterlife then that should give you comfort and make you realize that maybe everything that goes on in this life is not consequential. On the other hand, if you don’t believe in an afterlife then you should also come to a similar conclusion, where you should realize that this is such a short and precious life that it is really important that you don’t spend it being unhappy. There is no excuse for spending most of your life in misery. You’ve only got 70 years out of the 50 billion or how ever long the universe is going to be around.Whatever your natural state is, it is probably not this. This is your living state. Your dead state is true over a much longer time frame. When I think about the world that way, I sort of realize that it’s just kind of a game, which is not to say that you go to a dark place and you start acting unethically and immorally, quite the contrary.
You realize just how precious life is. And how it is important to make sure that you enjoy yourself. You sleep well at night. You are a good moral person. You’re generally happy. You take care of other people. You help out. But, you can’t take it too seriously. You can’t get too hung up over it. You can’t make yourself miserable or unhappy over it. You just have a very short period of time here on this earth. Nothing that you do is going to matter that much in the long run. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Then that just kind of helps make everything else work.
So that’s an insight about life that I have acquired that now seems obvious to me, but it is really not obvious to most people.
What’s your “philosophy of life” or grand goal in living. In other words, of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?
Another great question. I think before when I had the usual quest for immortality fear that almost all of us do that is coded into our genes and that was driving me, I was trying to build lasting things, create things, make money, build businesses, write books, that sort of thing. Now I realize that a lot of that is meaningless. That’s just stuff that keeps us busy. It’s entertaining. It might have some social good. It might help us build some moral character as human beings.
But it is not really the purpose of life. Is there a purpose of life? That’s tough. Is there a philosophy of life? That’s tough. I think the closest I can articulate, and I’ll probably change my mind on this next year, is to keep grower and learning in the short period of time that you have. To seek truth. And to accept things the way they are. To see the world the way it really is. Then, just to live your life. I think that’s it. I think any deeper meanings or goals lead to ideologies, which leads to desires, and belief systems, and disappointments, and conflict.
It is better to just live the life that you have on this earth. Enjoy it while you go. Try and see things the way they are and not the way you wish they were. And to be in harmony with things, the way that they are. Easier said than done.
A number of people
What books are you reading now?
This is a very difficult question to answer because at any giving time I probably have about 50 books on my Kindle, and probably about 6 or 7 hardcover or softcover, physical books that I am cycling through.
So, literally, I open up my Kindle, I look through based on my mood I’ll flip to whatever book matches up to my mood. I’ll flip to whatever part of it looks the most interesting, and I’ll just read that part. So I don’t read in a sequential order.
The most important thing that does for me is that it lets me read on a regular basis. I can actually just pull up my Kindle here and I can read off the names of some of these books that I am reading. I can give you mini reviews, but I haven’t actually finished any of them, so they are all in progress.So, at any given time I am always reading some science fiction because sci-fi is always very imaginative in terms of hypothesizing how the world is going to work out, usually has an interesting point of view, you learn a little science.
Just based on friends recommendations I have been flipping through Greg Egan. Brilliant writer, physicist, who I believe has written, sort of, some very hard core sci-fi stories. So I’ve been reading a book from him called Distress. I’ve always got collections of science fictions. I finished The Martian, which was decent, but I felt like it went on a little bit too long. I know that it is a very popular book with some people.I love graphic novels so I have been re-reading The Boys recently, which is one of my favorite graphic novels of all time.
Getting into kind of the more evolution-science kind of books. Matt released The Evolution of Everything. I recommend everything by Matt Ridley actually. I think he great so I really highly, highly recommend picking up Genome, The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, The Rational Optimist, and The Evolution of Everything.
I am reading the The Essential Gandhi. I’ve been reading The Tao of Philosophy by Alan Watts. I’ve got Illusions by Richard Bach, which I’ve read before but I’m flipping through again. I just like the way it flows.The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms by Nassim Taleb, who is famous for The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. But, I sort of like his collection of ancient wisdom in The Bed of Procrustes.The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant, which was actually recommend by one of the listeners in the first podcast. Great book. I really like how it summarizes some of the larger themes of history. Very incisive. And unlike most history books, it’s actually really small and it covers a lot of ground.
I’ve actually been reading my brother’s book. I just finished Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It. I thought it was great. Very succinctly written. Obviously a plug for my bro.I was reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Although I think that I will put that down. I get it about half way through, it’s just a giant drug fueled orgy by Hunter Thompson and his friend. It was entertaining, but I sort of gave up after a bit.Richard Feynman… I have been reading Perfectly Reasonable Deviations and alsore-reading Genius.
I am re-reading The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell. Sometimes I think that it is better just to re- read the greats than it is to read something, you know, that’s not as great.On the philosophy side, I’ve been re-reading Tao Te Ching and I just finished Falling into Grace by Adyashanti, which I thought was very good.
Also read some Jed McKenna recently. He’s a weird one. Not sure if I would recommend him for everybody. God’s Debris by Scott Adams… very interesting.The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind… there’s a mouthful for you, by Julian Jaynes. Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram. That’s a great book. It was actually recommended to me by a friend. It’s available online. I would get that one. I would get that one. If you are interested in Buddhism, meditation, insight, I thought that one was a great one that brought everything together, while leaving the mysticism out of it. So that should give you an indication. I am always reading something by Krishnamurti, usually it is Total Freedom, which is the book that I just re-read over and over the most. A very difficult book.
Doesn’t necessarily make sense for every body. But when you ready for it, there is nothing else like it.I also recently finished The Power of Habit, or close to finish it– as close as I’ll ever get. That one was interesting, not because of its content necessarily, but just because it is good for me to always to keep on top of mind how powerful habits are. Habits are everything.Humans are basically habit machines. We form habits and run on those habits all day long. And habits can be great because they help us get things done very efficiently without having to reprocess them all the time. They can also be terrible because we can have additions. Those are the obvious bad habits. But also they allow us to go through our lives unconsciously and mindlessly. So it is very important to be aware of your habits, and know how to break habits, and know how to make habits.
I have this daily workout that I do that I think I mentioned in the last podcast. A lot of people ask about it. I think that one is interesting, but the specific technique matters less. The most important thing is just doing some kind of physical activity every single day, and if you can make it the same activity at the same time. Because that right there will teach you the power of habits.If you do something 7 days a week, with no exceptions, and you work out early in the morning or when you first get up, then it will automatically fix all kinds of bad habits that you have. You can’t be out drinking late at night. You can’t be out partying. You can’t sleep in. You can’t consume too much caffeine. There are all kinds of other habits in your life that are may be bad that get fixed if you stick to your daily workout habit. Then it teaches you what the power of the habit is. Then as you shed other bad habits, then you realize that habits can be broken, and you start breaking them.I think that learning how to break habits is actually a very, very important meta-skill that can serve you better in life than almost anything else. Although you can read tons of books on it, and I recommend you should go read all the books on it, the reality is that you are never going to learn how to break bad habits until you just break them.One thing I try to do is break a bad habit every 6 months. And I try to pick up a good habit every 6 months to a year. You can’t beat yourself up too much on it, but I don’t think it is too much to ask if you were to say to yourself in 2016, I’m going to break one bad habit. I am going to do everything in my power to take down that one habit. Everything else will be static. I’m not going to get any worse, but that will help move the ball forward. Then you get gradual improvements in your life that you stick with.Like, I used to be pretty overweight and I lost weight over the last decade, where now I feel that I am pretty fit and healthy. It hasn’t come through any single big epiphany or realization. Although definitely going Paleo helped, and understanding low carb. And getting rid of processed foods helped. And all those kinds of things. But, it mainly come from just habit changes. Changing habits slowly, but steadily, over the course of a decade. The good news is that I have almost never slid backwards. I’ve never felt in danger of regaining the weight that I’ve lost. Now, at the age of 42, I am probably within one pound of my lightest weight since I was an adult. I think that just comes from having stacked on a bunch of good habits, and having gotten rid of a bunch of bad habits.
I would say that the power to make and break habits, learning how to do that, is really important. If you are going to leave this podcast and pick up two skills in life, I would say… and it depends on the person because many of you.. Tim’s entire audience is a bunch of overachievers… many of you are way ahead of me on both these, but for those of you may be behind… One of them, I would say first is that happiness is a choice and it is a skill and you can dedicate yourself to learning that skill and making that choice and telling people about it and working on it.
You can slowly, but steadily, over the course of years make yourself happier. Similarly, I would say that habits are… breaking habits is a sill and it is something you can learn. Start with a small habit and try different techniques to break it. Try substituting. Try going cold turkey. Try weening yourself off. Try social proof by telling other people that you are going to break the habit. Try putting other habits around it that leave you no time for bad habit. Try removing the triggers. Try toning down the rewards. Do whatever it takes, but break one bad habit this year. Once you pick up that skill, it’s a beautiful thing because then slowly you can shed all of your bad habits and make room for good habits in your life.
What personal efficiency or life management things do you do on a semi-regular basis? (e.g. some kind of life review exercise where you rate certain categories in your life, etc)
The answer is none. I am lazy that way. I choose to live a spontaneous and free life. I don’t want to live a very structured life. I know people who are married, friends of mine who are married, and they actually have quarterly meetings with their life. They have reports and how are we performing as a marriage, and what are our objectives, and what are our key results, and, you know, what’s our one year plan, what’s our five year plan. I just don’t plan. I am not a planner.
I prefer to live in the moment and be free and flow and be happy. I think projecting too much into the future, judging yourself, setting yourself up in very difficult ways, other than, as I talked about, just like one habit or one desire. If you start trying to control yourself on a micro-basis, if you try to micromanage yourself, all you are going to do is make yourself miserable, and you are going to get nothing done. So just focus on the one or two really, really important things, and everything else just surrender to it, just take it as it comes, just accept it, be happy with it, be glad you are in this world, be glad that you are clothed and feed and that you are not getting bombs dropped on your head like some people in the world are.I stay to stay free because that way I can see the little miracles in life. There are little miracles everywhere. It’s just we have taken them for granted. The fact that you are wearing clothes. The fact that you have enough food to eat. The fact that you’re in a place of shelter. Yes, you can roll your eyes about it. Yes, you can say, yeah, that’s obvious everybody has it, but actually not everybody has it. It would be great to take a trip to a third world country, or to a refugee camp, and see how little some other people have.I think that it is a bad habit that we develop that we forget how to appreciate what we do have. So, not obsessing about the future, and not beating yourself up over what you don’t have is very important because then you can actually pay attention and be grateful for what you do have.
Loved the first episode and picked up the Book of Life as a result. I want more book recommendations! I’d like to know if there was any book recommended by the listeners that stood out and had an impact on your life?
Yeah, actually the last podcast was a treasure trove in the comments section of good books. I recommended and I got back even more great books. So I must have bought at least 10 or 15 books just from the comments section.A couple that I read really stood out to me. I mentioned The Lessons of History. I thought that was really good.Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. That was a fun, light read.
And The Prophet by Gibran, which I had actually never read, but it literally read like a modern day poetic, religious tome– up there with [Untranscribed], Tao Te Ching, the Bible, the Koran. It sort of was written in that style, where it had that feel of religiosity and truth, but it was very approachable, and beautiful, and nondenominational and nonsectarian. I really loved that book. He has a gift for poetically describing what children are like, what lovers are like, what marriage should be like… How you should treat your enemies, and your friends… How you should work with money. What can you think of… every time you kill something to eat it, how you should think of that. I felt that like the great religious books, it gave a very deep, very philosophical, but very true answer to how to approach the major problems in life. I recommend The Prophet for everybody, whether you are religious or not. Whether you are christian or hindu or jewish or atheist, I think it is a beautiful book and it is worth reading. So thank you to whomever recommended that one.
Now I am going to switch gears for a second and in the final section of this podcast. I am just going to focus on the questions that are very vocational focused. It’s funny I got a whole bunch of questions that say, probably about two-thirds were, about philosophy and life and reading and learning and growth… Those are fun for me to answer because it is a new field for me myself and I learn from it too by talking about it, and by hearing responses about it.
There are a set of questions that are very particular about how do I make money, how do I become a good venture capitalist, how do I run my company, etc. I’ve been sort of putting those off because, to me, those are almost all old hat. But I am going to answer those now in this section. Let me go through those. I know I covered a few of those before, but all the remaining ones from this point out are very practical.
So if you’re more interested in the philosophical issues, or the books, then we are done with that section, you can probably just stop the podcast. If you want to ever discuss any of those topics, the best way to find me is on Twitter. You can find me at @naval. I am usually reasonably responsive. as long as it is not too open ended, it’s kind of an interesting conversation.So let’s dive right into it. The money making questions…
Let’s assume that you are in your late 20’s, with no real money, college education and you decide to begin your journey with business, startups, etc. What would you begin with ? What would you do ?
Well, unfortunately, I would say move to SF. If you can’t move to SF, move to a startup hub. Depending on where you are in the country, that could be Austin, that could be LA, that could be NewYork, that could be in Boston, that could be Berlin, that could be London… It could be Bangalore. It could be Shanghai. It could be even parts of Delhi, or Beijing.Unfortunately, all of the other people who are in startups are in these places so you have to get in the flow. The good news is that once you get in the flow, you are going to figure out if you’re motivated, what to do. You will be able to maybe go to school, where you can learn how to code. There are tons of them around– tons of great ones like App Academy, and Hack Reactor, and General Assembly does class, where you can learn how to code.
You can volunteer for startups. You can start out in maybe customer service. Or you can start off in operations, or in just keeping the office running. Do whatever it takes, but get into the startup scene.Startups are moved forward by people who are just willing to do the work. You necessarily have to be genius, or have to have a technical background. But, if you are willing to do the work, and you are willing to learn, and you are in the right hub, you will figure your way out within a couple of years.
You studied computer science and economics; how have these fields impacted your thinking and if you could go back would still pursue the same education — why or why not?
I would pursue similar. I would say that microeconomics was incredibly useful. Macroeconomics was mostly useless. The part of computer science that was very theoretical, like algorithms and mathematics, was actually the most useful because that stuff doesn’t change over time. The part that was learning to program in Java or Fortran was useless, so less useful, because it fades over time.
I would probably do more math, more physics. Stick to micro everything. I would probably would have studied some phycology and some evolution because I think those are really important to understanding how humans work. At the end of day, you are interacting with humans wherever you go.I would have focused on theories and principles over facts because facts fade, or facts can be looked up. Probably the most important skill is not really even what you major in, what you study, it’s just knowing how to learn. If you have a good grasp of mathematics, and if you like to read, there is nothing that you can’t learn on your own.
Hey Tim and Naval! Question from an 18-year old in the Philippines: What advice would you give to ambitious 18-year olds who want to be as successful in founding startups and investing like you, Naval?
Basically, the question is how do I get as rich as you, but faster. Because nobody wants to put in the time. Well, as I said before, first move to a startup hub if you are going to be in that industry, or just go to the hub for whatever your industry is. So if you want to be an actor go to Hollywood. If you want to be on Broadway, go to New York. If you want to be in finance, go to New York, or London, or Hong Kong.Second, I think Charlie Munger had a great answer to this. Charlie Munger is Warren Buffet’s right hand man. He gets asked these kinds of things all the time. He is a self-made, multi-billionaire.Very wise in his ways.
I think that I am going to paraphrase and mangle his answer, but you should look it up. He basically said, you just get up early in the morning, you work really hard, you learn something every day, you put one foot in front of the other, and if you live long enough you will eventually get what you deserve.And that’s it.There is no certainty in life. You can put in the hours. You can put in the time. But you can’t really expect the outcome. Unfortunately, one of things that investing has really taught me is just how much randomness there is in the world. How many times you think you can do something right, but it still doesn’t work out.
I often see that individual entrepreneurial efforts often fail, but individual entrepreneurs over their careers rarely fail. As long as you can keep taking shots on goal, and you keep getting back up, eventually you will get through. So just stick at it.
Although, you might win early that’s rare. Those stories are very, very rare. More likely you will just have to put in the time. And people who tend to win very early in life don’t learn the right lessons. They tend to lose that money.In fact, I made a small fortune when I was very young just by being in the right dot-com bubble company in 1999, and then, of course, I hung on to it for too long and lost the whole thing. That was a really good lesson because it meant that as I made a little bit of money later in life now I knew how rare and precious it was, and I knew how to hang on to it. I didn’t have the contempt for money that comes from making it too easily. I had a deep respect for how hard it is to make.
So put in the hours.
What advice would you give a talented software engineer or product manager who’s at Google/Facebook/Microsoft/Amazon: 1. continue to work there & get promoted 2. move to an established startup like AirBnB 3. move to an early stage startup 4. bootstrap a muse software product (starting off on the side) 5. Found a start up and play the VC-funded startup game
And is there a slight conflict of interest between advice to would-be founders from investors?
Well, yes, investors given advice is alway self-serving advice. So don’t take your advice from investors if you can help it because they have their particular view of the world, and just realize that. Incentives are everything.Charlie Munger, who I mentioned earlier, says incentives are super powers. He also said if you can be working on incentives then you shouldn’t be working on anything else. He means that in the context of with your employees, or with your product. Incentives are everything.With that said, what path should you take? Heck, I don’t know. I mean they’re all good paths. It doesn’t what you want out of life. You could try them all. If you know you want to start a company, you know what the company is, and you know who you want to do it with, and you feel like you have a good understanding of the space, then go do it. You are ready.
On the other hand, if you don’t know how to do it, or you don’t yet know what it is, then you should probably get as close to it as possible, and that would mean joining a startup. If you want to be a founder then you should probably join a startup that is very early. If you are more interested in having a good lifestyle, or making money for your family, then you may want to go to a latter stage startup, one that is more clearly on the path to success.I think questions like this, unfortunately, don’t have good answers. There just highly, highly contextual.
But, the fact that you are thinking about it means you are going about it the right way.Startups are a young person’s game. It is better to do them early in life before you settle down, before you have too many obligations, before you have gotten kind of set in your ways. If you are going to do a startup, you should at least take one shot at it before you are 30 or 35. After that, I find it gets a lot harder. That’s me personally though. There are plenty of great entrepreneurs who executing in their 40’s and 50’s and 60’s. I think T Boone Pickens, who’s still an entrepreneur and operator, is something in his 80’s or something like that.
What is your advice to those on US visas? How can they go about launching a startup in the Valley while keeping their primary job in the short-term? What communities/incubators can they reach out to for help/advice?
Actually, there is a great accelerator/incubator that I am small investor in called Unshackled. What they solve is exactly this problem. They help great engineers, designers, entrepreneurs start companies while retaining their visa status. They have a way to work that out that’s perfectly legal and ethical and good. It helps immigrants create jobs and create wealth and create products for the rest of us. I highly recommend checking out Unshackled.
There may be others like it. That is just the one that I happen to be aware of.
In a world where the majority of people will guard money much more than time, how to you protect your own time and still not offend people or damage relationships, both professionally and personally?
Any strategies or good reads on this you could suggest?
Yeah, this is the bane of my existence. I get hit up for coffees, lunches, meetings, obligations,to-dos, phone calls. For a little while, I was a little ornery about it. I used to own the domainIDontDoCoffee.com and I would reply to emails with naval@IDontDoCoffee.com. But that was rude and stupid. That was the petulant, younger, more brash version of me.These days I have become sort of a master at evading meetings that suck up time. The reality is that time is all you have in this world. When you are young, you are seeking out opportunities so you look forward to serendipity. You are taking new meetings, dynamics, energizing you meeting new people.
As you get older, you have too much opportunity. You have too many people. You have too much family obligations. You have too many things to do… too many places to be. Then you just end up busy, busy, busy, busy. Busy is the death of productivity and happiness. Derek Sivers, who I think Tim had a great podcast with, said that I am not going to say yes or no, I am going to say hell yes or no. Basically, unless I am really excited about something, I am not going to do it. I think that is a good heuristic… to try it out. You know, so what if it offends people. You have a very short life on this earth. You have to spend it being happy and doing what is productive and what matters with the people closest to you.
I think that all the great outcomes in life come from compound interest, whether it’s in investing or whether it’s in relationships. So, like, my most popular tweet of all time was this one that, kind of glib, but it says, “if you can’t see yourself working with somebody for life, don’t work with them for a day.”Now, of course, you’re not going to like say, “no, I am not going to work with you because I am not working with you for the rest of my life.” But, it is a good reminder that if any relationship is short term or temporary it’s really not going to pay out the dividends that you want later in life.It’s better to just kind of treat a lot of your time as a search function, where you are searching through the set of jobs, you’re searching through the set of dates and spouses, you’re searching through the set of friends, you’re searching through the set of hobbies, until you find things you love. And when you find things and people that you love, you go all in on them.
So when you find the person that you love being around 24/7, and if they are attracted and of the opposite sex, you marry them. If there are friends that you just never get tired of hanging around with, well those are going to be the 3, 4, 5 friends that you spend most of the rest of your life with. Hopefully, they are happy people because it will rub off on you.
There is a theory called the 5 chimps theory. In zoology, you can predict the mood, behavior, patterns of any chimp by which 5 chimps they hang out the most with. So choose your 5 chimps carefully.I would say, yes, people can get offended. It can damage relationships if you blow them off, or if you are non responsive.
But, you have very little room in your life long term for real relationships so guard that time.It’s actually really important to have empty space. If you don’t have a day or two days a week in your calendar, where you’re not always in meetings, and you’re not always busy, then you are not going to be able to think. You’re not going to have good ideas for your business. You’re not going to be able to have good judgements. So, I also encourage taking at least one day a week, preferably two, because if you budget two you’ll end up with one… day a week where you have nothing on your calendar, and you just have time to think. It’s only after you are bored that you’re going to have the great ideas. It’s never going to be when you’re stressed or busy or running around or rushed. So make the time. Same way with people. You need to have space in your life where you’re not booked to the people that you are already know. This way once in a blue moon an invitation will come along, a person will come into your life, that’s suddenly really interesting. Now you’ll be able to make the time for them.I think you have to be pretty ruthless about saying no to things, about turning people down, and leaving room in your life for serendipity. In my experience, normally if you don’t make time for people when they’re requesting time for you– yes, it is a little painful and it is a little socially awkward– but the people aren’t going to disrespect you. If anything, they’ll want to hang out with you even more because they’ll realize that you are very discriminating with your time. But, guard you time. Forget the money. I mean money is actually the least important thing. There is a discount rate to money. I like asking my friends… If you could keep your friends and family, and you could keep everything you know, but you lost all of your money and your job, and you had to start over. But in exchange you get to be younger, you get to be physically younger. How many years of your life would you have to get back in exchange for giving up everything you have earned and put away?
I have friends who say 5 years or 10 years. For me personally, it is about 2–3 years. I’d start over with everything if you gave me back 2–3 years of youth, frankly. But, the older you get, the smaller that number gets. When you’re on your deathbed, when you’re in your last days, you’d give up every dollar in the bank for another week, another few days, another hour, another minute. So money has a very steep discount rate as you get older. You just realize as you get older that it matters less and less and less…. of course outside of the bare necessities, which, unfortunately most of the world is still struggling with. But, the fact that you can listen to this podcast on an iPhone, or whatever you’re listening to it on, means you’re already better off than a lot of people.
So guard your time it is all you have.
What has been the best lesson (failure) that investing has taught you?
What investing has taught me is humility. It has taught me that nobody knows anything. I think so many companies are going to be great so few actually work out. It shows how much luck there is involved… and the system.What’s important is to set up a system for yourself. Scott Adams actually has a great book on this. I think it is called like How to Fail.. How to Succeed without Really Trying… or How to Fail at Everything and Still Succeed… I forget the exact name, but you can look it up, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. You can go to blog.dilbert.com or just google “Scott Adams” and look at his books.
But he has a great book that talks about how you should have systems in life. And you should look for patterns. That way you are not bound to any specific outcome. If you have a system, eventually, given all the randomness in the world, the system will eventually pull signal out of the noise. It will overwhelm the randomness and let you get to your goal.But you have to have a system because the world is really random. No individual investment is going to work out. No individual person is going to be the perfect one. No individual situation is going to be a huge breakthrough. In fact, there is another great saying that I love… or principle that says bad news comes suddenly, but good news takes time. The good things in your life develop slowly over time because you have systems and nets out there to catch them. But, bad things like someone you know had a heart attack, or the stock market crashed and you lost a bunch of money, that kind of stuff tends to happen very, very suddenly.You just need to be patient. Not get too caught up. It’s not the end of world when something bad happens. And you have systems for good things…. Systems and habits are actually very related.I am going to have to get off this podcast and give the pulpit back to Tim. So, thank you all for listening. Thank you for inviting me back a second time. I hope it was useful and not just, you know, the ramblings of a strange person. And I hope to see you all on Twitter or otherwise.Good luck to everyone in their lives. I wish you happiness. I wish you health. I wish you consciousness. I wish you fulfillment. I wish that this year you add a good habit. Maybe you even break a bad habit. Don’t take anything too seriously.