“I often ask myself ‘In an ideal world, what would the future state look like? What can we actually do now, next week, one month from now, one year from now, what’s the path we can take to eventually get there?’”
In this episode
In episode #74, Paul Lem tells us why most of the goals we set are wrong.
Paul Lem is the author of Master Life Faster, a book full of his learning that he wanted to share with others, including his kids.
In this episode, we dive deep into the Pareto principle and how to decide which items are worth pursuing.
We talk about coaching, goal setting, uncovering bottlenecks to achieving great things.
Tune in to hear how the weak win wars and how to become an expert on anything.
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
Master Life Faster
20% action, 80% results
How the weak win wars
Most goals are wrong
Defining your future state
The 3 body problem
Strategy and tactics
- Connect with Paul Lem
- Read Paul’s book for free
- David Allens book on productivity
- Jim Collins and The Hedgehog Concept
- Energy and Expertise from Scott Adams
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 00:00
Paul, Welcome to the show.
Paul Lem 02:54
Thanks, Aydin it’s great to be on your show.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 02:56
Yeah, I am super excited for this. I feel like we have so many great conversations. And today, it’s mostly going to be me getting to ask you anything I want. And then and then we’re gonna press record. So other people can hear us talk. But we’ve known each other for quite a while I want to say Did we meet in like 2006? Has it been like 15 years or something like this?
Paul Lem 03:20
I think so Aydin, yeah it’s been a great time. It is amazing to watch how you have grown all of your business ventures, really amazing.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 03:28
Well, you know, I have learned many things from you. And so today is you basically taken a lot of the things that I feel like that you have taught us and the many other entrepreneurs that you’ve come across, mentored and coached over the years. And you’ve distilled it all into this to this book, called Master Life Faster. Why did you write this book?
Paul Lem 03:58
Yes. So here’s the book. It’s available for free on the website master life faster dot com. And my driving goal with this book is I have two kids, two boys. They’re 12 and four, Roman and Wolf. And I was thinking myself, What if one day I get hit by a bus? What could I leave to them, that would be the most valuable information, the things the lessons of life that I would want them to have that if they read this book, they would be put on the right path for success. And with that goal in mind, I spent six months accumulating notes I had aggregated over 1520 years. And I wrote this book, and I wanted to be from an evidence-based perspective. So I didn’t just want to be my opinion or other people’s opinions. I wanted the best scientific evidence to go into this book and distill it down. So that’s still easy to read for kids, teenagers, and adults.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 04:51
Yeah, so this is, I mean, this is awesome. And I liked the format of it. I mean, it’s amazing that you’re also putting it out there for free for people I highly recommend everybody check it out. But the format is cool too. It’s not a, it’s not the sort of thing that you have to start from the beginning. And kind of read to the end. There’s all these like life lessons, mental models, skills, and you can kind of like, pick and choose and start, like where you want. And it’s really fun. It’s almost like you’re okay, what skill do I want to talk about next, and then you can go into that. So what I wanted to do today is like, you know, obviously, for managers and leaders out there, always looking to get better at their craft, there’s a bunch of things that I thought in the book, were useful for everybody to learn. And I thought we could dive in a little bit into a bunch of these and talk about like, how people what kind of lessons people can take away from, from some of these lessons in the book, one of the things that I wanted to talk about first was this concept of accepting actions. You talked about the Pareto principle in the book, where 80% of results come from 20% of actions. So that means 20% of actions are worth your time, but 80% should be dropped or delegated. So this is interesting. I’d love for you to just talk about what that means, in practicality, like how can people take that knowledge and apply it to their day?
Paul Lem 06:28
That’s a great question. So maybe I’ll start the answer by saying, I’ve been a theory about the Pareto Principle 8020 rule for years, probably like you and most of your listeners. And it wasn’t until I was in medicine, that I understood what it meant. So let me give you an example. In medicine, we will normally take care of a roster of patients, 20 patients as their doctor, and they’ll be very sick, you have to see them every day. For most of those patients. It’s only one or two things that matter to whether they will live or die or get better. All the other things are just noise and don’t matter. So for example, I would go see Mrs. Smith in the morning, I would say to her, Mrs. Smith, what are the one or two things I can do for you today that you care about. And in parallel, I would look at her chart and see oh, it’s like this one thing that I need to take care of, otherwise, she’ll die, everything else doesn’t matter. Because if I didn’t focus it down like that, this is Smith would come up with a list of 10 or 20 symptoms that you want me to take care of most didn’t matter. And so that experience in medicine taught me to focus on what are the very few things that matter, everything else is noise. And if you can do it as a doctor where people’s life and death is at stake, you can do it in every aspect of your life.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 07:45
I mean, I can see that, you know, very clearly in business, or in leading a team, or pretty much in anything, there’s always one thing that matters more than everything else. And so what about this concept of like selecting action say that, you know, if you’re, you’re on a team, and you kind of identity like the most important thing, the thing that you should focus all your attention on? How do you kind of play that? Is that the sort of thing that you should get maybe other people to take care of the other 80%? Or should you read it the other way? And say, well, actually, no, we should all just try and focus on the 20%, including everybody else, we should all just double down
Paul Lem 08:26
What I thought works well, whether medicine, business, or wife is focusing the majority of your energy, your best thinking time on those few things that will matter. Now, of course, everyone still has to brush their teeth and floss, everyone still has to eat food, even though it might not advance your wife’s goals. So those are just hygiene things that you have to do. But every day I wake up and I think what are the few things I need to push forward? Similarly at business, what are the few things that if our entire team focus on those things, we’ll get a success
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 08:57
Talking about triaging and figuring out some of these. What what is your four Ds of triaging actions?
Paul Lem 09:05
That comes from David Allen’s book about productivity and getting things done. And so he segments things into the four DS, so it’s doing it, drops it, delegates it, or defer it. And so this is where that too if you have an overriding goal of what you know, will generate value, you’ll find that the vast majority of actions can just simply not be done. Because I’m sure all the time you have customers, team members asking, do all sorts of things, which, even if you did them, it doesn’t matter. And so the vast majority of things are in that whole like don’t do it. And then there’s another category of things that you can do very quickly, like a reply to an email if it only takes you 20 seconds because that just clears up the mental space. After all, then you don’t have to write it in an action list or think about it again, just get those things done right away. If it can be done like 30 seconds, one minute then there’s the class of actions which have gone through service The first two colonies, and then generally it’s, you can either delegate it or defer because it takes more time to think about it. So delegate is pretty straightforward. Is there someone else who’s better positioned to do it? But then the last category is those things that take time thoughtful reflection, you have to think about how are you going to and you need to actually, what I do is I budget time, my calendar to do a deep dive on those things. And those are generally the things that are the important goals that will advance the business. But if they were easy to do, you or someone else would have done them quickly, and they take time to do
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 10:33
I find that like, a lot of I would say strategic things are thinking and planning, a lot of those things are, fall into that category. And it’s hard because it’s also you can do a lot of these things. And a lot of time there isn’t immediate feedback or is or results from it. It’s not like I completed this task, like and I spent like I spent two hours thinking, what do you have to show for it? But but but that’s the really hard thing? Because you’re right, those are the things that matter. And those are the things that are going to produce the most results over time. Of course, you still have to do hygiene and take care of that
Paul Lem 11:11
Right. Something that’s been in the news recently has been the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan. So that is a perfect example of the United States probably had 200 to one more resource, soldiers, technology, everything money than the Afghanistan, Taliban. And yet after, what 1520 years, I’d say it’s had to completely retreat from Afghanistan, the Taliban had a complete victory. And so that shows you it’s not enough to have the tactics because tactically the US is far superior every single day, they’re probably meeting all their tactical objectives. But on a strategy level, the Taliban were superior. And the United States had an inferior strategy, some Taliban eventually won. So then, in my book, I also talk about Okay, great. So you know, that the Taliban won the US last. But what strategy lessons can you take from that? And that leads into there’s a chapter in my book called How the weak win wars,
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 12:11
yeah, that let’s talk about that. How, how do the weak win wars?
Paul Lem 12:16
So this is one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever come across. So as a military historian, she analyzed about 200 wars in human history and found that when the weaker side, so that was defined as if they had a disadvantage of like five to one or greater thought directly against the stronger side, they would lose almost all the time. But if the weaker side, but indirectly, so things like guerrilla warfare not hitting, not having like direct head-to-head confrontations with the stronger side, they won the majority of the time, which is extremely counterintuitive. Again, you would think, how can the Taliban who were given caves, who have almost no resources, eventually, actually beat the United States, but it’s because the Taliban never fought us directly. It was all guerrilla warfare, like the strike, and then retreat, strikes, and then retreat, never pitched battles. And this is the same as the Vietnam War, where the US also lost, but also all sorts of other wars in history. So we look at how this applies to the listeners in your audience. Now, entrepreneurs, leaders at small to medium-sized businesses, the big lesson does not fight against the big entrenched competitive directly find alternative markets or ways to not compete in those big markets, like a start-up in a small market where you dominate and then grow that out to be a whole new market.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 13:36
It also just comes back to this understanding of like, really understanding who you are, both as a person as a team as a company and trying to figure out like, where you can have those advantages. You know, one of the things that come up very often is, you know, when we’re trying to, and you kind of talk about this in the book as well. But when it comes time to, you know, for leaders to learn, and to learn how to become better leaders, or better managers, one of the things that, you know, we we do often is we try and emulate or copy someone else, you know, sometimes that that makes sense. And then there are certain cases where that makes sense. But other times it, what makes sense is that like you, again, like truly understand yourself and figure out your unique advantages and kind of lead from that vantage point versus trying to, you know, become someone else or trying to play a different game that’s maybe not well suited for you, but on the topic of learning what I mean, this is a constantly important thing for any professional, but certainly for people who are trying to, you know, learn to become better managers and leaders. In the book you also talk about learning to learn what have you learned about learning?
Paul Lem 14:52
I’ve learned about learning is in almost every field, you can become an expert by following a person-proven system in a relatively short period. So this has been popularized by Tim Ferriss. One personal example would be, I was reading one of Tim Ferris’s blogs where he talked about how he had been a very poor swimmer his entire life. But all of a sudden, he discovered this system, this technique called Total Immersion swimming, he went to the pool like five to 10 times. And so he was able to swim as long as he wanted for almost no effort. And then he went in, like, did long-distance swimming. So I was intrigued by this, I was like, wow, let me look up this system called Total Immersion swimming and see if I can actually go to the pool only like five to 10 times and suddenly become an amazing swimmer. And I did, surely, after quite a while, I think like seven or eight times, I was suddenly able to sweat as goals I wanted, but no effort. And like, Tim, before that I had been a pretty terrible swimmer. So that’s just one example of coming up with a proven system, you can become pretty good. But then if you want to become world-class, that’s where it takes several years, where you have to test your skills in competitive environments, get a coach, really drill down into that field.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 16:10
Yeah. So this makes a lot of sense. And so what is the what is it that coaches end up doing? Because I think this is very relevant. Many of us have, you know, leadership coaches, executive coaches, certainly, it’s recommended by a lot of the guests on the show to have one What is your opinion, does a coach help you do?
Paul Lem 16:30
From what I can tell from science, human beings, all of us are limited by all the biases we carry around, it’s extremely difficult for me or others, to see yourself objectively, you’re just too wrapped up in, you know, your own experiences, your ways of thinking. And so what I think a coach is good at is he or she can look at you and see more clearly. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses, what do you need to work on? And I think even better, coaches have a lot of experience coaching different people, and then they can tailor the right learning program for you based on their experience.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 17:08
And there’s another side to this as well, right, which is just the shortening of the feedback loop. Because I mean, as you said, most of us are bad at, you know, objectively understanding or measuring ourselves. But also, if you can shorten that feedback loop it, you know, it takes a long way, when it when I think about for example, from from the management context, like you could be doing this, this action or have this set of behavior. And over the long term, what that might mean is, you know, maybe half your staff leave, or, you know, they don’t progress or something goes wrong, or people aren’t as bought in. But that takes a very long time. You know, it’s not the sort of thing that, you know, happens overnight. So the feedback cycle is long. And sure you’ll maybe learn that lesson, hopefully. But it might take a long time for you to learn that. And by having a coach may be that that changes it so that you can learn much more quickly.
Paul Lem 18:03
That is a great point. And so a good coach, hopefully, that person, because of his or her experience, can shorten that feedback cycle, like you’re pointing out, because they can say if Wait, and if you continue with these behaviors, I’ve seen eight times out of 10, it will lead to half your staff leaving, you might want to think twice and change that.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 18:19
Yeah. So I think that that goes a long way. One of the other things that we talk a lot about on the show is just the concept of goal setting. So we kind of talked about a little bit on the preta principle side, the, you know, some things, you have to kind of figure out like what the most important thing is. So when it comes to goals, what have you learned about goal setting, whether in business and life or anyplace else,
Paul Lem 18:50
I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned is most goals are wrong. And what I mean by that is, if you achieve that goal, you actually won’t get what you’re ultimately looking for. So let me give a practical example. So I think a lot of people have a goal of earning more salary. The question most people don’t ask themselves is, if I suddenly have more salary, then what do I get to do with it? Like what is it I wanted in my life when you probe down to ask most people what their life they generally want things like I want better health, I want better relationships. I want to be able to work on work I love so those are their true goals. And then when you look at it from that point of view, say, well, let’s say if you just get a higher salary, as you could just work two jobs does. That means you’re more stressed you have less time does that mean you advanced or goals of health, relationships and work that you care about? And then the answer is no. And then the people start realizing that a higher salary is just it’s just a means to an end. It’s not the ultimate goal that a person cares about. It’s I think when you apply that sort of rigorous goal, true goal thinking to all aspects of your life, you realize that you should not be doing a lot of things you’re doing
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 19:57
Yeah. And should that’s super interesting. So one is like figuring out if something is a true goal, what do you think about the concept of just having bottlenecks? And like, you know, basically figuring out like, how do you figure out what the right goal is, say in a, in a business context?
Paul Lem 20:17
Amazing question. What I found works for me is I often ask myself, in an ideal world, what would the future state look like? So let’s say in a business setting, let’s say for a startup, it might be in the ideal world, what product will be offered to our customers, so they are ecstatic. They pay us lots of money, and they never leave us. And so that’s the future state, that is the true goal that you’re trying to drive to. And then you can knock out okay. We can’t develop, deliver that amazing superduper product that customers want today. What can we do for them? Now, next week, one month from now, one year from now, what’s the path we can do to eventually get there? And back to bottlenecks. So this is where, okay, that direct path to that future state, that is the critical path, the critical chain to achieve the goal. And then every day, every week, you can ask yourself, what is the big thing that’s preventing me from reaching that specific goal? At any given time? It’s a different thing. It might be, I don’t have the right software developer to do this exact thing that will be on that software path. Or it could be I don’t have enough funding to hire that developer. When when you work backward, you can figure out what are the bottlenecks, what’s the critical chain, if you focus all your time on the bottlenecks, that’s the important thing, because without that ball, now, you can progress on all sorts of other aspects, but it doesn’t matter because everyone’s gonna is waiting for the bottleneck to be solved.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 21:45
You then apply this to your like everything, to your, to your meetings to your one on ones. And you talk about one on ones in the book as well. So like, how do you apply the same concept when it comes to having that one on one meetings, but
Paul Lem 22:02
This is something that was really, we all got inspired by our mutual friend Luco Beck. So he was at TripAdvisor, and Facebook now was at Shopify. And so he found that implementing the system, a structured system of one on ones could improve an organization. And I think the thing I took away from weeks process is, once you set that true goal, you set the strategy and tactics need to ripple through the entire organization. So everyone understands, what is it that we’re trying to achieve? And today, next week, next month, what are the specific tactical actions that I can do that will advance the company’s goals? And then he has a structured one-on-one system where you walk through each of those things. Everyone understands, everyone has an opportunity to ask questions.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 22:46
[AD BREAK] Hey, they’re just a quick note, before we move on to the next part, if you’re listening to this podcast, you’re probably already doing one on one meetings. But here’s the thing, we all know that one on one meetings are the most powerful, but at the same time, the most misunderstood concept in practice and management. That’s why we’ve spent over a year compiling the best information, the best expert advice into this beautifully designed 90 Plus page ebook. Now, don’t worry, it’s not a single-spaced font, you know, lots of text, there’s a lot of pictures, it’s nice, easily consumable information, we spent so much time building it. And the great news is that it’s completely free. So head on over to fellow dot app slash blog to download the Definitive Guide on one, it’s there for you, we hope you enjoy it. And let us know what you think. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview.[AD BREAK ENDS] This whole concept of bottlenecks applies to the same thing, which is like what is standing in the way of achieving that particular goal. And then and it’s just very self-reinforcing. Because when you’re having those meetings every week, you just have the opportunity to keep asking that question and uncover those things. I remember you and I were having a chat about, you know, a particular goal that I was trying to achieve in my last company. And, and that’s what you were telling me, which is like, you know if if I were having one on ones with you, I would ask you every single week, what is the biggest thing getting in your way to get to this goal, you know, on a related note on this concept of goal setting, and I just want to get your thoughts on this. How do you figure out, how to set a goal, and the reason I asked this is because there’s kind of like this fine line of what’s achievable, what is too easy to achieve? And you know, what is ambitious, but if you don’t have very ambitious goals, then you’ll never figure out how to achieve them either. You’ve been involved in some crazy ventures and so I’m just curious if you’ve kind of aligned ended on you know how to figure out what goals to set for the team?
Paul Lem 25:03
What I have found works. And what I think a lot of the research shows is the best goals are that ideal future state. So what is in an ideal world, what should it be? But then to get there, it’s the system and not the sub-goals. So this is where Scott Adams that Dilbert cartoon is talks about, like, it’s losers have goals, winners have systems. And what he means by a system is, what are the actions that you will do every day, every week, the habits, that if you keep doing them, just every day, every week, will eventually get you to that goal that future state. So habits could be things like doing one on ones in this way where everyone in the organization understands the future state? Or it could be things like taking care of your health, that sort of thing? Like, what are the things that you do with habits, and I think that’s where once you have a future state, you had to put a lot of time into figuring out your daily and weekly habits.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 25:57
That’s super important. And like the way we think about it is like from a meeting perspective, like one on one or a certain type of meeting, but there are certainly other workflows as well that just build in these good organizational habits. You know, one that comes to mind is like a quarterly business review is probably a really good organizational habit or a weekly townhall, it might be a really good organizational habit. But yeah, I liked that and would agree that it’s better to have systems rather than goals. And it just goes back to the most people have the wrong goals. To begin with,
Paul Lem 26:32
I would go for that most people have the wrong goals, to begin with. And then they have the wrong systems.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 26:37
Right, you know, there’s a lot of work to do for all of us. So there’s also another thing that is, there’s kind of like this, this tonality throughout the book, but you also talked about it in the, in talking about the three-body problem, what what is the three-body problem?
Paul Lem 26:57
the three-body problem was a problem in physics where physicists realized since the time of Newton, that once you were trying to calculate the orbits of more than two celestial bodies, so kind of like the, you know, the earth rotating around the sun. As long as you had two bodies, you could perfectly calculate the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. But as soon as you add a third body, like mercury, you could only approximate what the orbits would be. Even on such a defined system. As soon as you go to three variables, you could no longer calculate with certainty. And then since then, all sorts of mathematicians economists in every field have shown, once you have multivariable systems, it’s extremely difficult to predict what the future is going to be like.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 27:42
Yeah, this is super interesting, because it applies to everything.
Paul Lem 27:46
Because you turn on your TV or you listen to podcasts, there are all sorts of experts and forecasts are saying, the future will be this, the future will be that by this year, such and such will have happened. But if you look at the history of business, the experts at any given time, almost all the time are proven to be wrong in the future.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 28:04
Yeah. So what kind of lessons Can you take from this future truly unpredictable? Like, is there anything that we can tell about the future? Or how do we prepare ourselves?
Paul Lem 28:14
What I find helpful is when I look at things like lean startup, or Nassim Taleb’s books on antifragility, I think what works well is to have that ideal state of the future. You know, this is where a lot of forecasters say, or I think Paul Graham from Y Combinator says, envision the future and then build what’s missing. And so this is you can look the future state, what is the ideal world? What would delight customers, if we could build that and figure out the systems to get there and just day to day, week to week, just run experiments, to test reality to see if you can make progress toward that future. And it’s all about this running experiments. Because if it’s true that most of us can never predict the future, I think there have been studies showing that even the world’s best experts only have a 20% success rate. That means it’s better to run experiments with this open mind that you have a hypothesis, run the experiment, you could be wrong, if you’re wrong, adjust your hypothesis and adjust the experiments
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 29:09
In some cases, like you have a marketing website and you’re changing the headline, you’re attending the image, you’re trying to drive up conversion rate, you know, some of this stuff is pretty obvious. And I think a lot of people do that. But I wanted to kind of just mention that it’s you can apply this to so many things like this applies to everything you can talk about, you know, from a leadership perspective, like the best managers and leaders that you know I’ve ever come across with are doing what you’re saying, but they’re doing it for from, you know, just like their day to day management. They’re practicing things like giving feedback and getting good at that. They’re using coaches to mirror themselves so that they can see how they’re doing. So this applies to pretty much everything one of the other you know, Great management thinkers. I think Jim Jim Collins right talks about The Fox and the hedgehog a lot. I’ve always attributed it to him, but it doesn’t come from him. Right? That’s right.
Paul Lem 30:13
It comes from a scientist called Philip Tetlock political scientist. And he was the run one who ran those groundbreaking multi-year studies where he recruited experts from around the world, had them makeis talking quantitative forecasts, and then looked at what was their success rate?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 30:28
It’s really interesting, because I always think about Jim Collins, and he always advocates the Hedgehog, right? Because the fox knows many things and the hedgehog knows one big thing. And you always think of the Hedgehog in business as the one that wins. But when it comes to predicting that that’s not true, right,
Paul Lem 30:46
Right, exactly. It’s funny you bring up Jim Collins, so most of us know his books like good to create. It’s part of the canon that most entrepreneurs read. I, I find the funny thing is, there’s a Stanford business professor named Jeffrey Pfeffer. So he wrote two books, one is called hard facts. The other one is called Leadership BS. And in it, he shows that Jim Collins, his analysis, was just cherry-picking and survivorship bias if you actually like look at the companies that Jim Collins profiled, that he said, For embodying all the behaviors that weren’t predictive of their future performance. A lot of the community profiles turned out to be duds. And so this is where it’s back to that you need evidence. And you also need experiments, I think earlier in our conversation talked about how every leader is different, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. So even though you come when you read evidence that such and such man-managed practice might work for you, it may not work for you specifically in your specific situation. So this is where after the three-body problem, you got to run the experiments in your own life, your specific situation and see did that new thing I did that worked and did not work and then adjust.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 31:56
Yeah, so the three primary problems are so interesting. And complex systems are so interesting because every so many things are complex systems, human behavior is complex systems, your team is a complex system, as this team. I mean, we see it in sports all the time. Right? Right, bringing a new player, it’s not like, it’s a very obvious thing that the new player how they’re going to impact the team. Like, there’s just actually a lot of variables and, and so managers see this all the time, you have different people on the team, you have to understand how each works. And you have to manage each differently. There’s a lot of thought that needs to go into all of this. But yeah, it’s super fascinating. Like when you paint a picture in that way, what else is a complex system that, as we all interact with, but maybe we don’t think of it in that way.
Paul Lem 32:48
To your point Aydin, I think almost everything we interact with as human beings is a complex system, as defined as there are more than three variables. So for example, our personal lives might interact with our siblings other than our kids, there’s a complex system, where at work, we have multiple team members, but we also interact with our customers, our suppliers, and our competitors. And so it’s everywhere you look, it’s the exception that you’re not doing with a complex system.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 33:15
You know, when do you put it that way, t’s like, well, how do you how do we manage all the chaos, but we talked about that, right? Systems and running experiments, systems and running experiments, having healthy habits over a long period, will yield good, good results? So speaking of like, you know, habits over a long period, or like having a longer view? What are your thoughts on your career in general? What is your advice, I guess, for new people, for people graduating school, say, coming out of university today and asking you for advice? What would you tell them?
Paul Lem 33:57
I like Scott Adams’s approach this career advice, where he asked you first of all, what is it you want? Like what is your goal, and if your goal is just He says to lead an average normal life where you go to work, you make my you come back, play with your kids, you know, do your hobbies, he recommends doing something like you know, work for the government just work at an average job, and you’ll be fine. But if you’re one of those few people who want some sort of exceptional career, you want to do something out of the ordinary, then his advice is you need to become exceptional. And the way to do that, he says, there’s this concept of a talent stack. So very few people can become LeBron James, like one of the world’s best NBA players like there’s only a few 100 spots on NBA rosters in the entire world, extremely difficult. But what most people can do is accumulate 345 skills in the top 20% of all people in the world. Combine those and find your niche. So Scott Adams uses himself as an example, he was able to create this cartoon called Dilbert. That ended up generating a net worth for him of like $80 million. Because he combined skills that were good enough. Like he’s a good enough cartoonist, he’s not the best. He’s good enough at humor, but not the best, he’s gonna have a business but not the best. He combined all those things, and was able to write this cartoon strip, and then sell and market it, and then occupy this unique niche in the capitalist ecosystem.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 35:21
And this is interesting, because like, everybody is different. Everybody does have, you know, different interests. And so but I think like, society tells us to kind of like be the same way or follow these defined paths, go get an MBA, and then go work at an investment bank, and then, you know, so but But it’s interesting, you could actually take some of these interests and turn them into an advantage. Mm-hmm.
Paul Lem 35:48
Yeah. Another thing I like about Scott Adams is he says, Okay, how can you determine which of these skills so you add your talent stack, and he says, one of the criteria, he’s found very helpful, and which I found very helpful since I’ve stopped is what energizes you. And so Aydin, I’ve known you a long time, I know that you are energized by talking with people, you are great at talking, you light up your whole body. Like, you’re shiny when you do that. And so that query should be part of your talents, lacquer, you naturally have a talent there, you gravitate towards it. And that will make you want to develop it over time. Because it’s not like eating, you know, yucky vegetables that you don’t want to do. It’d be hard for you to do that over time.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 36:26
Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s super interesting that you mentioned that, because one of them I think, you know, you and I are kind of a little bit different this way, I, you know, I read my fair share of content. But I mean, you know, in comparison to you, I would not say that I read very much. But what’s interesting is you’re right that I do enjoy talking to people. And it’s, I do get a lot of energy from it. And so this podcast is partially a way where I get to invite cool people on the show. And then ask them questions and walk away with learnings. I’ve said many a time that this podcast is a life hack, and everybody who learns that way should also have a podcast. I do think that makes sense. And what’s interesting about what energizes you I recently did, there’s many of these, but I recently did this personality assessment type test called strength scope. And what was interesting was like, in looking at some of, you know, the things that like, I got the highest score on, you know, one of them was the, you know, one of them was just, I think was like strategic mindedness. And so what’s interesting about that was, I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself a brilliant strategist or anything like that. But what was interesting was, it does energize me. And so thinking about it, learning about it, spending time in it, all those things are, I get excited even talking about it right now. And it’s very interesting. It’s the I could see how I could become good at it because it does also energize,
Paul Lem 38:03
Right, which is a great example of the system. So think about week after week, year after year, you’re so energized, talking about strategy and learning about it. It’s inevitable that over time, you’re going to become better at it. And then over time, you’re eventually going to become an expert at it.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 38:17
it. Yeah, you know, what else is interesting, Paul is, you can kind of see it in my background, for those of you who are watching this on YouTube, but I have a pool table in this studio here. And so what’s interesting is like when I first got the pool table, I thought, well, this is a system that’s going to set me up for success. Because you know, every time I get bored, I’m going to go back and I’m going to play some pool. And over a few years, I’m going to be a really good pools player, I have not become a pool player, a good pool player because it doesn’t energize me like I just, I would rather go out my phone during breaks or something like that. So the energizing concept is very important. Let’s talk about something maybe a little bit more personal to you, which is what would you say energizes you the most,
Paul Lem 39:06
The number one thing that energizes me is intellectual stimulation. So when I’m learning something like new cool, I just love it. Like I will travel far distances, but a lot of effort into either talking with like, really interesting new people breathing really interesting new books or having really interesting new experiences.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:23
So one of the things we wanted to chat with you about is this because I know that you’ve talked about when you transition from a founder to CEO, one of the things that you struggled with was interpersonal awareness. And I assume that that probably did not energize you all that much back then.
Paul Lem 39:45
You know, I’m a big introvert. I don’t enjoy, talking with people that much I just enjoy intellectual stimulation. And to your point, it was something I had to work on my interpersonal skills when I became a CEO.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:57
Yeah. And so how did you do that? Because this is like a very interesting thing, right? Like, once you become a CEO, or once you become a leader there are, you know, not like, actually, we had this really interesting chat with a mutual friend of ours JML, who was the former CTO at Shopify. And we have this whole talk about how introverts can be great leaders. I just one of the questions for you is that like, how did you as an introvert, make that transition into becoming a CEO and leading a large team?
Paul Lem 40:32
The short answer is I followed the same learning process we talked about earlier in the podcast, which is, what is the proven system that can get you 80% of the way there with a few months of work. And I learned that system from one of the CEOs I reported to his name was Larry D’Andrea. So he had been a management consultant at eBay for a lot of years. And he had he has excellent interpersonal skills. And what he taught me at a high level was people need to be heard, and you have to understand them. So that’s the high-level goal. But then, tactically, he also taught me a system for how do you show people that you’ve heard them, and in my book, I write about where he system, which is things like I do active listening, I stop, I hear what you say, I repeat it to see if I truly understood it by Aydin, did I understand that this is what you meant. And then after that, I talked about if I have any things I’m confused about, I say, help me understand what you meant helped me understand, and what would work for you. And then finally, the pieces. It’s not a good thing to disagree with people who like to say no, it’s much better to say, I think I’ve heard exactly, you said, it’s this way, now that I’ve had time to reflect on it, here are my concerns. My concerns are XYZ. Now if we can address those concerns, maybe we can move forward. But maybe we need to park this for now. Okay. So that way, you don’t need to say no, you can just kind of park things and show people that you’re always open to revisiting in the future. But right at this point, you have these concerns that will prevent you from going forward.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 42:07
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, Paul, I keep learning this lesson over and over again because there’s always a, you know, someone you know, will have a suggestion, and I’ll have the reasons why. Maybe we should not do that. But it’s interesting, a lot of times, I think what you’re saying is very smart. Because if you do the work, you know, we had this guest on the show who had this amazing phrase, which just stayed curious for a little bit longer. And if you did, sometimes you find out actually, the suggestion is something else. And now that you understand it, it is brilliant. Or like the more questioning you have sometimes the other party will figure out reasons why we should park this idea without you having to do you know very much in that in that circumstance. I think this is interesting. Because like, there’s a high-level goal, like you said, which is people want to be understood heard, everyone needs to feel important. There’s this, there’s this quote I took from Mary Kay, who had the cosmetics company, which is something along the lines of like, imagine everybody has a sign on their forehead that says make me feel important. And so yeah, but then there are the tactical things. And I love this active listening approach. That makes a lot of sense. I’m curious from a parenting perspective, it’s you like, how did how does that apply to parenting? Do all these things also apply there?
Paul Lem 43:31
So definitely applies to your point at one of these, I felt frustrated, when I first started doing this, it would seem like it would take forever like I would have to sit there and actually listen and deeply understand ask all sorts of questions to fully understand. And you can imagine whether it’s colleagues, or especially kids, that I could take a very long time. And all the time I was thinking, you know, I could be doing other things. Why am I spending time on this? But over time, what I observed is by putting in that initial effort, I was saving huge amounts of time down the road because I could get to the heart of whatever the concern or conflict was address it there, and then not have to deal with it over and over again in the future. So it’s kind of a short term, short term, it takes way more effort, but long term, you’re saving a lot of effort.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 44:17
Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And a good, good way to put it. Paul, we’ve talked about a lot of different skills tactics. There’s so much more that you talked about in the book, you remain one of my most wise friends and so one of the questions that we like to ask all of our guests and to as a final question is for all the managers and leaders out there constantly looking to get better at their craft. Check out the book, Master Life Faster dot com, available for free there, but in addition to that, are there any final tips bricks are parting words of wisdom that you would leave them with?
Paul Lem 45:03
In terms of a tip. One of the quotes I think about a lot, probably at least every week is the Son Zeus quote, which is strategy, a strategy without tactics is the so with solace, route to victory tactics without strategies, the noise before defeat. So it just reminds me you need both strategy and tactics together to be successful. And then in terms of very practical things that your listeners can do. My eyes were opened to the practice of management and leadership. When I read Jeffrey suffers two books, leadership, Bs, and hard facts because he goes into the evidence behind a lot of the cliches and myths we hear about leadership and management. And if I think you read those two books, you will become much more skeptical, questioning, open-minded and open to doing experiments.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 45:57
I have not read either, so they will go in the show notes and on my list of books to read, Paul, thank you so much for doing this.
Paul Lem 46:05
My pleasure. And thanks for having me on your show!