Anybody looks like a genius when they consistently put themselves in a good position, and anyone looks like an idiot when they consistently find themselves out of position.
In this episode
How do you know when you’ve made the right decision?
Shane Parrish shares what inspired him to start taking decision making more seriously and embark on the journey to improve how clearly he thinks. He also gives listeners the tools to make clear thinking simple, make better decisions, and improve their leadership skills.
Shane Parrish is the founder of Farnam Street, the world’s most-read blog on clear thinking. Shane’s podcast, The Knowledge Project, has been downloaded over 35 million times, and his newsletter has over 500,000 subscribers. Shane’s work has been featured in nearly every major global publication, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Financial Times.
In episode #170, Shane breaks down clear thinking into actionable steps, discusses how to think more independently, and shares what the 13 sources of advantage are and why managers should focus on talent curation when looking to expand their teams.
Tune in to hear all about Shane’s leadership journey and the lessons learned along the way!
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.
Inspiration to get better at decision-making
13 sources of advantage
How to think independently
Turn desired behavior into default behavior
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Read Shane’s first book The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts
- Read Clear Thinking by Shane Parrish
- Check out the Farnam Street Blog
- Listen to The Knowledge Project Podcast
- Subscribe to Shane’s “Brain Food” newsletter
- Read The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
- Check out Fellow’s Meeting Guidelines Feature
- Subscribe to the Supermanagers TLDR newsletter
Shane, welcome to the show.
Shane Parrish 04:17
Thanks for having me.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 04:19
Yeah, I’m super excited to do this. You know, you have a pretty big reputation in the podcast world in the world of decision making, and so many others. You’re the host of the knowledge project podcast, I think has been downloaded over 35 million times. Probably the number is higher. I don’t know how updated our stats are. You were a cybersecurity expert for governmental agency. The New York Times has called you a spy. We won’t necessarily ask you to comment on that. But definitely super interesting background. Very excited to have you on the show and as a fellow podcaster my sense is that this is going to be easier and I will just say very little and then you’ll just entertain And everyone for the whole episode.
Shane Parrish 05:03
I don’t know if that’s true, but I’m happy to be here. That’s a very generous introduction.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 05:07
Yeah. So very excited to do this show just for our audience. I just want to make sure for anybody who hasn’t heard of Farnam Street, maybe you can just tell us about, you know, what that is? And how you got into this role? How did you go from cybersecurity, and, you know, protecting, I guess, people’s data and living in that world to the world of where you are today?
Shane Parrish 05:31
Well, possibly protecting right. I started working for an intelligence agency, two weeks before September 11 2001. And at the time, you know, nobody was prepared for what transpired on September 11. And we got thrust into all these roles that we weren’t really ready for him responsible for but we had no choice. And we just sort of like, tried to do the best we could, given the circumstances. And we, you know, as fortunate enough to work with a whole bunch of incredibly talented people. And to shorten the story, I ended up making a lot of really important decisions at a really young age that impacted sort of my team, my country, other countries, troops in theater, people’s lives, and I wanted to get better at decision making. So I started this online journal, or scratchpad, if you will, which turned into Furnham. Street. And that’s sort of how it transpired. I didn’t expect anybody to read it. It was more like my reflections on what I was learning. And it’s really interesting, because if we don’t reflect on stuff, I don’t, I don’t know about you, but I don’t find I learn it very well. And so I’ve come up with this idea called the learning loop, which is sort of like how do we actually learn things and we learned from, if you think of it as a clock, and you envision that 12, you have an experience, at the three hand, you sort of have a reflection, at the sixth hand, you have a compression or abstraction. And at the nine hand, you have an action and these things all sort of like loop clockwise. So you have an experience, you sort of think about that experience, you just think about what you’re going to do next time, and then you take an action next time based on that you have a new experience, and sort of you can refine this over and over again. And if you think about learning that way, the key element to learning that most people skip is the reflection phase. So your experience can be like your direct experience, but it can be an indirect experience, this conversations and experience, we’re talking to each other, we’re learning from each other. I can get that from a book, I can get that from work, all of these experiences, but the reflection is how do I take this gigabytes of data effectively and compress it into what matters and get rid of all the stuff that doesn’t matter? And just sort of distill it in my mind so that it’s usable information for the next time. And so Furnham Street is my online journal of those reflections. It’s my distillations and sort of like my thought process and how I’m making sense of the world and how I’m learning how to make decisions in the real world. And then we have a newsletter that we send out every Sunday, I think we have like 600,000 people on it now. And that’s sort of like, here’s the, here’s the key things that I found this week that I find really exciting. And they’re just little nuggets of wisdom. And you can read it in like five minutes. And sometimes you think about them for a week. And sometimes they just go in, you know, in and out.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 08:13
Yeah. And that’s awesome. And that is a great newsletter, and we’ll include it in the show notes, too. But I know Farnham, what is the address? It’s just Fs.blog, right?
Shane Parrish 08:21
FS.blog. Yeah. Thanks to Matt Mullenweg. Who, who hooked us up with that domain.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 08:26
Yeah, great domain. And yeah, you can definitely subscribe to the and I think the newsletter is brain food, right? Yeah, that’s yeah, so definitely recommend everybody get on that. So let’s get very, very tactical for a second before. You know, we talked about a few more things. So this is your online learning journal. Yeah. And this is part of what has helped you become a great decision maker and teach other people about the process. tactically speaking, how do you decide what to write about?
Shane Parrish 08:55
I just follow my curiosity, right, like the Furnham Street was never intended to be for other people. It was like literally, my journal, and other people found it interesting. And the original website was 68131 Dash 14 forty.blogger.com. And don’t go to that website. Now. Somebody else like stole it, because I talk about it all the time. But basically, that was the zip code for Berkshire Hathaway dash, the unit number and cubed Plaza for Berkshire Hathaway. And it was that series of digits because nobody else would even type that in, nobody else would ever find that. And it was literally just my journal of reflection. And then eventually, a couple of people on Wall Street found it and I don’t know how they found it. And then it spread like wildfire. And then I was starting to get all these emails, which is like who’s writing this anonymous blog? Because at the time, I still work for an intelligence agency. I’m not allowed to have a Facebook page or LinkedIn or my name was like, not Google associated with me in any way, shape or form. But it was sort of like I’m learning about things that are helping me at work and I did that through, you know, studying people at work. I did it through Talking and all these conversations, I did it through an MBA and studying sort of like Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger and having conversations with people like that, and Daniel Kahneman and all these other people, and I’m like, How do I make sense of all of what I’ve learned here? And how do I reconcile that to get better outcomes in the real world? And why is it these two guys from like, Omaha, Nebraska seems so much better suited to making decisions than academics who studied it and teach it or taught it? And there is no class called decision making? Because it’s a whole bunch of different skills intertwined together?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 10:33
So is it that for example, you said following your intellectual curiosity? So you’ll say, I’m really curious about how, like you said, these people in Omaha, Nebraska, are doing these, these things. And so you start off a process to learn about that, and then write those things. And it’s almost like the progress of your learning, which is being captured in this blog.
Shane Parrish 10:54
100%. Yeah, and I’m only trying to learn things that don’t expire. So I’m not like, if you go back on the website and read some of the original articles, they’re still as relevant today, as they were, then I’m not really interested in sort of like transitory knowledge or knowledge that’s only useful for a month or two at a time. I’m a firm believer in the quality of your inputs sort of like determine ultimately the quality of your thoughts. And so higher quality inputs, or in the context of language that we’ve spoke about already higher quality experiences, lead to better reflections, which lead to better compressions, which lead to better actions. And so by improving the quality of information, I’m consuming, filtering out bad information, I guess, if you will, or misinformation I hate that word today, but like low quality sources of information, allows me to just really triangulate on things that make sense and will continue to make sense. And how do I put that into practice? Is the real question, how do we translate these things into real world action? And what can we learn from this? And can I teach that to other people and share it with other people?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 12:00
Yeah, awesome. And thank you for explaining that. So before we hit record, you were talking about something that you haven’t talked about on the podcast before, which immediately got me very interested and to learn more. But we, you know, obviously, the audience for this podcast is managers and leaders from all walks of life, all across the world. And you mentioned that you had this framework or this idea that you’ve created around the 13 sources of advantage. And I was wondering if you could describe to us what that is.
Shane Parrish 12:33
So I’ve been playing around with his idea. And if you listen to this, and you have another one, email me, Shane@Fs.blog, but look, here’s sort of the concept that I’ve been playing around with, there’s how do we gain leverage? How do we gain an advantage in the real world. So number one is talent, we can just be naturally more talented than other people. But there’s not a lot we can do. But that number two is effort, we can put in more effort, we can work harder than other people, three is differentiated sort of like worldview. And you know, we can consume the same information and see it differently. We can consume different information and have a different view into the world. For as process, we can just have a better process than everybody else. And then, you know, five would be something really appealing to everybody here, which is like talent collecting, I can just be the manager that everybody wants to work for. I can attract the best people, I can retain the best people I can get the most out of people. Six is patience, I have the ability to sort of like wait for the right moment to act seven ability to take pain, that pain can be financial pain in terms of ups and downs. But more often than not, it’s psychological pain, am I willing to look like an idiot? While I try something new? Am I willing to do something different? And can I withstand all the criticism that’s gonna come with that? A is sort of temperament? Am I driven by my emotions? This is something we talked about in the book with clear thinking, are my defaults in charge? Or am I in charge? Nine? Is my partner at home? Is that something that’s an anchor for me? Or is that something that’s really like taxing my life? The right partner will 10x 10x your life? As you know, right? Your wife’s amazing. 10 is energy. Right? What is my energy level? Do I bring energy to this 11 is curiosity. Am I just curious? And you know, energy and curiosity, Paul Graham pointed this out to me energy and curiosity go a long way to sort of like creating an advantage that’s hard to catch up to. And then you know, there’s luck, which I would say is 12. So 12 is luck. And there’s not much we can do about luck. And then 13 is what position Am I in? And that’s sort of like a, if you look at that list, in aggregate, you control most of those things. Not all of them but you control a lot of them. And the one that really ties into sort of the conversation around clear thinking and just Decision making is positioning. People don’t think about what position they’re in, at the moment they make a decision, or at the moment that they do something. And maybe a good example of this, it’s tangible. For all those managers out there who have kids, this will explain it. And then maybe we can talk about some other ways that it applies. But one of my kids came home, you know, last year, and he hands me this exam, and he got the lowest grade he’s ever gotten on this test. And you know how teenagers are, they’re just like, he’s like, I did the best I could. And he like, grunts by me goes into the other room. And I’m like, Well, now’s not the time to talk about this, because he’s not in a frame of mind. We’re going to make any headway. But I want to know, what does he mean when he says he did his best. And so later on that night, we, you know, after emotions have dampened down and we talk about it, and I’m like, Oh, you said you did your best. Like, I’m, I’m not upset with you at this point. But like, I want to know what doing your best means to you? And he’s like, Well, you know, I sat down at 10, o’clock, 10am. And I read the exam, and I read all the questions. And for that one hour, I focused the best I could. And I was like, Oh, that’s really interesting. A lot of people think about decision making that way. They think about I made the best decision I could, at the moment of decision, what they don’t think about is all the things before that moment that put you in a position to succeed. And so in the context of my son, I was like, Well, did you eat a healthy breakfast? He’s like, No, I was like, did you get into a fight with your brother before school? He’s like, yes. And it’s like, did you go to bed on time? He’s like, No, that’s why I didn’t need a healthy breakfast. I didn’t go to bed on time and woke up late. I was in a hurry. That’s why I got in a fight with my brother, this happens to all of us, right? And I was like, Did you study the two or three days, you know, four days before your exam? And he’s like, Well, sort of, but not really, you know, I sort of half assed it. And I was like, okay, so you didn’t do your best, right? Like you control all of those things. But I was like, you know, you did your best in a way before you even open the test. Because your best is about what position you’re in at the moment you take the test. So the position you’re in at the moment you make a decision is super important to the quality of that decision. If you’re in a good position, all of your options are good. If you’re in a bad position, all of your options are bad, you can’t even think if you’re in a bad position, often circumstances think for you. And that means you you’re not actually applying any judgment, any thought you’re not able to think independently. And if you look at a real world example, Buffett, who we sort of talked about earlier, it’s got $150 billion on his balance sheet right now at Berkshire Hathaway, the stock market goes up, he wins. If the stock market stays the same, he wins. If the stock market tanks he went, all of his options are good, anybody looks like a genius when they consistently put themselves in a good position. And anybody looks like an idiot when they consistently find themselves out of position. If you can master your circumstances, you can take advantage of it. And if your circumstances master you, you’re going to just perpetually find yourself going from bad to worse. And so if you think about positioning, and it’s a unique way to approach not only thinking but decision making, and you can think well what does that mean in life, right? And there’s simple things like sleep, you know, did I put myself in a position to succeed at work the next day by getting sleep? Did I eat a healthy breakfast? Did I work out my taking care of my body, and you can think about it in life in terms of relationships, I am besting in my relationship, you can pick the best partner in the world for you. And you know, you’re making a decision, I’m not going to marry this person. You think about this decision rationally. And when we know we’re making a decision, we tend to make really good decisions. But what we don’t think about are the everyday decisions. Are we going on date nights? are we investing in this? Are we cuddling are connecting? Are we staying in touch are we on the same page, life gets busy, we’re working hard kids need to be picked up. You know, there’s a lot of chaos in everyday life. And unless you make an effort to invest in that relationship, what happens is a good visual for this is imagine a patch of grass between you and your partner. And if you don’t invest in that relationship, that grass dries out, so any little spark, whether it’s like loading the dishwasher the wrong way, or you know, snoring in bed or whatever, it just sparks this whole Inferno. But if you invest in your relationship, then that grass gets watered every day. And what happens when a spark hits wet grass, nothing. It just goes out.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 19:25
Yeah, for what it’s worth. I’m an expert at putting things in the dishwasher in the most efficient way. Just completely jokey. Absolutely terrible at it. But yeah, this. Yeah, it’s very interesting to say and of course, we started talking about it in terms of your son and this particular exam, but like you said, it’s just applies to how people think about decisions. So, so it’s very interesting. It’s all about yourself positioning yourself to make a better decision. I did also want to ask you about the talent collecting part of it. As you can imagine lots of managers At the end of the day, the team that you construct is going to be a massive component of, you know how successful you are in your role. What have you learned about or observed about people who do that really well? Yeah. So
Shane Parrish 20:13
talent collecting came from, if I remember correctly, Dr. Gao, Valentin. And the idea is that if I don’t have to be an expert, if people want to work with me, I can attract the best talent. So what tends to let’s invert this a little, what tends to get in the way like micromanaging a people don’t want to work for somebody who’s micromanaging them. A people don’t want to work with rarely want to work with B people, but often they hate working with C people. So as a talent collector, it’s not just collecting the best people, it’s removing people who aren’t up to the standard. So the talent collector sets the bar, but then they hold the bar. If you look at like Bill, Bella, check, there’s a great example. I think I point this out in the book. But a great example of Bill Bella check. Darrell Rivas, who’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL at the time, all Pro, literally top of his game, he shows up three minutes late to practice one day, Bill, Bella check sends him home. He’s like you’re late, the same thing he would do with a practice squad player, a free agent, anybody else? But he treated his star player the exact same way. And what did he do? He let everybody know the standard. And a people want to work with people with high standards. They don’t want to work with inconsistent standards, and they want to know you care, they want to know you’re all in on them. Another way to conceptualize this that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about, but I definitely feel is if you treat your job as a transaction as a job, you’re not going to get the opportunities that somebody who treats it as a career is gonna get, I want to be invested in you. But I want to know you’re invested in me. So if I’m a manager, if I’m a boss, why would I give you an opportunity, if you’re working nine to five, I’m gonna give that to somebody who’s who’s like all in on what we’re doing and totally committed to what we’re doing. Because if I give that opportunity to them, I know they’re gonna knock it out of the park, I know that deserve that chance. And then the flip side is like when you have people who who are a job, and they see all these opportunities going to other people, but they’re working nine to five. And I don’t mean in terms of hours, I mean, the mentality that it’s a job, it’s a transaction, I go and I exchange eight hours, and you give me pay. So when you have that transactional mindset, you’re not going to get these opportunities. And then when you don’t get these opportunities, what happens is, you start to think, Oh, now you know, the little petty revenge things come in, in your head, which is like, Fine, I’m going to really treat this like a job or why don’t they recognize my potential and that little voice goes off in your head? Why don’t they recognize how good I am, and how much I can contribute. But the flipside is, you’re not doing that to begin with. And if you’re a talent collector, your job is to get the most out of people. Your job is to create an environment through physical environment, through mental environment, artificial environment, all of these different ways to unleash people’s potential.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 23:06
Yeah, I, you know, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s interesting two things came to mind as you were explaining that one is the book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle talks about this example of people playing piano. And it didn’t necessarily matter how much you practice, although, of course, that always matters. It was more, how long did you think you were going to be playing piano? Is this like, you know, through high school, maybe until university? Or no, I’m a pianist. And this is what I do. So again, going back to your Is this my career? Or is this just a job? That mentality does make a big difference. And it does also remind me of the classic principal versus agent problem. And it’s just like, if everyone had the mindset of being a principal, then a lot of things would change.
Shane Parrish 23:51
Yeah. Well, if I’m working on a team, and I’m all in, and I’m committed, and I’m thinking about this stuff in the shower, and I’m constantly trying to progress, and I’m working with somebody who’s nine to five, it doesn’t take long for me to resent that person, and then go look for a new job. Yeah, it’s very interesting. Yeah. And so when you think about it, it’s like talent collecting is also talent curating. So it’s not just finding the best people and creating the best environment. It’s getting rid of the people that shouldn’t be there that are going to slow everybody else down.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 24:23
Yeah, I think and that actually is the hardest part. It’s an interesting click, call it talent curating. That’s a very interesting framing on it in general, but we talk about this often, which is the culture will be also I mean, it’s important to set a high standard, the culture will also be the series of things that you are accepting of right the first time that someone shows up late. If you don’t do anything about it, then all of a sudden you’ve set the culture, maybe not intentionally, but then all of a sudden you see all sorts of other things go wrong, too.
Shane Parrish 24:55
You can’t treat people differently, right like and the standard you accept becomes the standard people work. Word.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 25:00
Yeah. Hey everyone, just a quick pause on today’s episode to tell you about a new feature that I am so excited about. We’ve been working on this one for quite a while, and excited to announce it to the world. We’re calling it meeting guidelines. So there’s all these things that people already know they should do when they organize a meeting. So for example, you should make sure that you shouldn’t invite too many people or if you’re booking a recurring meeting, you probably want to put an end date on that meeting. Or if you’re going to invite someone to a meeting, you should probably you know, if they have more than 20 hours of meetings that we maybe be a little bit more considerate, and ask Should I really invite that person to the meeting. So there’s a bunch of these sorts of things that you might even know about. But what happens somehow in larger organizations, is that people forget all of these things. And so that’s why we built this feature called meeting guidelines. It’s super easy to use, it’s a Google Chrome extension. So if you install it, what will happen is, it will integrate with your Google Calendar. And that way, whenever anyone within your company is about to book a meeting, these meeting guidelines will show up and make sure that people know and take a second look at that meeting that they’re about to book and make sure that it adheres to these guidelines. So if you want to book or within your company, have a no meeting day, or if you want to make sure that every meeting has an agenda in advance before it’s booked. So all the different sorts of guidelines that you may want. And they’re all obviously highly configurable, because every company is going to be slightly different. But this is the first time that there is a way that you can get an entire organization to change their meeting behavior. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a very long time, super proud to announce it to the world. It’s called meeting guidelines. If you’re interested in checking it out, we’d love for you to do that and give us feedback, you can get to it by going to fellow.app/guidelines. Again, that’s fellow.app/guidelines. Check it out. And let me know what you think. And so this is all very interesting. And I did want to also talk about the book. So everybody’s very excited about this book. It’s coming out October 3. And the book is called clear thinking. So maybe we can start with what motivated you to write the book? Or is this a culmination of a lot of the work that you’ve been doing so far.
Shane Parrish 27:31
So going back to sort of the blog being a way for me to reflect on the material that I’ve learned, this was a way to put things in, this was a way for me to reflect on 15 years of learning about decision making from other people, and learning about sort of how we gain an advantage in the real world. And I think that that was allowing me to sort of write, rewrite, edit, rewrite the book and make sense of it. But make sense of it in a different way. I didn’t want to do stuff that other people had already done before. I didn’t want to position the you know, if you look at most decision making books or thinking books, it’s, it’s always about being more rational. It’s always about what you do in the moment, when you’re making a decision. Here’s like how you calculate expected value. And here’s how you make a decision tree. And, you know, there’s none of that book. Because most people don’t do that in the real world, you might do that mentally. And you might sort of think two or three steps ahead. But I’ve never seen, you know, Charlie Munger pull out a spreadsheet and determine the expected value of a trade. But what I have seen him do is the sort of like, there’s three elements to clear thinking. And the first is positioning, am I in the right position. And there’s always something you can do to improve your position. And some of that stuff is sort of basic, right? Like we talked about sleep and working out. Another can be investing in relationship, low debt, saving money, like all the basic stuff that we get distracted out of, because it’s boring, but it’s basic, and never finding yourself out of position, and always striving for ways to improve your position. The second element to clear thinking is sort of managing your defaults and your defaults or like your emotion, your ego, the social defaults, and pressure and inertia being another one, which is like we tend to keep doing what we’ve always done. And is that serving me? Or is it getting in my way? And, you know, am I making those? We talked about this in with temperament, the sources of advantage, like am I driven by my emotion or my ego, and everybody is sort of like we have all of these things in us. And sometimes they’re more apparent, and sometimes they’re less apparent, but they’re all part of us, because we’re all biological creatures. And so like, you can’t eliminate these things, but you can manage them and you can manage them through artificial environments, which is something we talk about in the book in terms of like, how do we create safeguards around these things so we don’t put ourselves in positions where our egos driving the boss or emotions or driving the bus. And then the third element to sort of clear thinking is thinking into candidly, but you can’t think independently, unless you’re well positioned, unless you sort of manage your defaults. And it’s that thinking independently that allows you to outperform, because if you do what everybody else does, you’re gonna get the same results that everybody else gets, you want to be able to do something differently, you want to create advantageous divergence, where you diverge from the crowd, and positively because you can diverge negatively to, but that requires independent thinking. And that independent thinking comes back to one of the other things we talked about with advantages, which is the ability to take pain, can I look like an idiot? Will I try something different? Am I willing to look like a fool in the short term to be a genius in the long term?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 30:39
Yeah, I’ve heard the your success is directly proportional to the amount of discomfort that you can take comfortably. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense on this thinking independently, like this is very interesting. And as we talked about investment strategy, you know, very often you have to think something different. And you also have to be right, and you can get outsize outcomes that way. But I think another place where this applies is just in the world of managing, right, or, you know, running your business or making those kinds of decisions. A lot of times, I think, what I find in management and leadership is people default to trying to learn from other people’s experiences, or try and get advice from others. So, hey, I’m in this dilemma. And there’s, you know, I can, you know, basically take this course of action, I can remove this person from my team, or I can promote this other person, or I can switch this around. And the answers are not really obvious. And so sometimes, you know, people default to Well, let me ask so and so and let me ask so and so and like, and try and like, almost get the question answered for them. And I’m wondering, you know, if you want it to think, independently, how does that, you know, how would you go about doing that? And like, how do you mix that in with advice that you can get from others?
Shane Parrish 32:03
Okay, so a couple of things came to mind as you were talking about that one, let’s tie that back to the learning loop, right, which is, if I’m asking people for their compressions, which is like what to do in this particular situation, there’s an acknowledgment that I’m not learning. And if I put that into practice, that’s okay. Because we can’t learn about everything. But we have to acknowledge that, you know, we don’t know what we’re talking about, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re going to follow this advice blindly. And it may or may not work. It’s sort of like me following a recipe, right? Like, if a chef comes and makes the same recipe I do. If everything goes well, you probably can’t taste the difference. But if anything goes wrong whatsoever, the chef instantly knows though you’d like you hated this too hot, or you don’t have enough salt in here. Because they’ve done the work. They’ve done the reflections. And so the first thing that came to mind was like, the questions you want to ask people, if you want to learn are very different than the questions you ask people if you just want to get to the outcome. And those are two different things. So distinguishing between when I’m asking to learn and when I’m just trying to get an answer and acknowledging that in the case where I’m getting an answer, I may be wrong. Second thing is like, Yeah, we should copy people. But the problem is we copy people, and we assume that that’s where we stop. I mean, if you want to get up to speed on something quickly, copying best practices is a way to get to average. But by definition, best practices are average, which is kind of confusing, because we call them best practices. But if everybody does best practices, that’s average. And going back to something we said earlier, if you do what everybody else does, you’re going to get the same results that everybody else gets. So it’s almost like driving, you know, when we’re 16, we start driving, you know, by the I think I’ve read this thing a couple years ago, which is like by the age of 19, we stop improving our ability to drive, we basically like maxed out because we’ve gotten good enough. And then we turn it off. And the problem with the best practices is like, we get them, we adopt them, we get up to like a contributing speed really quickly. But then we’re like, okay, next thing, this is good. And there’s a psychological aspect to best practices, which if you’re my boss, it’s really hard for you to come to me and be like, hey, you need to keep pushing, you need to keep going. Because I can just be like I’m doing the best practices like What do you mean, this isn’t enough? And so you avoid that whole conversation together.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 34:19
So I really thought your point about there’s different ways where you can ask for advice. There’s asking advice or questions asking questions to learn versus asking to get the answer. Yeah, wondering if there’s a example or story or some way that we can like really drive this point home of like, what’s a way not to ask a question versus what’s a way to ask a question?
Shane Parrish 34:43
Yeah, so real world example. My mom was going for surgery and you know, she’s working with her GP and sort of like trying to get a surgeon so like, who you know, the GP is like, I recommend this person. My mom is like, Okay, that’s great. Like, who else would you recommend if I can’t get an appointment with them? what my mom could have asked if she wanted to learn is how would you go about picking a surgeon for this particular operation? Right? Very different question, you’re still going to get to the same outcome, because they’re still going to give you the answer in the end. But you’re learning how they think about it. And if you talk to multiple doctors about how they think about it, you can really triangulate information. Because if, let’s say you ask three doctors, and two of them say the same thing. Well, now I know that that’s a higher quality source of, of information and filtering than the person who said one, and it’s all probabilistic. So you can assume it’s higher quality, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is, but I don’t want to get into too many weeds here. So when you’re talking to people, and you’re trying to learn from them, what you’re trying to do, is going back to that learning loop, you’re trying to dive into their reflection, how did you reflect on the experience you had? And how can I use that information to learn from your reflections instead of learning from your compressions or your abstractions? When we learn people’s abstractions? We’re the person following the recipe. But man, I want to learn from you. I want to know why you think that what variables batter under what situations does this hold up? under what situations doesn’t it? And if we look at one of the biggest problems in organizations is knowledge transfer. Everybody, you know, we spend millions and millions, probably billions globally on this, we’re trying to transfer knowledge from more senior employees or more skilled employees to less senior and less skilled employees. And what we miss is often we’re like, here’s the procedure to follow. But really, we want to learn when to opt out of the procedure. And really what we want to learn is, how do you think about that? Why are we opting out in this particular moment? How do I apply judgment to this? Tell me how you think about this problem? What variables matter to you? Why are you doing it in this case, but we don’t do that with knowledge transfer. Knowledge Transfer, if you look at most large organizations is like, okay, the senior employee create a procedure that the junior employee can follow? Well, this isn’t McDonald, you have to apply judgment, right. And if you’re just following instructions, you might as well be getting minimum wage, you have to be able to opt out of those instructions, when it makes sense. And the organization has to tolerate some degree of that being wrong and have a quick means to catch it. But we have to allow people to apply judgment.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 37:16
Yeah, I think sometimes when you ask people for advice, they might say something like, Well, I had a similar situation, this is what happened, we hired this person. This is how it turned out. This was our course of action. And yeah, I would advise that you do that. Or someone might take that information, like do the same thing. But I like what you’re saying, which is you should be asking, How did you come to that decision? Like walk me through the opportunity, like what you considered before you arrived at that? Right?
Shane Parrish 37:48
What’s the same? What’s different? Like, how do you see this situation, but what you’re really doing is, is going back to your inputs, your experiences, you’re getting a higher quality signal as your input. And that is going to create a higher quality output, because now I’m getting more fidelity with that information. It’s high fidelity information. And I’m getting it in a really consistent way, you can do this in meetings, too. You know, I don’t know, maybe people listening don’t experience this. But I used to experience this, which is you go to these meetings, and everybody basically like shows up. And then there’s this moment of like posturing where everybody sort of like regurgitate the executive summary, but sort of like in their own words, and nobody’s adding new information to the table. And a way around that is to just change the signaling value have. I read this information to you? Here’s my unique view of this situation. So for example, a question that you could ask is, what do you see in this situation that nobody else in the room sees, and then you’ve changed the signaling value to a unique perspective, you might be wrong, but now at least we’re talking about something unique. And you’re removing blind spots in the process. Because if you think of all decision making problems, they come from blind spots. And so one of the ways to remove or eliminate blind spots is to take a different perspective on the problem. But if everybody’s coming in and regurgitating the same document that everybody else read, that’s not very helpful, you need to get new information out of that.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:16
Yeah, I like that as a better icebreaker to get into the room, which is, you know, what is a unique take on the information that you just consumed?
Shane Parrish 39:27
Yeah, like, What would other people be surprised that with your take like, and if it’s not unique, the signaling value becomes like, anti right? So you sort of like, oh, I can’t say something common, because everybody else will be like, Oh, I already thought that or that’s not unique or not valuable information. And so you’ve totally flipped around the signal value into how do I contribute to this prompt, which changes how you think about the problem, which changes how you prepare and position yourself for the meeting in advance. And so you can sort of like think about these things as interconnected.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 39:58
So one of the things that I also wanted to mention, and I suspect I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but I’ve pre ordered it ready to read as soon as it arrives, just the idea of mental models. So you did have another book, which I did read, which was the great mental models, which I highly recommend everybody check out, I wanted to maybe just ask you very quickly, you know, what is a mental model? And what is one of your favorites, or one that you go through, and use often?
Shane Parrish 40:26
Yeah, mental model is just sort of like a distillation, a compression T’s language earlier of how something works in the real world. So you have all of this information, gigabytes, and you distill that down into something smaller and usable and more manageable. And for me, there’s different types of mental models, the mental models we write about are sort of like, the big ideas for thinking and the big ideas that you would have learned in university that you can apply university, one on one classes that you can apply outside of those classes. And we sort of talked about one earlier, which is perspective, right, your frame of reference into a problem determines what you see. But it also determines your blind spot. If you think about grade nine physics class going back, I think everybody probably has the exact same example in every physics textbook around the world, which is like you’re holding a ball, you’re standing on a train, the train is moving 60 miles an hour, how fast is the ball moving? Well, relative to your point of view, you know, the ball is not moving at all, but relative to somebody watching the train go by, it’s moving 60 miles an hour, you and I were sitting down right now we’re not moving. But if we were standing on the sun, we’re moving at like 18,000 miles an hour or something. And so we have blind spots. And so how do we eliminate those blind spots? Well, we learned that in physics, and so how do we apply those models to the real world? Other examples of bottles are sort of like inversion, you know, which is looking at a problem backwards and avoiding the worst case outcomes like what does we talked about that earlier? Investing in your relationship? Well, what does a bad partner or spouse do? How do I avoid doing that? What does somebody who goes bust financially do? How do I avoid doing that? What are the things that can destroy me? How do I avoid those to the extent possible? And so we talk about that. And then there’s other types of models that I have, that I think of as mental models, that are really compressions of certain experiences, or concepts or thoughts that I’ve had. And one is sort of like, outcome over ego. And for me, that’s a mental model, because it’s just this check and balance into the situation, which is like, am I focused on being right and proving them right, which I call the wrong side of Right? Or am I focused on getting the best outcome. And for you and I and people who run businesses, it tends to be a little bit easier actually. Because we get the feedback financially and otherwise, for the outcomes, and it becomes a little easier to focus on the outcome over ego. But when I worked in an organization, I often found myself spending large amounts of energy trying to prove that my solution to this problem was right, because I was a knowledge worker. And if I wasn’t right, you have so much of your identity based wrapped up in this. And if I’m not right, what am I that means I’m wrong? Well, I’m not wrong. And so like, your energy knows no bounds when you’re trying to prove yourself, right. But you’re on the wrong side of right, because you can’t step back objectively look at it through a different frame of reference, and sort of determine, am I going to the right place with this? Or am I just focused on proving myself, right, and all the energy you spend, you know, sort of like proving yourself right, and getting rid of all this information that contradicts your thoughts comes at the cost of reaching the solution quicker?
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 43:40
You know, I think this is a Yeah, that’s a very good point. And I liked the the outcome versus ego thing, and that you’re absolutely right about when you’re within organizations, so much sometimes, energy is expounded, just working on getting people to understand that it was you like this was your idea, this was your version of doing this particular thing. And even on an organizational level, if we can move our organizations away from that line of thinking, we have this saying that fellow, which is nobody owns an idea, as soon as the idea is, is stated it belongs to the whole company. And I think just systematic things like that can help with that as well.
Shane Parrish 44:20
That’s a great way to do it. Because you’re all rowing in the same boat.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 44:24
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And we all build on top of each other’s ideas. And so Shane, this has been an awesome conversation. We’ve talked about so many different things started by talking about the 13 sources of advantage, and really enjoys your ideas around talent collecting and how talent collecting can also be like talent, curating, positioning, and going into that the ideas behind clear thinking including thinking independently, and we even had a chance to talk a little bit about mental models. So the final question that we like to ask everybody who comes on the show is for all All the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft. Are there any final tips, tricks or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?
Shane Parrish 45:08
Yeah, so one of the tips that I think I talked about that most people that resonates with most people, is to create automatic rules for success, to turn your desired behavior into your default behavior. And what I mean by that is, don’t do things in the situation pre decide a lot of things before you get in the situation. Because in this situation, your emotions, your ego, the social situation, all of these things affect you. But if you create rules for success, and I’ll give you a few examples here, then in this situation, you’re just going to follow the rule. And so we’ve been taught our whole life to follow rules. But we’ve never been taught how to use rules to our advantage. And so I came up with sort of, like I was struggling to work out, I was like, I don’t know, like, most people, I was like, Oh, I gotta go two to three days a week. That’s how I get all the benefits. But like, I would get up, I’d be like, Oh, I’m tired. I’m not gonna go today. I’ll do extra tomorrow, like negotiating with myself. And I’m like, convincing myself that I’m just in sort of like not working out today. And of course, tomorrow comes and I would never do extra, right? Like, it’s just not my, so I came up with this, like, I’m going to work out every day. That’s my rule. And I came up with this on a day where I’d already worked out. So it’s like, the best version of myself is creating a rule to turn my desired behavior into my default behavior. And then from then on, you don’t really argue with your roles. And so I workout every day, and I might reduce the duration or scope of that workout. And that workout might take different forms from maybe it’s a long walk and a walking meeting. And I can count that as a workout, because I’m exercising, and maybe it’s going to the gym for two hours. Or maybe it’s just going to the gym and doing squats. And that’s it. That’s all I can do today. But I work out every day. And then that enables consistency. I find that if you think about where you want to go and think about what rules are going to get you there, you avoid a lot of situations where you’re making you’re relying on willpower, because eventually everybody loses the battle with willpower. If we’re sitting down, and I’m trying to eat healthy, and you know, I’m trying to avoid dessert, and we’re celebrating a big win for fellow and you and I, you know, the cake comes out the booze come out, all of this stuff comes out. And I’m like, oh, you know, I don’t want dessert tonight. Well, you’re gonna be like, Oh, you can start that tomorrow, right? Like tonight or celebrate. And this is what happens in the real world with your friends. Everybody, social pressures you into it. And they don’t do it intentionally. They have your best interests at heart, right? But they want to feel a they want to feel validated by what they’re doing. But B they want you to partake in it. But if you sit there and say, hey, my rule is I don’t eat dessert. And you say that happy and positively? Well, it sort of ends the conversation because people don’t argue with rules. And I got this idea from Daniel Kahneman when we were talking at his apartment in New York, and he had to take a phone call. And he said, Well, you know, my rule is I don’t say yes, on the phone. I’m going to think about this and reply to you tomorrow. And I talked afterwards, we had like this 45 minute conversation on this. I was like, Wait, tell me more about this. Why a rule like, and I don’t think he’s taken the ideas as far as I have, in terms of like turning your desired behavior into your device. He just wanted to avoid because his tendency is to say, yes, he wants to please people, then he ends up doing all these things that he doesn’t want to do. So he’s like, My rule is never to say yes. On the spot. Yeah. And I’m like, That’s a brilliant rule.
Aydin Mirzaee (Fellow.app) 48:33
Yeah, that’s a great rule. And going back to the earlier part of your conversation, be careful. Don’t accept other people’s rules. It’s all about your desired state. Totally. So yeah. And, Shane, thank you so much for doing this. As we mentioned, everybody heard on the intro, the first what we’re going to choose 20 of the social media posts, you know, people who share this episode with their favorite learning with the hashtag Supermanagers. And we’re going to send them a copy of clear thinking. And so if you haven’t done that yet, now’s the time, get out your phones, and post your learnings hashtag Supermanagers. And we will send you a copy of clear thinking. Shane, thanks so much for doing this.
Shane Parrish 49:15
Thanks for having me.