Knowledge: An Edge within Everyone’s Grasp
A few thoughts on knowledge. Knowing or understanding how something works increases the chances of achieving a goal. A knowledge gap decreases the likelihood of achieving it. I recently listened to close friends share how they were caught off guard when their child was rejected for admission to a private school. They learned after the fact that an acceptance decision by some private schools is multifactorial—a child’s intelligence tests scores is just one factor. For better or worse, parents who understand the admissions process and act based on their knowledge increase their probability of success. This is just one recent example. Knowledge can have an outsize impact on outcomes in various aspects of life (e.g., entrepreneurship).
I like to think of it like this. Imagine you’re in a room trying to get out. Not knowing is the room being pitch black. You’re simultaneously trying to figure out (1) where you are in the room, (2) where the exit is, (3) where any obstacles are, and (4) how to move toward the exit. Knowing is the room having all its lights turned on and someone in it pointing to the exit door. All you have to do is move toward the exit. You can succeed either way, but in darkness it will take you longer.
The bad thing about knowledge is that it’s not universal. Some people have more knowledge than others about specific topics. They understand the edge it provides and the compounding impact it can have over time. They can accomplish more at a faster rate. Their knowledge is the result of the large amounts of time and energy they’ve put toward acquiring it—firsthand or by studying the knowledge of others before them. It’s their competitive advantage, and it’s unlikely they’ll readily share their competitive advantage until they’ve achieved their goals. Doing so prematurely could boost their competition and decrease the likelihood that they’ll achieve their goals. Regardless of how we feel about this, it’s a reality we should accept. It’s just how life works.
The good thing about knowledge is that it’s not static. Because augmenting our knowledge is within our control, we can increase our chances of achieving a particular goal. Adding to our store of knowledge isn’t easy; it requires time and energy. But the payoff from combining knowledge with execution can be enormous. Many who have achieved outsize success consider themselves lifelong learners. They’ve committed to learning throughout their life. The knowledge they gain is a significant contributor to their success, and they’re happy to put the time and energy into continuously acquiring more knowledge.
If you’re looking to achieve a goal, consider thinking about how big your knowledge gap is and what you can do to fill that gap and increase your chances of success.
Feedback Loops and Habits
With the new year approaching, many people are thinking about what they want to accomplish. A friend told me his weight loss goal for 2023 and asked for feedback. I think he was hoping I’d share my experiences with food or exercises. Instead, I had one piece of advice: start simple by weighing yourself daily. It takes five seconds and doesn’t require changing your life as you’ve known it.
Losing weight is hard for many people—especially when they make abrupt changes. Starting with a feedback loop, instead of big changes, can be a great first step. By measuring something every day that you want to improve, you’re more likely to change your behavior. And if you change your daily behavior, you’re more likely to form habits that contribute to achieving a goal. For example, if you weigh yourself every day, you’re more likely to rethink eating a piece of cake after dinner if you don’t like what you saw on the scale that morning. If you establish a habit of not eating desserts, that reduces your calorie count, which can get you closer to your weight loss goal. Of course, you need to do other things, including upping your physical activity—but you get the idea.
Feedback loops can be a simple but powerful way of taking the first step toward forming powerful habits that align with a goal. Next time you think about something you want to accomplish, ask yourself what feedback loop will send you down the right path.
Seeking Truthful Feedback
I had a chat with my family over the holiday about truthful feedback. I asked them to share with me any observations they have about me (positive, negative, or neutral). I let them know I wanted the truth and wanted to understand different perspectives to improve my decision-making. I value the feedback of those who’ve known me longest. I may not agree with it, but I still want to hear it. Ideally, I want to hear their raw thoughts, not a watered-down version that I have to interpret later.
The request was embraced, and I got some valuable info. One family member thanked me for giving them permission to provide feedback. They said they’ve had feedback for me in the past but didn’t feel it was their place to share without my asking for it. I always assumed those close to me know how I value candid feedback. I also assumed that knowing this meant they would readily share any feedback. Today that assumption was proven wrong.
As I’ve matured, I’ve become more intentional about seeking out people who will readily share candid feedback. What I missed is that people in my circle might have something to tell me but not be comfortable doing so absent an explicit request.
In 2023, I want to have the truthful-feedback conversation with more credible people in my circle. I suspect this will be a positive exercise that takes some relationships to the next level in the long term and unlocks some valuable observations in the short term and long term.
Running Down a Dream
I recently listened to a presentation Bill Gurley gave at his alma mater a few years ago. It was a great presentation from a highly successful investor. He shared his ideas about how some of the most successful people have thought about and executed their journeys. Here are a few takeaways:
- Passion – Pick something you’re passionate about. Your passion will push you further than others. That extra effort can be the difference.
- Preparation – There’s no shortcut to outsize success. It takes hard work and preparation. Those who achieve it prepare in a way that others may not understand and can view as borderline obsessive. Bill named a few wildly successful people we all know (Bob Dylan, Bob Knight) and gave examples of the intense preparation they all put in.
- Mentors – Find people who’ve had success in your field and ask them as many questions as possible. Take notes on what you hear; they’ll be invaluable later. Have mentors throughout your journey, and be sure to update them as you go along (good or bad).
- Peers – Find people doing something similar, not necessarily in the same field. Try to learn from them and help them learn from you. Cheer them on by celebrating their accomplishments.
- Humility – Give most of the credit for your success to everyone who helped you along the way. Pay it forward by helping others who come along behind you.
Bill shared a lot of other insights that I haven’t mentioned, too. Overall, this was a great presentation for anyone trying to understand what it takes to accomplish something great or trying to think about their career. If you’re interested, you can watch the presentation here and see the presentation slides here.
I had a conversation with a friend about sleep. She’s reading Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve heard good things about it over the years and have it on my to-read list. She shared some of the things she’s learned. The gist of it is that sleep is important to the body and mind (e.g., decision-making). The things we put in our body can affect the quality of our sleep, which has a ripple effect. Changing time zones frequently also isn’t ideal for the body’s circadian rhythms.
When I first started my company, I didn’t make sleep a priority. I pulled all-nighters, functioned on four or five hours of sleep a night, and traveled a lot. I usually felt bad mentally and physically but pushed through it. Over time, I realized that sleeping and taking care of my body are important because they boost my energy level and mental clarity. I embraced an exercise routine and targeted seven to eight hours of sleep. These changes helped me feel better mentally and physically, which no doubt benefited my company too. I now make sleep a priority and have even done research to learn more about the optimal sleep situation for my body.
Working a hundred hours a week and getting minimal sleep is glorified in the start-up world, but the reality is that that’s awful for you mentally and physically. Every so often, when you’re pushing to get something important completed, it makes sense . . . but week in, week out—no. It leads to founder burnout and can lead to a burnout culture where you churn through good people. Let me be clear: I’m not saying you shouldn’t work hard. Hard work is critical to founder success, but hard work doesn’t have to equate to not taking care of yourself. The human body isn’t meant to go without adequate sleep for long periods of time. If it does, that shows up in other ways. I don’t have data on this, but I suspect that people who live this kind of lifestyle for years have success professionally but pay for it with more health challenges than others their age.
People think founders are superhuman, but they aren’t. They’re human. They get only one body just like everyone else. They have to take care of themselves, and sleep is a big part of doing so.
Value Truthful Feedback—Even When It’s Painful
Feedback can be tricky for some people. Some people are anti-conflict, so they avoid providing feedback to someone who may not be receptive to it. Some people don’t want to hear or see things that don’t fit the narrative they believe. I think about feedback differently. I try to focus on seeking truth vs. supportive feedback. What’s the truth in a situation? Do customers hate or love this product? Am I doing a great or awful job? I want to know the truth so I can make the best decision about whatever situation I’m in. I try to offer truth (or what I believe to be true) to others so they can make the best decisions they’re able to make.
The unfortunate thing about truth is that it isn’t always appreciated in the moment. It can cause awkwardness or even tension. It can strain relationships and change how people perceive or interact with you. Said differently, being truthful won’t make you Mr. or Ms. Popular. But being truthful doesn’t give you an excuse to be a jerk. Truth can and should be delivered respectfully.
As I’ve studied people who’ve accomplished the impossible or achieved outsize success, I’ve found that they’re often truth seekers. They seek, and offer others, reality. This has led to periods of being perceived negatively or having strained relations with others for some of these folks. But I believe that soliciting and accepting truth from others improved their decision-making. People who were patting them on the back for a genius decision may not have realized that hearing a painful truth may have led to the genius decision.
I try to be truthful with others instead of giving feel-good feedback—especially the founders I support. It doesn’t always make them feel great, but I do it in a respectful way I hope they can appreciate. In the end, I hope the truth helps them make better decisions so they can reach their full potential.
What’s the Mamba Mentality?
I was going back and forth with a buddy this week about Kobe Bryant’s mentality and why it led to outsize success in a league where he competed with the best of the best. I came across a short clip of him describing the “mamba mentality” and why it works. Here are my takeaways from the clip:
- Kobe’s mamba mentality was about being the best version of himself through continual improvement.
- Kobe understood the power of focusing on the right habits to produce his desired outcome. He developed a habit of training every day, which increased his chances of being the best. (Atomic Habits is great for understanding the power of habits.)
- Kobe understood the effect of compounding effort. He trained more often—four times a day—by starting early in the morning. With this much training, his skills improved rapidly. So much so that after five years, he was so far ahead of his peers that there was nothing they could do to catch him. In a league of the most gifted individuals, he left everyone in the dust.
Kobe’s clip reminded me of a post I shared a few months back. Self-improvement is the key to sustained outsize success. The biggest limit on your success is your ability to improve yourself.
Kobe was smart enough to develop his mamba mentality early in his career, and he became a legend. I’m not as smart as he is, so it took me longer to fully understand this mindset. Because I now understand how important it is, I have daily habits focused on improving myself by acquiring knowledge. I’ve been sharing daily posts for over two years, and that’s a big part of my efforts. I also spend around two hours a day learning. I can’t predict or control the outcome of these efforts, but if I stick with these habits, I’m confident I’ll have outsize success over the next few decades. Maybe I’ll be as fortunate as Kobe and leave my peers in the dust too.
I’m no Kobe Bryant, but I subscribe to his mamba mentality (in my own nerdy way!).
Now You Know . . . Now What?
A friend asked for my thoughts on accessibility of information, knowledge gaps, etc. Early in my journey, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I focused on acquiring knowledge about areas where I wanted to be successful (e.g., start-ups). That was helpful, but I realized it wasn’t enough. I had to take it a step further. I needed to figure out how to apply that knowledge. How do I apply it to my situation? How do I use it to achieve my goals? How do I execute given this new information?
Knowing what to do was helpful, but figuring out how to do it was a game changer because execution is what really matters. Knowledge is without a doubt valuable, but applying it is how you progress toward goals. I wasn’t always sure how to execute based on the knowledge I gathered, but I was determined to figure it out.
I ended up settling on two approaches. The first was to talk to experienced people who’d done what I was trying to do and ask how they did it. Dive into the specifics with them and get a better understanding of what worked, what didn’t work, and why. The second was to test. Come up with a few small things that have a reasonable chance of working and try them. Test them until I hit on the one(s) that work. Double down on what worked and kill the rest.
I still seek to learn and fill my knowledge gaps, but I also think about how to apply my knowledge and move the needle forward
Greatness Requires Pain and Taking Responsibility
I listened to someone share his life story recently. It was full of the highest highs and the lowest lows. He had outsize success early in his life, but it all came crumbling down, and he never recovered. As I listened to him tell his story, a few things jumped out at me.
He never accepted responsibility for the part he played in his downfall. Lots of things weren’t within his control, but he made a series of decisions that made the situation worse that it had to be. He never acknowledged those decisions and the negative impact they had. His perspective was, I got dealt a bad hand, which is true. But he never acknowledged that he played his hand about as badly as anyone could. When you’ve been dealt a bad hand and things don’t look great, it’s still possible to win if you play your cards right. A bad hand isn’t one that’s guaranteed to lose.
Ray Dalio says pain + reflection = progress. When I think of progress, I think of growth. This person hasn’t grown. He’s still in the same position he was in (if not a worse one) when things went against him. I suspect this is because of his reflection process—or lack thereof. Part of reflecting is being self-aware and honest with yourself. You need to own up to the things you did that contributed to your situation (even if they’re minor).
This person is talented and had every opportunity in the world to be someone great, but he didn’t reach his full potential because didn’t accept responsibility. If you’re trying to do something great, understand that pain is an inevitable part of the journey. Accepting responsibility for your role in creating your pain is key to growing so you can reach your full potential.
I’ve been doing all kinds of entrepreneurial things since I was a kid. Some of them were crazy. As long as they weren’t too far out there or unsafe, my dad supported my pursuing my ideas, even though he wasn’t an entrepreneur. He did whatever he could and even got his hands dirty to help me get some of them off the ground. His encouragement was pivotal and led to my embracing entrepreneurship. I’m thankful and appreciative that he’s always been so supportive.
Happy Father’s Day, Pops! I appreciate the love and support. Couldn’t have done it without you.