#159: Learning from History (AKA You Aren't Special)
Speaker 1: And we're back, Seeking Wisdom is back. So I'm here with the young Jedi, Adam Schoenfeld, and we are going to talk about some interesting topic today. If you don't remember Seeking Wisdom is the universe's only certified six star podcast. And I can't wait to get into something today. How are you doing Adam? What are we talking?
Adam Schoenfeld: Doing well, we're doing a mini series here, I think people have started to pick up on these 20 ish lessons that you wish you knew when you were younger. And this one's about prioritizing learning from history, AKA you aren't special. Tell me about that one.
Speaker 1: Oh man, this is a good one because this is the one I think that's had the most impact on me. And it is the reason that I agreed to and started Seeking Wisdom was because of this. And it's also the reason that's fueled my obsession with books. So this is the most meta and most important lesson that we can talking about that took me the longest to learn and I'm still learning it. So it's good to do a podcast on it. So the idea behind this is, and it took me a long time to learn this, that we as humans believe that we are special. And we are taught from a very young age, probably your mom and dad and your grandparents and everyone around you taught you that you were special and that you could do anything you want. You can achieve anything you want in life. That's not true, but that's a whole nother episode, but the intent was good. And this idea of being special and being this idea of times changing technology accelerating, and it being very different from the time that your parents grew up and your great grandparents and your great, great, great, great grandparents gives everyone this false idea that they have to learn everything on their own, because they believe that they're operating in an entirely different context. And if you believe that, then you assume that any of the lessons that your parents learned and your great- grandparents learned aren't applicable anymore. And so I believe this for most of my life. And it took me a long time to really learn that we aren't special, that I'm not special. That most of the lessons that you have to learn in life, that your grandparents probably learned, your parents learn, everyone learns the same lessons throughout history. But the unfortunate thing is that we repeat history because we do not learn from those that came from for us.
Adam Schoenfeld: I love this. As you know, I try to learn a lot from my grandfather. What else can we do to get over that feeling of being special, other than listening to our elders? What else comes to mind to kind of break through that mindset and that barrier that a lot of us start with?
Speaker 1: What I try to do is create guardrails in my life. And I have to continue to do these because you don't... One of the mistakes that we all make and I make it every day is to forget. And to forget, to put the guard rails in and you start to believe that you already know this lesson, but believe me, this is the lesson that will repeat over and over and we'll make that mistake over and over again. So I try to put them in guardrails in my life to make sure that I am trying to learn from history. Things, as simple as I was talking to X who's... We call him X that's not his real name. His name is Xavier, and he's our VP of product marketing here at Drift. Recently, we were talking about creating presentations, creating decks. I was giving him feedback. And I was saying like," Wow, we've covered this almost with every person that comes in. And we always have to. And even people that are here for a long time, including myself, we forget each time we start a new presentation or start to create a talk or speaking track or storyline, we forget to go back and learn from the patterns that have worked before and patterns that we ourselves have written down here at Drift to make sure that we don't forget." And believe me every time that I started a new presentation, I forget to check that checklist or read through that. And so one of the guardrails that I've put in place and that we used to do when we worked in an office, which I was talking to him about doing with his team, was to put this book that we rely on and it can be anything, but it's one book that we always kind of glance at on our desk and to never start a presentation without first opening that book and make that almost a pattern, a habit and get it so that it becomes part of your, your routine and muscle memory that every time we are going to do this action, we are going to check here. It's almost like, the checklist in a plane, if you've read checklist manifesto and other systems like that, it's not only the idea of having a checklist, but it is the location of the checklist in the plane and the habit that you get into as you are about to take off as a pilot on that plane, where you referenced that checklist. That it becomes part of muscle memory, and not something that you select to do, or you remember to do. None of us would want to get on a plane if pilots didn't have that process that they go through. So that they've learned from all the problems in the past of their own failures, but the collective failures of other pilots, if they just said," I've flown 300 times. I know this already. I don't need any checklist. I've got this figured out." That would be the ego getting in the way. And that's what most of us do, we don't want to go back to checklists, we don't want to have that book on our desks, we don't want to force ourselves into that muscle memory pattern because we falsely believe that we already know this lesson and that we're better than having to rely on a checklist or a framework. So that's one very simple thing that I do. And I try to do that in lots of different ways and kind of put in these physical and mental and process- based guardrails to force me to revisit things that I have figured out that I don't want to repeat again. And that I know in my personality, I'm often going to skip over them.
Adam Schoenfeld: The book on the desk makes me think about putting on the gym clothes, if you want to work out. Like get up, put on the gym clothes, and then you're more likely to work out I can't remember who did those kinds of studies. Are there other things that you do in your environment to help remind you of these things?
Speaker 1: Yes. Lots of different things. One of the things I do is do what exactly what we're doing right now, which is I often talk about these things and I talk about them all the time. Not only with myself, but with other people. And I constantly am doing that because I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to anybody else. And I'm trying to force myself to remember and to get into my own mind, this idea of this pattern or this habit that I need to adopt. So I'm constantly doing things. One of them is reading about these things, even though I've read them before. The other is talking about them to myself and with other people, the other is putting physical habits and guardrails to make sure that I don't skip over these things. And I think things like having the checklist that you go through first and then process are underrated the way, checklists are hard for me personally, because I need something kind of like, I need like a physical barrier. And I don't remember to go in my file folder or go in my desktop and go find, or in Google docs or wherever I put this thing to go look there before I start the process. So I need something physical in my face. So that I don't make that mistake.
Adam Schoenfeld: The book on the desk, or put it in the gym clothes are the physical cues, it's like a shortcut or cheat code almost for the real checklist.
Speaker 1: Yeah. And some people are great with having a digital checklist somewhere or a set of documents that they reference all the time, just for me, I figured out that I will never go find those things, or I forget that I even wrote them. So I need them physically in my world.
Adam Schoenfeld: So you talked a little bit about these different types of cues or checklists and the importance of repetition. Can you talk a little bit more about how you make sure you actually pick up on those cues and signals that you're setting around for yourself?
Speaker 1: For me, like I said, I have to rely on the physical ones. So I put them in places that are part of wherever I'm going to execute, the thing that I'm trying to remember. And so, for example, the book on the desktop, it's there, I have to look at it. I try not to keep many books on my desktop. I have million books everywhere else, but I try to keep that clean. And I only leave books there that are reference points. That are part of this habit of creating a guardrail for myself. And so I physically have to look at them, they're right next to my laptop. And so each time that I go and start something and I sit down and I often don't sit down at a desktop, I'm usually on my phone doing calls and stuff like that is most of my day. But so when I sit down to physically do something in this case in presentation, I have no choice but to take a look at this.
Adam Schoenfeld: Can you talk about how you've built this into the culture at Drift, as a leader? We have this principle innovate don't invent, which I think it comes from this lesson. How have you really thought about bringing this to the culture that we have at Drift?
Speaker 1: We've tried in a number of ways, one of the mantras that we tried to enforce early on and try to continue to, and even recently I've been interviewing a lot for some senior positions and we talk about this idea of every idea, this mantra that we have, which is like that every idea that we have is wrong. And so that's something that we try to instill, I try to instill pretty early. And the idea is that basically to accept that every idea that we ever have is wrong and by definition. And it is wrong and it is either 1% wrong or a hundred percent wrong, it's somewhere within that spectrum. And our job is to try to figure out and iterate and try to learn and to go up a feedback loop so that we can figure out how wrong we are. And we can find the right solution. So the reason that this is important is because it's trying to reinforce that you can't sit around by yourself and believe that you're special, and that you're going to develop some idea or ideas that are perfect when they come out. And one of the things that it forces you to do beyond starting without going through the feedback loop is before you even start that what you do is try to rely on history. So we look at people who have done this before, who have maybe had similar ideas, who have executed in a similar space and may have executed on it successfully or unsuccessfully. And we try to learn from them beforehand as a hack, towards shortening the feedback loop. So that's one thing that actually happens as a side effect of this idea of that our ideas are always wrong, we have to go in the feedback loop. Before we go into the feedback loop, we try to force ourselves to learn from history. Another thing that we do at Drift is that we've started with this idea of that everyone within the company is a learning machine and we reinforced this through having internal talks from guests who come in having an internal book club, talking about books a lot, this kind of podcast kind of manifested from that idea. And what you're doing when you're doing that in reading books is that in books that have nothing to do with the domain that you're in is reinforcing again that you're not special, that you can learn from history and you start to see patterns of where things like the thing that you're trying to tackle have been tackled before. And I'd say that last thing, but there are many other things that we do is we talk a lot about decision- making psychology, how that affects our decisions. And again, that pushes us towards a place of the thing that we're trying to work on now might seem special in this context that we're in or knew. But if we think about it from the human standpoint, from the human decision making standpoint, it pushes us back again to learn from history because those patterns haven't changed or the technology might, and the implementation may have changed, but the way that we make decisions and what we need and what we're looking for, when we make a decision to do something as humans, hasn't changed, again, forces us back to learn from history.
Adam Schoenfeld: Can you say more about how you pick the other domains that you want to learn from? And then the questions you ask when you're doing that? I know your boy, Charlie Munger talks about the domain dependency problem a lot, and how we get stuck in our own domain in this crazy way. Can you say more about how you do that and how you think about which domains to look at and how you integrate those other domains?
Speaker 1: I'd say it's kind of an anti- pattern. For me it's I don't sit beforehand and think about, I want to learn X, Y, and Z and so I'm going to find other domains where they've learned something similar or gone through this issue. What I do is I find other domains that are interests me and points in history, characters in history. I'm really geeking out on Andrew Carnegie right now, which is a whole another podcast. Which is just an aside, but I'm really geeking and going deep on him. But I'll find figures that I find interesting. I'll find time periods that I'm interested in. I'll find just entirely new categories of ideas or topics that are interesting to me. And I will start reading those and spending time there more from an enjoyment standpoint. When I do that, and I go across those things, you'll observe that the same patterns appear throughout all different contexts and time and events. And then it's there that I start to do this thing that we talked about, this kind of like processing and synthesizing across. And then I can see, oh, wait a second I wasn't necessarily looking towards reading let's say Andrew Carnegie's biography to learn this, to solve this problem that we have now, but I'm picking up things here because he went through something very similar from a human dimension that might or might apply might help me in this thing that I'm thinking about here. So I hope that makes sense. It's really like, you're not screening in the beginning. You're learning from other people in other time periods in history. When you do that, you'll see the thing that we talked about, which is the way that we make decisions hasn't changed. And because of that, you can see some patterns in the past of choices and then side effects or effects that happen from it. And you can start to apply those to the things that you're struggling with today.
Adam Schoenfeld: I love that because it kind of takes the pressure off versus thinking like, I have this problem, I better go study these certain domains. You get to just start from curiosity of, oh, I'm interested in 17th century history, or I'm interested in architecture. I'm interested in how up comedians built their craft. And you could go study any dimension and then start to see forward how those apply into this situation you're in.
Speaker 1: Totally. As long as you're open- minded and you're looking for it. You're looking, you can see it. Again, I'm geeking out on Andrew Carnegie and one of his first quotes that I was reading in his book was that he said he was talking about the steam engine and basically investing in that area, which is near earlier that he was focusing. The thing he said that really stood out to me was that, that he knew not one thing about steam engines, but he chose to study the more complex and more relevant topic, which made all the difference in that is studying people. And that is how he succeeded in that industry. Not knowing one thing about steam engines.
Adam Schoenfeld: Love that. Love that one. All right. What else do you want to share about learning from history? Anything else that you want to leave the listeners with today?
Speaker 1: The most important thing for me is to get through to your thick skulls and mine, that we have to learn from history. That there is nothing that you're facing that someone else, probably lots of people have faced an entirely different time and context, learn from those people. Don't do what I did, which has learned through brute force and pain and have to learn everything firsthand, go out there and learn from them. Be better, be smarter because of that. Go out there you're not special. You're not a snowflake. Someone else has gone through this before, get it through your thick skull, you can do this. And while you're thinking about that, don't forget to leave a six star only rating for your boy, boys in this case with my boy, Adam here, and you do that by going to Apple Podcast, Spotify, wherever you're listening to this hit subscribe, if you're not subscribed already leave a six star rating. Leave a little note there about a book that you're reading or some way that you're learning from history and teach me something so that I can get smarter here. All right. Six stars only the universe has only six star podcast Seeking Wisdom, and we're back.
Adam Schoenfeld: We love the six star reviews. We read every one of them. Thank you everyone for leaving those for DC and hopefully Apple will get that bug fixed. I don't know what's going on.
Speaker 1: Yeah. Six stars only.( silence)