#156: The Optimization Trap (and How to Avoid It)
#156: The Optimization Trap (and How to Avoid It)
Adam Schoenfeld: We're back.
DC: We are back. You are listening to the young prince Adam Schoenfeld from the great Northwest. If you don't know Adam, Adam and I work together at Drift. Adam was the CEO of Siftrock, a company that we merged with probably two years ago now. Probably maybe longer. Please, correct me. And he is someone that I love talking to because he pushes my thinking and always tries to... He is a great clarifier. I'm a great muddler and he's a great clarifier. So together we can create some good, cool stuff.
Adam Schoenfeld: I'm here to ask the questions. I try to get DC to put everything into a two- by- two, but he just won't do it.
DC: I won't do it, I won't to do it. I love that I could appreciate two- by- twos. So we're back. What are we talking about this week, Adam? crosstalk?
Adam Schoenfeld: Today, we're going to talk about one of your greatest strengths, DC, avoiding shiny new distractions.
DC: That's my super weakness. So I focus on it and try to make it a strength. So we were talking about the importance of avoiding shiny new objects, right? For me, I know that my life has been plagued with the constant desire to move, to always continue to move towards the shiny new object, the next new thing. To always want to work on the newest, the coolest or whatever kind of thing. And over time, what I've learned is I've done that. And so I did that for a long time and I saw the negative ramifications of it. And now I've learned to try to avoid it and to try to create habits, less habits, actually, more guard rails to try to prevent myself from falling in that trap.
Adam Schoenfeld: What is the trap? Can we talk more about that trap and how it shows up?
DC: Sure. So for a lot of us who like to think a lot, probably most of the... Probably every single listener to this podcast, we like to think about a lot. We like to dream. I'm a dreamer, I'm an optimist. I like to create things. And so constantly thinking of how do we make things better? How do we improve a process? For some of us who may be even thinking, how do you create a company? How do create a product? How do we create a thing? How do we optimize and make something better? And by focusing, always on that horizon of, how do I take this thing and make it better? We're always projecting ourselves into the very near future. A very close to future to where we are right now. And how do we make it better? It's like, the thing I'm doing today is not the best thing it's always like, but by next week it's going to be great, by next month or by tomorrow, it'll be great. And so we're always trying to optimize. And so we fall in these traps and it appears because you're constantly being distracted by your thoughts and your desire to not live in the present and focus on what you're doing now, but always towards the next step in terms of the optimization and progress of what you're doing.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. And is the opposite of this putting one foot in front of the other, getting a little bit better each day?
DC: Mm-hmm(affirmative), yeah.
Adam Schoenfeld: I know you've talked about there's no silver bullets, there's no shortcuts. I've heard you say that a lot.
Adam Schoenfeld: Is that the opposite mindset or what is the opposite mindset of a distracted person who is always looking at the shiny new thing?
DC: Yeah, I think I say there are no short cuts because I'd spent a long life trying to look for shortcuts. So that's where that comes from. And I think the opposite of this is great Mungerism, Charlie Munger teaching. He talks about this idea of look, if you just focus every day on trying to get a little bit better than you were today, a little bit, just incremental tiny progress, right? This is very different than being distracted and finding yourself in the future. But just focus today on how you got a little bit better from the day before in whatever you're doing, that if you live a long enough life over long horizon, you will make incredible progress. You were in progress that you couldn't think was possible at the time. And this teaching from Munger is what I've learned the hard way, being constantly distracted by shiny new objects. And I still have this syndrome. And what I've learned is by looking at others and looking at things that I've been able to sustain for a long time, that if I just focus on that tiny little progress today, not tomorrow, today, that I have seen the benefits of having huge rewards in the future. And we happen to... Adam and I work in an industry where this is built into the very model in the industry, which is the software is the subscription model. And that's one area that I saw this happen, where I would see companies a decade ago that were so small and what they were selling and building looked like such a tiny feature, but then as things compound overtime and they just got a little tiny bit better, not dramatically better, tiny a little bit better each day, that 10 years later, they're monster size companies now. And I could have never predicted that. It wasn't because of the distraction of a whole new dimension to what they were doing, a whole new level of complexity. It was just this incremental progress.
Adam Schoenfeld: How do we balance this one against the need to also tap into big external shifts and trends? Because we talk a lot about finding those undeniable shifts and making decisions based on what's happening in the external world. So how do you balance the tunnel vision of," I just need to put one foot in front of the other today," with," I need to see what's happening in the world and respond to that?"
DC: The two seem in some ways in conflict, they seem like they're opposing. The way I've approached it and the way I've tried to put it in practice is that the two can be in perfect harmony. And the two can be in perfect harmony because those external trends that you mentioned, those kind of shifts in the world that are happening happen over usually, except for the one that we're living in right now with the COVID pandemic, that's overnight. But most cases they happen over a very, very, very long horizon. And some would even argue that this very pandemic has happened over a very, very long horizon though many of us did not choose to listen or to acknowledge it, but they usually happen over a very long horizon. So these are not abrupt changes. We are still in the beginnings of the massive shift that's been powered because of the internet, we're just at the beginning. And that has been going on now... I've been working commercially in the internet for 20 years. So it's a very long horizon. But it's important to be on the right side of history of those massive shifts. And then once you know that you feel you have a good sense that you're on that path, to then pull back and now start focusing on that incremental progress, in that area. As long as you have discovered something that people care about, that people value, and then now you can continue to hone that thing over time. Totally different answer if you spotted the shift and you haven't created something yet that people love, you've got to solve that problem first before you can shift into this next phase.
Adam Schoenfeld: Of course, I would say something's a paradox and you'd say they're in perfect harmony, right? This is what you do. This is the next level. I say confidence and humility are a paradox and you tell me exactly how they're in harmony, which I love.
DC: Exactly. I think this is a Eastern teaching or actually all ancient teachings. If you look, all things at the end of the day are in harmony. They're opposing and battling inaudible. We know about ying and the yang, these opposing forces. But if you zero in... If you focus really deeply on any one part, ying or yang, you see how much conflict there is between the two. And if you pull out a horizon and you look at a ying and yang symbol, you see how they are in perfect harmony. And I think that is nature. That is where we live in. Even though at the time, depending on our horizon, we might not realize that things are really in perfect harmony and nature will always put it back in harmony.
Adam Schoenfeld: So what are some of the methods and habits that you bring to daily life to keep this top of mind so that the shiny new distractions don't become the distraction?
DC: Yeah. What I've had to do is... There are different types of things that I've tried to do from a habit standpoint, but habits is a whole another discussion and are super hard to adopt. So what I've done is surround myself with people, and Adam is one of them, who will be guardrails in my life in this case, professionally, from chasing all the shiny new objects that I have. Adam will always question and ask me questions that maybe I don't want to hear at that time, and I want to just wave away, but it'll cause me to think about those things. I have other people, Elias is one who I work with and there's other people in my life that will add this balance to me, that is not inherent to me. So I use them externally versus developing an internal habit to help.
Adam Schoenfeld: Totally. And this is a thing that kind of applies in personal life, in business, across everywhere, right?
Adam Schoenfeld: This isn't just a company building problem.
DC: That's true. It's not just a company building. It's in all dimensions. The thing that I know, that I feel, and I've learned over time is that all of these things that we talk about are not in any one domain, they're applied to every domain because they're human problems, they're not business problems.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. Right. How do you actually map these things across domains? This might be a bigger question, but crosstalk-
DC: That's an Adam question.
Adam Schoenfeld: I've fallen into that trap of, it might take me five years to realize some insight that I applied to business actually works in my family or vice versa. Have you found any ways to see that more quickly and clearly?
DC: For me it's been the external... Having the external guardrails, they're the ones who helped me see it. I can't see it. Although I look for it and maybe sometimes I'm a lot better today, I will say, than I was years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago. But I'm not perfect, and I need those external guardrails. I love the concept of guardrails so much because none of us are perfect. None of us can inaudible perfectly, we're all flawed. We're all going to stray one way or another. And so you have to construct these artificial guardrails in your life, and they can be people, or systems or customs, or what have you, or even habits that are going to help you stay in the lane.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah. It actually makes me think of a couple of our past episodes on reading mentors, all of those things could be an input, a guardrail, another check.
DC: Yes, mm- hmm( affirmative).
Adam Schoenfeld: So hopefully people are starting to see the patterns across domains in what you wish you knew when you were younger. What else do you want to share about avoiding shiny new distractions?
DC: I think that's it. I think the really focus on creating some guardrails in your life, even in some habits, if you're better than me, to help you avoid this, we're all going to fall into this trap. I think, look at history and look at the examples in whatever domain you're trying to get better at, or you're trying to improve and see the power of compounding, the power of how people are able to get better over a very long horizon, and really focus on that daily progress as Munger says, that progress today, just a little tiny bit, and just have faith that overtime that will compound and you'll have something super valuable in your hands.
Adam Schoenfeld: Love it. Thank you for sharing that. And we're wrapping up this episode so DC, I know there's something you want to tell everybody or ask them.
DC: Yes. The young Adam would like you to leave a six star only review. This is the Galaxy's only six star podcast. The inventor of the six star methodology. Leave a five star review in any podcast app you use. Leave the six star there for Adam in the comments, shout them out, inaudible it's something you have to behold.
Adam Schoenfeld: You just went to the six star methodology. I love that. We're taking this whole six star thing to the next level, inaudible a methodology.
DC: Yeah, inaudible.
Adam Schoenfeld: Thank you.
DC: You cannot have a podcast with Adam and not have inaudible.