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Entrepreneurs: Stop Fetishizing Failure, Start Asking Absurd Questions
Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial trends go through births and deaths, revolutionizing business attitudes before turning stale. Tim Ferris explains two trends: one near its death, the other very much alive and kicking.
Tim Ferriss has been listed as one of Fast Company's “Most Innovative Business People," one of Forbes's “Names You Need to Know," and one of Fortune's “40 under 40." He is an early-stage technology investor/advisor (Uber, Facebook, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ others) and the author of three #1New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers: The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. The Observer and other media have called Tim “the Oprah of audio" due to the influence of The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, which has exceeded 90 million downloads and was selected for "Best of iTunes" in 2015. His latest book is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
Tim Ferriss: So in Silicon Valley there's the fail fast fail forward the fetishizing of failure and it's become very trendy. I think it's extremely misleading and misinterpreted and misapplied in many cases. So whether you ask say Peter Thiel who views failure as always being a tragedy, there is no exception, it is not some aesthetic imperative or learning imperative necessarily. Or you talk to say Mark Andreessen, for instance, who I interviewed for the Tim Ferriss Show but also for Tools of Titans and he says, when I was getting started, I'm paraphrasing here but when I was getting started we didn't have a fancy word for it we just called it a fuck up. We didn't call it a pivot. I think that it would be better to say iterate fast and iterate forward. So there's no problem with getting say feedback on a minimally viable product or an earlier version of a product. So Reid Hoffman, another person I've interviewed, founder/cofounder of LinkedIn and the Oracle of Silicon Valley as he's referred it to even by a lot of the elite investors, for instance, in Silicon Valley, believes that you should effectively if you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product that you ship you're too late.
And it's true I think in software development and different types of user interfaces and so on, but it's not always true for say a book or other types of creative endeavors. So it's a case of being very specific in what you mean by failure and also making sure that what you/re transplanting from one area to another, if you are doing that, actually applies in your industry, in your trade, in your craft. But I certainly feel like doing your homework, coming out and maybe the Silicon Valley ethos should start looking to the military more to say I think it's David Hackworth, I think I'm getting that right, who said if you find yourself in a fair fight you didn't prepare properly or something along those lines. I mean it is entirely plausible and possible to come out and just smash your competition from second one of round one. And I think even if you do end up failing and then correcting course that's a good aspiration to have, not to come out really shoddy and handicapped from the get go expecting to pivot 27 times.
Then if you look at my portfolio, for instance, I have about 70 companies I've invested in, I was a pre-seed advisor to Uber. And Uber's business model hasn't really changed. It's been the same for a very long time. If you look at Derek Sivers the founder of CD Baby, he came up with the business model in about five minutes of going to a used record store and asking them how they did it. And it remained the same effectively for ten years, 15 years until he sold it for whatever it was $24 million. So you don't have to fail, it's not a prerequisite for having a successful company or a successful life, you just have to learn. So I think learning and iterating are two words that are going to be more valuable than failure, but when failure does slap you in the face, when fortune serves you up a title wave of some type or quicksand, being able to adapt to that and not emotionally overreact I think is certainly important, but you shouldn't striving for failure.
If you look across all of the icons, titans, world class performers that I've interviewed in the say wealthy section, if we're dividing them into healthy, wealthy and wise, when you look at the business side of things one of the most common patterns that you spot is absurd questions. And the power of the absurd question is really something that I've paid a lot of attention to in the last few years. Whether that's say Peter Thiel, so serial billionaire, certainly an incredible entrepreneur but also an incredible investor, good at betting on presidents it turns out as well. And he would ask questions such as why can't you accomplish your ten-year plan in the next six months? And if you talk to say Peter Diamandis, Chairman of the XPRIZE, he might ask the founders of companies he's looking at as potential investments, if you had to 10 X the economics of your startup in the next fill in the period of time, six months, three months, how would you do it? And if they say it can't be done, that's not something we can do, it's impossible, his response is I don't accept that answer. Try again. Those types of questions, I think whether it's 10 X thinking, 100 X, however you frame that, it could also be a constraint.
For instance, if you had to accomplish all of your work or grow your company two X while working two hours a week, if you had a gun against your head how would you attempt to do that? These type of absurd questions don't allow you to use your default frameworks for solutions. They don't allow you to use your base of current assumptions to come up with answers. It forces you to think laterally. It forces you to break some of the boundaries on the sphere of comfort that you've created for yourself. And that is what makes them I think in a way so powerful.
And these are not questions, by the way, I think are valuable if you ponder them for ten seconds and go hum, yeah maybe I would do this and then move on with your day. I think that journaling as an adjunct to asking these questions is very, very important. So I will sit down very often in the morning, one of my rituals also borrowed from a lot of these people is morning journaling of some type. And I tend to use either morning pages five minute journal or just a separate type of freehand sort of goal dissection and this would be a case where I would ask one of those questions and I would write freehand for say three pages, three to five pages and drink some tea as I'm doing it. And that is when you will not only come up with interesting ideas, and they might be 90 percent garbage, but if you have ten percent that lead you in an interesting direction that could completely revolutionize your business or your life if you take that seed and do something with it. And that's been the case for me for a very long time.
I actually created a list at one point after observing this pattern among these people I was interviewing and I just made a list of what are the most absurd things I could do right now related to my life and business? And I created this long list. And some of them were terrible. I mean literally I was at a conference I was bored and that's why I was doing this and some of them were very specific business related, one of them was cut off my own feet. Like what the hell? So I disregarded that one. I still have my feet. You can't see but they're intact. And at the same time though one of them was take a complete break from the startup investing, so retire from startup investing because that had become a source of stress due to the inbound, the deal flow. And that was a real game changer for me taking my indefinite startup vacation about two years ago, which has led to incredible growth in other areas including in my own businesses. So there you have it the power of absurd questions.
There are two start-up trends that are sweeping Silicon Valley and beyond: one, says Tim Ferriss, needs to be redefined, and the other needs to be more widely activated. The first has gained so much popularity it has become a motto: "fail fast, fail forward". Ferriss is concerned that we’re fetishizing failure as something harmless that only leads upwards, when in reality in some industries it can be quite deadly. The second is the practice of absurd questions. Billionaire investor Peter Thiel will look at a business plan and say to its creator: "Why can't you accomplish your ten-year plan in the next six months?" Asking seemingly crazy questions, and setting hypothetical limits (such as, "how would you hit your goal in the same time by working only 2 hours per week?"), forces divergent thinking and can prompt you to actually do what once seemed unthinkable. Tim Ferriss is the author of Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
Tim Ferriss' most recent book is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Times of crisis tend to increase self-centered acts.