Lessons in leadership from Jocko Willink: Extreme Ownership and beyond

"Don't count on motivation. Count on discipline," Jocko Willink says on an audience Q&A episode of Tim Ferriss' podcast.

Willink is a retired Navy Seal and co-author with retired Seal Leif Babin of Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. The two are partners in a corporate leadership consulting firm called Echelon Front (NOTE: auto-play audio, safe for work).

I first came to know of Willink on an interview-style podcast he did with Ferriss; Joe Rogan learned so much from that episode that he had Willink on his show soon after.

I know that lately with my non-fiction book reviews, I've been primarily listing the notes I took. But I took six pages of notes on this one. I'd be doing both you and Extreme Ownership a disservice if that's how I approached this.

What I'm going to do first is recommend the book. It's a quick read (I read it in three sittings, despite taking six pages of notes), it's really interesting and it's immensely practical.

In each chapter, Babin or Willink (they each wrote half the chapters) begins with a combat story. They set the stage, discuss the mission, how it was designed and executed, what went right and wrong, and discuss the principles at play. Then, in a short section, they more clearly define the principle. Finally, the chapter concludes with the principle at play in a business setting — using an example from a business their company has actually worked with.

The combat stories are interesting to me as someone who has never been in combat; I imagine they'd be interesting to someone who has served, as well. The principles are clearly defined. I've seen many of the business examples at play in companies I've worked for.

I tend to take bodies of work as a whole in my brain. These items were certainly in the book, but they also bleed into the podcasts and other writings. These are my four favorite takeaways (but again, read the book and listen for yourself). You can also scroll down to the bottom of this post for photos of my notes if you want more.

When the team understands the mission, they can better carry it out. This isn't a new idea, but it is something that leadership has long been resistant to. Jump to around 50 minutes in this Richard Feynman lecture — when the military conscripted a bunch of engineering students to punch holes in cards at Los Alamos, it was slow going. But when Feynman got clearance to tell them what they were doing and why, they went from solving three problems in nine months to solving nine problems in three months, inventing new processes and programs along the way.

Too often, the people doing the work are asked to just do the work, without any insight into the larger goal. In other words, they don't have a look at the big picture and are just checking off something on their to-do lists.

Be willing to tell your frontline workers why you want them to do something. At the very least, you give them a sense of purpose within the larger context of what you're trying to accomplish. You might get a lot more, though: you might get better ways to do things. You might get insight into other ways to accomplish your goals. You might get insight into other things you're also accomplishing without realizing it.

The more people you have invested in the goal, the more likely you are to be successful.

I think enough time has passed that I can talk a little about the time earlier this year when I thought I was going to be unemployed. I had received a month's notice that my department was to be eliminated. A little less than two weeks later, an asshole with a gun shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, and instead of waiting until 9 a.m. to post to our news sites, when I was scheduled to work, I delayed my run by half an hour to post it before 7 a.m. A few days later I got a call that the company had decided not to eliminate my department.

I'm sure that the one action I took did not save the department. I'm sure, however, that it helped. I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't understood our mission as a company and what my role in accomplishing that mission was. I don't post news to check "post news" off my to-do list, I do it because it helps us achieve our goals. If I didn't understand that, I might have just waited until it was time for me to clock in.

Departments within the same company need to find a way to work together without blaming each other for shortcomings. I've encountered this problem in every company I've ever worked for. Some of those companies have been hugely successful. Some have failed.

In every case, the problem has been communication. Specifically, a failure to communicate a reminder that different departments are not competing, trying to keep each other down. We are working toward the same goal. It seems sometimes like Department A is trying to sabotage Department B. In all likelihood, it really is that Department B has never told Department A what the problem is how Department A could better help Department B — and conversely, ask if there's a way for Department B to help solve the problem, with different communication or other practices.

Leadership works in two directions within the chain of command: Down and up. Leadership is a personality trait more often than it is a function of title. If you have a leader among the rank-and-file, you'll want to make sure you listen, even if you're a great leader. A higher rank is not always an indicator of the best idea for every situation.

In about 4 of every 5 shifts I work, I have rank. I'm good at a lot of things. Sadly, delegation is not one of them, but I'm working on that. One of the things I have definitely gotten better at, though, is recognizing strengths in others and either leaning on them for the things they're strong at, or asking them to teach me those things.

If you want to change the way things are done, pick your battles and earn the right to be heard. This is hugely important in every organization, not just companies. Every organization has its faults, and many of them are operational. "That's the way we've always done it" is a common answer for why things are done the way they are. That doesn't mean it's a good answer.

When you see something that could be done better, it makes sense to speak up. But first, you must show you understand the mission: why you're doing the thing you're doing and why it's been done that way for so long. You must be a voracious worker — someone who has earned the trust of those who have the power to change things before you'll really be heard up the chain of command.

And if you make noise on one thing, you might not get heard on something else, so pick your battles. You don't want to be seen as a complainer, someone who just hates all the processes. At some point, you'll just be the boy who cried wolf.

***

Willink also has his own podcast. I personally don't enjoy it: his delivery is very dry even if the information is interesting; it's not for me. I know other people who enjoy it.

Photos of my notes: Pages 1-2 | Pages 3-4 | Pages 5-6

Political disclaimer: Willink and Babin are both veterans. They served their country with honor. They support the missions given them. They also follow Department of Defense guidelines n the way they write about war, soldiers and the U.S. mission. You do not need to agree with them to get a lot of their work. You do, however, need to be willing to look past your own prejudices, whether you agree with them or not. Either way, I don't believe either of them is guilty of blind boosterism.

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Have your mind blown in just two hours: Walter O’Brien on Tim Ferriss’ podcast

You may have heard the name Walter O'Brien in your sitting-on-the-couch moments. It's the character played by Elyes Gabel in the CBS television drama "Scorpion."

Also, he's a real dude. "Scorpion" is his nickname, and also the name of his company. It's a company that does a bunch of stuff, including inventing a lot of the systems you see on the show — notably a device that feeds oxygen to the blood so that you don't have to breathe, giving you, say, 20 minutes or so underwater, as long as you remember not to try to bring air into your lungs, thereby swallowing water.

Scorpion was his hacker name back in the '80s, when, as a child in Ireland, with a 400-baud modem before most of us had heard of the Internet, he downloaded mechanical drawings of the space shuttle. The U.S. one. From NASA. From their "secure" servers.

Imagine his parents' surprise when he produced an extradition waiver from his book bag, since he figured law enforcement would be knocking on his door.

He turned 41 yesterday; it's not like he's been at this stuff for all that long.

In case you're wondering, and I imagine by now you are, his IQ was measured at 197.

He recently talked to Tim Ferriss. It was amazing. Let's talk about three pieces, specifically.

One is the possibility of head transplants.

O'Brien notes that the purpose of our bodies is really to keep our heads functioning, and more specifically, our brains. Our brains are essentially wired data networks. While we have memories that it's easy to think about as data, like computer files, they also have a bunch of software in them, if you will. The brain keeps the heart beating, the lungs functioning, and moves our limbs, without conscious thought.

It stands to reason, then, that all that data could be backed up, the way a hard drive is backed up. O'Brien thinks we'll be able to get a brain's worth of data on a chip in about 10 to 12 years.

Pair that with some of the work that some transhuman groups are carrying out (for example listen to Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation talk to Joe Rogan about the future of life extension), and we could keep our brains going, perhaps, forever.

How? Clone yourself with stem cells, change the programming on the telomeres so that you get to about 20 years old in, say, four years before you slow the aging process back down, then simply do a data transfer from brain to chip to brain.

O'Brien tells Ferriss we should be able to transplant (such as it is) a brain with 80 to 85 percent reliability in the next 15 years or so. Ferriss' question described "success" as being able to make the new body walk and write with the dominant hand. It sounds, though, like O'Brien thinks those successful transplants might do better than that.

The second piece I want to mention is something that O'Brien talks about when explaining another of his businesses, ConciergeUP. The tagline for that business is "Any funded need." Basically, if you want something done, it's not against O'Brien's ethical code and you're willing to pay for it, you can hire ConciergeUP.

He tells the story of a billionaire dad whose wealthy son was the target of a gold-digging scheme. He wanted to stop the impending marriage without his son knowing he had anything to do with it.

It took a long time, but suffice to say it included enough actors that one point everyone in a full Starbucks except the perpetrator was working for ConciergeUP. You have to hear O'Brien tell it — it's the sort of thing that makes you think Osama bin Laden really could be alive if someone wanted badly enough for him to disappear but keep breathing.

The third thing is O'Brien's discussion of IQ (intelligence quotient) vs. EQ (emotional quotient). He's of the opinion that there's only a certain amount available in total, so people with higher IQs often lack emotional connections (like empathy), and that having an IQ over, say, 120, might start to be an impediment to getting a job or finding a good relationship. If you've watched the show, you'll recognize the character Paige, played by Katharine McPhee, who helps explain normal emotional interaction to a bunch of out-of-touch, really smart people. He's actually had to hire people like that.

I hope I haven't said so much that you're not going to listen to it now. It's so amazing I had to share.

“Tonight I will be in my bed”: Chris Sacca on getting through today

Venture capitalist Chris Sacca took some time to answer listener questions on Tim Ferriss' podcast recently, and one thing really struck me.

A listener asked about an Ironman Sacca completed recently (for the not-so-inclined, that's a triathlon that includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mike bike race and wraps with a full marathon). How did he make it through? He kept repeating to himself, "Tonight I will be in my bed."

No matter how much pain he put himself through, at the end of the day, he'd find himself in his bed.

The pain doesn't have to be extreme athletic adventure. It really can be anything.

Bad traffic? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Beating yourself up over a lost client? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

Lost a loved one? Tonight, you will be in your bed.

You can get through anything. Just know that tonight, you will be in your bed.

Christmas family activity: Tim Ferriss talks to Jamie Foxx

Looking for something for everyone? Take a few hours, sit around the computer, and listen to Jamie Foxx on Tim Ferriss' podcast. Listen to it at normal speed, too, or large chunks will be lost on you.

Foxx talks about networking before social media, how to imitate Kermit the Frog and how to slide from Kermit to Sammy Davis Jr., and, most important in today's world, being adopted at seven months old by a grandmother who, as a religious black woman from south of the tracks in a rural Texas town, taught tolerance and how to cross lines. He also talks about fear and controlling your own narrative. There's so much in it.

Two examples stick with me from his grandmother, and I'm paraphrasing because it's been a while since I listened to it and I'm too lazy to actually look up the quotes.

(1) When a pastor, in the 1970s, preached "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," she stood up and said, "Hold on. Stop with that. God makes sissies, too." She ran a daycare, and forget the word that you might consider unenlightened, look at the sentiment: Homosexuals are also God's children. That's radical in some communities now. Imagine what it was 40 years ago.

(2) This is an extension of the first. Foxx described asking her, 10 years later, what she meant. She said you have to open the umbrella of religion all the way. If it's raining and you only open the umbrella a little bit, you only keep yourself dry. If you open it up all the way, you can keep more people dry. Same thing with religion. You can either accept a few people under the umbrella of your worldview, and you suffer from that. Or, you can open that umbrella up and let everybody come under the love.

I'm going to steal some notes from Ferriss' show highlights.

• What is automated dialogue replacement (ADR)? [08:13]
• How did Jamie break into music? [09:32]
• How did a then-unknown Jamie Foxx got into Puff Daddy’s parties? [09:57]
• Before social media, Jamie had a unique way of staying connected with people, which involved comedy shows, cue cards, and text messages [11:59]
• Why nobody leaves Jamie’s house without performing [16:56]
• How Jamie learned the nuances of performing on both sides of the tracks (literally and metaphorically) when he was a kid [23:59]
• Life lessons Jamie learned from his grandma [33:38]
• Jamie’s parenting style [41:27]
• What Ray Charles told Jamie was possible if he could play the blues [43:15]
• What’s on the other side of fear? [50:42]
• Why do some standup comedians lose the ability to make people laugh? [01:17:15]
• Jamie talks about how social media has taken away the power to control our own narratives [01:34:51]
• What would Jamie teach a class of 9th graders? [02:07:22]
• Advice Jamie would give to his younger self. [02:15:04]
• The time Jamie told Mike Tyson jokes but didn’t realize Mike was in the audience. [02:23:55]

There's so much more in there. Give it a listen.

The power of asking

A photo posted by Richard Betts (@yobetts) on

Tim Ferriss recently had a podcast with Richard Betts. Betts is a wine and whisk(e)y whiz (use the e when the country of origin has an e, like Ireland or America, but not when there is no e, like Scotland or Japan), who got his start in food as a breakfast cook, and then, for his next job, he went to a chef and said something to the effect of, I can't decide whether to ask you for a job or go to culinary school.

The chef responded, "If you ask me for a job now, I'll hand you some potatoes and say, 'start peeling.' Or, you can spend time and money on culinary school and come back and I'll hand you some potatoes."

Betts went on to become the ninth person to pass the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Masters Exam on the first try, and he has developed his own wine, tequila and mezcal brands.

All because he started by asking.

He even says during the podcast that he wish he'd been less shy about asking for things.

Good lesson. Go listen.

Rambling thoughts on innovation

"If I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet," comedian Joe Rogan asks, "how long before you could send me an email?"

What, like, 8,000 years?

We didn't go from spears and hatchets to email overnight. Maybe the hatchet people couldn't ever develop email. But maybe the email people wouldn't have figured out anything useful to do with the hatchet and would have died of exposure.

We're a cooperative species, and also one that grows on incremental improvements with occasional breakthroughs. When we figured out metal tips for our spears and arrows, we could suddenly do a lot more damage than we could ever do with wood- or stone-tipped spears and arrows. That was a breakthrough. for sure. But then our spears and arrows got incrementally better with the development of new metals and plastics, and our archery systems today would still be recognizable to someone 8,000 years ago, but the power would seem other-wordly.

Tim Ferriss and Peter Thiel discussed the future of products, and one thing Thiel (author of Zero to One and an entrepreneur himself) says is that he's not looking for products that are incrementally better, but those that are, say, 1,000 times better than what came before.

That's fine, but not everything can be a breakthrough. If it were, we'd be stuck with a rusty old infrastructure waiting on something brilliant to come along.

In Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, Buckminster Fuller outlines a major innovation that came as a series of incremental improvements: the water wheel. We took the basic concept of a lever, and then we put a bucket on it. Then we put a bunch of them together in a wheel-and-spoke pattern, and then we hooked some gears up to it, so that the bucket lever arms would turn the gears and do some other work.

It took a lot of incremental changes to make that major innovation happen, and if someone hadn't developed one of the incremental steps, we wouldn't have come to the major breakthrough that made powering machines with falling water a viable operation.

The lesson here, I suppose, is not to sit around and wait for breakthroughs. If you see some incremental improvements that need to take place, those are important, too, and can lead to the breakthroughs eventually.

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss: Books that will change your life, and how to use them

Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.

That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.

The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.

And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).

That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.

The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.

Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).

But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.

To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.

Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.

You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).

You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.

How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.

The return of the polymath: The best is yet to come (summer hiatus)

Last September, I set a rule for myself: that I would blog every Wednesday, allowing me to publish on a schedule and to reserve the blogging for good stuff that inspires me, rather than putting up something every day just to get something up. And I've stuck to it, but I'm taking the summer off for bigger things (things like getting married and selling a house and other projects that make blogging a distraction and burden instead of something useful).

Before I do that, I want to share one more thing in the learning from podcasts series (I'll of course not stop learning and not stop sharing; make sure you follow me on Twitter for that sharing).

This is something that's been very important to me the past year, and Tim Ferriss and Chase Jarvis discuss it on Ferriss's podcast.

This is not a new concept, of course. But it's becoming less and less for the visionary (think Buckminster Fuller's take on General Pirates in Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, and more for the everyday person. As in, you don't have to be the 1% (smartest or richest or whatever) to find a niche and do a little bit of everything in earning your place in the world (creating, revising, accounting, business plan, raising money, building, hiring, managing, etc.), and thriving while doing it.

Jarvis – a photographer, filmmaker and founder of CreativeLIVE – and Ferris, maybe best known for The 4-Hour Workweek but who also does a lot more, certainly fit those descriptions.

Take an hour and a half and learn from them. You can watch the full episode here, if you wish (I prefer to listen, since it allows me to do something else, too):