Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg

Seth Rogen (@SethRogen) and Evan Goldberg (@EvanDGoldberg) joined Tim Ferriss to talk about their narrative arcs. If you listen closely though, you’ll hear more. Between the discussions of old TV shows (Freaks and Geeks, Kids in the Hall) and amid the haze (marijuana smoke), but well before the end (what books they give as gifts) – there is a success blueprint. Rogen and Goldberg’s Hollywood ascent is a proxy that anyone in any area can follow.

They outline six steps:

  1. Start small.
  2. Be you.
  3. Have a process.
  4. Persist.
  5. Double down when the opportunity arises.
  6. Define your own success.

1. Start small.

Goldberg and Rogen grew up in Vancouver, and met at the Jewish Community Center where they took karate class. This was not a typical karate class. “We beat the living shit out of each other,” they tell Ferriss. They stopped when someone fractured a hip.

Moving from one hobby to another, the pair started to pay more attention to movies, in part because they were all around. “You would see movie sets everywhere,” Rogen says about living in Vancouver, “we loved movies.”

They liked Clerks and Bottle Rocket, said Rogen, ” because they had this do it yourself feel.” They started to watch more movies, taking advantage of a local video rental store’s 7 movies for 7 days program.

Of the 7; 2 were good and 5 were bad. They watched and noticed the differences between good movies and bad ones. Goldberg and Rogen started small.

Sam Shank started Hotels Tonight with only a handful of properties. Rick Ross started selling crack on the street before he was a kingpin. Maria Popova began Brain Pickings with an email to seven people. Dick Yuengling carried kegs well before he was the CEO.

For Rogen and Goldberg, starting small had two advantages. First, they realized what they wanted was attainable. They saw Clerks and thought, hey, we can do that.  Stephen Dubner noted that small problems are good problems because they are easier to solve. If you try to solve something complex, other problems will be entangled. Rogen and Goldberg love the Fast and Furious movies, but as teenagers they couldn’t make them. Clerks though, that was possible.

Second, starting small forces focus on the fundamentals. There’s less speculation about what matters and why. When Rogen and Goldberg wrote Superbad, it was super bad. “Superbad was awful at first,” Rogen says. Of course it was, they wrote it when they were 13 years old.

Things will be bad as you get your sea legs.  Austin Kleon said, “there’s a big gap when you’re starting out between what you love and what you’re producing.” But it’s where everyone begins. Small projects like Superbad, have easier fixes in the same way a small house has less problems than larger one.

As you start small you’ll also be less tempted to be anyone but you.

2. Be you.

As Rogen and Goldberg built skills, they started to do more things. Rogen won an amateur comedy contest, but he knew this wasn’t his strength. “I was like a B+ standup comedian,” he says, “that was just something I was aware of.” Rogen noticed that other people were much better, so he drifted away from standup.

“What we’re best at,” said Rogen, “is writing,”

Brett Steenbarger helps traders figure this out. “Figure out who you are when you are at your best,” he advises. Tren Griffin said that Charlie Munger figured this out too. “One of the great contrasts in life,” says Giffin, “is between people who know a moat when they see it and people who know how build one out of nothing.” Builders are people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Finders are people like Charlie Munger.

Rich Roll had to figure out that he had “an addictive personality,” and his life would be a magnification of his choices – good or bad. Stanley McChrystal figured this out in regards to how and when he ate. Know thyself is valuable advice.

It’s also differentiating. You are your competitive advantage. Neil Gaiman says it like this:

“There are lots of artists in the world, but there’s only one you. And the only person who has your point of view, is you. If you decide not to make things, all you’ve done is deprive the world of all the stuff that only you could have brought to it.”

You are your competitve advantage, said Arthur Samberg.  What Peter Thiel writes about in Zero to One applies here too. You will fail if you try to be the second coming of Bill Gates, Tim Ferriss, or LeBron James. You can only be you.

When Goldberg and Rogen started out they understood this. They didn’t try to duplicate Kids in the Hall. They made something unique.

But uniqueness is not spontaneous. It comes from other things, and grows best if you have a good process.

3. Have a process.

Goldberg and Rogen have a very distinct way to get ideas – survival of the fittest. And the only ideas that survive are creative ones. 

Survival of the fittest.

“We have tons of ideas,” says Goldberg. A current Word file is ten pages. He and Rogen take a if it’s interesting, write it down approach. And the ideas aren’t divine. I was surprised at the simplicity of the list they shared with Ferriss; “husband who holds back wife, wife who enhances husband’s positive qualities, house warming party.” For two funny people, that seems remarkably normal. But in the same way you and a chef may use the same ingredients, the final dishes are quite different.  

As they write things down, Rogen says, “some ideas will stick in your head.” He continued, “Then it’s like a darwinist process, if an idea is around a year later it’s good.” (Tweet this)

Stephen King said much the same thing:

“I never write ideas down. Because all you do when you write ideas down is kind of immortalize something that should go away. If they’re bad ideas, they go away on their own. If you can’t remember it, it was a terrible idea.”

A.J. Jacobs has a similar process. His books like; Drop Dead Healthy, The Know-It-All, and The Year of Living Biblically all came from ideas he put on a master list that wouldn’t die.  

You don’t need to write things down to have darwinist ideas. The process Goldberg and Rogen are using for their newest project – Preacher – they learned from Sam Catlin. Goldberg says “we used to write down ideas, but he (Catlin) taught us not to write down ideas for a month and just shoot them around, lots of talking talking talking.”

The talking follows King’s perspective that ideas aren’t “immortalized.” Ideas can’t accumulate like keepsakes in your aunt’s attic. There needs to be an evolution and we’ll turn to Brett Steenbarger’s two steps for creativity. If you want to be creative, Steenbarger noted, you need to analyze and synthesize.

Analyze

“A lot of our movies are genre based,” Rogen says, “so something we do is watch tons of movies in that genre.” “Like when Craig Robinson went out on the rope,” Goldberg said, “that was based on Mist.”

From 7 for 7 at the local video rental store to “tons of movies,” Goldberg and Rogen have analyzed a lot. This stage transfers to anything. When people here say to read, this is what they mean.

Naval Ravikant said we should read widely. Chris Sacca says everyone successful he knows reads a lot. Jim Kwik said, “the intelligent person learns from their own experience but the wise person learns from the experience of other people.” Howard Marks said that the best way to avoid mistakes is to read widely. Tren Griffin explained how Charlie Munger does this (and Griffin too).

Figure out your domain, and analyze something.

Synthesize

This is where ideas are brought together. Goldberg and Rogen take their ten pages of ideas, and bring together something greater than the sum of the parts. Synthesize also goes by serendipity, and we need to be open to it. Maria Popova said that we shouldn’t confuse “search and research.” Search is looking for something specific, a movie showtime, Q2 earnings. Research is being open to other multiple answers, to serendipity. Sanjay Bakshi found that he stumbled upon more serendipitous things when he switched to e-books. The search feature, he told Shane Parrish, means that he can find ideas that hadn’t come to mind.

Wiggle and fiddle. Search and seek. Create a process and get comfortable because you may be doing it for a long time.

4. Persist.

By the time you notice someone, they have been working at their craft for a long time. It took ten years to get Superbad made. It took so long that Rogen grew out of the role he had written for himself. Pineapple Express was the same story, it was a movie no one wanted to buy.

But Goldberg and Rogen persisted, even through writer’s block. 

The blockage is all how you frame it. “Writer’s block is a term people give for bad weeks,” Goldberg says. “It’s when they lose inspiration,” Rogen adds. Anne Lamott writes that it’s not so much a block as a chasm, “the word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you’re empty.”

Writer’s block was less of a problem for Goldberg and Rogen because they had each other. “There’s moments where one of us has to pick up the weight,” Goldberg says. They may be partners, but the work isn’t always even. Having someone to work with helps a lot.

“A lot of companies,” says Peter Thiel, “aren’t solo efforts of a god-like person that does everything.” Jay Jay French persisted to find the right bandmates. Nicholas Megalis said, “find a group of people who are like minded, who can help you achieve certain goals. Everything is a team effort.”

But it will never be perfect.

“No matter what job you have,” says Goldberg, “it’s work and work in some ways sucks.” Austin Kleon said “every job is a job.”

Persisting is like warming up water on the stove. Little by little heat is added to the pot until it boils.

5. Double down when the opportunity arises.

“Once the floodgates were opened, we just shoved everything in there,” said Rogen.

Rogen and Goldberg worked on Knocked Up, Superbad, and Pineapple Express all in a single year. They worked 16 hour days. Goldberg drank all the coffee he could get his hands on, and then snuck off to the bathroom to take twenty minute naps.

This is how Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett invest. They prepare themselves for opportunities and then dive into them. 

There’s not much more to it than that. When the time is right, jump in and hold on tight. As the ride soars, make sure you succeed on your own scores.

6. Define your own success.

When Ferriss asks Goldberg who he thinks is successful, he says his cousin David is. “He just made up his mind in a simple and beautiful way.” Success is tricky.

Naval Ravikant said, “we all want to be successful people but we also want to be happy people and those run in diametrical opposite directions.” Tyler Cowen added that we don’t need to be happy per se, being driven, eating well, and having a stable home life is good too. T. Harv Eker thought that if he only had a successful business, then he would feel like a success. It wasn’t true, Eker still languished while his business flourished.

Success is up to you to define. The key is to define it clearly. In the same way that Nick Murray said you can’t chase financial plans and financial gains, your terms of success can’t be mutually exclusive. Goldberg noticed this too. “We’ll never be number one and if we are, we won’t be cool anymore.” The goal is to find things that go together.

That’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s entirely up to you. The good news is that there are low hanging fruit. Nearly everyone agrees on two things. 

  1. It’s not about the [money](https://thewaiterspad.com/big-ideas/its-not-about-the-money-honey/).
  2. It is about being healthy. Goldberg tells a story about smoking pot with Snoop Dogg and Snoop asks him if he goes for walks. “What?” Goldberg says “no, I don’t really go for walks.” Snoop is disappointed, “you should go for walks,” he says.

Goldberg was disappointed that Snoop was disappointed in him, so he started going for walks. And he loves them. Walking is great. So is Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals, which he writes about many creatives who walk. This passage is about Soren Kierkegaard:

“The Danish philosopher’s day was dominated by two pursuits: writing and walking. Typically, he wrote in the morning, set off on a long walk through Copenhagen at noon, and then returned to his writing for the rest of the day and into the evening. The walks were where he had his best ideas, and sometimes he would be in such a hurry to get them down that, returning home, he would write standing up before his desk, still wearing his hat and gripping his walking stick or umbrella.

When Ferriss asks for advice they would give to their younger selves Goldberg says “to lose weight.”


You and I won’t be the next Goldberg or Rogen, and that’s good. Even if you’re reading this and you want to be in Hollywood, you can’t be exactly like them. We can only follow a path that others have taken.

  1. Start small.
  2. Be you.
  3. Have a process.
  4. Persist.
  5. Double down with you get a good chance.
  6. Succeed on your own terms.

That’s what it takes to make it anywhere.

Thanks for reading, I’m @mikedariano.

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