What can you learn about business and life from a Navy Seal? A lot. Jocko Willink (@JockoWillink ) joined Tim Ferriss to talk about life, business, and war. I missed this episode when it first came out (September 2015), but that’s fine. Things that are good and true stay good and true. This podcast certainly was. Here are a 8 lessons for life from Jocko Willink.
1/ Experiment. Willink said before his SEAL teams used certain techniques they were tested other places first. What Willink reminded me of most though is that experimentation is messy. “It’s not a movie, so everything was not perfect.” If we knew what to do, we would just do it. We don’t though and we must experiment.
John Nagl found that British success against guerlilla fighers was thanks to experimentation. Louis C.K. exerimented his way through Horace and Pete. David Chang experiments with his restaurant menus, policies, and size.
Experimentation – from the monumental to inconsequential – is a good way to figure out what we should do
2/ Have two perspectives. Willink said that part of the reason he was a good soldier was because he could detach himself from a situation. He tried to train his soldiers so that “failure to detach and step up and away from the problem would result in failure.” A peer told him “ it’s so easy when you’re not in it.”
Willink simultaneously held the inside and outside view.
This can be difficult footing. Bob Seawright found it only when he questioned his predictions. Bethany McLean found it when she talked to short sellers and salesmen. Bill Simmons is both well connected and local homer. When the inside view of intuition meets the outside view of historical fact we often make better decisions.
3/ Be passionate. “If you are super passionate about it there’s a very good chance you’re going to be one of the top performers,” Willink said about the SEAL teams he worked with.
Passion is not ex nihilo. It’s more like fuel for a car. No matter how much gas you have, you need the engine first. Willink’s SEAL teams and teammates had a foundation thanks to their personality, life experiences, and boot camp and only then did passion propelled them to success.
Don’t be fooled by only the sirens of passion, those are empty promises.
Daymond John used passion to sell hats outside a mall. He wasn’t passionate about the specifics (standing outside in the cold). He was passionate about where that would get him.
Tren Griffin addressed it like this; “one trick related to passion is that you are not likely to be passionate about something you do not understand…the more you know about some topics, the more passionate you will get.” Ramit Sethi said the same thing.
Penn Jillette said to follow your anti-passions. Find something you hate so much you want to make it better. I’m guessing this is the angle that SEALS like Willink hold. They don’t like destroying things per se, but making the world a better place.
4/ The greatness of being average. Willink said that during BUD/S training he was never the best. That’s okay. Sometimes it’s better to be good at a few things rather than great at one. Ferriss said about Madonna, “it’s the collection of those tools that makes you world class.”
Charles Lindberg wasn’t the best pilot – but had a collection of tools (barnstorming, mindset, low overhead). Dave McClure started his VC fund because he had the engineering and marketing sides and “there weren’t that may people doing investing that had both disciplines.”
Scott Adams succeeded this way too. Adams wrote:
“I’m a perfect example of the power of leveraging multiple mediocre skills. I’m a rich and famous cartoonist who doesn’t draw well. At social gatherings I’m usually not the funniest person in the room. My writing skills are good, not great. But what I have that most artists and cartoonists do not have is years of corporate business experience plus an MBA from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.”
5/ Don’t confuse games for life. Willink said that there are three things that made him feel complete; jujitsu, combat, and marriage and kids. Each of those things were like a checkbox, and once Willink did it he felt he could handle anything in that domain. Ferriss asked about how a civilian might replicate combat.
You could do paintball, but, said Willink “there’s no real risk in paintball, there’s not the fear of death.” Simulations are good, but they can miss crucial parts.
In The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb termed this the Ludic Fallacy:
“the focus on those pure, well-defined, and easily discernible objects like triangles, or more social notions like friendship or love, at the cost of ignoring those objects of seemingly messier and less tractable structures.”
On one level paintballing is like combat. You have a gun. You shoot at people. People shoot at you. If you get hit, you’re out. War (and life) is more complex. You can’t simulate the same details nor can you account for the things you don’t know you can account for.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t train, only not to extrapolate training as more than it is.
6/ Write a book based on the questions people ask. Willink and Leif Babin wrote Extreme Ownership because people wanted a manual of sorts. This is a gold mine for authors.
Steven Kotler wrote The Rise of Superman based on the questions from his Abundance book tour. Austin Kleon did the same. On The Knowledge Project podcast, Ryan Holiday said that he takes the questions people email him as a barometer of what people want him to write about.
7/ Backups are “space.” “Two is one and one is none,” Willink tells Ferriss. This is a powerful idea. Charlie Munger called this “a very powerful idea.”
Benjamin Graham has so much backup/space, Munger said, “that even with an elderly alcoholic running a stodgy business, this significant excess of real value per share working for you means that all kinds of good things can happen to you. You had a huge margin of safety—as he put it—by having this big excess value going for you.”
8/ Use Twitter well. “I never liked people who talked for no reason… if people ask me questions we can have a conversation,” Willink said.
We can update our list of ways to use Twitter well: connect with peers, get opinions from a Devil’s advocate, create positive confirmation biases, and connect with fans.
Thanks for reading, I’m @mikedariano on Twitter.