Tim Harford joined Tyler Cowen to speak about his career, production function, and why dice are something he couldn’t live without. Harford said this about debates:
“I still think debating is underrated. People think that it’s a very elite thing, practiced by elite people from very posh schools and very privileged backgrounds and favors a certain kind of education. Those things are all true. At the same time, in a debate you are protected by certain rules, given space and time, and people are not allowed to interupt you except in certain formalized ways.
“Once I became an adult, and entered certain corporate spaces and corporate meetings, I became aware that all the old men were talking all over the young women. They’d interupt and wouldn’t let these younger people get a word in edgewise. I realized that debating protects anyone.”
One trait of great business leaders (seems to be) a willingness to hear dissenting opinions. It takes a seed of humility that will sprout a culture where ‘arguing well’ can survive.
Michigan Dean, Scott DeRue told Sam Zell: “I’ve met a number of your employees and one of the things that’s universal when they talk about what it’s like to work with, and for, Sam is that it’s not always easy. You will challenge them but they know that you believe in them.” To which Zell replied:
“You don’t kill the messenger. As I say to my people all the time, take me on. I’m not afraid to defend my position and neither should you.”
This has been important, Zell explained, because he’s been “business agnostic.” Investments in twenty different industries (“it could have been forty”) means that Zell has to think on the fly. As such, “No one is quicker to admit they’re wrong than I am.”
Yet, as people this is hard. It’s difficult to separate I was dumb from That was dumb. In th wrong culture it’s impossible
As Zell put it, “I’m not afraid to defend my position and neither should you.” I think it was Kara Swisher who said that when she hears someone say, ‘I like to be challenged’ they really don’t. To her it’s a red flag. Partly because, good arguments are difficult to do well. Yet in the right place, it’s possible and as Zell proves, profitable, to argue well.
Other quotes from Zell:
On Risk, “If my watch has one moving part then it has a very small probability of not working. If my watch has fifty moving parts then there would be another forty-nine potential reasons it didn’t work.“
Risk, again. “I only want to be right seventy percent of the time. The real key is how wrong are you on the thirty percent.”
Leaving money on the table, “I think that a great deal of my financial success is directly related to the fact that we’ve been long-term players.”
Being different, “Look at everyone the Forbes 400 who didn’t inheret money. Everybody went left when conventional wisdom said to go right.” & “There are very few examples of high margin businesses that are done by everybody.”
Skill and luck, “I think ninety percent of success is accidental. Accidental in terms of the opportunity arising, not accidental in terms of people’s understanding and willingness to take it up.”
Action, “My advice to everyone is to become a profesional opportunist.”