For so many reasons, modern society would probably appear incomprehensibly odd to our forebears. The global economy has transformed from farm-based to machine-based to mental-work-based, and our patterns of living have changed drastically with it. And they keep evolving at a rapid clip. It can take effort to keep adapting to it all.
One method that Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner uses to help himself in that endeavor is cross-pollination -- he's constantly looking to the works of other smart people for great new ideas he can bring into his life. In this segment from the Rule Breaker Investing podcast, he shares some of his favorite tips for winning in our thinking world, culled from four great authors, and one great sci-fi TV series' most terrifying villain.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on May 8, 2019.
David Gardner: Here's what Mayor Bloomberg was saying three years ago, to the graduates of the University of Michigan. Just a short excerpt. He said, "For the first time in human history, the majority of people in the developed world are being asked to make a living with their minds rather than their muscles. For 3,000 years, humankind had an economy based on farming. Till the soil, plant the seed, harvest the crop. Hard to do, but fairly easy to learn. Then, for 300 years, we had an economy based on industry. Mold the parts, turn the crank, assemble the product. Hard to do, but also fairly easy to learn. Now, we have an economy based on information. Acquire the knowledge, apply the analytics, use your creativity. Hard to do, hard to learn. And even once you've mastered it, you'll have to start learning all over again pretty much every day."
I think that's a very apt reflection on where we are today as a species, and what the world needs of us. The world needs us to be winners in this increasingly thinking world. We need to add value using our minds. I wanted to use that as an opportunity to share with you a few insights that I have, hoping to make you a winner in our thinking world. I'm going to be drawing on some of my favorite concepts from a few of my favorite books. That's the focus of where we are right now. Then we'll have Emily in a little later and talk about those five winning stocks -- if they are, in fact, winning stocks -- in this thinking world.
Five reflections, if you will, "Making You a Winner in Our Thinking World." Now, most of these are from my book learning. If you remember last year on the podcast, for August, we made that "Authors in August." That was the first year we'd done that in 2018 for Rule Breaker Investing. I had in some of my favorite authors of books that I'd primarily read the previous year or so. You may remember Amor Towles, the author of A Gentleman in Moscow. If you're just finding our podcast here a year later, you can go back and hear me interview one of the better novelists of our time about a wonderful book, A Gentleman in Moscow. That same month I also had Priya Parker talk about her wonderful book, The Art of Gathering. And just to keep things really motley and mix it up, Mark Penn came in and talked about his book Microtrends, looking at some of the key trends of the future. All of that was last August. In a way, I'm prepping you for this August, because I'm sure hoping to have at least one of the authors I'll be mentioning shortly on this podcast for our "Authors in August" 2019.
Well, the first thought I wanted to share with you, the first good thinking tool for you, comes from somebody who's already been on this podcast, David Allen. For anybody who knows his work, Getting Things Done, GTD. There's a big community. If you just Google GTD, you're going to see a lot of people who follow David Allen's ideas. As I try to make you a winner in our thinking world, here's the first thing I wanted to just swipe from David Allen and share with you. He has many concepts I appreciate, but one of them is the two-minute rule. I think I can do this -- I sure hope so -- two minutes or less. David Allen's two minute rule is simply this: if you can do it in the next two minutes, do it. A lot of us will walk past something in our house and think, "I really should take the garbage out," or have this quick thought reappear, like, "I should write that down on a post-it note." And yet we don't. We walk past that un-taken-out garbage, or we don't write down that quick thought that we have. And we might forget it altogether; in which case, we're in trouble that we didn't take the garbage out, or we're sad we never wrote it down. Or, we write it down later. We keep rethinking the same thought until finally, we act.
This is such a simple point, but it's profound. He says, literally, if you can do it in the next two minutes right now, do it. Corollary to that is, it has to be two minutes or less. If you start head faking yourself and say, "Well, that's a two-minute task," but it takes you four and a half minutes, then you'll start doubting yourself in future and start putting off and not using this rule because you'll think it actually takes more than two minutes, I'm not even going to bother with that approach anymore. No, it has to be two minutes or less.
That simple rule has saved me all kinds of forgetfulness and increased my productivity since I first read it when I read his book, Getting Things Done, I think in the year 2003. 16 years later, here I am, leading off "Making You a Winner in Our Thinking World" with David Allen's wonderful, powerful two-minute rule. If you could do it in the next two minutes, just do it! Put things aside and get it done. You'll be happy you did. You don't have to keep that up in your gray matter and have a keep cycling and reminding you that you haven't done anything about it.
To each of the authors I'll be sharing with you today, I say, thank you, David Allen!
All right, the next one is from a new author I've not yet met. I know some of you have read his wonderful book, Atomic Habits. James Clear. I really enjoyed reading his book in the last year, Atomic Habits. It's all about creating good habits and getting rid of bad habits and how really small changes that you make in your own thinking -- because that's where it starts, your thinking, and then, of course, your acting. The habits that we create for ourselves because darn it, we really are creating our own habits, if you change them, even in micro ways, all of a sudden the results that you can get can be profound.
From James' book, I'd just like to pull this key insight, the four laws of behavior change. James writes, "This provides a simple set of rules for creating good habits and breaking bad ones. You can think of each law as a lever that influences human behavior. When the leavers are in the right positions, creating good habits is effortless. When they're in the wrong positions, it is nearly impossible." To me, this is the key insight of his book. How to create a good habit, he's got four laws. The first: Make it obvious. The second: Make it attractive. The third: Make it easy. And the fourth, the reward part: Make it satisfying.
James goes on to say, "We can invert these laws to learn how to break a bad habit." Here we go. How to break a bad habit, inversion of the first law: Make it invisible. Second: Make it unattractive. Third: Make it difficult. And finally, in the inversion of his fourth law: Make it unsatisfying.
James' book, much like David Allen's book, is really here again to our theme, helping you think smarter and make winning decisions. A lot of that for a lot of us is getting rid of old habits or bad habits and replacing them with a better version of you. Because I can think of examples in my own life, I bet you can, too, and I can look at others and see people have really improved themselves over the course of life. Some people are almost addicted to doing that. It's wonderful to watch. Some people are just constantly learning and self-improving. If you have somebody like that in your life, it's a powerful force of influence for you or for me. But so much of our life, Clear points out, is ruled by habit, often unthinking habits. In fact, one of the things he says early in his book is, inventory your own habits. Go through a day, and just for the fun of it, write down everything you do habitually. For example, do you always brush your teeth right as you get out of bed? That would be an example. And just be self-conscious about your habits, good or bad, throughout a day. By collecting them in the first place, it enables you to reflect on them and think about how to improve.
Thank you, James Clear, for your book, Atomic Habits.
All right, "Making You a Winner in Our Thinking World." Tip No. 3. This one comes from another excellent book and I'd love to have Warren Berger join me. I enjoyed his first book, A More Beautiful Question, and his follow-up to that book, which I've read in the past year, is The Book of Beautiful Questions, from which this short excerpt comes. Berger invites us to do something I've often tried to invite you to do, talking about investing on this podcast, and that is, don't be a binary thinker. Life isn't so often about yes or no. An example Berger gives in one of his chapters in The Book of Beautiful Questions, he says, let's pretend that you have problems with your boss. A lot of people would say things like, should I quit this business? Yes or no? Binary. But there's almost always a third way, a new thought, a way to think differently, that isn't a yes or no. And so often, the Foolish answer, I think, lies in that third creative choice.
The excerpt I'm sharing with you here, Berger shares, use these five questions to open up possibilities. The first is, how can I open up the question to be decided? He writes, "We have a tendency to make binary decisions -- yes or no, either/or -- which limits options. Try using open-ended questions like, 'what are the best ways...' or 'how might I...' to frame your decision?" That's No. 1. No. 2, what is the great, the good, and the ugly? Warren writes, "When making decisions, try to choose from at least three options. Do this by projecting three different potential outcomes or scenarios. One very positive, one moderate, and one negative. Third, if none of the current options were available, what would I do?" Another beautiful question. He writes, "Imagine that the existing options you're deciding between suddenly have vanished. This forces you to try to come up with additional possibilities. Upon returning to reality, you can now weigh your newly imagined options against the existing ones." Fourth. "What is the counter-intuitive choice? Include one option," as you're thinking through whatever problem you're thinking through, "that goes completely against the others. You probably won't choose it, but it stimulates unconventional thinking." And finally, fifth. "What would an outsider do? You can get an actual outsider to help answer this, or just try to look at the situation the way an outsider might."
That's the end of the excerpt from Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger. I like that last one in particular. Sometimes I think about great leaders. For me, a lot of them are from the corporate world. I think about some of my favorite CEOs, somebody like Steve Jobs. I say, how would Steve Jobs approach this situation? How would Jeff Bezos try to solve that? How would, fill in the blank, anybody that you admire as a leader, approach the situation you're looking at?
Thank you, Warren Berger, for your book, The Book of Beautiful Questions. Maybe we'll get to have Warren on in August.
All right, "Making You a Winner in Our Thinking World" tip No. 4. This one's just about knowing yourself. Now unfortunately, I can't have the next author on our show because he's no longer living. Warren Bennis for almost 50 years was one of our best writers in the United States of America about leadership. He wrote a lot of good books about it. I've certainly quoted him before on Rule Breaker Investing. His book, On Becoming a Leader, is the one that I've read. Tip No. 4, it really is inspired by an epigraph, a lead-off quote to one of the chapters in his book On Becoming a Leader. The chapter is entitled Knowing Yourself. And here it comes, from William James, the psychologist, the brother of the famed novelist Henry James. William James wrote this as Bennis quotes him. "I've often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments, there is a voice inside which speaks and says, 'This is the real me.'"
Every one of us is different. The real me contrasts, in marked ways, I'm sure, and connects in some similar ways with the real you, whoever you are. But it is often the goal to know ourselves. That is a lifelong journey for many of us. We change. The world makes us change. The world's going to keep changing, so you and I better try to change when we need to, whether in the business world, socially, culturally. But knowing ourselves. After all, I think it was on the Oracle of Delphi, I believe, scrawled there -- this might just be one of those old saws that wasn't actually true, but I think it's true, I think carved on the Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece, was the phrase "know thyself," of course in Greek. Knowing yourself. In particular, when you think about, when do I feel "most intensively active and alive," that can often help guide you toward making the right decision for you and yours in this thinking world. A simple thought, but I hope a penetrating one.
Oh! I see Emily Flippen on the other side of the glass! She's going to be coming in to do a stock review real soon. So here's No. 5. This one's just one of my personal favorites. In fact, it's a story I've told to some of our employees over the years. I'm going to tell it to you now and share it with you. It starts, like so many things that I love, rooted in a geeky world, in this case, the world of Star Trek.
Now, if you're even more of a Trekkie than I am, I might be slightly butchering the story, but I am enough of a Trekkie that I feel comfortable briefly giving my view of the Borg, which at least in Star Trek: Next Generation, and maybe all Star Trek lore, is maybe the most feared of all aliens that we meet in the universe through all of the different Star Trek stories and lore. The Borg. The Borg are kind of cyborgs. They're part human, part machine. And when we first beam aboard their mothership and we find ourselves in a combat circumstance, one of the Star Trek ensigns -- I'm just going to say, one of the red shirts -- is walking along a tunnel somewhere in that mothership. The Borg are there walking just like you're passing somebody in a corporate office building or on the street, just walking right past them. In combat, we walk up and punch them. And right away, we connect, and that Borg falls over, short circuits, and presumably dies. It seems so easy. One punch, one hit, man down, keep moving.
The problem is, when that same ensign then tries to do that to a second Borg, as soon as he or she throws the punch, a force field goes up right in front of that punch. So it fails. So, what is the answer? What would you or I do? We just pull out our phaser -- kind of like a laser gun -- and just shoot it. And sure enough, the Borg falls over, short circuits, and dies. No. 2 is down. So now you come up to No. 3 in this combat situation. Throw a punch, force field blocks. Pull out the phaser, uh-oh, different color force field just negated the phaser. Now you're trying to figure out how to fight the Borg. And why are the Borg the most feared species that we encounter through all of Star Trek? The answer is because they're all networked with each other. When any Borg learns anything, all of them learn at the same time what they need to do, so they progress and evolve together in a collective manner, which is devastatingly effective if you think about the power of networks. You're just an ensign with, unfortunately for you, a red shirt on a Star Trek episode.
The way that I've turned that around and made that a business story for our employees here at The Motley Fool is, I've said, be the Borg. It's just fine to get knocked out by our first mistake. Somebody punches us, OK, we weren't expecting it, we go down. They pull out their laser, shoot us, sure. It's the first time we'd ever seen that out. Ouch. But when they try that again, I sure hope that you're learning. As a Motley Fool employee, I really want you to be learning, because you're on my team. We're trying to grow a company to make the world smarter, happier, and richer, so I sure hope you'll be learning. But for all of us, I think in a thinking world, tip No. 5 says, be the Borg. Be the Borg. That is, you can fail, but learn and be ready and grow.
In fact, one of my very favorite websites is betheborg.com. I encourage you, if you've never visited what I'm going to call one of my favorite websites, that you type that into your browser, betheborg.com, and enjoy that website.
I hope you enjoyed my efforts to make you a winner in our thinking world. In fact, if any one of those five connected with you -- David Allen's two-minute rule, James Clear's how to create good habits and get rid of bad ones, Warren Berger's what if this isn't a yes or no decision, or William James reminding us through Warren Bennis to know thyself, or finally, be the Borg. If any one of those connected with you, then I feel really good about it, because each of those has been, for me, anyways, powerful learning leading to better activities.