I’ve heard him talk for at least 10 hours but he has never heard me speak.
He is the co-founder and CEO of Angelist, a platform for early stage startups and angle investors to meet. He also runs ProductHunt, a platform for startups to launch their products.
He has invested in well over a hundred companies and has spent a lot of time reading and thinking about huge matters near and dear to me (and I’m sure all of you as well).
Here are my 15 biggest game changing takeaways:
1. Success is attained on a long time scale
His advice to be successful:
i) Move to the hub of the action — Broadway (NY), Startups (SF)
ii) Get up early
iii) put in the work
iv) get wiser each day (make each work better than your last)
v) and on a long enough time scale, you will get what you deserve.
To that point, Naval elaborates:
The best founders I’ve found are the ones who are very long-term thinkers.
Even decisions that maybe they shouldn’t care that much about early on, they fix it because they are not building a house, they’re putting bricks in the foundation of the skyscraper, at least in their minds.
Charlie Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, says the same thing — “go to to bed a little smarter than when you woke up.”
Why the need to be long term and “on a long enough time scale”?
2. Luck and timing play a huge role in success
Nassim Nicholas Taleb would characterize this as randomness.
Like it or not, your success in life is influenced by luck and timing. The same way external forces dictate what becomes popular or not.
Musicians would often say that it was their “throwaway songs” — the ones that they record on a whim on the road without much thought — that end up becoming smash hits.
With all this randomness and externalities, how is one supposed to have faith in their efforts?
Naval offers a piece of advice:
“ Most entrepreneurial efforts fail, but great entrepreneurs don’t.”
He says most of the people he met in his 20’s that impressed him with their drive and action — almost without exception — found incredible success later on in their 30’s and 40’s.
You just have to play the game long enough and randomness would have a higher chance to be in your favor.
3. Happiness is a skill
He believes everything we do is a skill — brushing our teeth, deciding which place to eat, and even being happy is a skill.
Sit down and think about this — if a magic genie would to give you on a silver platter your ideal repeatable day, what would it look like?
Notice the word “repeatable” — so if you say “travelling” or some ultra expensive activity, your spending is capped and energy is limited, so it forces to look at the things you can do now and often which will optimize for your everyday happiness the most.
For me it includes:
Deep work on 3–4 tasks
Write 1000–1200 words
Sleep 7–8 hours
Read 1–2 hours
Speaking to at least 2 loved ones in my life
What is Naval’s definition of happiness?
Happiness is the sense that nothing is missing.
Like that time when you are drawn into a book or movie, or observing the sun set, or cuddling with your wife or husband — moments like that are blissful because your mind isn’t wandering off looking for voids to fill. You are content and you feel whole.
4. Be a learning machine
Always Be Reading.
Naval often cites reading as one of the main reasons for all the material success he’s had.
“The reality is very few people actually read and actually finish books … I think that alone accounts for any material success that I’ve had in my life and any intelligence that I might have.”
If you are contemplating the costs of books on your budget, he says:
“A really good book costs $10 or $20 and can change your life in a meaningful way. It’s not something I believe in saving money on. This was even back when I was broke and I had no money.”
“I always spent money on books. I never viewed that as an expense. That’s an investment to me.”
Best way to start reading, according to Naval is
pick up a lot of books and start reading
put down any book that doesn’t interest you
keep continuing until you find something that interests you
How to find time to read?
Here’s what I do —
i) Bring a book with you wherever you go
ii) Read during your commute, use Pocket to save any good articles you found online
iii) When you take a shit
iv) Get the audiobook and listen when walking
There are so many choices out there. Don’t settle for pretty good books, go for great ones.
The truth is, a lot of books are 10% solid substance and the rest is filler to justify the printing of a dead-tree book and selling it retail for $20.
Sieve and filter the sections you want — it is super liberating and you save a lot of time as a result.
SIDE NOTE: I watched a talk once where book prize panelists were asked how many pages do they give a book before they move on to the next one.
The most shocking answer — the first page. Crazy right?
Can you imagine the novelists who write 1000-page books only to know that their first page made or break them?
While I admire their ruthlessness, I’d like to give my books more leeway.
If you really want to give the book you are reading a chance, use this rule by Ryan Holiday: 100 pages minus your age, e.g. 100–24 = 76 pages before you move to the next one.
6. Run your brain in debugging mode
Most top performers are known to have a mindfulness practice of some sort. For Naval, it’s meditation.
One of the other ways he stays mindful is to run his brain in debugging mode ( a computer term to inspect every line of code).
He would play a third person observing every thought he has and asks “Why am I having this thought?”
He would catch himself wandering off and pull him back into the present.
There was one time he caught himself fantasy future planning about his upcoming podcast appearance while brushing his teeth.
He would ask himself — “Why are you fantasy future planning? Why can’t you just be here and enjoy brushing your teeth?”
And the brush tasted sweeter…
7. The only moment that exists is the present — savor it while you can
You can’t change the past and no one has been ever to predict the future in any way that matters.
This ties into one of the philosophies I deeply believe which is “Enjoy it.”
I asked my dad once what he would do differently if he were young and he said, it would be to enjoy the moment.
Most people go through life either worrying about the future or stuck in the past, never appreciating the present moment. And by the time you are 50 something, you realized that you worried all your way to your 50’s when everything turned out OK.
Even it sucks — enjoy it.
SIDE NOTE: “Enjoy it” is also the best answer Tim Ferriss ever got to the question: “What should I do with my life?”
8. What people say is love, is not love. It’s a transaction.
This hit me hard.
What Naval meant by this is — love is a one way street.
Love iswhen you love someone even if the other doesn’t love you back.
If you only love someone because they love you back, it’s not love — it’s a transaction.
Are you in love, or in a transaction?
9. Habits are everything
I’ll quote Naval:
I think human beings are entirely creatures of habit… they habituate themselves to things and they learn patterns and they get conditioned and they use that to get through everyday life.
Habits are good. Habits can allow you to background process certain things so that your neocortex, your frontal lobe, stays available to solve brand new problems.
To some extent, our attitude in life, our mood, our happiness levels, depression levels, these are also habits. Do we judge people? How often do we eat? What kind of food do we eat? Do we walk or do we sit? Do we move? Do we exercise? Do we read? These are habits as well.
You absolutely need habits to function. You cannot solve every problem in life as if it is the first time it’s thrown at you. What we do is we accumulate all these habits. We put them in the bundle of identity, ego, ourselves, and then we get attached to that… It’s really important to be able to uncondition yourself, to be able to take your habits apart and say, “Oh, okay, that’s a habit that I probably picked up from when I was a toddler and I was trying to get my parents attention. Now I’ve just reinforced it and reinforced it and reinforced it and I call it a part of my identity.
Is it serving me anymore? Is it making me happier? Is it making me healthier? Is it making me accomplish whatever I want to set out to accomplish right now?
10. Know your priority (just one) a.ka. your north star
You can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything.
His learning — you can have one thing.
If you want to be rich, you can spend your entire life trying to be rich and you are likely to get it.
If you want to be happy, you can spend your entire life trying to be happy and you are likely to get it.
The problem is when we have a basket of fuzzy desires and never finding a north star of what it is that you want MOST out of life.
Pick one fervent desire above all else and find a way to not make it feel like work so you can outcompete everybody else.
Optimize for one thing in life — it helps determines the orderof the rest of the things that are nice-to-have and to avoid entirely.
11. Life is a single player game
All of us think life is a multiplayer game. Success, money, mates, status are all easily measurable in a multiplayer game.
But internal happiness is not.
Have you ever been lost in a moment with someone and forgot about all the comparisons you always did?
Have you ever run the “if you were the last human on earth” test and find out how much stuff you would actually not give a fuck about?
Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game.
When it comes to learn to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internal, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game.
We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore.
We compete purely on multi-player games. The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.
12. Learn principles and mental models to make better decisions
This was a game changer for me.
If you ever wondered what separates those we are able to make good decisions at very high levels, learning principles and mental models is one of them (if not, the main one).
… (T)he brain is a memory prediction machine. It has a memory of things that worked in the past and what it’s read and it’s trying to predict the future.
A lousy way to do memory prediction is X happened in the past, therefore X
will happen in the future. It’s too based on specific circumstances. What you want is you want principles. You want mental models.
The best mental models that I have found have come through evolution, game theory, and Charlie Munger…
Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s partner. Very good investor. He has tons and tons of great mental models. Nassim Taleb has great mental models. Benjamin Franklin had great mental models.
I basically load my head full of mental models. Different ones apply to every
13. Genius is explaining complex things in simple ways
Beware of charlatans who make simple things complex.
I think the smartest people can explain things to a child. If you can’t explain it to a child, then you don’t know it.
I think it’s the mark of a charlatan to try and explain simple things in
complicated ways. It’s the mark of a genius to explain complicated things in
simple ways. Really they should be able to do it very, very, very simply.
The really smart thinkers are clear thinkers and they understand the basics at a very, very fundamental level.
Another Navalism: If someone is selling you get-rich-quick scheme, they are trying to get-rich-quick-off-of-you.
14. Guard your time — it’s all you have
If you don’t believe in an afterlife, this is especially true.
What is his view after we die?
Our consciousness just disappears.
Remember how it was like before you are born? Just like that.
Zero recollection and experience after we are gone.
Life is short — we are a firefly blinking in the night.
Guard your time — it’s the only thing you have.
15. The advice he would give his 20 year old self
Chill out, don’t stress so much, everything will be fine
Be more yourself, don’t try to live up to other people’s expectations
Say no to more things
Your time is very precious — on your dying days, you will trade EVERYTHING for another day
One day you will come to a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.
If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises, you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club, you will be promoted, and you will get good assignments.
If you go the other way, you can do something. Something for your country, and for your airfare, and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments. And you will certainly not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and yourself. And your work might make a difference.
To be somebody, or to do something.
In life, there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.
To be or to do, which way will you go?
– Colonel John Boyd
The question at hand is whether are you after recognition or are you after the work itself.
Has this ever happened to you?
You work day and night on a project only for the credit to be due to someone else?
Or that you made the most significant contribution to the team only to have the leader get the spotlight due to your subordinate and less convincing standing?
It is very easy to get carried away at the start of our careers. We want every effort we make to be recognized and praised. Every correct decision we make to be remembered by our peers. After all, we deserve it right?
But it doesn’t always go that way, especially if you are novice or a beginner. Some wouldn’t even take you seriously because you are in an entry level position and you have yet to prove yourself over the long run
Sometimes, even if we stay in a position long enough, we still do not get the credit we so desire.
When we finish college and come out to the “real world”, we are starving with ambition and racing against the clock to be somebody.
We want to be that person who is married to a very desirable mate by 27.
We want to be that rising star that climbs up the corporate ladder and become the Vice President by 28.
We want to be that person who is a millionaire by 30.
Are we working for credit? Is the need to be recognized by others for our achievements the driving force of our lives? Is the need to be somebody so important? We often hear our friends say that they want to “be somebody.” The titles, the glamour, the respect and the adoration of the public.
I was reading the late Lee Kuan Yew’s memoirs, From Third World to First and came across a man named Goh Keng Swee. He was the Finance Minister and Interior and Defense Minister in the early years.
The highest rank he ever gotten to was Deputy Prime Minister in his lifetime. Although he was second to Mr Lee on paper, Mr Lee praised him highly for being the man who contributed the most to the building of Singapore.
If it was utter recognition & credit Mr Goh was after, being the center of attention and be adored by international media, he would have been sour about not getting as much press for his achievements compared to Mr Lee himself.
But he wasn’t that type, doing the work is enough. Getting the glamour and adoration of the public was secondary to actually contributing to the public.
The practical view
There is another practical view as to why influence is far healthier option to go after than credit.
Influence (the work itself) is within our control. We can manage expectations in the course of our own work. We can choose to take it as a challenge or just enjoy ourselves.
Credit (recognition) requires someone else to validate your actions.
In other words, you are placing your self-worth into the hands of other people. Letting them become the authors of your life story and self esteem. Like being on a leash to the whims and fancies of others, being steered in whatever direction they want to go.
For a young person such as yourself, placing high regard into something highly volatile such as this spells disaster to your self worth in the long run.
I learnt an important idea early on in my life and it goes like this:
“Nothing in this world can so violently distort a man’s judgment than the sight of his neighbour getting rich.” — J.P. Morgan
I’m a horrible person.
The other day I was scrolling through Facebook (not because I needed to know to what my friends were up to, but to entertain myself out of my boredom.)
I saw my friends celebrating their successes, some are travelling around Europe.
Did it make me admire them?
I envied them. I was jealous.
And quickly I moved to look at my other friends who I deem to have a more ordinary life or at least one that looks less desirable than mine.
But I always catch myself and ask: Why am I feeling this way? Where does this come from?
With this, I started looking for answers and I can’t help but share what I found. Enjoy.
Envy Makes You (Very) Irrational
Back in 1995, researchers from Harvard asked students/staff which they preferred:
Earning $75,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $100,000.
Earning $50,000 a year when everyone else around them makes $25,000.
Prices of goods and services would be the same in both cases. So a higher salary really meant being able to own a nicer home or a nicer car.
50% chose option 2, leaving $25,000 on the table, just to avoid earning less than their neighbours.
This makes absolutely no sense, but it is an accurate determinant as to whether one measures their success only to themselves or relative to others. It is nothing more than social comparison.
Think about it – much of our self-definition comes from comparison with others. We can’t define ourselves as great singers, if there is no one else around who sings worse than we do. Qualities like intelligence, beauty and skills are relative and thus when we compare poorly in comparison to our peers, our self-esteem suffers.
We experience envy when the quality we feel inferior about threatens our self-concept. We may not even be aware that we are lacking a particular quality, but the object of our envy heightens our awareness of our deprivation.
For example: Do you feel envy when you see a great diver at the Olympics? Probably not, because, for most of us, success at diving isn’t a core part of our self-concept. But let’s say you were a competitive diver — might you feel a little envious if you saw someone much better than you competing at the Olympics? (Aristotle wrote about this long time ago – “We envy those who are near us in time, place, age or reputation.“)
Thus, envy of others is always a reflection of something we feel about ourselves. We’re not rich enough, or smart enough, or beautiful enough; we don’t have enough possessions, enough attention, enough success.
Envy Drives The World, Not Greed
“It’s not greed that drives the world, but envy.” — Warren Buffett
While ‘greed’ refers to an excessive desire to possess something, ‘envy’ is a desire to possess what the other person is possessing. And more often than not, greed is fueled by envy. A lot of times, we desire something simply because we see someone else enjoying it.
Everyone is here not just to make money, but to make more money than what the next person is making (the research earlier proves this). Comparison and competition is intense, creating a perfect recipe for envy.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner, would go on to say: “Envy has no upside. The idea of caring that someone is making money faster[than you are] is one of the deadly sins. Envy is a really stupid sin because it’s the only one you could never possibly have any fun at. There’s a lot of pain and no fun. Why would you want to get on the trolley?”
While a small pinch of envy is a positive motivator, a chronic comparison complex can ruin your life. If you cannot control the ancient urge to measure your success against that of your peers, your happiness will always depend less on how much money you have than on how much money they have. And that’s something you will never have any control over.
Two Types of Envy
It has been said that there are two types of envy – a good type and a bad type.
The first type is the feeling of inferiority that motivates a person to improve herself. This bias exerts its influence by framing the success of others as a learning opportunity for ourselves. It serves to inspire us to do more and be more than our current standing. Our envy leads us to imitate that hero in a quest for self-improvement.
The other type, though, is malicious envy, which motivates the envious to take good things away from others. To the malicious envier, ridding oneself of envy requires taking away from the other — the beautiful car or house should be stolen or damaged, the virtuous person corrupted or killed and the beautiful face of someone ruined or covered. The malicious envier believes that those things should be his rather than theirs. He, after all, deserves it more.
How to Deal With Envy
An important question remains: How should we deal with envy at a personal level?
The tip I’ve found the most effective comes from Naval Ravikant.
He would be envious of his peers on the other side of the field living much better lives. This went onto his late twenties where despite he was making a lot of money, he was still constantly envious of those above him.
But then, he figured out something that gave him peace of mind. It was:
“You can’t cherry pick the things you envy so much about the other person. You would have to take a 180 degree swap with that person. (You would have to take her age, her family history, her struggles, her failures, her medical conditions, her pains, her parents, her friends, everything. And lose everything you have built and leave everyone you love behind.) And unless you are totally comfortable with that swap, you shouldn’t be envious.”
After all, it was their experience that shaped their lives.
“Enjoy your own life without comparing it with that of another.” – Nicolas de Condorcet
Envy is a real pain in the ass that we deal with on a daily basis. It’s one of the main reasons I have avoided my news feeds on Facebook and Instagram. But I guess only time will tell before I’m fully comfortable accepting where I am and stop comparing myself to other people’s lives.
While I know, you can’t remove envy out of your life overnight, you can at least be aware of it when it happens and question your emotions.
I once heard somewhere before that happiness is wanting what you have. And I think that is a good place to start.
And in case you’re wondering how you can avoid being the source of envy for others? Aristotle had an answer: “The best way to avoid envy is to deserve the success you get.”
In his book, Ego Is The Enemy, author Ryan Holiday talks about what he calls “The Canvas Strategy.” It’s a popular concept among the personal development community. So popular in fact that its excerpt was featured in Tim Ferriss‘ book Tools of Titans.
The strategy was taken from the Romans. The Romans had a word for this type of person. They called them an “anteambulo” which means a person who cleared the path in front of their patron. If you are able to do that successfully, you will secure a fast and educational position.
In today’s lingo, it would translate to make others look good. But these four words “make others look good” make us cringe. It goes against the very essence of the “self made person” culture we are raised in. That everyone one of us is supposed to focus on ourselves and may the best man win.
Now, when I say make others look good, some of you would think it implies a lot of ass kissing and passing your credit to someone else that you don’t feel deserves it as much as you do.
But this isn’t so – it’s a mindset change. It goes from “slaving away my livelihood for someone else” to “giving my best to make others succeed which in turn will make me more successful.”
To quote Ryan himself:
… it’s finding the direction someone already intended to head and help them pack, freeing them up to focus on their strengths. The canvas strategy involves actively finding outlets for other people – in fact, actually making them better rather than simply looking so.
… In other words, discover opportunities to promote their creativity, find outlets and people for collaboration, and eliminate distractions that hinder their progress and focus. It is a rewarding and infinitely scalable power strategy.
1) Find new trains of thought to hand over for them to explore. Track down angles and contradictions and analogies that they can use. Ex: I was reading the biography of ______, I think you should look at it because there may be something you can do with the imagery.
2) Find outlets, people, associations, and connections. Cross wires to create new sparks. Ex: I know _________, and I think you two should talk. Have you thought about meeting ____?
3) Find inefficiencies and waste and redundancies. Identify leaks and patches to free up resources for new areas. Ex: You don’t need to do ___________ anymore, I have an idea for improving the process, let me try it so you can worry about something else.
There is a common saying that I constantly remind myself –
“If you are willing to make others successful, then you will be successful.”
This can be making your company more successful through exceeding your KPI’s, thus getting you promoted faster.
This can be making your friends more successful through introducing them to other people that would help them in their journey. People will eventually know of you and you will be talking to influencers as a result of word of mouth. You never know where it leads to. (Who doesn’t want to associate with someone who is proactive in their success?)
This can be making your clients more successful through delivering better products and services. My aim with this blog is to make you, my readers more successful, so that in turn, I will get my blog to read by even more people.
Remember, clear the path for others on their journey.
If you wish to listen to the excerpt on The Canvas Strategy in full audio form, click here.