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The Case For Late Bloomers with Rich Karlgaard
I am with Rich Karlgaard who is a publisher and futurist at Forbes Media. His writing is known for its keen assessment of technology, economic, business and leadership issues. He’s a regular commentator on Fox. He’s a speaker and a panel moderator. He’s also the author of multiple books including his latest, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. It’s so nice to have you here, Rich.
It’s a pleasure to be with you, Diane.
I was looking forward to this because I know you pretty well and you were nice enough to send me an advanced copy of your book called Late Bloomers. I want to get into the book, but if there’s a chance on the planet that someone has not heard of you, can you give a little bit of background as to how you got to be the publisher and futurist at Forbes?
It speaks to the many bountiful things that happen when you’re an entrepreneur, even if you don’t harvest all the gains by way of selling your stock and becoming an overnight multi-millionaire. A friend and I started what became Silicon Valley’s first business magazine in 1989. It was called Upside. Upside looked at the nexus of high-tech biotech and venture capital and looked at what does it like to be a venture capital-backed company, how does this work, how do the VC firms work? What is the process of going public like? Three years after the launch, by this time, I was getting four-hour interviews with Bill Gates and people like that. Steve Forbes came out to visit us in Silicon Valley with the idea of buying Upside. We weren’t yet profitable. Our cap table was mixed up and Steve ended up hiring me to start a technology futurist magazine in 1992 called Forbes ASAP. From the get-go, I reported directly to Steve Forbes. I became a publisher in 1998 when the previous publisher decided to go off and do a different thing.
I know we’ve been in a lot of meetings together where you’ve been there, Steve Forbes had been there and others. You hang with a pretty impressive group of people and you are, of course, at the top of the list of people I’ve met who really have this depth of knowledge. I can feel how smart you are when talking to you. That’s what was so interesting to me when I was reading your book, how you are hard on yourself in the book about, “I wasn’t that great in school.” I love that you’re so honest in the book about how you weren’t always 4.0 and that there’s some hope for some of us who don’t necessarily hit that achievement goal that everybody thinks you have to hit at such a young age. You start the book with a lovely story about somebody we both know, Ken Fisher. I love the different stories you weave into your book, but I want to start by what got you interested in writing about how we maybe put too much pressure on ourselves at a young age?
Ken Fisher of Fisher Investments manages over $100 billion. You can’t watch TV without seeing an ad for Fisher Investments. Ken talked about how he flunked out of junior college. It takes some effort to flunk out of junior college, but Ken got his act together when he was 30 years old. When I was 25 years old, I was still incapable of holding an adult-level job. I was a dishwasher, I was a temporary typist and I was a security guard. I remember hitting the low point when I was a security guard one night. I had the graveyard shift at a trucking firm and I was making my rounds. I heard a dog barking. I swung my flashlight around and saw that there was a Rottweiler in the yard next door. Their security guard was a dog. At age 25, it struck me that my professional colleague was a dog. In a couple of months, Steve Jobs, also 25, would take Apple public. I thought that I’ve got some ground to make up here.If you want to succeed in life and business, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you to complement who you are. Click To Tweet
In my late twenties, I felt conscious of the fact that my brain, particularly the rational side, the ability to plan ahead, to think about consequences began to kick in. I started to make pretty rapid progress in my adult life. I had always filed that away. I knew that there was no reason for me to bloom late other than the fact that my brain wasn’t ready. That was then it was easier for people to have fumbling starts and make a recovery. I look back to my high school years and I see a lot of people who were screw ups and they’re doing pretty well now. That has become harder to do. We put so much pressure as a society on kids, teenagers and young adults to achieve early and big. This has led to this madness where we’re telling kids it’s all about the SAT score. It’s all about the grades. The grades have to be accomplished in advanced placement courses. If you’re not competitive here, you may not have a successful adult life.
This puts extraordinary pressure on families, on kids, teens and young adults. It hasn’t produced anything good. Somebody who is an early achiever like Mark Zuckerberg would have done it anyway, but we encourage our kids to be like Mark Zuckerberg when their brains aren’t wired that way. In the past several years, we’ve had an epidemic of anxiety, depression and suicides among teens and young adults. We have many young adults simply giving up and moving back into their parents’ basements. We have a $1.5 trillion student debt problem with an 11% annual default rate. It’s all based on the idea that not only should everybody go to college, but everybody should go to the most elite, expensive college they can get into. I see that we’ve been caught up in a national obsession where we believe if kids don’t bloom early, they’re maybe not going to bloom at all. Everything about neuroscience and psychology says the opposite that there are many decades in our lives where our true capabilities will unfold.
I did a lot of research on emotional intelligence for my dissertation. We know the elasticity of the brain, what we can develop. It continues to be important that we can develop these things as we get older. I was interested in the research that you had in the book. I want to get into some of the thinking types of issues you’d address. As you mentioned Zuckerberg, it brought to mind someone you brought up in the book as well, which is Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos situation. Do you think that we’re creating more of those problems like which she did because she wants to be the next Steve Jobs or Zuckerberg? Are we making the people feel like they have to fake it until they make it?
There’s a good deal of that. The people draw maybe the wrong lesson from Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was brilliant. Steve Jobs arrived at the perfect moment in time where he was able to culturally bring together the hippie movement of Northern California with the Silicon Valley ethos. He created a hippie capitalistic firm called Apple. The problem with Steve Jobs is although he did this early, it turned out that he was a very flawed CEO in the beginning. Eventually, he lost a showdown with John Sculley with the board of directors. Although history likes to shade it in the direction of Steve Jobs, that it was Sculley who drove out Steve Jobs. It was Steve Jobs who tried to drive out Sculley. When that failed, he put it to a board vote and the board voted with John Sculley.
Steve Jobs came back in 1997. From 1997 until his untimely death in 2011, he was a superstar CEO. I put that down to maturity. It is the emotional intelligence that he had in his 40s and 50s that he didn’t have in his twenties. It was his ability to pick good people and stay loyal to those good people. That’s the lesson that people should draw. I think with Elizabeth Holmes, the interesting case is, was she a born sociopath or did she kept that way under the circumstances? Many people think that people like Elizabeth Holmes or Bernie Madoff were born that way. In both cases, but particularly in hers, she had achieved so much and so early academically. She had a vision for changing the world when she was eight years old that when Theranos failed to meet her timetables, rather than own up to that, she got trapped in a way that Bernie Madoff got trapped.
I don’t think Bernie Madoff set out to screw people. What happened was he over-promised. He promised a 1% return per month without risk and you simply can’t do that. You can’t have those returns without risk. He fell behind and then he started taking new money and paying off investors. He was trying to fake them out that he was still producing these returns. He got into deeper holes and resorted to criminal behavior. The same thing happened with Elizabeth Holmes. I see her story as tragic. I know a lot of people want to flay her now. No punishment is too much and she deserves punishment. It’s a tragic tale of someone who believed in their own early blooming myth and when it fell apart, they couldn’t reconcile themselves with the facts.
They’re interesting stories. The fact that what you said that Steve Jobs came back with a more mature outlook, and then you get the story of the Madoff and Elizabeth, how maybe they can grow and change possibly. I read that Skilling’s getting out and he wants to be able to do business again after Enron. Do we trust that these people are going to come back and be a Steve Jobs? Where’s that going to go? Can you come back and bloom after you’ve done something horrible?
Mike Milken served time in prison. I think it was unfair, but he did serve time in prison. There’s no doubt about it. He’s an example of who is someone who’s come back and had an exemplary second act. Milken Institute does great research. The Milken Global Summit is like Davos West held every year in Los Angeles. He’s given hundreds of millions of dollars to cancer research. I’ve spent time with Mike Milken. I interviewed him on stage at a conference in Santa Monica in early March, and I find him very inspirational so it can be done.
There are a lot of stories, and you have some great ones in the book. You start though with childhood, which I think is an interesting place to go back to discuss this and how we’re creating this need to be 4.0 perfect. Kids are being medicated for ADD fourteen times more likely here in the UK, and different things that we’re doing as parents. I meet a lot of these parents when I’m at events or social events. They all want to tell you where their kids are going to college, which seems to be the topic with people. They’re like, “Mine’s going here, my mine’s going there.” It’s a competition. It’s prestige. It’s almost like the jewelry that they’re wearing with the designer.
You look at the news where these parents were bribing admissions, directors and coaches to get their kids into schools that they knew these kids couldn’t get into on their own. The status competition is absolutely run amok to that degree. If you think about it, the pre-frontal cortex of the brain isn’t fully developed on average until 25. There’s a neuroscientist out of NYU named Elkhonon Goldberg. He was one of my favorite finds when I was doing the research. He’s in his 70s. He feels like he’s never been more creative in his life and he set out to discover why that was. He has this interesting theory that with each generation, it’s almost like something about our pre-frontal cortex is reading the probability that we’re going to live longer, at least if we take care of ourselves. He believes that pre-frontal cortex maturity onset is no longer even in the mid-twenties. It’s in the late twenties and for some people, in the early 30s. That’s for a start.
The most amazing thing happens and that is the two hemispheres of the brain after the pre-frontal cortex is fully developed, you get this amazing flowering of neuro-pathways between the two sides of the brain. As Dr. Goldberg describes it, we have more raw creative insights when we’re kids, teenagers and young adults than we do when we’re older. We have a higher creative yield. We know how to convert these creative insights into something useful. That keeps getting better and better because one side of the brain, the left side of the brain perceives novel things. You have this back and forth communication between the left and right sides of the brain where this is novel, but how does it stack up against all these stored memories I have and what does it mean? Our true creative years aren’t over by our twenties. They only begin for many people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
I studied some of this in my research for curiosity and I find this fascinating, everything you’re talking about. I’m curious how you think the creativity factors in with the intelligence that we think we need the IQ part versus EQ maybe when we’re trying to get into these top named schools as we talked about. It’s interesting timing that that story broke when you were writing about this. I’m sure everybody’s telling you to chime in on it. They are trying to buy their way into these major schools. I know you went to Stanford. You have a great education and everything. How do you think that you’ve wasted it? How different is education from Stanford or Harvard compared to a regular state university?A great prescription for burnout is persevering on something that isn't coming from our own intrinsic motivation. Click To Tweet
To get into elite universities, you do have to have great SATs, you have to have great grades and advanced placement courses. You have to prove yourself exceptional in some extracurricular activity, thus the parents are bribing coaches to make up stories about the kid’s extra-curricular excellence. When we think about the SATs, the SAT’s capture in a three-hour period what you might call rapid algorithmic ability. That’s a great ability, but it’s not the only ability that humans have. It’s one form of intelligence among many. From your research into emotional intelligence, there are all kinds of intelligence. I only know that there are many forms of intelligence, but we have this idea that one is superior to all the others, and that I think is a very narrow view of human potential.
At the elite universities, you can get great education but you can also find a lesser path. When I went to Stanford, Stanford had a 25% admissions rate. They took a lot of junior college transfers because California has a great community college system. I was a junior college transfer from that noted institute of higher learning, Bismarck Junior College in Bismarck, North Dakota. I’m sure it was some combination of sports or the coach misread my time at an event and thought I was better than I was. It was some geographic distribution algorithm that the Stanford admissions department has where it was like, “We need a kid from North Dakota in this year’s transfer class.” Whatever it was, I would have loved to have taken advantage of that great lucky break. The downside of all of these elite institutions is that it’s much easier to get by. They’re smaller. You have people looking out for you. I followed football players around at the registration line and ended up taking what was known widely in the university as the Mickey Mouse curriculum. Even with a mouse major, I was barely able to get B’s.
You’re very humble because you can’t possibly have not learned, have the education that you had to be an editor and some other things that you’re able to do.
I tell the story in the book, and this goes to curiosity and when I say wasted, I wasn’t wasting time. I had this great roommate in my senior year. His name is Bob. He was Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Stanford. He went on to Stanford Law School. He did very well. He joined the dominant firm in Silicon Valley, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and he had a great career. Bob had this amazing ability to focus. He would pack up his backpack with a quart of Pepsi, notebooks, yellow highlighters and all that stuff that we used to do, prior to all of these electronic gadgets. He would park himself at the study, and he could study for three or four hours straight, hardcore stuff. He would take a break and he’d go back to his room and type up a 30-page double-spaced paper.
I thought it was all in the backpack, the yellow highlighters and all the Pepsi. I tried to do the same thing, but I would lose focus after 15 or 30 minutes. I would head off to the library and indulge my curiosity. My curiosity happened to be Sports Illustrated, a great magazine then. It started in 1954, but they covered everything back then, even obscure sports. They had great writing, great photography and great illustration. I was creating this mental memory of Sports Illustrated, whether I knew it or not. How could that be useful? It certainly took me away from my study and it contributed to my barely getting passing grades. Stanford was like a gentleman’s sea, except I wasn’t a gentleman at that time, but you know what I mean. It wasn’t the mark of anything excellent.
Years later, when my friend and I started Upside, which I mentioned, he was in charge of raising money and selling ads. I was in charge of coming up to the product. I thought business magazines were boring. I hadn’t yet been introduced to Forbes where I would learn otherwise that business magazines could be cheeky, fun, punch people in the face and all that stuff. I thought we should have a feel like Sports Illustrated. Obviously, there won’t be game photography, but we could create scenes with illustration and caricature. That’s what we did. We hired some good writers. We used illustration to create scenes. We had Larry Ellison of Oracle dressed up as Genghis Khan in the caricature with severed heads at his feet. We had John Sculley at Apple dressed up as a Little Lord Fauntleroy getting sand kicked on him in a sandbox. It became outrageous. That’s why people like Bill Gates gave me four hours of interview because he was afraid we’d do the same to him.
As you’re telling me the story of how you get into this magazine, and it was fascinating to me to see all this, you are at Stanford University. People like Bob end up at Stanford University. How much is the networking of who you’re around that helps form what you’re going to end up at? Isn’t it still the goal to get into these places or do you think you would’ve ended up at the same level if you hadn’t had that experience of Stanford?
There’s no question that Stanford has come up in the world. Stanford in the 1970s was an up and coming regionally excellent university that isn’t what it is now. It’s become world-class. It’s become in anybody’s book one of the top five universities in the world. I have gained the reputation of Stanford. There are a lot of networking opportunities. I’ll never forget, there was a woman also in our dorms and she had a nervous breakdown. What caused the nervous breakdown was when we went to daylight savings time, she had a panic attack. She said, “I lost an hour of study time when I most needed it,” because we had midterms coming up.
She was in Stanford, but it actually hurt her being in Stanford. She was one of these East Coast rich kids. She prepped her way and studied her way into Stanford except when she got to Stanford, she was maybe in the 25th percentile of the students there. There were too many others that were smarter than her. For her, that was a big deal. For me, being in the 25th percentile, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. It didn’t bother me in the same way, but it bothered her. I think you see a lot of that. Be careful of the university you pick because you might get in and you might find that you don’t thrive there.
I become a real big believer in taking some time out. Take two years after high school and go on some mission or try some entrepreneurial fling. As long as your parents are writing checks to you, there’s almost no damage that you can do to yourself and you’ll gain a lot of maturity. The Mormon faith, they do two-year missions usually between the sophomore and junior years. When the people graduate from Brigham Young, the University of Utah or wherever these folks are, they’re 24, 25 instead of 22 and they’re much more mature. I’m also a big believer that we’ve done ourselves a grave injustice with this idea that everybody should go to college. Only one out of twenty public high schools has what we used to call the shop class.
The shop class should be upgraded and modernized. There are a lot of people that would thrive in the skilled trades. The jobs are out there, they’re often six-figure jobs and you can go into them right away. Let’s say somebody does become a welder, HVAC technician or something like that. They’d decided at age 26, “I really love this field but I would love to rise. I’m now going to go back to college and become a mechanical engineer.” Who wouldn’t want to hire somebody like that? They understand what they’re working with, they’ve got an education, they figured out a way to go to some state college and not overspend. They don’t have debt, they have all this knowledge and they’re in their late twenties. I wish there were more tracks like that. What I was hoping to do with Late Bloomers was start a conversation around this, that surely there are other paths for the majority of us who don’t light up the SATs, get 4.3-grade averages and advanced placement courses.
It’s such an interesting discussion. You and I have a lot of discussions about what to expect on education with the work, school and business. I also had John Couch on my show. I don’t know if you’re familiar with his work at Apple, but he wrote a book about reinventing education and that we’re spending too much time making people memorize and not learn things. I was interested in your discussions about intelligence, fluid versus crystallize and you get into a lot of research in your book on how we think. You also brought up Albert Bandura who was on my show. He is an amazing guy in the area of psychology, second to Freud and famous people. He’s going to be 94 soon. He’s so funny because he told me that someone interviewed him. The guy was saying, “I can’t believe no one knows who you are. I’m going to make sure to spread the word about you.” Apparently, there are some people who don’t know who Bandura is, but he is such a famous name. It’s interesting that you incorporated so many great names, researchers and information in your book.
We’ve become much better at as we get older. Late bloomers don’t have to protect their early success. The tree of Albert Bandura is spread widely. Carol Dweck at Stanford, who wrote the bestselling book, Mindset, teaches freshman psychology at Stanford. You could almost say she fell from the Bandura tree in many ways. When I interviewed Carol Dweck for the book, she said the freshman she sees at Stanford now are brittle and exhausted and they don’t want to mar their perfect records. In other words, they fall right into the category she described in Mindset as people who have a fixed mindset. When you have a fixed mindset, as opposed to a growth mindset, then you don’t grow. She tells us the story of John McEnroe, the tennis player who won the NCAA tennis singles as a freshman and then dropped out of college and was a sensation right away. He didn’t get better.If we were created in the image of a Creator, then we were born to go out and create. Click To Tweet
He didn’t invest in his training. He didn’t invest in his fitness. At least in the eye of McEnroe, his lesser talents began to beat them on the circuit. He didn’t respond by growing. He responded by throwing tantrums of rage. You see a lot of that. Late bloomers have a much better ability, I believe, to see themselves as objectively what they do well, what they don’t do well. As you know, if you want to succeed in life, if you want to succeed in business for sure, you need to be able to find people who are smarter than you and bring skills that you don’t have that complement who you are. That’s what Steve Jobs did so well the second time at Apple. He brought in operational geniuses like Tim Cook and he brought in design genius does like Jony Ive and he stuck by them.
I know Keith Krach, who wrote the foreword to my book. He was the former chairman of DocuSign and he’s that guy to me. He’s very humble. He says, “I get these great people and have them around me,” but like you, he’s super brilliant. These guys are all brilliant, but you can’t be brilliant at everything. I was interested in the part in your book, you got into Terman’s IQ tests. Why that became so popular, and then the SAT test. I found it interesting that you listed the perfect score and how many have perfect SAT scores like Gates and Bezos. I don’t even know if we had to take the SAT where I went to school. I don’t even think they made you. That was only if you wanted to get into college, certain universities. If you went outside the state, do you have to take the SAT anymore?
It’s still something you should do. It gives you an edge. Most colleges still require the SAT or the ACT. I think The University of Chicago said they’re not going to require it anymore. That’s a crock. I’m not talking about Keith Krach. If you have the ability to score stratospheric scores, you’re going to do it. When I wrote the book about this, the SAT become so prominent over time with all the early IQ testers. The SAT was developed by a gentleman named Carl Brigham out of Princeton in 1926, and he saw it as a longer, more practical version of the IQ test. All of them are wrapped up in the eugenics movement. It’s the idea that people from Northern European countries were superior to swarthy-skinned people and it was a black mark.
Carl Brigham himself had second thoughts about the IQ and the SAT test. He died in 1934. He died a young man. He said, “I believe that I have committed a grave sin in that people can be measured by one test and it forever will predict their probabilities of success in life.” He came to realize that it was completely skewed in favor of people who grew up in the right backgrounds. About the time, the SAT might have died because of its roots in the eugenics movement. It was given life by two left-wing reformers. One of the deans of Harvard University and incoming President of Harvard, James Conant, who was not of the aristocratic class. It outraged him that in the Great Depression, you have some of these old money kids that were at Harvard and they were not even coming to class. They were living in Boston. They were going to debutant balls and they would hire tutors to push their sorry ass over the finish line.
These two leftwing reformers thought the SAT could be a missile aimed at the aristocracy and you could replace aristocracy with a fairer meritocracy. Conant was also on a governing board that oversaw the Manhattan Project. One of them said, “Jewish people were inferior when it came to intelligence.” Who would say such a thing? Conant saw that the Manhattan Project, it was Jewish scientists who were fleeing Germany and Middle Europe that were the indispensable contributors to the Manhattan Project. Whatever you think of nuclear weaponry, it’s a good thing, let us all agree, that the US got the atomic bomb before Nazi Germany did. Hitler drove out a lot of the top scientists for those reasons and we are the beneficiaries of that.
Conant said, “Next time, we might not be so lucky.” We’ve got to have a national testing system that can dig out who the smart people are even if they grew up poor or whatever their racial background was, whether they were obscure farm kids. He saw it as a weapon of national defense. Finally, you get the last leg that has propelled the SAT to the prominence it has and this is my theory. You look at the wealthiest companies in the world. The six richest companies in the United States and the world, five of them are US tech companies that are fairly new. One of them is Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s company. I don’t know if Buffett took the SAT test, but we know he’s the cofounder. At least one of the people of the founding of Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook had perfect 800 SAT scores.
It’s this idea that that’s what it takes to succeed in technology and the finance-driven world. When I interviewed Bill Gates, I spent a week on the road with Gates. In the early ‘90s, he used the term IQ all the time. As in, “Microsoft is the highest IQ company. That’s how we’re going to prevail. We have higher IQ up and down the line than Oracle does, than Sun does.” He thought that the only company in the world that competed for IQ in the same way as Microsoft was Goldman Sachs. Here you had Gates, the richest man in the world at the time saying that the key to success was having a company full of people with high IQs. The surest way to measure that was the math portion of the SAT test.
It’s interesting to look at the things that lead to success. I love that you brought up Bill Gates as I was going to ask you about that and how much the IQ impacted everything. I had Daniel Goleman on and we talked about the impact of EQ. I had Francesca Gino on and we talked about the impact of curiosity. I’m curious what you think the impact of perception is and when you combine all these things together. If you want to be the next Bill Gates and Bezos or any anybody, maybe not even a unicorn company but super successful, we have to work on our IQ. We have to work on our EQ. We’ve got to work on our curiosity. What about our perception?
All of this matter greatly. What we’ve done is send this message out unwittingly that only certain of these many skills matters because those are the skills that are going to get you into an elite university like MIT or Stanford. Everybody who isn’t there is left with this idea that they’re somehow a second-class citizen. We used to say the A students who would end up working for the B students. It’s funny how that observation has faded away and we almost become A-plus students or somehow we’re not going to be successful.
I think that all of these other skills including emotional IQ, curiosity, perception are hugely valuable, but we don’t know how to screen for them. When kids are young because we can’t measure them, it’s like they don’t even exist. Fortune, in its 2017 story on the best places to work, interviewed these enormously successful CEOs. The CEO of Intuit, the CEO of Genentech, companies like that. They asked these CEOs, “What do you most value in your employees?” since this was about the best places to work. They all lead with curiosity. We all talked about emotional resilience and things like that. I almost screamed when I read this because I thought, “You’re sure not hiring for those qualities and hoping they emerge over time. You’re hiring for the same thing that everybody else of your stature that the Intuits and the Genentech’s hire for and that is the engineer coming out of Cal Tech or Princeton.
It’s not the people they’re hiring for in my opinion. That’s one thing I talk to companies about, how to test the current employees to find out what’s holding them back in their levels of curiosity. What I found in my research in curiosity was there was a lot of assessments that will tell you how curious you are or are not, anything that was telling you of what was keeping you from being curious, which is what I created. We need to find the things that are holding us back so that you can move forward. There’s more that we can learn. I know you wrote about Myers-Briggs and some of the testing in there, and there are a lot of tests that maybe don’t give people the answers that they’re looking for.
You said you wanted to open a conversation with your book. I want to open up a conversation about curiosity, perception and all these things that are squishy, that you sometimes get through real-world learning. You’re so humble about your education, how you work 4.0 and all that. To be an editor at Forbes and the things that you’ve done, you have to be able to write and be very bright to do what you’re doing. If you didn’t get great grades, how do you think you got to that level of ability to write? This book was so well-written, interesting and well-researched. How did you get that? Did you get that from real-world learning? Did you get that from your formal education? You make it sound like until you were 30, you were a regular guy.
One of the things that maybe I should have gone into in the book more than I did was that when I was a security guard, I wasn’t always in a trucking yard looking straight into the eyes of a Doberman Pinscher through a fence. Many of them were office jobs. I would come in at 5:00 and replace the receptionist. I would be the security guard until midnight and then somebody would relieve me. That was a great time to read. I began to read things that I hadn’t read before. I wasn’t following any kind of curriculum. I read the things that interested me. Some of these people were pretty serious writers. I remember reading Saul Bellow’s Humboldt’s Gift, which was the novel that put Bellow over the top and he became the Nobel Prize winner in literature the year after he published Humboldt’s Gift.We need to find the things that are holding us back so that we can move forward. Click To Tweet
I studied these things with a fervor. I tried to deconstruct, “Why is this such a great book on so many levels?” You’re going to laugh at this because you’re going to think this is a made-up story. One of the things I did well at Upside was I learned to be a good Q&A interviewer. We didn’t have a big editorial budget at Upside. I could fill pages with long-form Q&A. You don’t see long-form Q&As. You have podcasts instead. The magazine I studied because it was the leader in long form, Q&As was Playboy. Playboy had done some great interviews. I hired a guy who did the Playboy interview with Steve Jobs, and he did the Playboy interview with John Lennon that was run after Lennon’s death.
He did this interview with Lennon and Yoko Ono in late 1980. Lennon was shot in December 1980. The guy’s name is David Sheff. David Sheff subsequently had books that have made the New York Times best-seller list, a really good writer. I knew I couldn’t afford Sheff over the long-term, but I wanted to get up close to Sheff to discover how he did these great Q&As. What I realized was that he did hours and hours of conversation and then distilled it down. There’s editorial discretion when you distill it down, but his subjects didn’t care because he was making them look good, but not good in a PR way. He was making them look like fully-formed human beings, the good and the bad, but there was something about it that was very edifying to the reader and to the subject alike.
They showed vulnerability. Sheff would always say, “I always try to push people into their emotional corners. I want to see what they are like when they’re angry. I want to see what they’re like when they’re wistful. I want to see what they’re like when they’re optimistic and triumphant.” He would make sure he touched all of that, then you’d have this massive transcript that he would edit it down into this great Q&A. I thought, “That’s it. From quantity, you get quality.” I learned how to do that. We were known at Upside for Q&As. Once I got the ball moving on that, they all came, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems, folks of that caliber. That was the thing that got Steve Forbes interested in hiring me. Probably I should have devoted a couple of paragraphs in the book to what I learned on my own time. Maybe I’m shortchanging the reader in that sense, but you’re getting an exclusive. Your readers will know that part of the story I didn’t include in the book.
There was one thing I want to touch on that you said because you asked the question when asking how can the creative, the curious, the searchers, explorers jump off the dominant culture’s conveyor belt and begin to shape their own fates or something to that effect. The answer is to quit. Is that what your answer was? Can you explain that?
I believe that we put out the message to teenagers, kids and young adults that you should never quit, that perseverance is all. How do you explain Richard Branson who has quit more businesses then he is stuck with? He quit Virgin Cola, he quit Virgin Brides. There’s an optimal use of our time, treasure and talent in any given moment in time. If you think about that, it drives you nuts a little bit because I’m always wondering, “Is there a better use of my time, talent, treasure?” When a military general quits, we call it a strategic retreat. When an entrepreneur goes out and try something and then it doesn’t work, the original mission and the business plan doesn’t work, they don’t quit. We don’t think of them as quitting a business. We think of them as making it an excellent strategic pivot.
When Intel decided to get out of the memory chip business because Japan and South Korea were eating its lunch and they decided to bet everything on the microprocessor, it was a very difficult decision at the time. One of the Founders, Bob Noyce, thought it was quitting. Andy Grove prevailed in the argument and the rest is history. It turned out to be a brilliant strategic retreat and refocused into something that was growing. Why can’t we look at quitting in the same way? I want to be very careful here. I don’t want anybody to become a serial quitter. I don’t want anybody to think that always quitting should be the first response to anything. Sometimes it makes sense to quit. Sometimes perseverance, if we’re persevering on something that isn’t coming from our own intrinsic motivation, but we feel like we’re being pushed, that’s a great prescription for burnout.
That leads to that Carol Dweck observation about these kids who get into Stanford now that are brittle and exhausted because they’ve fulfilled somebody else’s agenda, their parents, their high school counselors and their peers, rather than doing what they should have done and driven themselves. I think it makes sense. We need to look at quitting objectively and say no. None of us should become serial quitters, default quitters when things get tough, but sometimes it makes sense and sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to quit. Daniel J. Brown who wrote a book that was on the bestseller list for two years called The Boys in the Boat about the Depression era. Rowers from the University of Washington had a controversial coach, a boat builder and they ended up winning the National Championships in 1936. They went to the Berlin Olympics as an eight-man team and they beat Germany under Hitler’s nose.
It was a great story. Daniel J. Brown quit high school. He had anxiety attacks in high school. He worked out a deal where he would study. He happened to grow up in Berkeley and he studied at the University of California as his main library. There, he fell in love with books. Later, he would quit law school. Why did he go to law school? Because his older brother had gone to law school and his dad, while he was dying, advised Dan to go to law school too. He hated it. It wasn’t the best use of this time, treasure and talent. He quit that too. He became a junior college teacher of remedial English. It looked like he had made a bad decision at the time, but it was his decision and he owned it. There’s a case for quitting and let’s have an open and honest discussion about the virtues of quitting as well as the liabilities of quitting.
A lot of us who are competitive have a hard time saying they’re going to quit for any reason because we were taught that you’ve got to fight to the end. I saw some of the early reviews. I know Daniel Pink has written something very kind to say about your book. What we’re going to see in the future, it comes at a great time when there’s so much talk about Millennials and if they’re maybe staying home too long. We’ve got helicopter moms, dragon mothers and we’ve got all these things. You address some important issues. I love that you got so much into curiosity.
I wrote a lot about Carol Dweck’s work in my research, so you hit on so many things that fascinated me from my own perspective. I know this was an important book. I know you’ve written a lot of very important books, but this one was something that I couldn’t put down. I hope everybody takes some time to check it out. It’s Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard. Rich, would you like to share any websites, links or anything with anybody for how they can reach you?
The book is plural, Late Bloomers, but my website is LateBloomer.com. You can go to RichKarlgaard.com. If you promise not to abuse this, just drop me an email at RKarlgaard@Forbes.com. I want to start a national conversation. This is a bit of a different book for me. I’ve written books on corporate culture. I’ve written books on high-performance teams, but this is a different book. This came from a deeper place. It certainly took more work. From the time I first started jotting down some ideas until this book came out, it was five years. A lot of research went into it. I didn’t want anything in the book to not be research-based. I even had to reject a couple of ideas, things that I thought would be sure, things that I wanted to write about, but I couldn’t find the research to validate it.
For example, is the real problem with self-doubt that it undermines our self-worth? I’m convinced that that’s a problem with self-doubt, but I couldn’t find that connection between self-doubt and self-worth. I took a different approach. That’s why the chapter on how to make self-doubt using Albert Bandura’s work about self-efficacy and some of the things that we know to be true was there. It was a long project and I hope it is useful, particularly for parents who don’t know whether they should be more on the tiger mom side or whether they should be more on the Montessori use of three side. Every parent is sort of racked with the sense of ever-present guilt that they’re not doing exactly the right things for their kids. The kids are autonomous human beings. Let them grow. Be with them for their joys and their failures. Teach them how to overcome failures, teach them how and when to quit without becoming a serial quitter. This is what I wanted to do at this moment in time.None of us should become serial quitters, but sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to quit. Click To Tweet
I see it for a lot of Millennials too and Gen X-ers. I can see it for so many people. I had people in mind as I was reading it who I thought, “I’ve got to tell this person.” A lot of them were Millennials who want to do more, but they think everybody’s criticizing them that they’re getting old and why haven’t they done something? I could see that this would be very helpful to them to see that it’s not too late. Some Gen X-ers I had in mind who stick with jobs aren’t happy with their jobs based on the wrong reasons. Maybe it’s a fear of looking bad, quitting. There’re so many generational issues for each generation. It would be interesting to Boomers as well since I found it just amazing.
I came away from this with a belief of a couple of things that I wouldn’t have believed before. I will never ever use the word snowflake in association with Millennials again. I know a lot of people, particularly conservatives, and I’m a conservative will throw that around. When I think about what society and what parents have done to Millennials, they’ve pushed them along this path that you shall all go to college and it’s going to be the most elite college that you can get into. Is it any wonder why we’ve created more brittle people? Basically, what some people call snowflake, it’s a cry out. You layer on the fact that many of these poor Millennials came into the workforce after the 2008, 2009 financial crash and recession. Let’s give them a little bit of a break and let’s start a conversation that will help them.
I am rethinking my position on student loan forgiveness. I always thought that would be the worst thing. It would create a moral hazard, nobody would ever pay off a loan again. In my conversation with Mike Milken, he said, “This is a $1.5 trillion overhang, but we are going to do multipliers of $1.5 trillion worth of damage if the 80 million Millennials are not going out and starting businesses the way previous generations did. They feel that they can’t take that entrepreneurial fling because they’ve got debt payments.” Milken said, “We let distress companies work it out.” The president of the United States has used the bankruptcy process three times legally. Why are we so demanding of these students? We shouldn’t have a discussion about what it would mean to work out these debts. I would have never believed that before. I became out of this huge believer in gap years, those two years that you take after high school, before you go to college or maybe between college, between your sophomore and junior year. There were a few things that really turned my mind about all of this.
I definitely can see your point. I definitely have different views when I was doing my research as well. I think that especially in education, things are changing and you can’t always do things the way they were done in the past. There are so many people out there that have all this hanging over them. There’s got to be something that makes it better where people are going to be more productive and be able to utilize their education better and not have this burden.
Both for individuals and for society. American society nowadays is a little bit brittle and fragile, not unlike how Carol Dweck describes her freshman year at Stanford. If we want to see a country that has thrived in the future as it has in the past, then we need people to thrive. A lot of this comes from a religious belief of mine that if we were created in God’s image, then you unpack that statement. If we were created in the image of a creator, then we were born to go out and create. We were born to use whatever talents we have and marry them with our deepest passions and thrive at that intersection of our talents and passions. Those talents and passions won’t always reveal themselves at age sixteen. Oftentimes, they reveal themselves later, oftentimes after being beaten up. I still think that’s the way we get the opportunity for most people to thrive, to live the lives that they were meant to live, to discover what Oprah Winfrey calls their supreme destiny. Society is the big winner when that happens.
I really think that you make so many important points. I hope so many people go out and get your book, Late Bloomers. Rich, thank you.
Thank you, Diane. This is a fascinating conversation and your readers got some stuff that nobody else has gotten.
I’d like to thank Rich Karlgaard for being my guest. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
- Rich Karlgaard
- Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement
- Fisher Investments
- Milken Global Summit
- Elkhonon Goldberg
- Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
- John Couch – Past episode
- Albert Bandura – Past episode
- Keith Krach – Past episode
- Daniel Goleman – Past episode
- Francesca Gino – Past episode
- Humboldt’s Gift
- The Boys in the Boat
About Rich Karlgaard
Rich Karlgaard is Publisher and Futurist of Forbes Media. His writing is known for its keen assessment of technology, economic, business and leadership issues. He is a regular commentator on the Fox Business channel, a speaker and panel moderator at business events, and a Silicon Valley investor and advisory board member. He is the author of multiple book including his latest, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement.