Bryan sits down at the microphone with Bob Harris, best known for his multiple appearances on Jeopardy and his book, The International Bank of Bob, which focuses on one of Bryan’s favorite websites, Kiva.com. Enjoy their fast-paced conversation covering a whole lot more than simply how to be a successful writer..
00:01:02 – The answer to the meaning of life question.
00:03:55 – Country count.
00:10:20 – Wolf Blitzer Jeopardy.
00:15:33 – The blessings of Jeopardy.
00:21:24 – How to train your brain to remember.
00:30:45 – Bob and Bryan discuss Bitcoin.
00:36:43 – The luxury writing world.
00:41:15 – Finding Kiva in Qatar.
00:52:12 – The wide reach of an idea.
01:01:22 – Lightning round.
01:14:12 – The most important part of your script. (Bob Harris’s Parachute)
01:22:36 – How important is it to live in LA white writing.
The International Bank of Bob by Bob Harris
Who Hates Whom by Bob Harris
Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy! by Bob Harris
Wolf Blitzer Jeopardy Fail
Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by Ken Jennings
Ian Foster Novels
Breathe: The Simple, Revolutionary 14-Day Program to Improve Your Mental and Physical Health by Dr. Belisa Vranich
BRYAN: 00:00:41 Welcome to the school for good living.
New Speaker: 00:00:42 Oh, well thanks for having me. Pleasure. I love what you’ve done with.
BRYAN: 00:00:47 Well, thank you. So Bob, there’s so much I want to ask you about from your travels to your trivia, to your philanthropy, but I want to start with kind of a big philosophical question first by asking what’s life about.
New Speaker: 00:01:02 Oh, my is the meaning of life? I actually have an answer to that. I think it’s pretty much. I think our life’s taken out take takes on meaning to the extent that our actions and our beliefs actually like match. And a lot of times if people are feeling purposeless at work or rudderless in their career, more not sure what’s going on with the relationship. There’s just a disconnect between those two. There is no one meaning for life. There are seven billion of them, hopefully that involves doing good for other people. Otherwise you’re a terrible person and uh, but most of the people watching this I’m sure are wonderful. Uh, and so it’s really, the trick is about figuring out how to arrange your life more and more in a way. And this can take years. It could take a lifetime. I’m still working on it so that your work and your actions and your love and your, your everything, your personal life, it actually is all fitting with your beliefs. That’s, that’s my answer. Ok, see you, good-bye!
BRYAN: 00:02:02 No, I love that and I actually had that as a note in your book, The International bank of Bob, to ask you about because the sentence and you wrote it a few different times in slightly different ways, but essentially saying the same thing that your thesis is that life takes on meaning to the degree that our efforts and love are connected.
New Speaker: 00:02:21 Yeah. Yeah. That’s another way of saying the exact same thing. That’s actually a better way of putting it, which is why it’s in the book. That’s a much better way of putting it. Yeah. Our love, our the part of our heart that lives outside of ourselves and our ability to then work toward that is people get it. I mean, the thing is everybody watching this or listening to this has a pretty similar heart probably so you probably already know what we’re talking about or at least have a deep sense of it.
BRYAN: 00:02:49 I love that. It’s beautiful. When somebody asks you who you are and what you do… I know this might change by context or who’s asking, but generally what do you tell them?
New Speaker: 00:02:59 My business card actually, because I’ve done a bunch of different things. I currently my day job in writing and I do the TV development, travel writing, and I write books and I do a bunch of different things. So writer is usually the thing. Um, am I allowed to curse? Mild cursing on the podcast? All right. Um, my uh, uh, my business card actually just says Bob Harris, Next Level Shit. Um, and that usually just opens up a conversation. People say, well, what, what does that mean? What do you do? And then depending on the social context, if I’m at a charity thing that I can talk about the latest things that I’ve heard about or that are really cool, or if I’m writing a thing about Hollywood deal, then I can talk about the current project that I’m doing. Um, so I don’t really have a way to, some of my life in one simple… a writer more than anything else. That’s what on, health insurance forms I fill OUT. That would be all.
BRYAN: 00:03:55 So talking about next level and what’s coming. Um, I mean you’ve been out around the world. It’s probably increased even since you wrote the International Bank of Bob, I think at that count was somewhere around 70 countries.
New Speaker: 00:04:08 I’ve lost count. It’s somewhere in the eighties now and it all depends on whether or not you want to count the Cook Islands administered. They’ve like militarily defended by New Zealand. They don’t have a UN seat, but they have a flag. So it’s somewhere between 80 and 90 countries at this point.
BRYAN: 00:04:26 During those years of travel and being in so many places interacting with so many people, how many times did you ever fear for your physical safety?
New Speaker: 00:04:35 I’ve been asked this a number of times, believe it or not, basically never. Um, honestly, I, I, I, it’s hard to explain this because you see the television and you turn on the TV news is basically just a daily chronicle. Well, until, to be honest with you, until Trump got elected, now it’s a daily chronicle of whatever the hell he just tweeted. And now here’s a panel of experts to try to sort out reality because what the hell, um, but prior to that point, the news was essentially a chronicle and it still is to a large extent of what, blew up today, what’s on fire. Uh, what, uh, uh, you know, who’s shooting who, and, and, and, and all presented so far out of context. It’s completely impossible to understand. You can’t really understand a lot unless you go really deep into detail on any one of these many conflicts or issues around the world.
New Speaker: 00:05:26 Meanwhile, the world is populated with the actual human beings here. It’s about 7 billion people who want to make better lives for their kids and a very small number of psychopaths in almost every country. And uh, that doesn’t change. And so you can be in a horrific dictatorship and the kids play football and soccer. You play with them. People drink tea, hang out. Yes, a beautiful day. And yes, laws are really a mess and the government’s awful, but the people are the same. And so I’ve been in, and I said this in the book, I’ve been in places where I really felt like, okay, this is going to be scary. Uh, I was in the first time I went to Beirut, I when I was in college, um, Islamic Jihad, which is the predecessor of Hezbollah, was in the kidnapping Americans and occasionally beheading them business.
New Speaker: 00:06:15 And so I would watch the TV news when I was in my late teens and early twenties, Lebanon, big scary place. I got to Beirut. And now honestly, some of my dearest friends in the world are in Beirut. It’s a beautiful city that has tremendous difficulties and real trouble. But once you’re there and you’re actually with me, that said, there are places I won’t go. Um, I mean I don’t go to a Iraq. I don’t spend a lot of time in Syria. Uh, I, you know, there’s, I can make a list of 20 or 30 places that I say or just no goes North Korea, central African Republic bunch of places. But, um, I was, I was just astonished at how and the resilience of human beings too. And this is digressing from your question, but I was in a lot of places when I was writing the book will recovering from war even genocide, the worst things that ever happened. And I’d meet the kids and the next generation is still born fresh. They’re still born and their parents can teach them the hatred, but while they’re young there’s, they’re just there just like you and me. I mean there’s no difference. And to walk, what I’m feeling incredibly lucky about is that I got to see that, learn it and know it for the rest of my life. And so now I try to put that in other people’s brains and hearts too. So. Sure.
BRYAN: 00:07:34 I love that perspective. And I myself have been to nearly 70 countries and that’s one of the things that, that I wish I could share. Like I wish there’s places, you know, that I could beam people like to the rain forest or you know, I did have the opportunity to visit North Korea for 24 hours 10 years ago. So it’s really a little different then. And like you, I mean I had a chance. I was invited to go to Syria just about a year ago and I declined, a friend went and came back, but I mean your book. So I’ve seen that right about that. People are people, you know, we all bleed red. We all want the same things. Basically, we all want to be warm. We want to be loved, we want to matter, you know, we want the best for our kids and that. I love that that came through in your book, the International Bank of Bob. And to be honest, I hadn’t realized when I invited you to be on this show that you had written Who Hates Whom, but a little bit about why you, why did you devote enough energy to write an entire book about that?
BOB: 00:08:36 Oh yeah. Who needs. It’s about 10 years old now about, it’s a short. It’s humorous, short summaries of at that time, all of the major conflicts in the world. So, you know, because what happens again, you watch the television and at the time, TV news with a bigger deal than it is now. Um, you, you, you know, you get a two minute report or whatever, just exploded in, you know, checks notes, look up country without any of the context, and a lot of these conflicts aren’t actually that, tremendously complex. If they were, it’d be really hard to recruit people to fight them, you know, hey, why should I go kill that guy? The answer to that, if that’s an essay question, nobody’s going to go do the killing. So you’ve got to have a really simple answer. A lot of the conflicts are actually based on producing a reasonable set of emotions.
BOB: 00:09:25 So okay, let’s look at history and citizen boatloads of research to boil it all down and like 1500 word chapters basically. And truthfully it was meant to be a reference book for the reader, but also honestly, it was intended to be something that would sit on the shelves in newsrooms because the people on television who play reporters on television are people on television playing reporters to a very large extent. They look great. They’re spokesmodels who were reading the latest press releases, but do they actually know what’s going on? Google Wolf Blitzer Jeopardy and you’ll see just how much that man knows about the world, and Wolf Blitzer played celebrity Jeopardy. He got dusted by. Um, uh, what’s his name? The guy who played Eddie Barker PD. It was a Conan, Conan O’Brien’s sidekick. I forget his name. Andy. Andy Richter dusted him. Wolf Blitzer actually had the second lowest score in the history of the show.
BOB: 00:10:20 Ug negative…. something or other. So they don’t actually know nearly as much as they sort of pretended to. They’re playing it on TV and so I wanted there to be a book that could sit on their shelves. So Oh, something blew up in Ecuador and then they can, oh, here’s the context and then take it on the air and actually have some clue which as a grand plan to change the world didn’t really have nearly the effect that I had hoped, but I have seen it actually on shelves in newsrooms more than once. So what the heck?
BRYAN: 00:10:49 That’s got to be gratifying.
New Speaker: 00:10:51 It’s nice. It was nice. I’m not sure if anyone opened it, but it was there.
BRYAN: 00:10:55 Let’s see. Speaking of Jeopardy, that’s one thing I want to ask you about. I know, and this thing about your phone, phone, a friend answer on millionaire. Yeah. Um, so that was the quarter million dollar question, right? You helped a friend answer because you knew it before he even read you the multiple choices.
New Speaker: 00:11:17 Yeah. That was fun.
BRYAN: 00:11:17 How did that story end? Oh, it ended with him. He actually, he, after I hung up the phone and to back up, I was phone a friend for my friend Howard Johnson was on the West to be a millionaire in 2005, six, seven, somewhere around there. And he was sitting there in a $250,000. Unfortunately it was something that I knew as I read it in Mad Magazine, I was like 11 years old. Honest to God it was about Norman Mailer staffing is with a pen knife and I didn’t know what a pen knife was and I’m like 11. So I thought he just stabbed her with a pen and he was a writer and I thought that was just sort of stuck in my head is like writers go around stabbing people with their pens?
BRYAN: 00:12:05 No wonder you want it to be a writer.
New Speaker: 00:12:07 Exactly. It’s how. It’s, how I really get all the anger out. And uh, so it just happened to be in my head and it was lucky. So Howard, uh, the next question, he didn’t know… he quit the game with $250,000. Went back to Illinois, continued business career as a writer. It paid off. I mean there was like he had expenses that will get in his private life, but it changed his financial situation dramatically. And um, and he sent me a really nice gift and it was wonderful little small chapter. It was really fun.
BRYAN: 00:12:38 That’s so great. That’s awesome. Well, and you’ve had your own time on Trivia, on quiz shows on Jeopardy. I understand you’re a five time champion.
New Speaker: 00:12:47 Five? Come on. I am insulted.
BRYAN: 00:12:50 Is it more?
BOB: 00:12:50 Yeah. Well, when I was on in 97, they would retire you after five games. But, um, then, you know, then they bring in… they were afraid that people would get bored of having the same champion. Then they changed that rule after it was on the show, which is why Ken Jennings and these other young whippersnappers can go on these long runs, you know, we had to walk to Jeopardy through two feet of snow and uh, it was a different world then. So what, I’ve since been back for a bunch of invitational tournaments, so I’ve been on the show 14 times now and I don’t know how much I’ve won because I’m not that. I don’t actually care. It’s a lot of money. So whatever. Um, and uh, I remember now memory boy Jeopardy. Uh, I won eight games and actually lost six times I actually have lost on Jeopardy more often than anyone else alive. Thank you very much.
BRYAN: 00:13:39 That’s the Babe Ruth at bats, right?
New Speaker: 00:13:41 Yeah, exactly. Yes. Yes. You only, you only are really great. Thank you for that. Yeah.
BRYAN: 00:13:51 So I know this book, I didn’t read it, uh, the Prisoner of Trebekistan. Tell me a little bit about that book and why you wrote it.
New Speaker: 00:14:00 Oh, oh, that’s about Jeopardy. As you probably guessed from the idea, the name again, that’s about 10 years ago, having been on the show a bunch of times and I was at the time one of the more memorable contestants because I had a lot of fun on the show. That’s why they always want me back for invitational tournaments. Most people get up there and it’s dead serious and rigid and I, I’m used to being on stage. I’ve been on stage my whole life, so I’m actually on the… I’ve been on stage more than Alex has, so I’m up there and it’s just almost like no big deal. There’s no stress. So I’m having a great time and I’m also aware that if I’m really obviously relaxed and having a great time and actually makes the other players even more nervous. So I’m petty and uh, so I just have a great time with it.
BOB: 00:14:43 And at that time, after I’d been on the show, a bunch of random house offered me a boatload of money to write about it. I said, well, okay. And uh, so I wanted… my niece and nephew at the time were at an age where I wanted to teach them the pneumonic skills that I use to memorize all this stuff for Jeopardy. So that’s actually snuck into uh chapter five and chapter seven. Both have stuff in the book about how you remember all that stuff. It’s actually not that complex. And subsequent to that I’ve done a college and corporate talks about memory skills and performance under pressure and stuff like that ever since, which has been a really nice side benefit. And it’s also the book is what it’s actually about though isn’t the show and it’s not memory of stuff. What it’s really about is it’s a precursor to the International Bank of Bob.
BOB: 00:15:33 When I was studying for Jeopardy, all of a sudden the whole world started opening up to me that I never thought that I would be really interested in. Uh, suddenly I cared about art and architecture and uh, all these exotic places that I was reading about and history and Shakespeare and it was all suddenly like really cool. And I hoped that someday I would be able to get out and see the world. And then when the Bank of Bob rolls along whatever it is, eight years later, nine years later, I did so you can actually read Trebekistan, and it’s like the pupa phase of the Bank of Bob book. I walked in the front of the door Jeopardy hoping to win fabulous cash and prizes. And when I actually, won was interest in the world and incredible friends, uh, the people who do well on Jeopardy are not brainiacs. They’re not just really normal people with insatiable curiosity and a lot of playfulness. And a lot of my current friends to this day are people that I met at the green room in Jeopardy or in the green room at Jeopardy. And tomorrow night I’m going to go actually go down to a club and do trivia with, uh, uh, three of the other people on the pub trivia team, are fellow Jeopardy champs. And we’re finding crush people like flies.
BRYAN: 00:16:49 Yeah, that’s unfair. Actually. You guys have like your own bowling league shirts when you, when you walk in?
New Speaker: 00:16:57 That’s not a bad idea. Yeah, that’s actually pretty cool. Last week I actually haven’t done it very much for the last few years. I’ve been too busy, but I’ve been in Los Angeles for a little while, so I went last week and um, there’s this pub in Santa Monica has Trivia nights on Wednesdays and since La has a bunch of Jeopardy, former players and so on, they actually have a price in their pub trivia for the team that doesn’t have the Jeopardy champion it.
BRYAN: 00:17:20 Oh Wow.
New Speaker: 00:17:21 The team that does that, but they win a prize. We sit around and by the way, I’m not, I’m not. When I sit at the table with like Brad Rudder and Pam Bueller and those people, I’m Schempp. I don’t mean to put myself quite… like Brad’s incredible. Pam’s brilliant. There’s a bunch of people who are in a whole other level beyond me and I don’t pretend to be at that level for what it’s worth.
BRYAN: 00:17:42 Well that, that whole thing about, because Ken Jennings book Brainiac and he talks about some of these strategies and things and you know, I thought maybe this was just a gift and I think it, I think it is a gift but not just a gift. Right. For you to do well for anyone to do well, will you talk with me a little bit about what you have learned and how you prepared like to be to do well on Jeopardy and how that translates to like real life for… how can they apply that?
BOB: 00:18:16 Sure, I never would have imagined that like at Jeopardy would then lead to like actual real life skills or something like that. But when I first got the call for the show, I failed the test to get on the show five times.
BRYAN: 00:18:27 What’s the test like?
New Speaker: 00:18:28 At the time, at least in 1995, six and seven, it was 50 questions and you had to get some unknown number (35) of correct in order to have a, uh, a then get to play in the practice game. And they would get to evaluate whether or not you could speak in simple declarative sentences and so on and a few if you’re suddenly handing out propaganda during the test date, they know not to have you on the show. So I went five times and my degrees like engineering and applied physics which is not on the show and I’m sitting there with people who graduated with liberal arts degrees and so all the questions about Shakespeare and history and all these things that at that time I knew very little about.
BOB: 00:19:09 I would not have been able to find Beirut on a route. I had no idea. And I got smoked every time I went in and I gave up and finally went back one more time because you know, they give away free money. I live in Los Angeles, give it a shot and like to try every six months. They changed the tests. So I went and passed, oh my God. And then I went through the little practice game and it went well and they said, well maybe we’ll call you. Six months go by. I don’t think anything of it. And I get a phone call, say, hey, you’re on in three weeks and it dawns on me that, wait a minute, I’m going to be playing against a bunch of people who pass the test on the first try. I’m going to get humiliated on national television.
BOB: 00:19:49 And I’m driven by fear and shame. I’m driven by just the terror of public shaming, you know, it’s just like who needs that? Or I was at the time. So I had three weeks. So the first thing I did is I spent the first week and a half getting every book I could out of the library, about memory skills about how the brain works, about everything that was known at the time about neuroanatomy and, and memory storage, hippocampus amygdala, and all the little tiny structures in the brain, how they work and tried to boil it all down as fast as I could into, um, useful skills. And then I spent about a week and a half then with books written by former Jeopardy champions about the stuff they crammed for the show and basically loaded in those books and showed up at the show with a like in the matrix.
BOB: 00:20:37 When Neo opens his eyes, he goes, I know Kung Fu. It was a little bit like that. I showed up and I knew the novels of Henry James and I showed up and, I swear to God, and I was winning in runaways. I just started crushing people and it was three weeks, so here’s the trick, and you have to be willing to be really playful with it. Our memories are the structures in our brain that decides whether or not we’re going to remember something or it’ll just disappear into the ether. Do not care whether you want to know a thing, whether you are motivated, how important it is to you. That’s why wrote learning doesn’t work. That’s why we stress and study and stare. It doesn’t work. They want to keep you alive. Your brain exists to keep you alive. It’s a basic survival function. You are a wild animal that has learned to walk on your hind legs, nothing more, get get over yourself.
BOB: 00:21:24 And so your brain cares about his primal stuff, sex, violence, food, survival issues, bathroom things, anything that involves survival and if it’s, if it’s big and it’s a vivid, it involves movement in bright colors, gets our attention right. That’s why the evening news, it looks the way that it does. So if you want to remember, um, oh, let’s see the one, the, one of the examples I use in the book actually, and now I have to reconstruct it and remember it live on camera. Um, the uh, uh, Ian Forester, the novels of Ian Forrester. I’ve never read any of them. I do not have time. I’ve never gotten to it. I’m sure they’re fantastic. I needed to know that for the show. All right, so I have a long, like a list of titles and I need to find a way to link them together. The way to do it is just pretend you’re eight years old and an immature little eight year old and make up the silliest visuals and jokes and whatever you can and stuff just goes right in.
BOB: 00:22:21 So when I came up with, um, okay. Ian Forester, forester, forester, forester. It’s a lumberjack. It’s a logger. Okay. So we have a hero. We have a protagonist. Okay. So I will link all these titles. Ian Forester, uh, let’s see. It’s um, uh, there’s a, a room with a view. Okay. So he builds a log cabin up in the big forest with a big picture window. Big giant room room with a view. Um, uh, uh, where angels fear to tread was one of the things. Okay? So now we have to put sin in the big room. Okay? Because angels don’t want to go in there. So I turned this place into this wild disco orgy. The visuals in my head are fantastic. Uh, then there’s a Howard’s end was one of them. Okay. I have this friend named Howard. It’s actually the guy who helped on a millionaire.
BOB: 00:23:12 Howard’s end. What could this be? A. So I pictured Howard’s end 30 feet large in the picture window. All right, and let’s say a passage to India, where would that be? All I can say is if you look at Howard’s end, you can see the Taj Mahal, so now you have to be like eight years old to laugh at that, but you will now remember that image for the rest of your freaking life because it’s primal. And I did that and as soon as I really learned how to do this for myself, it all of a sudden got to be fun. I mean just anything can go in. You sit there and you just invent stuff and play and make yourself snicker like a child that no one else has to know what’s going on in your head. And I was able to start loading stuff in to this day.
BOB: 00:23:55 Here’s the trick. If you’re in business meetings and you need to remember people’s names, you need to like your meeting of 100 people and shaking their hand and you glance at the ID and we’ve all, you know, it just goes in and out all the time. And I still do it to, it’s normal. I’m not paying attention. If you want something active to do, remember somebody’s name, you kill them with it in your head. Okay? If someone’s name is Doug, take a shovel, dig a hole in their forehead, right?
BRYAN: 00:24:24 Morbid,
BOB: 00:24:27 But you’ll remember it. It’s how our brains actually and we can judge it or we can use it, try it. You will actually be secretly having a great time at the party. And it also kills social anxiety because you’re no longer really concerned about anything but the little fun little joy you’re having in your head as you walk around and you know, run into people and you know, oh hey sue.
BOB: 00:24:48 And you remember that because you boiled that guy or whatever. And it’s actually, you know, I did a talk in Atlanta. There’s 1100 people there and all the people that I had to meet and everything. And then afterwards, the woman who was hosting came up, her name was Butch for some reason and she asked me in front of the 1100 people, how do you remember? How did you remember my name? And when I met her, I didn’t remember it the way you might think, I thought of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid at the end of the movie of basically I killed her with the Bolivian army and uh, and it never had a problem remembering your name ever since. And to this day I still remember her name. So anyway, that’s how memory works and there’s much more to it of course, but that’s the thumbnail version and it can transform your life then because anything you want to learn foreign languages and just you can start putting it in. And my life’s been amazing ever since.
BRYAN: 00:25:41 Now that’s, that’s awesome. And I did read, although I didn’t read Tribeca, Stan, when I read reviews, people had written on Amazon, people talked about how you had made this science interesting and the mechanics of memory and learning and how it was potentially very dry information that you had brought to life. And I can see as you described this now how that, how that’s the case. And one thing that comes through for me, you know, of course, talking with you now and in your book, International Bank of Bob and when I watched some of the talks that I could find of you online, it is your humor and you talk about the Improv training you did with Del Close and this, but one thing I’d love to get your perspective about his, you know, and I’m hearing you say that memory works better when we’re playful with it, right? And life seems to work better when we’re open and fun. Like having fun and joy is not to say like every moment’s a party, but I’ve found this often like a tense situation, a stressful situation.
BRYAN: 00:26:43 If I can bring some levity to it that it can kind of unjam things but tell me in your experience how much of what you would say is your current personality is something that you’ve consciously created and in humor into and how much is maybe something you were biologically endowed with? What, what, what’s your thought on that?
BOB: 00:27:01 Oh, that’s an interesting question. Uh, it’s really hard to say, but this is turning into counseling and I appreciate it. Normally this is much more expensive for me. I, I, I think everybody, I don’t think there’s anything special about me in this, but we are largely our own inventions. We could make the decision, whatever they hell happened to us prior to the age of 20. I come, I won’t get into it, but I come from a background that is a little bit Dickensian in its own ways. It was not the most pleasant of childhoods. I’ll leave it at that and so I have stuff that I talked to a counselor with every single week and work on, and by the way, anybody watching this, as long as I’ve got your ears and eyeballs, nobody’s ashamed to go into the gym. You’re going to the gym to work on your body and make yourself stronger.
BOB: 00:27:49 Why the hell is anybody ashamed with counseling or going to AA or going to whatever they need to? Why the… no? You’re making yourself stronger. You should be proud of going to counseling saying, you know, I’m going to get better. I’m going to seize the… learn from my mistakes, learn which were other people’s mistakes. My God. That’s how you become a better person, do it, be proud. Walk proud. So that speech done. Um, I, I have a bunch of stuff that I work on periodically, but I made the choice to work on it and a lot of people choose not to. Whatever happened to you prior to the age of 18, the past doesn’t have to be the future. And my biggest regret in life at age 54 now is that I did not. I, you know, all of the social shame and stigma and everything around counseling. I wish I’d started when I was 18.
BOB: 00:28:38 I wish I’d started sooner than that because once I really started taking apart my own issues and realizing how I am driven by x, y, and z that I’m not necessarily going to share on the Internet, Oh wow, I don’t have to do that anymore. And it doesn’t happen instantly. It takes years. It’s process. Once you really see the patterns, then wait a minute. I don’t want to do and then can start changing. And so I think to some extent I’m sort of a creation of my own, but anybody is making the choice not to work on those things. You’re still creating yourself, you’re just creating a version that doesn’t change. We just have the choice.
BRYAN: 00:29:15 Yeah. And maybe creating a version unconsciously as opposed to, you know, something you choose. Again…
BOB: 00:29:21 What’s really interesting is that the tools we learn as survival tools as children, the things that keep us alive at age 11 just become like what we see as the natural way to process the world and most people that I’ve ever met don’t bother to realize that maybe the tools that serve you really well at 15 aren’t necessarily tools that serve you the best at 45 or 25. And that’s something that should be so obvious once it’s said out loud it that should be like in the culture, we should all know that and accept that and understand that nobody gets out of adolescents alive. You know, we all got to work on stuff and you know, that’s okay. So one of the points I always try to make when I’m in front of an audience of any kind is, you know, if you’re a, because it can be the most professional audience in the world, it can be a bunch of fortune 500 people in their fancy suits and they’re all in pain, every single one of them I guarantee and we don’t make room for that. It’s one of the things that we’re all driven and it’s almost like Protestant work ethic. We’re gonna make the world a better place with incredible strength. Ah, screw that come here, give me a hug, because that’s actually where we all really are. And we… We take it home and we do it at home and we hide it and none of that come here give me a hug. So, uh, anyway, that’s my kind of hair brained answer to your question about, you know, who am I? I hope I’m over myself. I’m trying to be
BRYAN: 00:30:45 Totally jumping, but I’m thinking about what you said on your business card, the purveyor of next level shit. Is that the card? One of these conversations that I’ve been having recently that feels like next level to me is this conversation about blockchain and I’m wondering from your perspective in California and as a world traveler and just in the circles you move in, what, what do you know about it and what’s your understanding of its impact for future?
BOB: 00:31:18 Let me disavow any particular expertise. I only know a bunch of stuff I’ve read. I think it’s really important as a first thing for anybody who’s listening to separate the blockchain from bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, which are the primary means that everybody discusses. The words are almost synonymous in public use a lot of the time, they’re two completely different things. The blockchain itself is a technology and the bitcoins are sort of an application but to a cryptocurrency, stuff like that. So a lot of times as soon as people talk about watching, they start talking about cryptocurrencies immediately as if that’s what it’s about. That’s the main way it’s used now, but that’s certainly not. It’s, it’s, it’s, its potential at all. It actually gets massive. Other potential that don’t on the separate subject of cryptocurrencies, I’m not a believer for a whole bunch of reasons.
BOB: 00:32:08 We could get into a lot of it having to do with just the sheer, the the energy intensiveness of the mining and the way it’s done. It doesn’t look like a sustainable ecosystem to me, but I could be wrong about that. I’m not an expert, backing way off of that. I’m happy to listen to the people that know more than I do. The blockchain, as I understand it, is a technology that has just very much in its infancy that due to the… the way it can be redundantly stored and the way that almost anything can be put on it. I think governments are probably going to start cracking down on it as soon as they realize its potential to enable communication and secure ways that intelligence agencies can intervene with. So I think it’s actually a potential game changer in all sorts of things. It also has massive potential for abuse. You can use the blockchain to money launder. You can use the blockchain to. I mean, it’s this giant secret thing and I kind of suspect that once its potentials fulfill people whose power will be threatened by it and they’ll do everything they can to destroy it, but that sounds really paranoid and I know that I’m not an expert on it. So that is the complete sum total of my answer to that question. What do you think?
BRYAN: 00:33:25 Well, it sounds like the story of humanity’s history, what you’re describing, right? I mean it’s something I’m not an expert in either, but I’m learning a bit more about, in fact, I’m hosting a dinner in just a couple of weeks to bring people together who were working in this space and not just, you know, who’ve heard about it from somebody or something. And just from the little that I’ve heard, um, you know, some people that I respect are saying this technology has the potential to transform our world on the level of the Internet. And I’m like how is that possible? And then they’ll start pointing to some applications and I think, okay, like I don’t totally get it, but I can, you know, I’m willing to accept the possibility. So I was just curious about your view on that.
BOB: 00:34:09 I just wish that is such a buzzy word right now. I wish I was working in Silicon Valley and I was doing running startup or you could just basically slap the word blockchain on almost anything. I’m manufacturing kitchen appliances in the blockchain, you know.
BRYAN: 00:34:23 The service warranties are going to be blockchain administered that blockchain enabled or something.
BOB: 00:34:30 Yeah, yeah, yeah. We have toothbrushes and oral hygiene in the blockchain.
BRYAN: 00:34:38 Yeah, exactly. Okay. So I want to ask you a bit about your book, the International Bank of Bob. Let’s see. I know you’ve talked a lot about this. People listening might not have heard, but I, before I get to asking you a specific question about it, I want to share with you that your book was one of the things that inspired me to start a Kiva lending team of my own. And I see the Kiva lending team of that has your name on it. I understand this one. You didn’t actually start yourself, but the friends of Bob Harris have started a team that I checked last night. It’s the ninth most popular team, not just most popular but most loaned the most money, just over $8,000,000 now for people who don’t know about micro lending, it’s now kind of an old thing, a little bit in our world is a, is an old thing. But to have your team, the team with your name on it, any way to have loaned more than $8,000,000 to entrepreneurs in developing countries, $25 at a time with an astonishing repayment rate like greater than you know, securities here in the developed world is pretty remarkable. So I, I am interested to, for you, if you’ll just share a little bit about what inspired you to write this book and who did you write it for?
BOB: 00:35:55 Oh, that’s an interesting question. The second part, who I wrote it for, I’ll get to that second. I’m okay with what I grew up. My grandfather was a Baptist minister and uh, so I grew up with this imperative to do well in the world or else you will burn in eternal agony. So I’ve always been motivated to do something nice to try to be a good person. I’m now motivated more because it’s fun. But uh, so in the middle of everything I’ve ever done, every point in my career, everything from doing stand ups, it’s new. Anything I’ve written, books, TV, whatever. I’m always thinking, okay, how is this helping? How is this doing good? Is it doing good? And if it doesn’t, I actually don’t function well. Like I really need to do that. So, uh, in 2008 I was working, I had lucked into a job as a luxury travel writer.
BOB: 00:36:43 Uh, I was working for, mind you, my mother worked for minimum wage. My Dad worked in a General Motors factory, uh, my favorite foods cheerios, as I mentioned in the book. So it’s not exactly like I’m Mr Luxury. Okay. Anybody who’s heard me here, I have not. I’m not the guy who shows up with white gloves and you know, Oh my God, you’ve got dust on your…. That’s not me. Right? If, if somebody explains to me a vertical wine tasting, I assume that means we’re standing up for drinking. That’s all I know about it. So, but I was hanging out with the right guy who was an editor at Forbes and he basically all they cared about was somebody who could make their deadlines not destroying anything, not just write to the damn articles that they’ve already picked the hotels. So it was the easiest job in the entire universe and I lived like a billionaire.
BOB: 00:37:31 My job, my job was to get on planes flying to exotic locales, check into the five star restaurant or eat the fancy meals, sleeping in the fancy bed and the right formulaic 300 word, a little internet essays, blog posts, basically confirming that yes the St Regis Hotel in Bali is nice. That was my job and it was fun for awhile. I won’t lie. I enjoyed the, the novelty of it. It’s just, you know, and I, I expected at every turn that somehow everyone would just smell the working class on me and at some point I would be busted. I’m walking into these billion dollar hotels and I just waited for a maitre’d somewhere to go him and simply grab me by the collar and pull me up and it never happened and I gradually started to realize, wait a minute, everybody’s pretending. I mean, yes, there are actual experts, but the ones who are actual experts actually don’t take it that seriously.
BOB: 00:38:27 The most knowledgeable chefs I’ve ever met actually just really love to cook and they’re not, you know, the, the, the media portrayal. Yeah, there’s a jerk chefs and so on, but actually the ones I’ve met are wonderful and at the people who don’t really have the expertise or the ones who can be released snooty and terrible, and frankly, most of the people I met interestingly working with all these amazing hotels, the hospitality industry is dominated by at least where I was, what I saw. It was mostly people from middle class backgrounds in the developing world who had, this was their ticket out to go see the world. And uh, so I was having amazing conversations about the planet with these people that I cared much more about than anything we were eating or anything in the building or any of the fancy stuff. So I’m connecting in a different way than I was expecting and enjoying a different thing that I was thinking about.
BOB: 00:39:23 And at the same time, you can’t go to a lot of these places and not notice the huge disparity between rich and poor, which we have here. Obviously. I’m speaking to you from, uh, the west side of Los Angeles, which is one of the nicest places in North America. And I can walk from where I’m standing to a bridge overpass, a where at night there’s a camp of 40 homeless people. Rich and poor is a thing everywhere. It’s getting much worse here, but you go to a place like Dubai and it’s, it’s a different ballgame. It’s an order of magnitude. You’ve got a thin veneer of a luxury class and most of the work is basically being done by people from South Asia, east Africa and so on who were essentially slave labor. They’re working for like six bucks a day in 105 degree heat, 10 hours a day and they’re doing it because they want to send some money home to their even poorer relatives back home.
BOB: 00:40:22 The reason people sign up to take these horrible jobs you’ve read about in Saudi Arabia, Qatar throughout the Middle East or Southeast Asia or any of any of these boom places in developing world, the workers who are living in a near slave level. Well that’s six bucks a day. You know, if you’re from a village where you people are living on the equivalent of about two bucks a day. If they can send another two or three bucks a day home, that’s. That’s, that’s money. That means something. That’s a better life for their kids. All of those guys who were sweating to death building the stadiums and Katar for the 2022 world cup, they’re doing it to make a better life for their families, nearly all of them. And when you realize that it’s becomes heartbreaking and more important than anything else you could look at. And so I’m walking around Dubai and you know, luxury hotel everywhere and the novelty’s worn off and I’m questioning the purpose of what I’m doing.
BOB: 00:41:15 And uh, I came across these four guys at the side of the street on Sheik…. road who were workers who freaking exhausted at the end of a brutal day and it missed the ride back to be labor camp where they sleep tend to ahead. And meanwhile I, as the travel writer up in my hotel room, have all of the free stuff you give to travel writers. My bed is covered in food. There’s a giant spread of fresh fruits and sparkling date juice and candy and just everything that they do and some of this is actual food. And I look at these guys and I just couldn’t go back up to my room and you know. So I went back to my room, I got a backpack, I shoveled everything I could into the backpack. Most of them, like salve my own conscience beyond went downstairs, found the guys and one of them gave me a little nod, little smile like, Hey, hi.
BOB: 00:42:10 And I sat down with them and I that was crossing a major threshold. That was a huge moment. That was one of the biggest moments in my life. I sat down with them, I opened the backpack and we didn’t have a language in common, but I just started sharing and they, I was wondering how that would go over would that feel weird, that feel condescending what I, you know, whatever. No, they were just really happy to eat. They were really happy and really appreciated it and I felt great. They felt great. It was a really great thing for like 45 minutes and it was like this amazing picnic at the side of this highway in the middle of Dubai and I wanted more of that in my life and had no idea how to get it. Meanwhile, I’m running around with the billion dollar hotels and right about that time, just as that was happening a little bit before, Kiva was creating crowdsourcing, which is the thing now everybody thinks of is this normal thing you’ve go to GoFundMe or you go to all these different crowdsourcing things.
BOB: 00:43:09 Kiva actually created that, they invented that. There’s a couple of wonderful people were in the bay area and people just like you and me, they were not, they did not have major funding. They didn’t have some giant backer. There was no, it was just the guy who did most of the work, founding Kiva, uh, my friend Matt, he was a software engineer at Tivo. He’s just working on a regular white collar job in the bay area. Kiva’s name actually was chosen. He worked at Tivo which was catchy and he looked through a word that sounded memorable in the same way. That’s how kiva got its name. And uh, they were creating a means of crowdsourcing the financing of small mom and pop businesses and developing world. Uh, this was inspired by the work of Mohammed Eunice in Bangladesh. That’s a whole digression, people in the Nobel peace prize for transforming the economy of millions of people in Bank of Bangladesh, so this spread around the world and then they wanted a way to crowdsource that so that you and me and everybody else who would put all our money together and little small pieces and help Simon in Kenya who needs to finance a cow a, which is asset financing.
BOB: 00:44:23 It’s exactly buying a car actually. And uh, or you know, any of these in these different, different shopkeepers and business owners. I came across Kiva. I looked at it. I didn’t know if it worked. It wasn’t a lot of peer reviewed research, but I knew that I wanted to do something and that if you want to help the lives of these workers in Dubai, the answer isn’t in Dubai. It’s making their lives better in India, it’s making their lives better in Sri Lanka and wherever they’re from. So it’s addressing the root of the problem. If a local economy was better, they want to take any formal jobs. So I got super interested in it and just started a few loans, a few more, a few more, and then I’ve mentioned it to a book agent and a suggested the idea that maybe I would just do a book where I followed the money and I went out to go visit these clients all over the world that just would ask them, well, does this help?
BOB: 00:45:17 Does this actually work? How would it work better? What do you need? What doesn’t work? And um, that turned into a four year… I thought it would maybe be a year of my life. And it turned into a little bit more than four years of traveling to five continents and visiting God knows how many people um showing up at the door to Tanzania. Hi, my name’s Bob. I’m from Los Angeles. And I came here to see how your woodworking businesses can I come in? And they would look at me and they looked at the translator and basically go, okay, and in 10 minutes I’m playing with the kids and uh, you know, sharing my own stories and making friends. And I learned a hell of a lot about micro finance and I learned a hell of a lot about the planet and wrote a book that tries to cover all of that territory. That was a long answer to a short question. I hope it answered, answered, in full.
BRYAN: 00:46:06 No, that’s definitely the background. You know, answers why you wrote the book and how in one thing that, if I remember correctly from International Bank Bob, you shared not only did you see the plight of these workers and the contrast of the poverty and the wealth, but you actually took the greater portion of the money that you were paid for that luxury writing assignment and that was what you use, which wasn’t a ton of money, but it was the large amount, right?
BOB: 00:46:36 Yeah. I used whole nest whole 20 grand. Yeah. I still had some money from Jeopardy and other projects and it wasn’t like I’m poor starving or whatever, but it seemed like the right amount. It was sort of like, okay, this was more than tithing. Certainly more than that. But like, I got to see the planet at a five star level and I kind of don’t deserve to like, I don’t know who deserves to honest to God. There’s such a birth lottery in, in a, in a state of the world, and I don’t have the solution. I don’t know what the perfect economic system is. I’m not an idiot. I have no idea. But the idea that we somehow over the last several centuries, human kind has developed a system whereby an infinitesimally small number of people have everything. I mean like everything. And then there’s a very small sliver of people who live pretty well and their biggest worry is who’s going to win the game on Friday.
BOB: 00:47:27 And then the overwhelming massive humanity is struggling, working at a, a, a big, a pretty difficult level. And then there’s a giant chunk at the bottom, doesn’t even have cleaning water. And that’s insane. It shouldn’t have to like, we’re smart enough to fix that, aren’t we? Are we good enough human beings? You know, I, it’s, it’s, it’s astonishing. And honestly, it, I wish there was more I knew to do, uh, the Kiva thing is, is what I do. It’s what I know how to do it’s what I figured out how I can try to play a part. If everybody had something, I think it would help, but…
BRYAN: 00:48:12 Who did you write the book for? Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. That part. Um, primarily to people who were already members of people who were already interested in Keva or heard of micro finance, uh, which the primary audience because at that time, I mean it’s become a pretty big deal. There’s millions of lenders and so on. It was primarily for them, but that was the publisher’s thinking and, and what Kiva certainly didn’t mind. For me… I feel it became much more about trying to write it for a lay audience of anybody who wanted to travel the world vicariously. What is it like, you know, when you go to the Philippines and instead of going to the beach, you actually go into the village and go hang out with the people in there, you know, what is it like in a, in Rwanda now, you know, if you want to do the vicarious travel thing. So more and more as I was, as I was working on it, it became more about trying to share the world and not write about micro finance as much.
BRYAN: 00:49:07 How has its reception been and how does that compare against any hopes or even expectations you had for it?
BOB: 00:49:14 Oh, thanks. Thanks for asking. Um, the book actually did really well. Uh, it went to number three in worldwide on Amazon on the day of release and it had its period in 2013 when it was released. It was kind of a big deal for a few months and there were articles all over the press, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and stuff, which was really fun. I mean, that was, that was neat. And that friends of Bob Harris team, I can always look at and see, okay, here’s people who read the book and they’ve lent millions of dollars and okay, that’s done good. So I, I sleep well at night, but there is a, I never had a fantasy that I would write this book and it would suddenly change the world. But you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, we’re all small creatures, you know, and, and so you can put years of your life into a thing and it will have an effect and it inevitably will never quite match up to your giant dreams.
BOB: 00:50:08 I, I dunno, I don’t know what I actually wanted it to have done. It did everything it was supposed to do and it’s, it still does. I still get emails from people every day, but I’ll be honest with you, I mean there were still, every day I read the news and are stories of, you know, more people will have died constructing the stadiums for the World Cup soccer in 2020 In Qatar than died in 911. And they’re being worked to death simply to build these stadiums. And that hasn’t changed, that hasn’t gone away. So there’s a part of me that as long as that is still the reality of how so much of the world works, it’s not like spitting in the ocean and didn’t rise. No, actually the water rose perceptively, but still not enough. There’s still people out there hurting and it’s very hard to feel super proud of what I have accomplished when it’s still. I mean it’s, it’s the first few steps on a long journey that will continue long after I’m gone.
BRYAN: 00:51:08 There’s so much need in the world and as you said, like everyone’s in pain, which is interesting to distinguish between pain and suffering. You know, how much we create for ourselves and that kind of thing. But one thing is I actually, two things that come up is I hear you share about this one. I love that Matt, you know, working at Tivo did so much at this programming, you know, as an individual and really did create or foster something that didn’t exist. This crowd funding and doing well and impacting many people, many millions of people around the globe. And your work as an individual. You know, writing the book, sharing your experience, um, encouraging and inviting others and I know it can be easy certainly for myself and I think for many people to think that, oh, we’re just one person and what can I do and the need is so great, you know, my life is insignificant in that. And so that Kinda goes back full circle to our lives and take on meaning to the degree that our love and our actions or our beliefs and our actions are congruent. I love that perspective.
BOB: 00:52:12 Anybody who’s listening to this and if you’re thinking, I’m just one person, come on, I’m driving to work, uh, you know, get out of my brain. If there’s that thought of like, Jeez, it’s so big and what can I do when at? Look, the thing is we never see the ripple effects of what we do. This is really super important. People have so much more power than they realize too. This is what I used to keep to remind myself, remember a minute ago when I was telling you about when I started getting involved in Kiva before I started Kiva, when I was in Dubai and I came across these workers at the side of the street and wanting to do something, got a bunch of food, came down and one of them gave me a little nod and a smile and welcoming and so I sat down.
BOB: 00:52:48 That is a really key moment with an enormous life lesson. This is one of the most important things I’ve ever come across in my life. And it’s so hopeful. I mean, think about who that guy is in that moment. He is, it is. It does not exactly how the political power that you or I or anyone listening to this does. He’s a guy who’s working nearly slavery or indentured servitude sort of you sitting on the side of a road, but he still had kindness in his heart and he saw a guy with a kind of open look on his face like mine, I imagine. And uh, and just greeted me. He gave me this little nod. Now I, in that moment, I didn’t know how to cross that threshold. I don’t know how to just walk up to total strangers who don’t even speak the same language and say, hi, I have bananas.
BOB: 00:53:33 Would you like some am I, you know, I don’t, I’ve never done that before. I don’t know how to do that. I’m wading into a new territory. I’m honestly inside a little scared like, what’s going to happen here? Are they going to be mad at me? Are They gonna? You know, and he welcomed me. He gave me that look in that moment, in that tiny moment when he just acted in a decent kind human fashion and looked up at me and smiled. He made that safe. I sat down, I had that day with 45 minutes and then, um, and then went on my, on my way with my life in the way that it developed afterwards. And I am convinced in retrospect, without any doubt at all that that little smile of his, I probably wouldn’t have sat down otherwise. And that little smile is now rippling in this ripple effects through the rest of my life.
BOB: 00:54:22 And now yours as you’re listening to this, and honestly, everything else I do is probably influenced by that. And he will never know that, this is key. He will never know the ripple effects of his smile. It is entirely possible that today when you wait for, when you get on a bus or you, uh, you just smile at a person in a coffee shop or whatever and they’re having a bad day and we actually changed each other constantly. You’re silly, funny, weird. These, these, these, these kind of open creatures wobbling around the planet. We influence each other greatly. Just being kind in your ordinary day, even if you change nothing else, making the focused effort to be kind, you will start changing other people’s days and possibly their lives in ways you’ll never understand and never see. But think of this guy in Dubai. It’s real. It’s a real effect. That and, and then it starts that is those, the training wheels, that’s the, that, that’s getting the flywheel up to speed. You get in that habit and then you start connecting to people more and then your own life will start getting changed in unexpected ways. You can be open to a yes, you, you will change the world. Just a question what you’re going to change it to.
BRYAN: 00:55:40 Yeah, and even even when we don’t see it or we don’t know. The other thing that comes up for me in hearing what you’re sharing and talking about the need in the world and the disparity that with the pain of the world is this idea. I think about the quote that I’ve Read Online attributed to EB White who talks about some mornings he wakes up when he doesn’t know whether to save the world or savor the world. This makes planning the day difficult. What’s your view on the balance between that? I mean obviously being poor, suffering ourselves doesn’t enrich anyone. It doesn’t serve anyone and yet this balance between serving and giving but not like over giving or over caring. I’ve learned this even this term. How do you personally navigate that and in this society that we live in?
BOB: 00:56:29 That’s a wonderful question. Thank you for asking it and it’s kind of in the back of everybody’s minds when you’re trying a new way of being good. Uh, it’s, if there’s a weird lowering of one’s own boundaries and a sense of is this safe and connect with the boundary backup and where should that boundary be? And if you’re a sensitive person, you live with that everyday. You know, I live in a neighborhood where if I go to the Walgreens on the corner, there will be a homeless guy who needs help right there. And every day I’m always like, okay, do I give money to. I just smiled like I treat them like a human being for sure. But then like how do I help, how much do I help? And if I get really involved with this, I could literally spend the rest of my life trying to help this one guy down the street.
BOB: 00:57:12 And obviously that’s probably not the optimal use of my life or my time. And I don’t have a set perfect pat answer on that. It’s, it’s a million daily judgement calls obviously. Um, but what I would want to point out is that one of the things that we’re afraid of is that we’re afraid of being changed in the transaction. We are aware that when I sat down with those guys in Dubai, I was changed by. We’re aware of the possibility that we’re going to have to challenge our own assumptions and our own everything we believe about ourselves. We will change this who we are in that interaction. And so then the boundaries come up and that’s scary. Well, I did a Ted Talk by the way. You could google my name, Bob Harris, Tedx, and see the Ted talk will go on at length about this. My own story actually should encourage people to be a little bit bolder about how much they’re willing to dive in for others and make that a priority as opposed to just working for our own careers or whatever.
BOB: 00:58:13 In my, in my case, I am sort of the worst case scenario for somebody with no training, no real understanding of the emotional stuff he was going to go through. Just somebody out there with a kind of a crazy do gooder mission leaping into. I mean I went to Bosnia and Cambodia and Rwanda…. post genocide road tour where I met people in the worst level of distress and people just I. Wow. Did I dive in to the deep end and if you’ll listen to me, I’m fine. I’m okay. I had a difficult time afterwards. I did need some more counseling after that. That was hard. It was hard, but I’m fine. It is. So if there’s a part of you holding back from doing it out of fear of whatever it is that you may have in mind have already been down the road. It’s not that bad.
BOB: 00:59:03 You’re going to be a little changed, but it will be for the good. But some of your question is also about like the balance between working for ourselves, working for her own bank account. It’s not good. We can’t help other people, other people if we’re not okay. It’s a little bit like putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on the child. You’ve got to put your own oxygen mask on. Yes. That’s fundamental, so in a way being able to work for others, help others as a luxury is, it’s if you’re already working four jobs, you know, trying to put food on the table for the kids, Hey, you know what, you’re creating children. That’s pretty, that’s fantastic, and screw me. Don’t listen to me. You’re doing amazing work right there. I don’t mean to preach to you, but if somebody has the luxury of even thinking about this choice, if you were to place in your life, wherever, whatever your economic level is, where you even start thinking about this stuff, gosh, I could be doing more.
BOB: 01:00:03 Yeah, you probably could actually. The factor even having that thought, yeah, I haven’t met. I didn’t meet a lot of people in, um, some of the places that I went to who were thinking to themselves, Golly, I should be doing meals on wheels because they’re busy. They’re just trying to get through the day. They’re working 12 hour days in the field. You’re. But if you’re having that thought, you can probably do a little more. By the way, that said, I got to tell you, some of the most generous human beings I’ve ever met are the people that I’ve met in the scariest of places you walk into, you see on tv, these teaming slums and they look really scary. You know what? You can’t function on the equivalent of two bucks a day without having a pretty good sense of community and having some sense of they’ve actually developed financial instruments inside those slums that are that, that mirror and reflect the ones that we have out here in the, in the, in the so called first world and yes, there’s crime and all of that stuff and tremendous stress, but some of the most generous, thoughtful, aware of other’s people I’ve ever met in my life have been people who are living lives that would challenge. I don’t know if it gets through a week of it and they get through with their big hearts. So…
BRYAN: 01:01:22 You’ve seen many things. Let me transition now to asking you a few questions of it. Totally unrelated nature, so unrelated to writing, unrelated to your past work necessarily. So please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a…
BOB: 01:01:51 Confusing endurance sport.
BRYAN: 01:01:55 All right. What else? What do you wish you were better at?
BOB: 01:02:00 Besides answering these questions? I wish I was. Wow, there’s a lot. I’m trying to give you a particular answer. I wish I wish I had been better in my past. I, it’s not that I wish I was better at anything right now. I’m actually pretty happy with a lot of my life. I wish I had been better at listening to other people. Uh, for about the first 40 years of my life.
BRYAN: 01:02:29 If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it or phrase or a saying or quote or quip, what would the shirt say?
BOB: 01:02:40 Please do not recycle… me. It’s just a joke. If found, please drop in the nearest mailbox. I’ve always joked a bit dumb left. Bunch of dumb jokes for that. By the way, my actual epitaph. This is really true. I have insisted to everyone who knows me that when I go, I want my epitaph to say finally I get into real estate. Um, but what, what t shirt would I wear all the time? You know, so many people. There’s so much noise and everybody’s head all the time. I would probably just be a t shirt that said things are not as bad as you think.
BRYAN: 01:03:17 Alright. Alright. Next question. What book other than your own have you gifted or recommended most often?
BOB: 01:03:24 That’s interesting. Not one specific book really. I’m a big fan of the writer… so I’ve gifted a lot of different people as appropriate. I think George Orwell’s 1984 is a pretty much a documentary, although actually Aldous Huxley had it better because we’re much more doing that. What books do I give, give to people? That’s an interesting. It just, it depends on the person because you know what, when you give somebody, I can’t give you one answer to that. When you give somebody a book, it’s actually this is what I think you are going to be interested in. It’s this huge statement about person, so I don’t give books lightly at all. t’s, it’s if somebody gives me a book that I actually really want to invest the time and reading, I feel like they know me and I love them. Yeah. And so I tried to do the same for, for others. Yeah. I don’t really have an answer to that.
BRYAN: 01:04:18 You’re very thoughtful. Okay. Uh, I know you actually have a page on your website about this, so maybe you can tell me that we can point people to that link as well, and I’ll include it in the show notes. Obviously you travel a ton, but what’s, if you picked one, one, travel hack, something you do or maybe something you take with you that makes your travel less painful and or more enjoyable. What is that thing?
BOB: 01:04:44 Surprisingly, duct tape is always have a role with I’ve used that to close wounds, repair backpacks. A broken shoe laces. Tape the shoe. Duct tape. I cannot tell you how many times in my life I’ve had something that never happened to me before in the middle of someplace I’ve never been. What am I going to do? Duct tape just takes care of it.
BRYAN: 01:05:09 What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
BOB: 01:05:14 Hmm. Great question. Cleaned up my diet of a is a huge thing. Um, I ate like a teenager for the first 50 years of my life and I always ate… I gave up red meat when I was in my twenties, but uh, uh, I would snack at all hours. When I was writing, I was thinking really hard. My brain needs blood sugar. I’ll take another sniff. And in the last few years I’ve gotten much, much more serious about my diet and it makes an enormous difference, that and breathing, which is kind of in vogue right now, but breathing properly, better posture. Breathing is amazing. Everybody should try it.
BRYAN: 01:05:53 I agree.
BOB: 01:05:54 You know what? Back to the book, recommendations. There’s a book I actually want to recommend called Breathe, that is about how to breathe better. And I, I just google that. You’ll find the right book. I, uh, it’s, uh, actually I have it right here. Hold on. Actually on my desk. It’s a woman named Dr Melissa Branich.
BRYAN: 01:06:16 How did this book, how did you come across this book?
BOB: 01:06:19 You know what? I’m actually not certain. I think, oh, you know, what, I have some health issues that I want to get into and I was just googling everything I could do about them that could help. Came across it and I thought, well, you know, it’s not going to be expensive anyway. And uh, it, it’s wonderful. Every time I do these exercises I feel so much better and I can actually feel that I’m starting to like, my mood is elevated and yes, get the book Breathe.
BRYAN: 01:06:46 Awesome. It’s not like the whole thing is not a sales pitch for her. So her next seminar or something?
BOB: 01:06:52 She does have those, but actually she surprisingly in one of the early chapters, she actually explicitly says, does this canvas book actually replace working with me at a seminar? Yes. Exclamation point.
BRYAN: 01:07:04 That’s so great.
BOB: 01:07:06 So yeah, and I, I kind of believe it because I’m not going to our seminars, but I love the book.
BRYAN: 01:07:11 What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
BOB: 01:07:15 At the risk of pissing off 38 percent of America? I would, I wish America knew that there are about 200 other countries and that we’re only one of them, and that once you leave America’s borders, things get worse or better depending on what direction you’re going in. And a lot of the world is way the hell ahead of us in so many ways. I will tell you straight up, I feel much more comfortable and much more at home in anywhere in western Europe and Canada, Australia, New Zealand, uh, uh, any developed country other than the US. Really.
BRYAN: 01:07:51 Why do you think that is?
BOB: 01:07:52 Uh, the gun culture here is insane. The religiosity of the culture is insane. The, uh, the inability to understand that healthcare is something that we shouldn’t have to lose your house for getting sick and most it’s like the rest of the world has that figured out. There are developing countries that have been worked out, it did that. And in America these ideas are considered like radical and far left and all of that.
BRYAN: 01:08:21 Or Socialism.
BOB: 01:08:21 Yeah. And that word is just thrown around without anybody having any idea what that even really means. I’ve never heard. I have not used the word socialism used in its actual meaning of, you know, worker control, the means of production it ever in America, it’s just a, it’s just a name to call people, Communist, socialist, atheist, whatever. Just to denounce ideas out of hand. Actually, no, you want to see… Australia, um, I was given permanent resident status in Australia last year. Um, and I spend a lot of my time down there.
BOB: 01:08:51 Um, and you know, Australia, they gave me the health card or the forms to fill out for the health card. The day after they gave me the visa on time. I’m in my, I’m in my fifties. There was no further medical examination. It was a right, you are a permanent resident, not even a citizen or a permanent resident. You get sick. Here’s the doctor. And they figured out how to fund it and the country’s not bankrupt. They’re not heavy debt. It looks and walks and acts like America. But if I get sick there, I go to the doctor and I go to the doctor that day. And I wish Americans knew that the rest of the world has things figured out that we don’t.
BRYAN: 01:09:28 What’s your next big project.
BOB: 01:09:30 I’ve got three or four of them that a year from now we’ll be able to say, that’s what I was talking about that thing. But…
BRYAN: 01:09:37 Well, I hope those all turnout. That’s, that’s really exciting. I, it turns out I wrote a and actually pitched a screenplay to a couple different studios within the last year. I have a friend, a writing partner for me. And uh, so we went to Apple and we went to Hulu and in this, um, they all passed unfortunately. But I have a sense of the thrill of… But it’s a process, isn’t it? I mean, the whole thing, the relationships and the pitching and everything.
BOB: 01:10:07 Yeah. Nothing ever really gets made. I’m amazed that anything actually gets produced ever.
BRYAN: 01:10:11 I maybe shouldn’t bring this up, but Hollywood’s like a pit of vipers with more vipers. Your statement….
BOB: 01:10:19 It’s a line in Trebekistan. Actually, Hollywood is like a pit of vipers, but with more vipers. I have forgotten that joke… if you don’t want. That’s true. Except for the people who are really successful are almost always over themselves and it’s not because they got there and then once they were successful, suddenly developed emotional maturity. What I found is that the people who actually have themselves together on the inside and are, they actually wind up being able to walk right through the nest of vipers and and were made kind of untouched is there’s this weird zen to it and honestly I truly believe to you that part of the reason that I’m suddenly getting meetings with people whose names I won’t drop, but my God, that, that all these things are happening now in a career that I struggled with for many years is that honestly I did a lot of counseling. I went out, I did a lot of work in the world. I got over myself. I hope, I’m not about me. If I can avoid that the same as after talking to you for hours but my life.
BRYAN: 01:11:21 But I asked, I asked… let’s be honest.
BOB: 01:11:25 But, but truthfully it’s in people can sense that. So you get into a a room at one of the big agencies or one of the big studios or something and you’re pitching an idea and people we, we communicate nonverbally constantly and people can smell in the room if there’s need or insecurity if you really know what you’re doing or you really don’t or whatever. And now I’m kind of at a place in my life where I sort of, I’m not attached to any of it. I believe in all of it. I’m passionate about it, but I also know that, you know, I’m not working for six bucks a day. I’m fine. And it’s just transformative to my career ugh… the charity work made everything else better.
BRYAN: 01:12:05 Yeah. I suspect, and it was a word I didn’t hear you use, but authenticity also. People get a sense of that pretty immediately. So if people wanted to learn more from you or connect with you, what should they do?
BOB: 01:12:18 Oh, okay. Well I have a website, BobHarris.com that I haven’t updated in five years, so it’s still actually the front page and excited about the Kiva booking. So on. But you can find some stuff there. I’m, I don’t have a big online profile. I would recommend, if you want to know more about me, read my books, find them on Amazon. You can track me down on instagram, but that’s. You really want to see what I ate for lunch? No, I can’t imagine. I want to recommend that. What anyone would want to burn for me. You’ve probably already heard except some stuff about writing that I would really want to share. Um, people think of writing as this kind of artistic process. No, it’s engineering. You put your butt in the chair and you make stuff. You work. And if you want to be a really good writer, it’s not about the writing, it’s about who you are.
BOB: 01:13:07 It’s about engaging with people and listening. Because what you do is you’re telling stories and you can’t tell stories unless you know lots of different people. So you in different points of view, to be a terrific writer, you have to be able to not be you all your writing. Imagine yourself literally in the shoes of the characters you’re writing about. And that’s only gonna happen if you develop the empathy, the empathy muscle, like going out and interacting with people all damn day and you’ll learn. That’s one of the biggest things. Live your life. And then the writing comes, you’re not going to write great novels at age 25, you’re just not, but live your life, uh, and that will read everything. It’s all valuable. Uh, and then overtime. And then can I give you a, a very basic thing that I just taught writing at the international film school in Cologne, Germany for two months and I had to formulate everything I know about storytelling and I actually want to give you a very short, really useful mnemonic for any…
BOB: 01:14:12 Anytime you’re writing a script, if you’re working on one co-writer, you’re going back and pitching it at Apple or something. If you want to see whether your story, your act your scenes, if everything works or not. Here’s your checklist. Here’s how to tell this is really effective. This really works is the best thing that ever came up with. Imagine you’re watching television and you want to find something really riveting that’s going to just get your attention to be an amazing story in the next two minutes. It’s not going to be something that you just flipping through channels. There’s news, there’s a so far or whatever. Then all of a sudden you come across a singularly transfixing image of a parachutist with the ground approaching, desperately trying to open their parachute. You will probably stop flipping channels for a couple of minutes to see how this turns out and here’s why.
BOB: 01:14:56 That image contains every important element of storytelling and nothing else. You have a clear protagonists who we empathize with. We don’t have to really know that much about them, but we definitely empathize about the predicament. We have a very clear goal. It’s amazing how many stories lose the empathetic protagonist or do not have clarity of goal throughout. In every scene and every step, we have a very clear goal. We have stakes. We know why it matters. In this case, it’s obviously life and death. It doesn’t have to be for stories. It’s not life and death in little Miss Sunshine or Juno or any of those sorts of movies, but we know the stakes and they do matter. They can just be emotional stakes. But here there’s life and death stakes. We know what success looks like. The open parachute, we know what failure looks like, splat we know what we’re looking for.
BOB: 01:15:44 We understand that the hero has to use his or her, uh, skills to overcome clear and well understood obstacles on the path. Gotta get that rip chord okay? It’s jammed. I got to get rid of the primary shoot. Get untangled opened the secondary. We will understand every step in the saga and why it’s being done. Again, a clarity of goal, creating secondary goals that we understand and then we even, and this is a little bit of a bonus. We have a, a clock. We know that the ground is coming. We can put an altimeter on the person’s risks and know exactly where we are in story, in much the same way that you’re watching a two hour movie and you know that you’re halfway into it and you have a sense of where your story. If you have these elements in your overarching story, in your episodes, in your scenes, even your acts, all of these elements are present and your characters are all trying to open their own parachutes and surprising each other in the process.
BOB: 01:16:40 You’re probably doing some pretty damn good writing. If you are bored when you’re watching a movie, if you are bored watching a TV show or you’re not sure why, you’re not interested. Use the parachute checklist from through. Do I sympathize with the protagonist? Do I empathize? If no do I know what the goal is or I’m feeling lost? This is when these elements are missing. That’s when stories wandered, and if you look back at any of the great movies you’ve ever watched, you always know where you are in story. So that’s my little rant about the fundamentals of story. I would love this to become a the the Harris Metaphor story. It’s resilient as hell. It really works.
BRYAN: 01:17:20 Yeah. It’s in that one little image. It conveys so much and you’ve elucidated like these points out of it that I think are very powerful and they’re all is very descriptive.
BOB: 01:17:32 So how do you frame it and what do you call it?
BOB: 01:17:41 I don’t know, it’s Bob Harris’s Parachute Metaphor. Okay. It’s official name, but that is. That’s why the way you know what’s not missing, there is many people think you need is an antagonist. There is no Joker to the Batman in that parachute thing, there’s Darth Vader and that’s okay. There’s no antagonist in the movie Gravity except gravity. You can tell stories without actually… if you go through a lot of the big box office, runaway hits that had like a $10,000,000 budget and made zillions of money but zillions of dollars, there’s often no antagonist at all. It’s not an essential with storytelling. There’s so much that people also, you know what else Hollywood has wrong, is that you have to have a hero who has to overcome an internal obstacle. They have to some flawed character, but then it has to, you know, get past his learning disability or get past his just being an asshole.
BOB: 01:18:33 Um, no, no, that’s so not necessary. What’s the deep character flaw and Luke Skywalker? There isn’t one. He’s whiney. That’s it. Uh, what’s the deep character flaw in, uh, the, the kid in Slumdog Millionaire, the, he just loves this girl. There’s no character flaw. And we dive in and here’s why. We’re all heroes of our own stories. We all think of ourselves as flawless and, and well intended, and we, all, our primary goal is expanding the amount of love in our lives. We go to a movie theater and we sit down to a movie like Juno or Sideways or any of these sub, runaway hits, and all of a sudden there’s a protagonist who is not being pursued by some Joker, like antagonist that we don’t really have in our lives, but it’s simply a really good human being trying to deal with an issue and expand the amount of love in their lives. We look at that and go, oh, that’s me and we invest in all of a sudden, you know, will be like the big sick where there’s no antagonist. You have a very decent person in the center of the movie just looking to put love in their life and it took a $15,000,000 budget and made 150 or something. That’s such a big thing as to… and Hollywood doesn’t have that one figured out yet, which amazes me.
BRYAN: 01:19:48 Indie, in films like that, or I guess Amazon did that film, but. Okay. So the question I want to ask about writing just here at the conclusion of our time is what advice do you have for people who are maybe at the very beginning of a project or they’re in the middle of a project and they’re really battling with their own inner critic. What advice do you have for people to actually push through whatever resistance or challenges they’re finding to their completion and getting and actually delivering something?
BOB: 01:20:16 Oh, sure. Um, first thing is, know your ending and make sure it’s something you’re passionate about wanting to say. If the film script that I’m working on has been a challenge, we’ve done it for a year and a half off and on. It’s an adaptation of the real story, the, uh, it’s very complex. Lots of challenges, but what I wanted to say and what the guy, the real guys life is really about is a lesson about love wins about in the end if you’re just present, you’re just where you put your time, love wins and it’s something I really believe and the movie that we will eventually make is going to say that really well. And then all the times that I’ve ever been bogged down and I have been bogged down a lot on that one. What is always a statement is imagining when it’s done and imagining the message that I want desperately to communicate actually landing in the eyeballs of theater goers and, and, and people loving it.
BOB: 01:21:14 And, and, and, and that’s been motivating and it’s because it’s, it’s, it’s again, your love and your actions. Congruence. I know what I want to do and why. And structurally, a lot of times people writing a project, the ending is by far the most important thing. There’s nothing, it’s nothing even close to. As importantly, ending is where you basically tell the world, okay, this is what this was about. Go live your lives and if you’re ending is a has, it is well structured and well designed so that you have all of the questions, the internal questions, the external questions in the philosophical questions. As the great screenwriter, Michael Art, puts his stuff’s fantastic. Read Michael Art stuff if you’re interested. He wrote Little Miss Sunshine. He’s brilliant. If those all wrap up in a bow, kind of in one simultaneous moment, Rocky, uh, for example, loses the fight, but he went the distance. So there’s the external victory. He, uh, is able to prove to himself that he is a worthy fighter. There’s an internal victory and philosophically does a political like that deserve, love Adrian runs in and hugs him. And all of the questions are resolved within seconds with beautiful, glorious ending. Create the ending, get the ending right. And then you will be driven to create the rest of it.
BRYAN: 01:22:36 That’s awesome. How important is it for a writer to move to the kind of locale where his craft has taken place, like aspiring screenwriter to live in California? How important is that?
BOB: 01:22:47 Less important than it used to be? Um, you know, with the Internet and everything. I do most of my work out in the country. Um, I spent the entire summer in Europe and, but you know, emails, Skype and so on. It’s less important to get off the ground physically, to be present, to make the connections with agents and managers and stuff like that. Take meetings, establish a reputation. It’s important, but you could hypothetically do it from a little bit of a distance and commute in or. But I will also tell you this, 99 percent of what is submitted and written and floats around Los Angeles is garbage. It’s garbage. I mean, that’s just the, I hate to be that blunt, but it just is. And you can tell in the first three pages you’re just reading, Oh God. And if you write something that actually is out at the far right end of the bell curve, that is actually really great.
BOB: 01:23:33 The world beats a path to your door. I, I was out of the business the whole time I wrote the Kiva Book. I had no connections back to. I had been in Rwanda, I was busy and nobody like suddenly moved doors and opened things for me. I had to write some stuff, show that I could create my own thing. I wrote a pilot called Nowhere, which nobody’s produced, but it almost got made, which is really good. I mean, not to be blunt, it’s really, it’s great. It’s one of the better things. I’ve really proud of it. And that went out and like I had managers and agents and it’s like people just swarmed in like within a couple of months of writing it, I was literally sitting face to face. Shonda Rhimes called me into her office and sat me down and wanted to know more about me and did I want to work for him. And it was on. It was focused on the page. It wasn’t who I am. It wasn’t white privilege, it was on the page, and so if you write something that is fantastic on the page, people will see it. I mean there’s money to be made. I mean this town exists to find that and then make money on it and corrupt it and destroy it and put a Coca Cola ad in the middle of it. But.
BRYAN: 01:24:44 But it does no. I love it. Well, I know we’re at our time, so I just want to conclude with two things. One is sharing with you my gratitude again for your generosity and speaking with me today and with everybody who’s listening. And the second is related to that is one of the ways that I am expressing my thanks to you is that I did. I applied last night to join the friends of Bob Harris Kiva Lending Team.
BOB: 01:25:10 Oh cool.
BRYAN: 01:25:11 I haven’t heard yet if I had been approved, but I expect to be..
BOB: 01:25:16 I’m sure you will be in a second.
BRYAN: 01:25:17 I made a loan, a Kiva loan on a in your honor to through my Kiva lending team, until I’m approved, a to a 29 year old woman named Sabina in West Bengal, so engaged in the business of selling clothes and she has a household of three members, so this will help her expand her clothing business by selling different types of shirts and pants and cotton towels and so forth. So that ripple effect will never see the impact.
BOB: 01:25:42 Yeah, yeah, yeah. Wonderful. That’s really cool. One of the co-captains handles that stuff. I’m sure you’ll be approved any second. Thanks you for joining the team. Welcome. You are officially a friend of Bob Harris on Kiva and in real life.
BRYAN: 01:25:53 Yes!
BOB: 01:25:54 And if it’s over over the Internet. Um, thank you for having me. Thank you for listening to me babble for 90 minutes.
BRYAN: 01:25:59 It was a pleasure.
BOB: 01:26:00 Yeah. Yeah. This has been great and good on you for what you’re doing. Uh, you know, I read up on you online of course. Two and a mutual admiration society for awesome.
BRYAN: 01:26:08 Well thank you. Well, I don’t know when or where our paths will cross again, but I suspect they will and I will look forward to that day.
BOB: 01:26:16 Cool. Me Too. Yeah, stay in touch.
BRYAN: 01:26:17 Okay. Thanks Bob. Take care.
BOB: 01:26:19 Cheers. Bye.
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