Todd Rose is an extraordinary man. Convinced we has a bad student, he performed poorly in school and even dropped out of college. Little did he know he would later gain a PHD and become a professor at Harvard University. Todd has since been fascinated with the idea of motivation, and has founded the nonprofit Populace to help transform how we learn, work, and live to help us live more fulfilling lives.
Todd joins us today to discuss the relationship between motivation, and the pursuit of happiness. We talk about the phenomenon of the Dark Horse, a person who finds fulfillment in going against the system. We also discuss the definition of fulfillment, as well as the power and productivity that comes when we prioritize fulfillment over other daily motivations. Lastly, we talk about the writing process and how Todd has written his books.
“There is nothing to be had for you achieving on someone else’s view of a good life.”
This week on the School For Good Living Podcast:
Connect With The Guest:
Todd Rose [00:00:00] When do you ever half-ass anything you care about, you don’t, you just don’t. So now suddenly you’re doing it for a reason that you think you should, but it’s not aligned to anything that matters to you. You’re not going to be good at it.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:14] Hi, I’m brilliant. Your host for this show. I know that I’m incredibly blessed. As the son of self-made billionaires, I’ve seen the high price some people pay for success and I’ve learned that money really can’t buy happiness. But I’ve also had the good fortune to learn directly from many of the world’s leading teachers. If you are ready to be, do have and give more. This podcast is for you today.
Brilliant Miller [00:00:37] My guest is Dr Todd Ross. Todd has an incredible life story. He was born in Ogden, Utah, where he became a college dropout. He was married with two kids on welfare. And he ended up finishing a degree in psychology at Weber State University before going on to earn a master’s and a Ph.D. at Harvard, where he spent a decade as a professor. Todd is the co-founder and president of Populus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming how we learn, work and live so that all people have the opportunity to live a fulfilling life. During his 10 years at Harvard, Todd founded the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality, and he also served as the director of the Mind Brain and Education Program. Todd is the author of two bestselling books, one called The End of Average. It a TED. Talk about that. It’s pretty remarkable. It’s worth checking out if you haven’t already seen it. And his other book, his other bestselling book is called Dark Horse Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment. This is the book that we explore in this conversation. Primarily, it’s full of incredible stories and a ton of useful ideas to help you know yourself better, to live a more fulfilling life and to make the contribution that’s possible for you. With that, I hope you enjoy this conversation with my new friend, Todd Ross. Todd, welcome to the School for Good Living.
Todd Rose [00:02:04] Thanks for having me.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:06] Todd, will you tell me, please, what is life about?
Todd Rose [00:02:11] I think life is actually about the pursuit of happiness, like Thomas Jefferson said in the declaration, and by that I mean. Trying to know who you are, discovering, who you are pursuing a fulfilling life, things that are meaningful to you, and then turning that fulfillment into a contribution that adds value to other people’s lives.
Brilliant Miller [00:02:34] Thank you. Who are you and what is your work?
Todd Rose [00:02:39] I am an endlessly curious person who I absolutely hate being defined by a job title or anything. I just I am obsessed about one problem, one issue, which is how do you create a society where we are all better off because each one of us is better off. By that I mean, I believe the world is zero is positive, some not zero sum that nobody has to lose for me to win and that we can create abundance both materially and psychologically when we invest in each other rather than see each other as competition.
Brilliant Miller [00:03:17] Now, someone once pointed out to me that in Darwin’s book The Origin of Species, that although we tend to think of this survival of the fittest in this competition, think that someone pointed out to me that cooperation actually appears like 100 times more or something like that. What is that?
Todd Rose [00:03:36] It’s exactly right. And it’s even. This is what I find just maddening is people took Darwin and convert it into social Darwinism to fit their particular view that not everyone could thrive and they really wanted to preserve their their higher order status and justify inequality. And in that same vein, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Right. Which gave rise to free markets. People think of him as some Dog-Eat-Dog ultra competition. But in fact, he actually wrote the theory of moral sentiment first. He was obsessed about poor people and how we actually created in abundance so everybody could benefit. So I think we’ve misunderstood some of the best thinkers throughout history this way.
Brilliant Miller [00:04:24] Now, I realize that an answer to the next question I’m about to ask can largely be found in your writing already having written Darkhorse Achieving Success with Fulfillment, The End of Average, How We Succeed in a World of Values, Sameness, and even the book that tells your own story. Square peg my story and what it means for the innovators, visionaries and out of the box thinkers. But don’t ask the question nevertheless, because I know maybe listening. Haven’t read all of those yet. But when you talk about that, you’re obsessed with this, about this question of like how can we have this society where we all thrive and we all find success and fulfillment? How do we do that? What have you found? What are the answers to that question?
Todd Rose [00:05:09] So I think at bottom, this idea of human distinctiveness, right, that we are unique and that’s not a bumper sticker. And it doesn’t mean selfishness, right. That that human beings all we each have something unique to offer. And once we realize that and we focus on cultivating that in each of us, that’s how we get to a place that’s truly positive, some place where we’re all better off because we’re better off. But if you think about the last hundred years of industrialization, we’ve bet the farm on standardization, right? Quite the opposite, assuming the stickiness doesn’t matter and trying to make everybody the exact same right. Whether that’s an education, that workplace or even the ways we think about a successful life. And I believe it’s robbed us individually and collectively about what makes us special as a species.
Brilliant Miller [00:06:04] Yeah, that I love that distinction in Darkhorse, where you lay this out about the age of standardization versus the age of personalization, and and I know on first blush that someone might might want to dismiss this whole personalization thing. Is this like such a millennial mindset, such a snowflake just fit in? I love for this book, you say in the book that you interviewed opera singers, dog trainers, hair stylist, florist, diplomats, sommeliers, carpenters, puppeteers, architects, barbers, chess grandmasters and midwives like, in other words, real people. Right. And even with this, I know, again, a skeptic or a critic could say, well, these are anecdotes. You’re just anecdotes. This isn’t hard science or something. And yet there’s something really rich and valuable in this in the stories that you found. How do you like I mean, what was this process like of even engaging in the creation of this book where you begin? And what was what did you what did you find?
Todd Rose [00:07:06] So here’s here’s the funny thing. Before doing this book, I would have been that skeptic, I would have been the one that said, Are you kidding me? This qualitative research. So you interviewed some people, right? It’s not hard science, because all of my career up until that point was strictly quantitative. I was trained in neuroscience. I’m studying the science of individuality. And even to this day, I have a passion for numbers rather than just words, but. And the thing about the hard science aspect of personalization is if you look at what’s changed in every field that the science of individuality has touched, let’s just take medicine forever. We thought that you could use averages to understand cancer. For example, colon cancer, the third most lethal cancer in the world, was diagnosed cancer in the world for thirty five years. We thought there was one pathway. Once you realized that you were studying averages and you should be studying individuals, we actually realize there are three pathways. And now our ability to detect that early has gone up exponentially and we are saving people’s lives. I promise you in medicine, if I gave you the chance to have gold standard average treatment or personalized treatment, you’re taking personalized because you recognize there’s something about you as a decent human being that actually matters. All I’m saying is that same insight applies to things like pursuing the kind of life you want to live and making your best contribution. So we get back to the question of like, you know, I had finished end of average, which was deeply hard science, this news, science of individuality. And I was so interested in the people that I’d met along the way that had these atypical paths. And so I started this Darkhorse project at Harvard where I was a professor for 10 years. And I thought, you know what, I don’t know the slightest thing about why they’re able to achieve what they achieve. Maybe it’s just random and just serendipitous that they succeeded. Maybe there’s something systematic there. But because I didn’t really have a good hypothesis, what am I going to put numbers to it? Right. So I had a good colleague who said, you know, have you tried qualitative research? And I was like, are you kidding me? Come on. And they convinced me to give it a try. So I was my first qualitative research study ever. And I’ll tell you what, I am a convert. I like it. Turns out you can learn a lot from listening to people like surprise, surprise. Right. So it didn’t take very long through structured interviews where you really are. Like, they started challenging the things I thought. And I’ll tell you right now, the hypothesis I had going in was that probably people who would be dark horses, which were people who sort of buck the status quo, they probably had some kind of personality characteristics, like a Richard Branson who who I happen to know. And he is a great guy, but he absolutely gets a lot of joy purely from bucking the system. He’s not embarrassed about it. He loves it. So I thought maybe you got to be that. But that is not what we found. Very quickly, I wanted to talk about stuff like how do you get good at what you do? And what they wanted to talk about was how they discovered who they are and what they were passionate about. And they kept bringing up things like fulfillment and meaning and purpose. And I got to be honest, like the first time they said fulfillment, like literally I was like, no, like, what am I supposed to do with that? Like, the squishy thing of like, I care about fulfillment. And I was like, but then they keep pushing on it. And so I’m like, OK, well, let’s dig into that. And I thought, is that just like a bumper sticker? But no, it turned out that this was they were prioritizing a fulfilling life over someone else’s view of success and they actually knew how to do that really well. And so out of that research came a set of insights about how you turned the pursuit of fulfillment into a very reliable path to excellence. And I actually thought at this point, you know, this is something that deserves a wider audience than an academic paper because it ended the day. I don’t really care about publishing just for a thousand academics. I want to affect real life people’s lives. And so that was the origins of it.
Brilliant Miller [00:11:27] Wow. Now, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, this whole idea of fulfillment, I find is such an interesting one and maybe I think. This is something that we don’t have a lot of I don’t know if it’s vocabulary for or a shared understanding of know and when I look even emotion and I’m reminded if you ask someone, what’s the difference between a feeling and an emotion, that no one really seems to have clear answers to this domain in our in our culture. I mean, obviously, some people devote their lives to studying this like Goldman and Eckmann and so forth. But but I think generally we don’t. And so it’s no surprise to me that this whole thing about happiness and success, fulfillment, these kind of vague concepts that we maybe don’t understand all that well. But I love that your book breaks this down and it does provide basically like a formula or at least things to think about. Right. And yet there’s there’s this there’s this uniqueness to all of us. There’s also this commonality and almost like what I would call what I see as a journey, like the journey of the dark horse. Will you will you talk about that? Like, what is that that people seem to have in common? Is there like an awakening moment, a traumatic moment, just some moment of insight that people opt out of this standardization mentality and go for this personalization mentality? What have you? What do you think?
Todd Rose [00:12:53] It was so interesting because I thought just my own personal background. I thought dark horses would be people who kind of had screwed up most of their life. And then one day was like, hey, look, I’m not a screw up anymore, right. And achieve success. So it was more like nobody saw you coming because they underestimated you. That’s what I thought most darknesses be like. And it turns out they kind of split right down the middle between that and people who were wildly successful by in some domain. Right. Who wake up one day and they just feel empty. Right. They’ve got all the trappings of what society said success was. They’re rich, they’re famous. They’ve got a lot of power. And they just feel empty and they say there’s got to be more and they realize that often it was like life’s too short. I’ve got to do something meaningful. And they make these incredible pivots and into spaces that you think, what are you doing? Right? And then they go on to have incredible success. But they unify that kind of they don’t really care that anyone else thinks they’re successful, but they are objectively good at what they do. But more importantly, that achievement is completely oriented to their own private values and priorities. And for me, that’s what fulfillment is. It is achieving on things that matter to you, regardless of whether they matter to anybody else.
Brilliant Miller [00:14:16] Yeah, that’s so powerful and something that I found myself reflecting on a lot in the weeks that I spent in reading this book, I read a little bit slowly to give myself a chance to digest it was this idea of micro motives. This is such a great term and this idea that there are universal motives. I know as employers we want to believe that. I think as policymakers, we want to believe that it’s as simple as carrots and sticks and so forth. And that’s useful to a limited degree. But when it comes to living a satisfying life, I think this whole idea of micro motives is so huge. What what is a micro motive and how can we use it to find fulfillment?
Todd Rose [00:14:53] Yeah, so you really nailed it, which is when we think of motivation, I think we all recognize that motivation is critical. But then we think about it mainly because people like me spend our careers saying there must be some universal motive or at least a small set of words that everybody is motivated by. And so we ping pong around from like, oh, everybody wants to compete or everyone wants to collaborate or whatever. Money is a great motive. But it turns out from interviewing hundreds of these dark horses and then from actually a lot of our quantitative work am I think tank populous. What you find is when you really punch down into it, man, what truly motivates people is so specific and so unique to them that it’s kind of silly to talk about motivation in this generic sense. So, for example. Talk to a guy who no kidding, the singular thing that was the most important motive for him was being able to align things, physical things with his hands. And look, even as I say that right now, I’m like, that can’t be a motive. To me, it doesn’t it doesn’t get my heart racing and nothing it does nothing for me. And so, like but like this is what we found over and over again that not only did those exist, that that that motivations are so much broader and specific at the same time, but that the first thing that dark horses did better than anybody else is they knew exactly what their mycar motives were and they could talk about them with you. And that became critical. Right, because if you’re if you’re going to live a fulfilling life, you’re this is what the achievement definition is important. It’s not contentment. It’s not sitting back and saying, whatever happens to me happens to me. It is literally achieving things. So you’re going to have to get good at stuff, right. So you’re going to learn about how to be good at strategies and other kinds to make choices. But if you don’t get your motivation right, if you don’t align to that, you might achieve things, but you are never going to be fulfilled. Right. Because the affective core of all fulfillment is motivation. And we can talk a little about like I thought they had very clever ways of discovering them for themselves, I think are applicable for people.
Brilliant Miller [00:17:13] Yeah. And even this idea, again, it’s like this term micro motive hasn’t yet entered our lexicon in a Broadway that people hear it. They’re like, oh yeah, I understand it. And what’s more is I know what mine are. You know, we’re like helping kids susses out and encouraging them to follow them and things like this. I’m looking forward to the day we are because I think it’s so important.
Todd Rose [00:17:34] Yeah. And I’ve had a lot of fun with my own children and the people I know, because the thing I learned from the dark horses was that like. The way you get to this is pretty straightforward, like if you think right now about the things that bring you joy, even things you might say you’re passionate about, the starting point for all understanding of myCar motives is to ask yourself the question why? So if I say I love basketball, which I do, why? Well, there are probably 50 reasons why people could love basketball. Is it just the competition? Is it is it the the physical exertion or is it that it’s a team sport? These things matter. And so as you ask yourself that, why and I realized for me, I actually love the combination of the competition and the fact that you can’t do it by yourself. OK, great. Well, that’s a lot different than saying I am passionate about basketball, because here’s the problem. If I say I’m passionate about basketball and suddenly I can’t play anymore, which, by the way, I can’t really, sir, like one knee injury away from having a pretty miserable rest of my life. As my doctor just told me, you need to act your age. That’s literally told me because I got hurt playing basketball. So I’m acting my age now. So what would have happened? I’m stuck, right? I can’t play the thing I’m passionate about. Now, what if I understand the underlying motives that made that passionate to me? Those are portable. I can actually start to think, well, what else has that combination of good competitiveness and collaboration as a team? And I can switch that up. So I will tell you right now the most reliable way there. And if you’re a parent or a coach, like, get used to asking kids to say, hey, what did you like most about school today? Why? Why? It’s that why question that we don’t ask them and they don’t ever learn to ask themselves. But if you do that, you’ll start to see the trends right. You’ll start to see patterns and things that that that light you up and it won’t take you. I swear you do this for a couple of weeks and you’ll be on the set of your own micro in a hurry.
Brilliant Miller [00:19:40] Yeah, well, and something else that’s in there, too, I think. Is this about desire or in inherent enjoyment of the thing. And I think in our society, we’re trained to dishonor that, that that like you use the word a little earlier, whether it’s selfish or it’s indulgent or hedonistic or something, maybe that’s just our puritanical heritage coming up. But sometimes something is strange. Perhaps it might sound as strange as aligning things with your hands. Well, why are you talking about things like books on a shelf or dominoes or like anything that you could align with your hands? Well, if someone finds that inherently enjoyable,
Todd Rose [00:20:19] that’s it, then that’s fine. But by the way, I was worried someone was happy somewhere. Right? We’re going to and and here’s the thing. I think we gave up on this idea of the inherent joy that people get from things, because the truth is, is in the industrial age, that wasn’t really an option. You were trading in your distinctiveness. You were trading in fulfillment for a reliable, if not necessarily enjoyable job that could get to the white picket fence. Right. And the house and the car. Look, we can debate whether that was a good trade off then. But but let’s just say brass tacks. The society we live in now, this technology enabled know automated society where 20 years from now we may not even be able to ensure full employment because we don’t need it. Even just how do you actually thrive as a career like I’m telling you, man, if you don’t understand what motivates you and you don’t know how to turn that into something productive, you were unbelievable disadvantage. And so I’m more worried than anything else. Not that this is some far off thing, like, oh, OK, fullfillment. I’m saying this might be the new inequality that people who understand what it means to be able to truly live a fulfilling life and people have been taught that it doesn’t matter. Right. So you think material inequality is a problem? What about inequality and fundamental fullfil and happiness? I mean, that’s that. And that doesn’t have to happen because this is available to anyone anywhere. It doesn’t require that you’re wealthy, doesn’t require that you’re powerful, but it does require that you understand yourself and understand how to how to put this into action. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [00:22:00] You know, I’m reminded of a term Tony Robbins uses sometimes about a quality problem when that issue where we’re dealing with equality at that level, it in that form, that’s a quality problem.
Todd Rose [00:22:13] Great problem to have, isn’t it?
Brilliant Miller [00:22:14] Yeah, for sure. Later in your book, you talk about passion and you talk about there’s this of course, this is almost cliche, even though I happen to think it’s great advice that Joseph Campbell follow your bliss kind of thing and we talk a lot about it. But you talk about not just following your passion, but actually engineering your passion. What do you mean by that?
Todd Rose [00:22:35] So if we come back to these micro motives thing. Right. And I think it’s really important and people care about it, but they often it’s funny when people talk about passion, when they first interact with it, they’re like, oh no, no, it’s important. And then when you ask them, well, is it a reliable foundation to build a life on? Oh, I don’t know. Right. It sort of feels fleeting or maybe whatever. When I think about engineering it right now, the way it works, because we don’t teach people how to think about what matters to them, you find what you’re passionate about almost accidentally, you kind of bump around in society and then like for me, you pick up a basketball and you’re like, well, this is kind of cool. Like, I really enjoy this. I’m passionate about this. OK, great. But again, I’m stuck, right? Because it was actually in reaction to an activity that I’m like, basketball is everything to me. Well, it’s not true. Basketball is the manifestation of a set of motives for you that are checking a bunch of boxes. But if you don’t know what those are, you are helpless, right? You can only get the passion. And I’m playing basketball. I hurt myself. What do I do? So when I say engineer, it’s this. When people think about passion, they tend to think, well, wait, if I just knew that one motive, like the most important motive and I find something that allows me to do that, well, then I’ll be happy. Well, look, if you’re doing something that’s checking one of your motives, that’s fragile, right? That is like cool. Well, what happens when you’re no longer motivated by that or what happens? But what dark forces do consistently is you’re able to understand the full range of your own micro motives and then you engage in activities that actually check as many of those boxes as possible. Then that makes passion, durable, sustainable. Right? It is actually the kind of thing that becomes a good foundation for making choices and living a good life. And so when I think about engineering passion, that’s what I mean by understanding your micro motives. You can convert that into choices that consistently put you in situations where you are passionate about what you do.
Brilliant Miller [00:24:32] Uh, yeah. Thanks for that. Was something else that you talk about that I thought was really I thought it was a really insightful thing, was also about judgment. Right. And I think you even use the term the game of judgment, like playing kind of playing this game with yourself to get some more insight or awareness about yourself. What do you mean by that?
Todd Rose [00:24:50] So, you know, I said earlier, like, ask yourself what you like to do and think about why that’s the less judgmental version than the game of judgment. So, you know, listening to dark horses, think about how they got to their own motives. They played this game, which is besides, what do you like to do? We spend a ton of time judging people. Right? That’s not particularly good. And we shouldn’t do it. Well, what we thought was kind of cool is dark horses flipped it on its head and said, look, our instinct to judge people like you walk by someone and say they’re they’re working at a coffee shop and you’re like, why? Why would someone want work at a coffee shop or why would they want to pick up garbage for a living or why would they? Whatever you work in an office from nine to five. We usually use that judgment. I think that is saying something about those people that’s incorrect. Right. What it’s telling you is it’s a it’s a bright blinking light for you about who you are. Right. Because the fact that I look if you look at somebody, you’re like, wow, why would they go to an office 9:00 to 5:00? That is telling you something about what you would not want to do. You can sort of reverse engineer your motives that way. And so this combination of like using judgment that your brain is doing automatically to turn on yourself, combined with thinking about the things that you know you love and asking yourself why. And I’m telling you, those two things will get you to a rock solid understanding of your own micro motives.
Brilliant Miller [00:26:18] Yeah, I can see that. And, you know, for me, like I’ve seen some of these, what I think are micro motives and I’d love to just ask you about it while we’re connected this way. Now, know, one of them is I’ve learned about myself that I love sameness with variation. And that is I love these podcast interviews because it’s the same structure. It’s these three parts about whoever my guess life and work is. Then there’s a question on a variety of topics and then we delve into the writing creativity. That’s one example. But the book always changes and the guest changes. And so I don’t know if this is an example of like a micro motive, but I love one on one conversation. I love sharing things with other people and of words and language. So there’s a lot in there where this has now been three years and like a hundred and fifty of these conversations that I don’t know all the needs it means for me, but I know I love it.
Todd Rose [00:27:14] Yeah, no, this is exactly right. Because think about like, if all you thought was, man, I love podcasts. I am passionate about podcast. What do you do with that? Besides continue to do podcasts like what happens when suddenly you can’t do podcast and hear because you’re already articulating that next level. Right. Let’s just let me just speculate. So the one to one conversation. So not clear to me that maybe you’d be as thrilled if suddenly you’re sitting on stage like Tony Robbins talking to like maybe what? But like that’s certainly not one to one. Right. Like it’s one too many. I think books like you talk about books are phenomenal for a very similar reason. Right. Even though they are mass communication. When you were reading my book, I was in your head. It was just the two of us. Yeah, I got a chance. The most precious thing in the world is your attention. And I got to be in your head for hours. Yeah. And I treat that is sacred like and treat. That is something that I need to to put my heart and soul into because I got your captive attention for hours. Right. So I like, I love. And by the way, I love this. I’ve never heard anyone talk about this combination of like sameness and variation, but. But think how cool it is like. Like variation for its own sake isn’t great, right? Even I am I like a variation junkie because the truth is, is I have a routine, too. And what I realized about it is I want variation where it actually can surprise me, where it can benefit me. But I don’t want to go out on the road and be like, oh, I wonder which side of the road I drive on today. Like, no, I those things, I’d like to stay the same. So think about like if we got on here and there was no structure. Yeah. That variation would impair our ability to connect and repair our ability to get to the essence of the variation that that makes life meaningful for me. Yeah. So I love that distinction. It’s very cool.
Brilliant Miller [00:29:17] Yeah. And that uniformity. I mean, I was the example that you gave before about the gentleman who loved to align things with his hands. I thought that was such a powerful story, too. And for anyone listening, one of the things that you might love about this book, if you pick it up, is that these stories, it’s not just like many books where the story is told in one part of the book. And it’s an anecdote, a brief anecdote, but it’s woven in and out of chapters and so different you can learn multiple things from a single story. And one of the things that was powerful to me about that, if I have this story right, was that that guy used that micro motive actually to end up making a lot of money for his company because he created telecommunications technology. But then as he got into the corporate world and he thought, man, these guys who are making decisions here, I am like as an engineer and they’re making decisions that impact me and I’m not making the money I could. So then he decides to go get his own MBA and he loses touch with his passion and his micro motive. Yeah, he ends up making money and getting investment, but then he’s not happy. And it was like that was such a powerful example of how when we drift from that thing that really lights us up, we can actually end up in a really crappy place.
Todd Rose [00:30:31] Yeah, isn’t it? And what was so amazing is that, again, for me, I can’t emotionally connect to to eliding physical objects. It’s an intellectual exercise for me. But that’s the point of my career motive’s. That’s why they’re easy for us to think. Everyone’s motivated by the same things, the things that I’m motivated by, and that’s where we arrive. But that Sol was his name. It’s like it was such a cautionary tale that actually has a good ending. But it’s like, yeah, he ended up with you think, well, what does someone do with that kind of motive? It’s like, yeah, that’s we just a failure of imagination because he actually literally made his company a ton of money by inventing this thing in telecommunications that I think everybody largely agreed he was uniquely situated to have discovered. But like you said, he saw that middle managers were getting more money as a result. And rightly, I thought he felt like, hold on, I’m the one that made this invention. And like, OK, so then I just got to be a manager. Well, if you know him at all and he is a phenomenal person, he’s his motives are not aligned to being a manager. He doesn’t actually like people like he does. He’s like and it’s going to is OK. Right. But so he gets in that space where now all of a sudden the motives that would actually enable him to be good and draw fulfillment from it are not there. And he’s miserable. And the truth is, he’s not good at it anymore. Right. Because the thing is, is like when do you ever half ass anything you care about? You don’t. Right? You just don’t. So now suddenly you’re doing it for a reason that you think you should, but it’s not aligned to anything that matters to you. You’re not going to be good at it. And so he ends up out of the business and it passes and by. And then, you know, he ends up doing some really incredible work that had nothing to do with this. Once he gets back in line with his own motives and he ended up being and still is one of the top upholstery PR people in New York. And what’s funny is when he first told me that I was like a pulse repair, but then when he dug into it, first of all, you hear him light up when you talk about, yeah, you’re doing the right thing, buddy. This is what you should be doing. But I didn’t quite appreciate that. Like a pulse repair. What he does is like leather work and family heirlooms. And it is fundamentally about aligning things. Right. And he got his own little business. So he doesn’t have to be around a lot of people. And he gets on his bike and he goes places that he just loves it. He just loves it. And I promise you, if we were doing Career Day, first of all, nobody was going to compare being an engineer and being an upholstery power person. Right. Because only in a world of understanding micro motives are those two things actually on the same level. But there we are. Right. He’s able to make that choice for himself.
Brilliant Miller [00:33:16] Yeah, well, and this is exactly the thing to write about choice. And you talk about this, I think it’s kind of the number two is to know your choices. And I think, again, this is an area that we maybe you use the term failure of imagination or maybe we feel. Obligation or we should do something or not do something. But what how do how does choice then fit into all this? Because there is that victim, right? Know thyself
Todd Rose [00:33:43] a huge
Brilliant Miller [00:33:44] place to start. Then when it comes to choice, how do you end up how do you think about choice?
Todd Rose [00:33:49] Yeah. So I love that. Know thyself. Just to come back to that, because we often think know thyself means know what you’re good at. Ability is completely contextualized, that is not a solid foundation to know who you are, motives are far more indelible, doesn’t mean they can’t change, but they’re much more about who you really are. And they’re a reliable foundation for self-knowledge. Choice was interesting because that seems kind of almost like a throwaway. Yeah, because, number one, they were obsessed about choices and they didn’t waste them. I think in a society where actually, if you think about it outside of commerce, we don’t actually our systems don’t really give us a lot of meaningful choice, really. Like it’s education doesn’t work, doesn’t it’s like we go we go to the supermarket. We do places that matter most. We don’t. So as a result, I think we tend to hoard those choices and we hedge. We don’t want to. Well, if I if I choose door A well, maybe I’ll Miss Dawber. These these dark horses, they were obsessed about understanding their choices and even creating choices where wontons didn’t exist. And then they make the choice. Right. And I’ll tell you one thing you don’t mind about the thing that I internalize the most from them about making choices. That really, really was pretty profound because I kept hearing them and I think. Right. But like, you know, when I was when I was young, married, high school, drop out on welfare to kids like cool, make choices that are optimized fulfillment. Are you kidding me? Like but here’s what they did. I think it’s so important. And for listeners. The like, it doesn’t matter where you’re starting from, you always have some choice. Oh, there is no way that you that you don’t have some kind of option. And what dark horses did is it’s kind of a two step thing that is critical. Out of those options, they’re almost never equal in terms of their potential to align to your motives. But but. They would ask a second question, this is critical. Can you live with the worst case scenario? So if, like, one of one of the dark horses literally pack up everything, he had left the states and went lived in a cottage in England to learn horticulture and some other skills that he needed. Right. Well, wait, I couldn’t have done that. I can’t leave my kids behind or. No, I can’t. I can’t not have a job. Right. So so what they would say is if you can’t live with the worst outcome, then go on to the next most fulfilling thing. And what you’re trying to find is that accommodation where it is the most potentially fulfilling it can be. And if it fell spectacularly, you could live with that outcome. That lesson for me has been profound. It’s affected literally everything, including no kidding. I chose to leave Harvard as a professor because I realized that my path to a fulfilling life and the things that I wanted to do no longer involved academia. There’s no way that I would have thought to make that choice or dare to make that choice, I think, without learning that lesson from dark horses.
Brilliant Miller [00:37:01] Wow. Was there a catalyzing event? I mean, what was the moment? What was that insight like?
Todd Rose [00:37:08] So I don’t believe I loved a man. I loved the people I worked with. And and Harvard’s a great place. I don’t believe in the institution of higher education as it structured. I don’t believe in the false scarcity model of quality. I don’t believe in the way I was going to use the word I shouldn’t use probably on podcast. We literally forced people to compete for artificially scarce, scarce resources and we get a stranglehold on opportunity because I went to Harvard, the things I can do all around the world, it’s ridiculous. Right? And Harvard hasn’t had a single seat because they’re undergrads in like 60 years. They have 40 billion dollars an endowment. Now listen, again, wonderful people, so I had convinced myself, well, I’m going to change society. I want to change this. I that’s obviously contrary to the entire positive some world view. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll use the leverage as I love the people there and this show up anywhere and say you’re a Harvard professor and no one questions that, you know what you’re talking about, that they should, but they don’t. And I convinced myself that that wasn’t being a hypocrite, right, but who was I kidding, right? What I what I really liked was that my identity was bound up in that. And as someone who had been a spectacular failure in school for most of my life, I realized I had too much pride in the affiliation. And so I convinced myself, you know, look, I need this. And when I thought it through, I thought, OK, what I really want to do is start my own thing, to start my own companies that allow me to get closer to the public than just to academia. So you think through, well, what happens if I leave Harvard? What happens if I give up the potential for tenure somewhere? Right. A guaranteed job. And I realized, wait a minute, as long as I have some savings, you know, my kids are older now. My wife said, well, we’ve been poor before. Really? What? We’ve already been poor. What is the what what would really affect us? So worst case scenario, we realized we would have to give up everything we have in Boston and we may end up back in Utah, which beautiful place living with my parents. Is that really the end of the world? It’s not my preference, but it is not the end of the world. So I made the jump and it’s been unbelievable. It is the best decision I ever made. And I am far more fulfilled. And I would never would have taken that jump without dark horses.
Brilliant Miller [00:39:44] Wow, that’s great. It’s always wonderful. And it works out right. You had you had planned or hoped. But as you talk about this think tank. So this is populist’s, right? What what is how does it work? What does it do?
Todd Rose [00:40:01] OK, this is where I get excited. So I told you at the beginning, I believe society can be positive-sum. And that’s just not in terms of material abundance, like free markets, but psychological abundance, like flourishing and happiness and fulfillment. And I believe we have a good sense for what the institutional and cultural conditions need to be. And we started a think tank that is really more about action to drive those things, a culture of high trust and institutions that are aligned with and stay aligned with the public’s values and preferences. So we engage in that. And one of my favorite things, probably the thing we’re most known for right now is innovative private opinion research, because all of that depends on knowing what the American public truly thinks and really wants. And I’ll just tell you one example, because it’s related to the dark stuff. We did the largest private opinion study ever on people’s views of a successful life. It was inspired by Darkhorse, for sure. But I was kind of wondering, like, what if there is something weird about Darkhorse right there, just like this anomaly and the rest of us don’t really think like that. And so their insights may not be all that applicable. I didn’t think it was true, but better to figure that out. And so the private opinion methods we use get around what you just what you’re willing to say out loud and get at what you really believe. And these methods are used all over the place. But here’s what we found, and this is why it was so exciting to me. But with the the American Success Index that we did with Gallup. It was unreal, like the out of 76 different trade off priorities, people could have the overwhelming majority of Americans across all demographics age, well, you name it, race, gender. They want fullfillment. And what they absolutely don’t want and absolutely don’t care about is this garbage idea of a zero sum comparative race to wealth, status and power. And to give you one concrete example of this, let me just back up and say the most interesting insight in that whole thing is what I call a collective illusion. We privately, almost all of us want this pursuit of meaning and purpose and fulfillment, but we are absolutely convinced that most other people don’t. We think that most everybody else in our society still wants wealth and power. And here’s the finer point on that. Out of 76 different trade off priorities, again, using methods that you can’t gain. Being famous was viewed as the most important thing to most Americans. That’s what we thought. If I ask you, what do you think most Americans care about its being famous is number one by a landslide. Turns out it is actually dead last in private, dead last. So what people care about character, relationships, education, to be able to pursue things they care about. It is so remarkable and I’m happy to share it. It’s on our website. It’s it will make you. You will love what is true about us as a people, and then you’ll be kind of taken aback by how wrong we are about each other, and I believe those illusions are ripping our society apart. And so you just got to understand, like, most people are actually more like these dark horses than we realize the. Decisions and went for it when the rest of us kind of held back and said, I don’t know, right. And so I hope the book actually enables more people to get on a path of fulfillment rather than continuing to chase society’s view of a successful life.
Brilliant Miller [00:43:42] That’s really interesting. Does that hold true even for younger people? Because some of what I’ve read and even my personal experience talking to my kids and some of their friends, and that is that it seems like they all want to be famous, you tubers and streamers and things like that.
Todd Rose [00:43:58] You’ve nailed this. OK, so here’s here’s the problem. And by the way, this is literally the title of my next book. I’m just finishing it submitted to the publisher on Monday evening. So if it doesn’t if I don’t get it done in time, I’m blaming you. But here’s the thing about collective Illusions. The famed example, so dead last in private, but we believe it’s number one. OK, so when we go to our Hollywood partners and our advertising partners and say, wait, why do you keep telling us? Why do you keep signaling fame? They say we’re just giving people what they want. They can’t read our minds. They’re falling for the same illusion. Right. So so let me tell you, the problem with collective illusions is unless you dismantle them. They tend to become the private opinion of the next generation, so specifically, UCLA has studied middle school kids, 12 year olds, as they kind of become how they start to see themselves for about 20 years. I’ll get the exact number off them at 18 years or something, but up until about four years ago. Every year, the dominant theme of the kids of what they were thinking about had to do with character. I want to be a good person. I want to be a good friend. I want to have friends. Right. About four years ago, it actually changed. I want to be famous, I want to be a YouTube star, and that’s been the dominant theme for the last four years. So think about what we’re doing here, because we’re all quietly trying to pursue fulfilling lives. We realize that society’s definition is hollow and does not end well for any of us. But because we think everybody cares about these other things, we don’t say anything. In fact, most dark horses were almost ashamed. They were like, oh, I don’t know that anyone else should follow me. I don’t know. I’m a little weird. I’m quirky. I guess this other thing is probably good for everybody else. So we don’t say anything and we keep operating under this illusion. And the people that are going to pay the biggest price for that are our children. But it’s not too late. Right. We need to we need to realize that things are values matter. They are not collateral damage to some industrial society just because they matter, and if we’re not willing to stand up and say what those things are and be willing to put them into action in our lives, that not only is our lives diminished. So are everybody else’s, so are our children. And one last thing, I’ll tell you, just to put a finer point on this, in that study, we actually looked at life satisfaction. Gallup has a very, very clever question about a latter 10 point scale. They used all over the world, like, where would you put your life? Right. 10 being like, I’m living my best life to like one. I’m really struggling. Turns out that people who were achieving on their own values, according to our success index, write your own trade off price, which, by the way, was individuals, anything unbelievable, like ridiculously individual. A 20 point boost in that was the equivalent in terms of a boost in life satisfaction to you getting a 50 percent pay raise, but if you were if you were achieving on society’s definition. Zero. No increase in life satisfaction, there is nothing to be had for you achieving on someone else’s view of a good life, and there is everything to be had for you knowing who you are and what matters to you and achieving all that.
Brilliant Miller [00:47:33] That’s really beautiful. Yeah, it’s a great thing to know. My suspicion is that we don’t really learn that until we experience it for ourselves, though.
Todd Rose [00:47:43] Yeah, and usually the hard way. I mean, like and I think, like, great. Like, I’m someone who usually has to learn everything the hard way. So that’s fine. But I think, like, there’s no reason why this has to be accidental, serendipitous discovery. Right. We can cultivate it. We can teach people how to know who they are, because, by the way, nobody can do it for you. We can pretend to give you some garbage standardized test of personality. But like, you’re a type of person, not how it works, not how it works. Right. You are a human being. You’re multidimensional. Context matters only, you know. So let’s trust people. Let’s empower people with the knowledge and skills they need to know themselves to make choices for themselves and to pursue the kind of life that they care about and make their best contribution.
Brilliant Miller [00:48:33] How does this fit with what you say in the book about your strategies?
Todd Rose [00:48:39] That was pretty cool. So. We often. OK, so we often think when we think about being excellent at something, it’s like think about even in school or other places, there’s like one right way to do something that’s accidental. By the way, the father of sterilization, Frederick Taylor, who literally gave us things like managers and often and factories. Right. Literally his his biography is called One Right Way. He thought there was one right way to do everything, figure it out, standardize the system and make everybody do it that way. Well, it turns out that’s absolutely wrong. It is mathematically wrong. Like there’s actually complex systems, which is part of my background. There’s a thing called equa finality, which is like one of the only laws of complex systems, which is for any outcome you care about. There is always more than one equally valid way to get there. So what Dark Horses did, which is just unbelievably cool, is as they’re pursuing. OK, so let’s say I know my motives. I’ve made some choices. OK, well, I’ve chosen into something. But achievement isn’t just choice. Achievement is accomplishment. So how do I get good at this thing? And what was so cool is it’s it’s not just like continuing to do the same thing over and over again and hoping you get different results. Right. That was like Einstein’s sanity right now is that they they recognized that it was about figuring out out of the range of ways something could be done. Some strategies will fit with your own individuality better than others. And it was about cycling through strategies until you found the one that clicked and then you take off. And it was pretty cool because like when you looked at how they were progressing in their life, they hit these points where it looked like they were stuck right where they, like you, have made progress. And in their mind, they’re like, no, I’m just going through the strategy. So I find one that works and then they take off. And by the way, this one was kind of personal to me because I didn’t realize. But for me, this happened. So, you know, like I told you, like high school dropout had zero point nine GPA, which is about as bad as you could get. And I am working my way. I was working a string of minimum wage jobs on welfare to kids. I was like, something has to change. I ended up going to college and I got my GED, went to college. We were state university. By applying some of these things, I didn’t realize what I was doing, I was just desperate to do something better, I was trying to find a good fit for myself. Long story short. I end up getting ready to graduate three point ninety seven GPA, honor student of the year there, and my mentors have convinced me that I could go to graduate school. I know when they go to graduate school. But what I was facing was the degree to which I am terrible at standardized tests to this day, terrible stress test. And I was stuck on a particular one. They don’t do this section anymore, thank goodness. But the analytical reasoning and it was those kind remember those questions that are like, OK, farmer John has four rows and he has corn, peas, carrots and whatever. Tomatoes and tomatoes can’t be next to corn. And then they go like, what’s in row two? Column three what? I don’t know. Right. And so I’ve been I had taken a practice course, University of Utah and SATs. I’ve been trying I’d done well on the verbal quantitative reasoning I had after ten weeks had not got higher than the thirteenth percentile on medical reasoning. And I panicked. Right. I’m like, well, so not graduate school and I can’t get this problem right. And I’m literally sitting at my parents house because we lived in a four hundred square foot apartment. So when everybody in the study had to go to their house and I was so mad and I don’t recommend this approach, I threw a pencil across the room just out of frustration. My dad happened to walk in as the pencil flew past him, and he didn’t take kindly to that, nor should he like what’s what’s wrong with you? And I was telling you how frustrating was. And he walked over. Thank goodness he looks down and he’s an engineer by training. And he said, oh, that’s a degrees of degrees of freedom problem. And I didn’t know what that meant. And he said, How are you doing it? And I start telling him he’s like, wait, you’re trying to do it in your head. And he knew more about me than I knew about myself at that point. He said, you know, you have terrible working memory, which is true, like holding stuff in my mind. Forget it. Like that’s never going to happen. And he said, listen, try doing it this way, diagram it draws this diagram here. I think that’ll work for you. I was like, that can’t be true. But I tried it on one problem and it was really simple. Try it another way. I still didn’t trust him because I take it back to my professor. I said, hey, look, my dad showed me this other strategy. What’s wrong with it? He goes. I mean, nothing I just do in my head, but you can do whatever you want. So we can have later. I literally only missed one problem on the entire Abdel-Karim subsection of the jury, it was my highest score. Wow. I tell you that because I think it’s funny, like you could say. Well, that Todd is really analytical. I don’t think that’s the takeaway. I think strategy is critical and fit between your individuality and the strategy is everything. And if you get that right, you will be amazed what you can accomplish. And for those of you that have been struggling through something that you care about, you don’t care about, that’s your first problem, right? If you care and you’re struggling, I guarantee you it is not because you can’t accomplish it is because you don’t have the right strategy. Start looking wide, start trying different things and realize it is not a waste of time to cycle through different strategies. You will find one that fits and you will be off and running.
Brilliant Miller [00:54:23] That’s a beautiful message and one I forget the you know, I’m sure many people have offered advice this way, right? But it’s about when you have something you want and that first approach doesn’t work, that it’s don’t change the outcome, don’t change the goal that you’re striving for. Change your approach right now.
Todd Rose [00:54:40] And it just and I promise you, this was what dark horses nailed this. It is amazing. So, like, whatever you do or the listener, like if you care about it, do not give up like that. That barrier is usually has to do with the wrong strategy. And we just sort of adopt like what we see as someone else do and think, well, they they did it. So that must be the right way, not how it works.
Brilliant Miller [00:55:03] Yeah, there is a lot of there is a lot of freedom in that and giving yourself permission to to try another path, you know. So OK, we covered a lot and I’ve I’ve really enjoyed this. What. What haven’t we talked about related to Darkhorse or this whole thing about individuality, and that’s central, so central to your work. But before we transition to the next part of our conversation, is there anything else that we haven’t touched on that you you want to or you think would be of of benefit to the listener?
Todd Rose [00:55:36] Yeah, so the hardest part of Darkhorse sort of pursuing a dark horse mindset. Is the last thing that is, is this and I called ignore your destination and this seems so risky, but it is so important we are taught in a standardized system. Because we have so few choices, you better figure out what you’re going to be when you grow up and you better know that and you better just pursue it doggedly. That is such a bad idea. You are your own North Star, right? You always have choices, know who you are and make choices off of that right. And focus on that because you might think there’s only one thing you could ever be in life that would be the thing is, is not true. There are so many things that you could do, right. What you can afford is to get distracted from the focus on who you are and what matters most to you because you’ll start chasing other people’s views of what you should be and how you should be. But as long as you focus on your internally right and I don’t mean that selfishly, I don’t mean like ignore other people. I just mean there is no substitute for knowing who you are and achieving on those values.
Brilliant Miller [00:56:48] Thanks for sharing that to me. As I read that about ignore your destination. It occurred for me as right in line with what I think some of the greatest spiritual teachers have taught about renouncing the fruits of your labor or taking no thought for the things of the morrow, this kind of thing. And I think there’s even a nuance there, though, because it’s one thing to pursue an outcome or to strive for a destination, because that’s what society thinks or someone who’s important to you thinks. But then there’s also our own self-imposed destination’s. But my sense was, in listening to what you’re saying now and in what you wrote, that it’s really ignoring both in some ways, which again, this is almost for me, the realm of the metaphysical set a destination, but you’ll never reach the horizon
Todd Rose [00:57:39] and you don’t want to you don’t want to like that was the cool thing about dark horses is there is no destination. I mean, like, one of my favorite ones of all was a woman who literally, like any part of her life, would have been a hero’s journey, you know, from a abusive relationship to getting herself to become literally manifesting and becoming sound engineer on Prince’s Purple Rain album, like that journey from from a terrible relationship with no education to this itself could have been a lifetime. Right. And I would have still told her story name, Susan Rogers. And so there you go. Right. She gets there and realizes amazing what’s next. And she realized she loved the brain and she understood she in her 40s, decided to go and be a professor. And that’s what she does today. So when you get hung up on a destination like it, fundamentally No. One, it will lead you to make bad choices in the here and now, which will minimize fulfillment, not maximize it. Worse, it literally lowers your horizons. It takes away this vast expanse of what’s possible and fixates on a very narrow idea of the life you want to live. Be open to surprise. Be open to new opportunities, because even if you knew what the destination was like, the society around you can change the opportunity. Landscape can change. So focus on here now, focus on who you are and be good at making choices that you have in front of you. That’s not a that’s not about not setting goals. It’s just not setting silly ones that are so contingent on a dozen different outcomes that you could control if you wanted to.
Brilliant Miller [00:59:26] Yeah, Susan’s story so remarkable is amazing in that whole thing. So, again, I know this is one of those probably you’ve got to read the book, but
Todd Rose [00:59:38] isn’t that great? Isn’t that great? Oh, yeah. I guess. Am I supposed to say, as I say in the book, isn’t that the line?
Brilliant Miller [00:59:45] Yeah, but that story about her going to that concert at the forum. And just saying they will be like this, what do you say? I don’t know if it was a sound engineer, but one day I will be here, I will be in this building and I will be performing the function of a sound technician or a sound engineer.
Todd Rose [01:00:02] And she can’t sing. And it’s like and I love her journey. I mean, I love where it’s like there’s a place in L.A. where these kind of people get trained. Well, she didn’t have the money to get in. So was she. Do you always have a choice? She became a secretary there on a condition that she could drop in on some classes. And then she wanted the technical skills that you couldn’t just drop in on. Well, what does she do? You can say, well, guess what, now have opportunity now she figures out that the US Army has the most definitive manual on this kind of stuff. So she calls him up, says, listen, could you send me that manual? And they said, well, are you interested in maybe enlisting? And she said, well. I’m not not interested because I won’t lie to you, but I’m like, I’m not not interested. But you know what? Sure. A couple of weeks later, these massive manual’s arrived to her and she teaches herself, so I’ve seen it like, listen, there’s always you always have a choice. There’s always a way. Right. And sure enough, like, she has this amazing moment with Prince because, by the way, Prince decides he’s going to hole up in Minnesota and build a sound studio in his house and all the action was in L.A. Nobody wants to go to Minnesota. No offense. I mean, I. I think it’s a beautiful place, but like so there she has an opportunity. There she goes. Right. Just I just love it. And it’s so funny because. It’s easy to look at those stories and go, well, that’s just an anomaly, right? That’s an anomaly. Well, I’m telling you, listen, I think I’ve studied more anomalies than anybody else in this country. They’re not as anonymous as you think they are. Right. We’ve been sold a bill of goods. We’ve been told that there’s one way to live your life and it’s all the same. And, oh, it just so happens to be very, very good for other people. Not the contributing part, but we’ll pit ourselves against each other, all in the pursuit of the same stupid thing that doesn’t make any of us happy. So, Susan, it’s probably my absolute favorite story in the book.
Brilliant Miller [01:02:00] Yeah, it’s amazing. And there’s so many takeaways from it to even like that. You mentioned that abusive relationship and the decision to leave and the moment of that or when she met Prince. Right. And and here she is working on his estate or in his home or whatever. And he comes down the first time they meet and barely even acknowledges her. But she asserts herself. And it’s like, hi, I’m Susan. I’m here to be here. I’m here to serve you this way. But she knows there is some real way there equals know.
Todd Rose [01:02:30] Exactly. And she and the thing is exactly right. Right. She has her dignity and she is going to assert herself and then for them to end up back in the form together, sharing that moment, that was this pinnacle for each of them at that time in their life. I’m going to tell you one one thing that I haven’t told anybody. My publisher won’t be terribly thrilled. So normally I like to be a good collaborator, but I won’t name who it was because it wasn’t. My editor who was amazing, actually was their legal department. I don’t care what the legal department said right towards the end. We’re going to publish the book, said you to take out the fact that she was in an abusive relationship. What if the what if the husband, which I didn’t name. What if the husband sues her like, oh, wait, so you’re telling me in this ME2 era, which was. In this ME2 era, which was. So I had to sign a deal, a waiver for them, an indemnity closet, like if he sued, it would be me that he sues. And I was like, selfishly, I was like, personal, amazing. I would love to be the person being sued because some jerk who beat his wife now doesn’t want to be, like, embarrassed like anyway. So here’s how I got out. I’m only telling stories where I’m the hero. So this is good. But but so I said, OK, I hear you. They’re like, well, you’ve got to take it. I said, OK, well, let me tell you how this is going to go. I was going to be on CBS This Morning, 12 million viewers. I said, let me tell you, the first story I want to tell is about the story you made me take out. And they’re like, you wouldn’t do that. I said, watch me. And I said, Well, I’m on Fox News the first hour. I’m going to tell him the story. You’re making me take you out. So it’s pretty funny. So they find me like, OK, if you basically wave, we are not responsible for this low and behold, nothing ever happened.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:18] But, uh, yeah, that that I feel like you would have been to him, Susan and the reader a disservice to not.
Todd Rose [01:04:26] It starts with her working with Prince and answer to her professor now.
Brilliant Miller [01:04:32] And one of the other takeaways from that as well. And I think what you’ve shared about your decision to leave Harvard mirrors this right, is even when we do pick a destination and we we arrive there, that it’s often not, although it might be as wonderful as we thought it would be, it’s often not. But even if it is, there comes a point where, you know, we’re ready for something new and life really is a process. And just to be aware of that phenomenon and not living for this, someday, I’ll really be happy because.
Todd Rose [01:05:00] Exactly. Because here’s the thing. I’m not saying that you can’t arrive at a destination and have it be fulfilling for the rest of your life. That’s certainly possible. But there’s literally no downside to ignoring the destination, because as long as you’re focused on who you are and your own motives and aligning your choices to them. If the situation you’re in is the fulfilling thing, you’ll still be there. What this approach does is keep you open to the idea that there are other possibilities, other horizons or other other mountains to climb. So I see it as like literally there is no downside to this approach to thinking about it.
Brilliant Miller [01:05:38] Yeah, well, and I know I was asking you your final final things to share, but I just want to also kind of circle back to one other thing that you made a point in the book that for me was a shift in my thinking about strengths that we often think we’ve got to know our strengths and leverage those and all this. But every strength, as you point out, every strength is has a weakness or has a liability associated. And if we focus on a strength over a micro motive or even a strategy sometimes that ultimately we don’t achieve the fulfillment that’s possible for us.
Todd Rose [01:06:15] Well, thank you. And to me, that’s where strength and strategy to me just go together. It’s listen, it’s just where there’s a will, there’s a way. And if I want if I want to accomplish something, I’m going to tell you this example and I’m going to butcher the name because I just called wine experts because every time I say our soms. Right, Somalia and then people who know go, that’s not how it’s pronounced. So anyway, so I don’t know. I can’t I can’t get my French accent, but like these wine experts. So those people that don’t know and we studied like a lot of them, a couple of dozen, there is these master level, highest level soms. It is the hardest test in the world. There are actually more people who have been to outer space that have passed that test. And it is a single test. Right. Pass through. You don’t. It is so hard. Out of a couple of dozen people that we interviewed who had all reached that pinnacle, there weren’t two people that use the same strategy. Bonkers, different strategies like that were alive, and they only ever get over the hump when they figure out the one that aligns to their what ifs, like what? Because I would have thought you just like Cramond Memrise, like, you know, like so it is crazy when some some people have tactile strengths that tied to a strategy that allowed them to actually do it just crazy. So the point is focus on who you really are in terms of what motivates you. You need to be aware of your strengths and limitations, but only to the extent that it allows you to pick the right kind of strategies.
Brilliant Miller [01:07:53] Awesome. All right, well, with your permission, let’s go ahead and transition to the lightning lightning round.
Todd Rose [01:08:01] All right. I hope I don’t fail. Here we go. OK.
Brilliant Miller [01:08:05] How are you doing, by the way? You’re doing all right. I’m doing well. Get, get, get. OK, question number one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a. Carnival. OK, question number two are the technologist’s and Investopedia teals question what important truth do? Very well. Let me say that again. Number two, one important truth, do you believe that very few people agree with you on.
Todd Rose [01:08:47] I believe that. People are fundamentally trustworthy and that because we fail to recognize that we don’t invest in them, so specifically, I think if you did something like guaranteed income, not even tied to having a job, that people would actually work harder, they would contribute more. But we’re so afraid that if we actually truly support people. That they would just not work hard, that they won’t do things and it’s just wrong, it’s wrong, and that right now is holding us back.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:24] OK, that’s at least one book in that, too, isn’t there?
Todd Rose [01:09:27] Absolutely. You’re on to my.
Brilliant Miller [01:09:30] This is a question number three. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a T-shirt with a slogan or phrase or saying or quote or clip on it, what would it say? What would the show say?
Todd Rose [01:09:47] That’s funny, but my actual answer is stop reading slogans on a shirt, but like I like actually actively dislike any kind of. Actually, like I would say, bu and that’s a that’s a that seems like such a throwaway line, but like like your distinctiveness is not selfishness. It doesn’t have to be. It’s everything. It’s everything for you and it’s everything to what you can contribute to humanity. So be you.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:18] Awesome. OK, question number four, what book other than one of your own have you gifted or recommended most often.
Todd Rose [01:10:31] I actually have a few, so sorry, I’m cheating here. I love books.
Brilliant Miller [01:10:35] I think people who listen to this also love books. So it’s all.
Todd Rose [01:10:41] Karl Popper’s this is this is the one that I’m a reformed academic subject, Karl Popper is the logic of scientific discovery will completely blow your mind about what science really is? I thought it was about a collection of facts. And it is so much more anti authority and so much cooler than that. Fundamentally changed how I thought of myself as a scientist. I think it’s worth everybody reading. I would make it required reading in high school science class. I believe that anything by Senaka. The stoic, because stoicism we tend to think of as almost like removing yourself from the world, but that wasn’t Seneca, Seneca was this bundle of contradictions, which is why I love him. He was trying to help people figure out how to live a good life, taking responsibility for their own emotions. But unlike other Stoics, he actually was like he was one of the richest people in Rome, you know? So like it’s like they called him a hypocrite. But I was like, no, he can tell you that money doesn’t matter. It’s easy to say. It doesn’t matter when you have none. Right. And so I love the fact that he was obsessed with helping people come to terms with what real happiness was, how much power they really had. And he wrote in Latin instead of Greek to make it accessible to everyday people. And he was obsessed about the practicality of the ideas, the that this is going to be a silly one. There are a little it’s a three book series like little pamphlets actually called Riveting Reports. Here’s here’s why. What I never imagined I would be an author because I hated writing, because I tried to do it the way everybody else did, which is just write a draft. I can’t do that. I guess I’ll spin my wheels on a paragraph, it was like it was torture. River reports, stunning sentences and powerful paragraphs is the three part thing, they’re simple, changed my life in terms of what it means to write. The opening line in that little manual was you cannot think and write at the same time. And I was like, well, that’s exactly what I was doing. And it shows you a way to start from the opposite side, which for me, with a bad working memory was perfect. Rather than just jumping in transformed my life, I literally it to every every class I ever taught at Harvard. And without fail, there were always a half dozen students who thought it was transformative. So if you feel like there, you have something to say and you’re like, But I just can’t write like that. I think this is an unbelievably amazing they’re like ten bucks, so.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:27] That’s awesome, that’s a confirmation for me. There’s no there’s no true correlation between price and value.
Todd Rose [01:13:35] Exactly.
Brilliant Miller [01:13:36] That’s awesome. What are you currently reading?
Todd Rose [01:13:39] Oh man, I, I’ve been reading like crazy. I read this really kind of crazy cool book called I believe was called just recently like is it into the Magic House journey into the by this brain surgeon who’s also part of the contemplative tradition, not fully Buddhist, but works with the Dalai Lama, found it unbelievable. Like as someone who deeply appreciates, contemplate and had the honor of getting stuck in a ledge just with four people, include the Dalai Lama in D.C. So when someone actually called in a bomb threat and so we were stuck, just a small number of us around a table for over four hours. I got to just ask him all these questions. Let’s just blow your mind. Right. So but this book was just pretty cool. It actually pushed my thinking about things like manifesting, which I thought was a little I was like, actually pretty cool. And I just I just I loved it.
Brilliant Miller [01:14:40] So I just Googled. The end of the magic shop, a neurosurgeon’s quest to discover the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart by James story.
Todd Rose [01:14:48] And what I like is that even the title doesn’t sound like something I would want to read. It was actually gifted to me by someone who I really admire and I actually literally only read it because she said it to me and I was like, come on. And then I started reading it. I said, you know, I’m going to sit down and start reading it just because I got to be able to tell her that I, I, I read it. I tried. I was captured. I read it in one sitting. I cried three times.
Brilliant Miller [01:15:15] Oh, my goodness. That is a high recommendation. Wow. Awesome. Well, thank you for sharing. That will definitely put a link to that in the show. Notes here. OK, question number five, this one’s about travel. You know, back in the good old days, the days that you’ve traveled a lot, what you do or something you take with you and you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable.
Todd Rose [01:15:43] So this probably gets back to. Something you said earlier about the you know, the sameness and the variation. So what I found is that I love it. I love traveling to places that I would go to every country in the world if I could. And just in the last couple of years, I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, Shanghai, Hong Kong, you know, Italy. It was just I love traveling, but I have found that that I actually get more out of it if I can sort of standardize some things of what I do. And so I will bring TV shows that my wife and I watch and other things. And I have the same habit at night, no matter where I am. And it just kind of like it just it keeps me connected back to home. And it’s silly. But in a weird way, it that stability allows me to fully be there and enjoy the variation so that I don’t end up going to McDonald’s in like Shanghai just so I could feel a touch of home. So I could feel a touch of all right.
Brilliant Miller [01:16:55] Awesome, thanks for that, OK, question number six, what is one thing you started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well.
Todd Rose [01:17:08] So this will sound like a really like, well, duh answer, but I absolutely hate working out like hate it like I don’t understand talk about motives. I don’t, I just but I realized, like, you know, at some point, like the traveling or writing, that things were just I was it was I was becoming unhealthy. And so what I did was knowing my own micro motives because I literally like even today, I’ve had a personal trainer for two years. And if I could take a pill that would give me a decent body and it really is more about help, I would quit that. So. And so what I did was I tried to, like, internalize my own writings and I said, OK, I know I should want I know I should care about this, but I don’t write. I have my own gym at home. I don’t use it. So what I did was I did this. No kidding. Pre-paid to the trainer, all these sessions. And then there was this I can’t remember the name of it, but it was like this website. So you put a bunch of money in to think and the trainer has to connect and says, so they said, what’s this thing that you hate the most
Brilliant Miller [01:18:24] is this dot com?
Todd Rose [01:18:27] I believe so. I believe that because like so what I did was like and for me it was Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. OK, I don’t mean to be political. I just like. Yeah, yeah. I just like. Yeah, no, that’s definitely not the world I want to live in. And I’m, I’m rabidly independent, but that’s not the world I want to live in. So if I if the if the trainer didn’t log in and say I did the session, then each time a fifty dollar donation was made to his reelection campaign. Turns out that is incredibly motivating. Right. So I did that. I got I got into training. And then I use this tool to be able to maintain the motivation that just wasn’t there otherwise.
Brilliant Miller [01:19:09] Well, that is really funny. I’ve I’ve had somebody else tell me about this, and I’m just looking at it right now.
Todd Rose [01:19:17] It’s funny. Like I first thought if I prepaid that, that be good enough. But then I realized that I had enough money that losing one hundred and twenty dollars a session, I was like, like, keep it, keep it, you know, and that’s that’s not motivating enough anymore. But but funding things that I actively dislike turned out to be very motivating.
Brilliant Miller [01:19:38] That is great. I suspect there are multiple services like this. But the one, as I mentioned, that I’ve heard of for anybody listening who might want to try that, to get the leverage they want or need to achieve their their desired goals is stickum with 2K who has to be smart. That’s smart. OK, so question number seven, what is one thing you wish every American knew?
Todd Rose [01:20:06] Well, this will sound like a cheap plug, but we just finished this private opinion work on America. It’s called American Aspirations Index, looking at the trade off priorities that Americans have for the future of the country. People believe that we are profoundly divided, they believe it. And then when you get into the private opinion, it is just not true, it is shockingly not true. I was blown away. I mean, I don’t care if we’re divided. We can deal with division. We can deal with common ground. We can’t deal with misunderstanding. We think we’re divided. We are not. When you look at the top 10, top 15 highest aspirations we have for the future of the country, they are shockingly similar across race, class, gender, geography and even political ideology. The biggest threat to us is we don’t we don’t realize that we actually did. So, for example, the in the aggregate, the third most important priority out of fifty six for the country was addressing climate change. It’s also it’s even a top priority for Trump voters. They said they didn’t believe it was so there are certain things where the illusion creates its own consequences. And in terms of what it means to live in a great society, like we actually have a hell of a lot in common. And it is only this illusion that we don’t that is going to destroy us. So I wish I wish Americans understood just how much their fellow citizens share their values, because one of the most important predictors of sustainable free societies is social trust. Right. That gut feeling. Can most people be trusted? We have been in freefall in the US in terms of social trust for generation over generation, the moral foundation of all social trust is shared values. No kidding, right? Obviously, if I want to be positive, some, I think you see the world as zero sum. Why would I trust you? Right. So we have the the moral foundation for social trust right in front of us. And it is only the illusion that we have nothing in common that is holding us back.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:19] Wow, that’s really interesting. Just making a note for myself here
Todd Rose [01:22:26] now, you know why I’m excited that I left Harvard? Because I get to do cool stuff like this, like literally whatever it is that I want to know, I have I have what the most amazing supporters who are like, we trust you. They invest in us and let us pursue these things against the goal of driving toward a positive sum society. I literally wouldn’t trade my life for anybody.
Brilliant Miller [01:22:47] That’s great. That’s what a great thing to be able to say. So what I and I, of course, we’ve got this recorded, but just here for my own benefit, what I wrote is the moral foundation for social trust is shared values.
Todd Rose [01:23:01] So rock solid research and and how sad is that, that at our core values, we actually share them in common and we don’t realize it?
Brilliant Miller [01:23:12] Yeah, there’s so much here. So I’m going to blow up my own lightning rod for just a minute. A couple of things I think about I think about Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature and about the opening sentence. And there is something about we live in a free time, but no one believes it like no one believes it today than it’s ever been before. But most people don’t believe that. They believe the opposite because.
Todd Rose [01:23:36] Because fear sells. Yeah. And with in terms of our values and our collective illusions, it is social media. Look, look, I think I’m not well, so technology’s terrible, but the technology is great. You can me. But there are unintended consequences, which is this. Our brains aren’t terribly good at figuring out what we think. The majority thinks we confuse noise for numbers. And so social media allows very, very large, loud fringe elements to masquerade as consensus. And in fact, you know, what’s interesting is some folks out of Clemson just finished some pretty amazing research on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They didn’t do what we think they did. What they did was they created bots that went into liberal Twitter and bots that way into conservative Twitter. And instead of propagating lies, they found the fringe views for each group and then retweeted the hell out of them. So that if I’m conservative and I’m in here thinking, I thought we were about like low taxes and small government, but it seems like we’re all talking about something. So now my identity, if if I’m if it’s wrapped up in my politics, I’m likely to conform to what I think Republicans care about. Same thing happened with liberal Twitter, which those things don’t overlap. It’s pretty crazy. And what they did was they drove a false view of extreme right. So we’re all conforming to extreme views that we don’t actually share. Drives us apart artificially clever as hell, but that we’ve got to understand what technology does to us, the unintended consequences, and take responsibility for that.
Brilliant Miller [01:25:16] Yeah, it is remarkable. And also there’s this whole dynamic because there’s all this about technology and communication and and so forth. It maybe amplifies some of these tendencies is also because you share this. I’m also reminded of I read in a book by Tacher Urick, who wrote a book called Insight, where she talks about self awareness, is both understanding yourself, your preferences and desires and things like that, but also understanding how other people see you. Yeah, and it’s great book. And we’re not we’re not great at knowing that how we look from the outside, of course, because we’re inside ourselves. So very personal, but it’s also writ large. Know it’s interesting. Very interesting. OK, all right. I’m going to get back on the question set here. A few more in the lightning round. So question number eight, what’s the most important or useful thing you’ve ever learned about making relationships work?
Todd Rose [01:26:20] I believe that it’s about leading with a spirit of generosity, that intent matters a lot, and when we come in and we think about things in terms of transactional, like what can I get out of this? It doesn’t end well. Right. And it kind of folds back into my ridiculous, sort of optimistic view of humanity, which is I think people do bad things. We’re all capable of that. But it’s usually circumstantial and we all have the capability for good. So if you orient to relationships, you treat those relationships as sacred. You avoid transactional thinking like the plague and lead with the spirit of generosity. And even when I learned this at Weaver State, my mentor, Bill Mikvah, who since passed away, he saw something in me and he invested in me in a way before I even saw it in myself. And I know this is too long of an answer. I’m still going to tell you that, if you like. He did when I was going to. When I realized I was a decent student and they and maybe grad school could be for me. I was working, selling a fence and going to school, trying to feed my kids, and he said, listen, you have a you have a future, but you’re going to have to commit to this. And he said you just need to be on campus all the time and you do research. And I told him I didn’t have the money to do it. And he said, Are you willing to sacrifice? Yeah. Lo and behold. About a week later, I got a call from the psychology department. And they said, hey, we have this research assistant ship that just opened up and it turned out to be just barely enough money for me to pay my bills. I should have been I should have been suspicious that it was like literally just enough by minimum, which I told Dr. Boockvar. I only found out later that he offered to teach a fifth class. And then donate the money back to the apartment so they could hire me, but he didn’t want me to know, so I would feel obligated to him. And when I found out, I asked him, you know, because he was so good about investing in so many students and a lot of students, even at the time I was there, didn’t really didn’t really do much with it. They took advantage of it and they did. I said, how do you how do you how do you keep that going? And he said, you know, it’s because of people like you. Yeah, look, nine people might not take it, but one person does it, and that makes all the difference. So, look, that’s what I think about relationships in general, leader, the spirit of generosity. Sometimes people will take advantage of that. But you will be shocked at that. Vast majority people do not. And it will enrich your life and their life.
Brilliant Miller [01:29:06] Wow, what a beautiful what a beautiful act of generosity, Robert, did you say his name is Robert was
Todd Rose [01:29:12] your mentor, Bill McVie?
Brilliant Miller [01:29:14] Bill, what a wonderful act that was. Holy cow. How did you learn? How did you did he tell you later, how did it come out?
Todd Rose [01:29:21] That I know the department chair told me and she said he doesn’t. He would never want you to know. But she said. You care about him, I think you want to know this is the lengths that that will go. I mean, how amazing is that? So that’s why for me, man, when I when I think about the education I was fortunate to have and I’m sorry Harvard doesn’t hold a candle to every state.
Brilliant Miller [01:29:43] That’s amazing. OK, question number nine, it’s about money and it’s aside from compound interest, what’s the most you’ve ever learned about money?
Todd Rose [01:29:59] The idea that it doesn’t buy happiness is only half true. Money, this idea that we have to pretend that it’s not important. This is why I go back to Seneca, like he said, look, you need to learn to control it, because here’s the truth. Money buys you security and it buys you choices. If you don’t know how to make those choices, then money is a net negative, right? You probably were better off without it, but if you know how to make those choices, then it can be a net positive. Right. But. Now, I’ll get to the cliched thing, there’s only so much you need. Come on. Right. Security and options. Choices, right. And pass that it’s not really going to do you much. But but but there’s that middle ground, right? Like, if you think money is going to make you happy, you’re going to be miserable. If you think it doesn’t matter at all, you’re probably going to be miserable, too. So there’s that that that middle ground that I think is critical.
Brilliant Miller [01:30:58] All right. Thank you for that and question number 10, if people want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, assuming you want them to, you’re OK with them doing that, what would you have them do?
Todd Rose [01:31:11] Shoot me in email contact at Tawadros dotcom. Com. It’ll get to me. I look, I can’t talk to everybody. I wish that that’s the hardest thing. Right. But but I’ll tell you it like. I love I love getting to know people, and I think like you like, you know, a lot of my stuff is sometimes I have to give one too many docs, but, like, I just. It doesn’t matter where you go. There’s something about our common humanity that is just so inspiring, like, I’ll tell you one thing, just because why not to knock scenery? But I was in Taiwan. And I’ve never been it was my first trip to Asia and it was actually off of my book Square Peg, right, which was just about all the screw up. I was a kid. That’s so spoiler alert, you know. And I get to this auditorium, give it a talk, and there was a line of basically mothers, I mean, like I feel like a rock star. It was this massive auditorium seats ten thousand six. It was just Chinamen and. And mother after mother. Came up to me just like that. I didn’t speak their language, they didn’t speak mine through a translator telling me how much I was just like their child. It’s just like. It is like you got to be kidding me, man, like we’re human beings, we’re distinct, but we share something in common in our humanity. And that’s why I just love like there’s nothing better than getting to know people. Nothing. At best, it reinforces your view of humanity. At worst, it reinforces your at best it actually like reveals something and teaches you something that you wouldn’t have it any other way. How’s that for like that’s got to be the longest answer to how do you get how does someone get in touch with you? It’s out there.
Brilliant Miller [01:33:11] All right. And the last thing before we leave this lightning round is as an expression of gratitude to you for sharing so generously of your time and your experience and your wisdom with me and everyone listening. I’ve gone online to Kiva, Doug, the micro lending site, and I’ve made one hundred dollar microloan to a woman entrepreneur named Elmira in Kazakhstan. Thirty five years old, she’s raising four kids. She has a high school education. Her family’s main source of income has been raising cattle and growing crops. So she’s going to use this to just support in in the work that she does.
Todd Rose [01:33:47] So thanks for you. Can you tell me who that was again?
Brilliant Miller [01:33:50] Yeah, her name is Elmira and I will Meira link after
Todd Rose [01:33:54] you send me the link. Yeah, I want to join in that one. That’s just amazing.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:00] So thanks for for giving me a reason to go to go do that. I like to think that our patients benefit even more than just anyone who might find this on the Internet.
Todd Rose [01:34:09] So love it. Love it. Just think think what Elmira can accomplish. Right. What people believe in our investor.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:17] Yep. OK, well with that, we’ve come to the final portion of the interview. Just a few questions for you about writing the creative process, this kind of thing. And of course, we’ve touched on it a few times. You talked about you never saw yourself as a writer, some of the books that have helped you out there. Now you’ve written three books. You’ve got a fourth almost done. You might have read more than that. Probably a lot of papers. And thanks to a
Todd Rose [01:34:41] lot of papers. A lot of papers.
Brilliant Miller [01:34:44] When did you well, let me start with this question. How has your let me ask you about who who who has been influential in your development as a writer. And what’s the influence that they’ve they’ve exerted on you?
Todd Rose [01:35:11] So. I’m going to go back to Karl Popper and tell you what, it’s really weird because it’s like the old philosopher that I’ll ever quote. He a philosopher of science. And I already told you his book was amazing in terms of changing how I thought about myself as a scientist. But he. He talked about how he wrote, because I find his writing compelling and this is what he did. He had a position and rather than making a straw man out of out of the other side, he wouldn’t start writing his own stuff until he wrote the most full throated defense of the view he was going to actually go after. And so he would write that view and he would send it to people who held that view and say, does this represent your view? And until they were like, absolutely, this is this is the argument, he wouldn’t publish it. Because he felt like it was in nobody’s interest for you to make Stralman and then tried it. And the reason that was important to me is. You know, I feel like this is going to sound cheesy, but I think we have an obligation when we write. I mean, like and and you want people to trust you like it doesn’t mean I’m correct. Right. I am certainly going to be wrong about things that I’ve written. I hope I’m wrong about how boring would that be. But. But I think we have an obligation to respect readers. To trust that they can handle nuance, that it’s on us to make it compelling. But we don’t make it compelling by minimizing complexity or making compelling with better prose. But I don’t know, that just stuck with me because it told me from the very beginning that it is critical to respect the reader. And I used to think that just meant. Don’t dumb it down, but I think it means more than that, right? I think it means you owe them an understanding of the nuance when it’s there and even the other side, not just a strawman to make your case.
Brilliant Miller [01:37:27] Interesting view. Thank you for sharing that. How do you how do you see the process of writing a book after now having completed at least the last four? Because for me, this experience of writing is it never gets easier. No, it’s like creating a book. You probably learn shortcuts or ways to be efficient or things to avoid and things like that. But how has your process changed? Assuming it has, how is your process changed book after book?
Todd Rose [01:38:00] I know what my I know the process that gets me the book that I’m proud of now. So that’s what’s changed in terms of learning the right kind of strategies, which I mean, you’re right. Book like I never imagined that I read a book, let alone two best selling ones. I mean, I’m proud of that fact. But I just like I was not talking about, like, ignoring your destination. That was never a destination for me. But but for me, I know what that process is and it doesn’t get easier. As you said, right now, I’m on like it doesn’t where I read a book. I spend a lot of time coming up with the ideas. I give myself a lot of space. I know that if I don’t have a killer story, first of all, I’m something really the same. I can read books, just write a book. I don’t want to be that kind of author. And then you get into the writing process. It still takes me a year to finish a commercial book that hasn’t gotten shorter. But the process is less painful in the sense that early on I wondered whether this was like I’ve never had a book writing process where the thing I thought I was starting to write is actually what ends up being written. It’s pretty comical right leg and you have to lean into that. Right. So having a good structure in place that allows you to know full well that that like don’t find anything too precious that like be open to the idea, the discovery as you’re writing, that means like better ideas, like I’ll give you this now. But right now with collective illusions. And this was I was not thrilled about this. I gave a draft to my editor. I had a three part structure, I’m like, listen, I know what I’m talking about. And she was like, this is terrible. No, I shouldn’t say that. But she said, like, it’s just takes too long. And she’s like, I think you should move part to to part one. And I was like, that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. Right. Like, who are you to tell the guy? Like, I felt right, man. Because I’m at the end of a year writing. And you sit there and you look at it and you go, damn it, she’s right. Move stuff around, rewrite a bunch of stuff, it literally takes another two weeks of editing. But that kind of stuff just happens, right, and so that process, the other thing I’ll tell you is get a trusted group of people. As you’re right, you can stay in your own head. That’s a disaster because you’re just you’re just ricocheting around your own errors. But you need some people you trust. And I have a small group of people that have orthogonal skills. I don’t want an echo chamber. I want different points of input. And the last thing I’ll say, and this was a former editor of mine. In terms of the feedback process, because you need that, it’ll make your book better. Listen to the criticisms, but don’t necessarily listen to the solutions, like usually they’ll belt, they feel something when they’re reading, and that’s probably accurate. You need to listen to that. But it doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to solve that. Right. So so I think that’s a critical distinction.
Brilliant Miller [01:41:10] Yeah, I’ve heard something like that before, and it’s always good to hear from someone that has, like, applied that right. You’re saying it’s not just it’s not just theory. OK. Let me think here about writing. Um, how do you how do you think about telling stories? This is love telling stories, this is like anyone who draws I don’t draw, but I’m here like hands are the hardest thing to draw. Yeah, you’re like and writing dialog and stories you write when it’s done. Well, that’s wonderful. But it’s. How do you think of it?
Todd Rose [01:41:52] I love storytelling. I’m actually better at storytelling than about than dialog. So I usually get help with dialog and I’m working on it. So to me I’m a big fan of show don’t tell and I like this. Probably give away too much, but I have I’m pretty formulaic in that I just like to jump into stories I prefer. I prefer jump me, get me into a compelling story that I just am so captured by then. Tell me what I should have thought of. I don’t know. I’m going to tell you this and then let me tell you this. Just start telling me. Right. Bye. I’m the most proud of end of average, I believe has some of the most killer opening stories of an intro. I’m that that’s the book I’m the most proud of the. And although I believe this next one on Kleck revolutions will give it a run for its money.
Brilliant Miller [01:42:50] That’s great. I can’t wait to read it
Todd Rose [01:42:54] about storytelling, it turns out we understand good storytelling all the way back to Aristotle like it’s also the last thing I’ll say is I. I found it even. I gained a lot in storytelling by learning I started reading up on screenwriters because because. They have almost no space to write like you think about how little room you have to tell stories, so they have to get rid of everything that doesn’t matter. So I found that much more informative. Did you take it into narrative nonfiction where you’ve got a little more room to breathe, but it’s always better to learn how to do it in the most punchy way and then expand out, but it doesn’t really work the other way. Yeah.
Brilliant Miller [01:43:43] Let’s see, the next thing I want to ask about writing, talked about storytelling. Oh, it’s about how you manage your how you structure your time. Do you? And what what routines, what habits you have when it comes to the writing process.
Todd Rose [01:44:01] So because I run the think tank and I we have another company like I write, I write from four thirty in the morning till eight every day and I write on the weekends because I just don’t I mean, I prefer to use both the time of the day, but it’s definitely my side gig. So and for me, I this is following sort of riveting reports approach. So the way I think about it is. You know, I’ve got the book and I’ve got the chapters because I like the structure of the constraints, make me more creative and then I’ll take a chapter. OK, what’s the point? I’m trying to make? And and I think obviously all writing the paragraph is the unit of writing really at the end of the day. Right. And so I know that like a given chapter that I write because I want a book that you should be able to read. If you go on a cross-country flight, you should go to finish it. I just think that there’s no reason to write a longer book, but I’m sure there are reasons. But like so a chapter for me is going to be about seventy five hundred words, like about 80 paragraphs. It would take whatever. And so then that helps me because I’m like, OK, what are the beats of this chapter? And I’m not going to start writing until I know this and I will like kind of structure and be like, what’s the killer opening story if you don’t have that, you don’t have anything. So I will spend a lot of time on that and then I’ll structure it, because now I’m at a paragraph level. I know the constraints you’re only going to have. Three or four big ideas that you can hit in that so suddenly, what was this kind of colossal big project can be narrowed down to like what’s the story here? Was this and I’ll spend a lot of time with story structure and narrative arc before I’ll ever write a word, because I feel like once I’ve locked into that and I feel the commitment there and I think this is a great story and I think it’s a great study, then I can write. But if I do it the other way, I’ll start writing and I spin my wheels and I’ll try to make a paragraph too too much or a section do too much. So that’s my process and I will. If I find myself kind of stuck riding, it almost always means there’s a problem one level up, so I’ll step back. So right now, if I was to show you on my laptop, I literally keep a picture. I’m just going to show you this is this is way more than you want to know. But I keep a running document on in Google Docs of the entire flow. Of. You’re not giving away collective illusions. This is literally the book that you think that that’s paragraph level structures and sections, because I want to be able to keep tabs on the high level story structure
Brilliant Miller [01:47:01] all the way through within chapters.
Todd Rose [01:47:03] Those are all chapters and paragraphs. So because you can get into the weeds and you just lose yourself. I need to come up and think about like, wait, how does what I’m saying here then the rest of it. So I keep that dual track that allows me to be able to keep tabs on that high level structure. And when I get bogged down in writing, I’ll come back to this and say, you know what, it’s because I’m trying to make this idea work here and it’s way better over here in a different chapter. So for me, it might seem like overdoing it is. It’s everything for me.
Brilliant Miller [01:47:34] Yeah, no, I can see the I can’t I got so many thoughts that come up. And first of all, thank you for sharing that and showing that one of the thoughts is this idea about. Right. Like this works for Todd. And I suspect this could work for many people and we ultimately got to find what works for us.
Todd Rose [01:47:55] It’s exactly right, because it’s funny, my my colleague who’s writing a book right now, I’m like, hey, look at this. It’s so funny because this is I should have known better. It’s her first book. And I’m like, oh, listen, I’ve got the process. And I’m like, this is how we think of creating it. And I’m walking her through it and it’s just not working. And she’s like. You know, I don’t think this process works for me. Like, oh, of course, like, good, we tried it. So now let’s start with who you are and think about maybe there’s other examples that would work better. It’s humbling. It’s like I should have known, but I get so locked into how great this strategy is for me. I just assume it works for everyone, which obviously that’s not true.
Brilliant Miller [01:48:38] Yeah. Now, another thing that comes up for me and this isn’t it wonderful and sometimes just puzzling how the brain makes these associations. But I’m thinking of that documentary that came out a couple of years back, free solo of Alex Honnold.
Todd Rose [01:48:54] I mean. Oh, my goodness. How I could I would like my palms were sweaty, how do you like what in the world
Brilliant Miller [01:49:03] and in my wife? She had a grip on me the whole like, no, whatever. But but the reason that comes up for me is I’m just thinking of how thoughtful he was on literally every every place he was going to put his hand and his foot climbing that face. And to me, how deliberate you are in thinking through the whole structure of this thing is just that meticulous in on this in preparing the climb.
Todd Rose [01:49:28] Yeah, at least if I fail, I don’t die. Um, the the yeah. No, to me it comes back to look again. People may not like my books. That’s OK. People may not I might be wrong sometimes, but what I do control is how much respect I have for the reader. And what I hope comes through is that deep respect, like I think I have something to say. I have something I want you to believe. Then it’s incumbent on me to make it as relevant and meaningful to you. So part of that is doing my job and preparing and making sure that in the way I write it doesn’t make it harder for you to connect with and picking stories that are likely to resonate with a wide range of people. These different stories, to me, that’s all in service of when I’m done with the manuscript, I genuinely feel like did I actually do my best to connect with audiences? Because if I don’t, I can. I believe I have something to say. So it’s on me, not you, to actually think we’re going to. The thing I absolutely hate when people say, look, if you start a book, you have to finish it. That is in my mind, the worst possible advice. It is my job to write something that is compelling, that will make you want to finish the book, right, that that it’s weird that we put the obligation on the reader and not the writer.
Brilliant Miller [01:50:47] Yeah, for sure. What, so you just showed us Google Docs. I’m curious if there are any other ChawIa technologies that you have found that have made this even more enjoyable or more effective?
Todd Rose [01:51:00] Absolutely. So the Google that I only use to keep track of the high level thing because I get to make comments to myself. So that’s the only way I use that. I use Evernote for all research and summary stuff because it’s got such good search capabilities and you can link within it. It just it really works for me. I use papers to store all PDF and everything because the annotation my tools like that. I’ve tried Scrivner forever and it’s supposed to be better for writing. It just doesn’t. God bless. I’m sure works for somebody. It’s just a little too complicated for me. So and then there’s just good old fashioned word about the problem. The word is it crashes too much to be reliable as like, you know, just literally crashed on me a couple of days ago. And I lost about I thought it was auto backing up and it didn’t. So I lost about half a chapter rewrite.
Brilliant Miller [01:52:01] So sorry that happened
Todd Rose [01:52:03] that it’s OK. It’s just it’s just the sacrifice to the writing gods. That’s how I think of it.
Brilliant Miller [01:52:09] That’s that’s an empowering view. Look at. OK, it was interesting for me to hear you talk about the paragraph as the unit of writing, I would have thought it was a sentence,
Todd Rose [01:52:24] one paragraph, one idea. And once you realize that, there’s only like three ways you can construct a paragraph. And then once you figure out what that approach is for that paragraph, then sentences are pretty simple. You only have, what, like four or five sentences in a paragraph? It’s like that’s how this is like I wish I could write a note. I like that. Kind of like, OK, what am I doing in this paragraph. Yeah, that’s like that’s to me the paragraph is the unit of all writing.
Brilliant Miller [01:52:53] Yeah. That makes sense. Well, I’m sure I’ll think of the three other questions I should have asked as soon as we disconnect, but it’s just I’ve learned so much. I hope people listening have, especially those who want to. Right. Have taken away some things that will be useful, if nothing else, the the inspiration to continue to persist in their creative expression. What what advice? So it’s kind of two two questions you can answer either or both is what advice or encouragement would you give anyone listening as it relates to their their own creative projects?
Todd Rose [01:53:31] Well, the encouragement is, listen, keep writing and go back to the strategy aspect, if it’s torturous, if you’re feeling plotting, step back instead of a brute forcing it, go a little wider and look for. There’s so many books on how to write. Right. Stephen King has a decent one. And you can start to sample. And there’s not going to be one person’s approach that’s going to fit you perfectly. So read take some time to read widely about how how great writers approach it and then test some stuff out and realize that as you’re trying out different approaches, you need to really embody them for a little bit. You can’t just like Tinker, try it. Right. It’s not a waste of time. We obviously we got to get right into writing the great American novel. Listen, it is worth investing and in the time to figure out a style that works for you and it can go from feeling torturous to feeling like incredibly wonderful and joyous because I mean, I love writing. I love that aspect of it’s a forcing function for me to get my ideas clear right out of my head. But like the other thing to your first question is like, look. Ideas matter, stories matter. I mean, you don’t realize we often take for granted that the things we think we know who else care. So, I mean, come on, everybody knows that’s the most common thing I hear. What do I have to say? Well, you’d be surprised, right? You’d be surprised. And if you think about it. The most important contribution you have to make is your distinctiveness, right, like everybody saying the same thing that literally benefits nobody, nobody conformity like that is we already know. I don’t need your voice telling me the same thing somebody else is saying. Add your unique voice. And think about how amazing it is, and this might be a little egotistical, but. We still have relationships with writers from thousands of years ago. Like, I feel like I know Sinikka. How amazing is that we invented a technology that allows us to bridge centuries. And so you’re going to write something it may matter to people right now, it may affect somebody’s life in a way that you can’t even comprehend or it may not for now. And it may be something that someday somebody’s saying that they they’re reading you. The way I read Seneca, I just what what a wonderful way to offer a contribution based on your own distinctiveness in a way that could have lasting effects on people. I know you’ve got so humbling and so exciting. And there’s nothing like long form writing for that.
Brilliant Miller [01:56:16] Yeah, absolutely beautiful. Beautiful thoughts and very empowering as well. Right. Because we all we all deal with doubt. We all have a challenge, whatever it is, from the software crushing to knowing which story to include and which to leave. And we all have that.
Todd Rose [01:56:32] And you’ll have imposter syndrome. You’ll feel like, who am I? Just stop this and get over it. I promise. Don’t be arrogant, but just write like it’s something like the world’s not worse off because you did and it might be a lot better off because you did.
Brilliant Miller [01:56:50] Yeah. Wonderful, wonderful views. OK, Todd, I have so much enjoyed getting to know you. This has really been to watch
Todd Rose [01:57:00] me to thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
Brilliant Miller [01:57:03] Yeah. All right. Again, my guest, Todd Ross, author of Dark Horse Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment. Hope you pick up this book if you do think you’ll learn a lot about yourself and read some pretty incredible stories.
Brilliant Miller [01:57:23] Hey, thanks so much for listening to this episode of the School for Good Living podcast. Before you take off, just want to extend an invitation to you. Despite living in an age where we have more comforts and conveniences than ever before, life still isn’t working for many people, whether it’s here in the developed world where we deal with depression, anxiety, loneliness, addiction, divorce, unfulfilling jobs or relationships that don’t work, or in the developing world where so many people still don’t have access to basic things like clean water or sanitation or health care or education, or they live in conflict zones. There are a lot of people on this planet that life isn’t working very well for. If you’re one of those people or even if your life is working, but you have the sense that it could work better. Consider signing up for the School for Good Livings Transformational Coaching Program. It’s something I’ve designed to help you navigate the transitions that we all go through, whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve gone through a divorce or you’ve gotten married, headed into retirement, starting a business, been married for a long time, whatever. No matter where you are in life, this nine month program will give you the opportunity to go deep in every area of your life to explore life’s big questions, to create answers for yourself in a community of other growth minded individuals. And it can help you get clarity and be accountable. To realize more of your unrealized potential can also help you find and maintain motivation. In short, is designed to help you live with greater health, happiness and meaning so that you can be, do, have and give more visit good living dotcom to learn more or to sign up today.
Sign up to receive podcasts, blog posts, and other inspiring content from Brilliant Miller delivered to your inbox.
Live a good life. Help others live a good life too!
We will never sell your name or email address.
Opt-out at any time. No strings.