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The Biggest Losers Win Big

Images-3You can’t learn to be a big winner without losing first.  We would all love to achieve success on the first go, but the reality is failure often lays the requisite groundwork for success.  As I discussed in my earlier post “Fail to Succeed,” failing hardens our resolve, gives us experience, and lights the way to achieving our goal.

In his almost manic Oscar acceptance speech for winning Best Picture for “Argo,” Ben Affleck illustrated this mainstay mantra in Silicon Valley. After a string of bad films, the reinvented and rebooted Affleck said, voice trembling with emotion: “It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life; that's going to happen. All that matters is you've got to get up."

This maxim is best exemplified in politics.  There’s no clearer referendum on success and failure than an election by popular vote.  Throughout history, political losers have rose to become successful leaders.  In fact, every elected U.S. President since Kennedy has lost a major election on their way to the top:


  • Lyndon Johnson – Lost his first battle for the U.S. Senate in 1941 
  • Richard Nixon – Lost his first race for the Presidency against Kennedy in 1960
  • Jimmy Carter – Ran for governor of Georgia in 1966 and lost
  • Ronald Reagan – Failed to win the Republican Presidential nomination in 1976 when he took on a sitting President Ford 
  • George H. W. Bush – Lost his race for Congress in 1964 and then lost his Senate seat in 1970
  • George W. Bush – Failed in his bid for congress in 1978 
  • Barak Obama – Took on a popular sitting congressman, Bobby Rush, in 2000        and got trounced in the Democratic primary

Bill Clinton lost his first reelection bid for Arkansas governor.  That loss was devastating for him.  But he quickly learned from his failure and adopted a new message, which put him back in the governor’s mansion two years later. He famously said that he “learned from defeat that you can't lead without listening.” Recognizing
the value of failure allowed him to take a big risk in 1992 and run against a very
popular president. His main Democrat rivals (Mario Cuomo and Dick Gephardt)
didn’t jump into the race because they were too afraid of losing. Without
Clinton’s pivotal failure earlier in his career, the 1990s could have been a
very different decade.                    


Beyond gaining experience, running a failed campaign can build up essential

and recognition for future elections.  John McCain lost his bid for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000, but he gained the national recognition to win the nomination in 2008.  Mitt Romney followed the same blueprint, losing to McCain that year but winning the nomination in 2012.  Romney invested a lot of time in building a strong ground game during his first run, cultivating support in key states and setting up offices around the country.  When he ran the second time, he was able to re-enlist those same resources.  Building upon an already strong foundation, he handily won the nomination. 

While I can’t predict who our next president will be, I can predict that he or she will have lost a significant election in the past.  Losing is at the heart of winning big.




To become a superstar, improve your strengths (not your faults).

(Originally published as a guest on Nir Eyal's blog:

To really differentiate yourself in this winner-take-all
world, you should be focusing on improving your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Most people who set out to improve themselves focus on their
faults.  For example, here’s Bridget
Jones’ list:

“Resolution number
one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds.  

Number two: Always put
last night's panties in the laundry basket.  

Equally important,
will find sensible boyfriend to go out with and not continue to form romantic
attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, commitment phobics,
peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional wits or perverts.” 

While I don’t deny that it’s good habit
to place your undergarments in the laundry bin, it is not the best way to
achieve greatness. People who focus on their faults can eventually improve them
to a point where they are no longer obstacles, but doing so will not propel
them to success.  A better strategy is to
focus on one or two of the things at
which you excel and hone those skills or talents to the point of excellence.

Working on your faults might help you make a living, but honing your talents
may help you change the world.   

I Got SkillsWe are all judged on a variety of traits. We might have four
bad traits, another four mediocre ones, and one or two for which we are
admired.  We all recognize the four at bad
ones; we make New Year’s resolutions to improve them.

The impulse to focus on your weaknesses is a vestigial
remain of an outmoded era in our evolution. 
Indulging that impulse won’t lead to success because we are in a modern winner-take-all
.  In this world, outsized
returns go to greatness, so it’s better to focus on one or two things at which you
truly excel and strive to become great at them. 

Going from good to
great is really hard.  But so is going from poor to mediocre.  And if you have a
predisposition or talent for a trait it’s likely to be something you love to do
and you’ll  enjoy the process of refining it. 

Success AheadIf one of your really good traits is that you’re good-looking,
you should focus on being great-looking, because in your category the spoils
will go to a few people. So spend the money and time on those expensive haircuts,
the rigorous fitness routine, and the flattering clothes. 

Suppose you are really good at developing computer
algorithms and really bad at showing up on time.  It might take an X amount of effort to become
really great at computer algorithms and let’s say it takes X/4 effort to become
average at showing up on time.  Both are
improvements that increase your value, but being great at computer algorithms will
pay exponential dividends. 

Or let’s say you’re ugly but hilarious enough that strangers
pay you to make them laugh.  Working on
your comedic skills will go a lot further than losing some weight.  Being the funniest person in town is going to
make you stand out.

Have you ever noticed that all the most successful people
have massive, glaring weaknesses?  Think
of Bill Clinton’s well-known faults.  But
he has one or two traits in which he is world class.  That’s all you need to be a superstar.  Same thing goes for Martin Luther King Jr.,
Gandhi, Steve Jobs, and any other person that has changed the world.  What does Tiger Woods do great?  He hits golf balls long and accurately . . .
and that’s what he will be remembered for.  People — all people — have very obvious flaws.  Instead of spending massive amounts of energy
on those flaws, spend it on making yourself great.

Super hero w: pcOf course, it’s not as
easy as I make it sound, or else everyone would achieve greatness.  To be outstanding requires passion,
dedication, and extraordinary commitment. The great pianist Arthur Rubinstein
practiced as much as 16 hours a day at some point in his career.  He said that if he missed practice for one
day, then he knew it. But if he missed practice for three days, his public knew

For most of us it might be too late to be a concert pianist,
a champion golf player, or a prima ballerina. However, we do have talents and
natural abilities that, if honed, can propel us much further than remedying                                                                                            our

Don’t Google this … but Google isn’t even close to being a monopoly

Google may be the biggest search company on earth. But if you stop
to think about it, Google actually owns a miniscule market share.

You might argue (after googling it) that according to comScore, Google has 66.9% U.S. market share — that’s 91 million people a day. You might also point out
that the very word in the Oxford English Dictionary to describe an Internet
search is the transitive verb, “to google, ” added in 2006.

These indicators of monopoly may technically be true. However, the
market in discussion includes only traditional search engines where Google,
like a colossus, dominates the others. Yet these traditional search engines are
just a fraction of what people use to conduct searches.

Just stop and think about all the searches you conduct daily. You
look for a book on Amazon. You search for flights on Priceline. You connect
with a friend on Facebook. You worry about your symptoms on WebMD. You pick out
a nice bouquet at 1800Flowers. You recruit a potential employee on LinkedIn,
and follow a trend on Twitter. You dig up that video of a bike-riding dog on
HuffPost while look up a writer on the New York Times. You search for a song to
buy on iTunes, and plan a movie night on Fandango.

There is an exponential growth of vertical search engines aiming
to carve out a niche by catering to specific needs. The incredible fact that
millions of people walk around with a smartphone has increased the demand for
customized, localized information.

In addition to searching on the traditional web, you probably
spend a lot of time searching through your own information. You look for a
phrase within a legal document. You search for a contact to call on your phone.
You search tomorrow’s agenda on your calendar. You rummage for a past email.

There are also searches in your life that are taking place automatically.
Your car’s GPS is doing searches to help get you to your destination. Your
phone is searching for the best connection it can get to a radio tower. Your
social networks are seeking out the best contact suggestions for you to
reconnect with.

And, of course, we’re constantly searching that classic search
engine, the one used by the likes of Plato and Aristotle — our own brain —
for memories and information. Like the vertical solutions above, our brain’s
search algorithm is evolving and iterating with the times. A 2011 study by Harvard University concluded
that we are “becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, growing into
interconnected systems that remember less by knowing information than by
knowing where the information can be found.

Google’s search engine is just a tiny fraction of the searches the
average American does every week.  This
is why Google’s biggest initiatives are Apps (Calendar, Email, Contacts, documents),
Android, and Google+.  They want a much
bigger piece of a lucrative and yet untapped search market. And guess what? So
do Apple and Facebook, and every other self-respecting technology company.

Google may seem untouchable in general search, but it is far away
from perfectly fulfilling your every need. Innovative search services that
choose their battles wisely will enjoy healthy freedom to grow.

Related articles

"What You Know" now beats "Who You Know"
Unless you are awesome, you will be outsourced

Now is the Last Bubble

We’re in midst of the last bubble. This bubble will likely go on for longer than previous bubbles and crash much harder. This current bubble is fueled by being the last chance for baby boomers to strike it rich.

Here is a recap of recent bubbles:

1990s – tech bubble

2000s – real estate bubble

2010s – govt spending and cheap money bubble


my reading list

The following are a list of books that I think about regularly.  These are the books I have read since college that have most impacted me.  I highly recommend all of them:

Ultimate Auren Hoffman Reading List:

Adventure Capitalist: The Ultimate Road Trip
by Jim Rogers

Against the Gods
The Remarkable Story of Risk
by Peter L. Bernstein

Authentically Black: Essays for the Black Silent Majority
by John McWhorter

The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000
by Niall Ferguson

Coming Apart
by Charles Murray

Churchill: A life
by Martin Gilbert

Difficult Conversations
by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

Economics Facts and Fallacies
by Thomas Sowell

The Effective Executive
by Peter F. Drucker

by Leon Uris

Fooled by Randomness
by Nassim Taleb

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069
by William Strauss & Neil Howe

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Jack Weatherford

Good Book
The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible
by David Plotz

How the Mind Works
by Steven Pinker

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
by Robert B. Cialdini

John J. McCloy: Chairman of the Establishment
by Kai Bird

Just and Unjust Wars
by Michael Walzer

by Mike Sandel

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat : And Other Clinical Tales
by Oliver Sacks

The Moral Animal : Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
by Robert Wright

The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century
by George Friedman

by Elie Wiesel

The Nurture Assumption
by Judith Rich Harris

by Malcolm Gladwell

Path to Power: Early Life of Lyndon Johnson
by Robert A. Caro

A Piece of the Action
How the Middle Class Became the Money
by Joseph Nocera

The Prize
The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power
by Daniel Yergin

Revolution 1989
Victor Sebestyen

The Signal and the Noise
by Nate Silver

Social Animal
by David Brooks

Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Gilbert

Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
by Richard P. Feynman

Thinking Fast and Slow
by Daniel Kahneman

Too Big to Fail
Andrew Ross Sorkin

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda
by Philip Gourevitch

We the Living
Ayn Rand

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping
by Paco Underhill

A World Lit Only by Fire : The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance - Portrait of an Age
by William Manchester


Cre-8-TVT will trump systems thinking

The Right Brain Revolution

Over the next 100 years, the importance
of creativity will trump systems thinking due to the rapidly escalating power
of computers.

BrainleftNo, I’m not talking about an
apocalyptic “Rise of the Machines,” but rather about the future ascent of
people who excel in creativity, intuition, and the marshaling of original
solutions, things that computers won’t be able to do for a long time. Tomorrow’s
rewards will be won by creative people who contribute new ideas.  Call it the Right Brain Revolution.

For the past few centuries, society has
richly rewarded strong systems thinkers, logical, analytical, objective people
such as computer programmers who build software, engineers who build bridges,
lawyers who write contracts, and MBAs who crunch numbers. But as computers take
over more of the pure systems thinking, people with only this skill set will
find their importance decline. There are about 4 to 5 million engineers and
computer scientists employed today in the US and few will be automated out of
existence. But in the next 50 years, those that excel in creativity– big
picture thinkers, artists, inventors, designers — will rise to the top. It
could be as big a paradigm shift in labor market history as when tools made
physical strength irrelevant, or assembly lines replaced the cottage industry.
The illiterates of the future will not be those who cannot read and write or
code, but those who cannot connect the dots and imagine a constellation.

Brainleft2From 1975 to 1994 only 0.5% of
psychological studies concerned creativity, but now it’s a flourishing field
complemented by an entire industry of self-help books on how to become more
creative.  A recent IBM poll of 1,500
CEOs from 60 countries and 33 industries identified creativity as the No. 1
“leadership competency” of the future (more than rigor, management discipline,
integrity and even vision).

In the United States, the key
predictive score to spot a good systems thinker– our future leaders– has been
the SAT and IQ tests.  Our universities
have, for the most part, outsourced their admissions decisions to these tests.
And that was probably a good thing. In the last few hundred years, systems
thinking trumped all other talents.  We
needed to build bridges and understand complex matters. While creativity,
emotional intelligence, and other talents have been important, they were
relegated to second place in predicting a person’s success.  But while high IQ is important, it isn’t very
correlated to creativity

That is going to change.

Brainleft3Over the next 30 years, we are going to
see a big societal shift that will give outsized rewards to creativity.  Systems thinking, while still important, will
move to second-fiddle in the talent hierarchy.

And here’s why…

Computers are becoming better and better
systems thinkers every day.  Besides
beating us at chess and at Jeopardy, computers will soon be able to provide
important functions such as medical diagnoses and designing structures.  Every day computers
are taking over more systems tasks once done by humans.  The number of computer chip designers, for
example, has stagnated due to powerful software programs that replace the work
once done by logic designers and draftsmen.

legal profession is already feeling the effects. There
are some aspects of legal work that will always need the personal touch and top
lawyers will always make the big bucks, but today many young lawyers are
struggling to pay back their student loans.   

Brainleft5It cost $2.2 million for a platoon of
lawyers and legal assistants to examine six million documents in a 1978 Justice
Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS. In a recent case, Blackstone
Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., an e-discovery and litigation support
firm, helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.  [see article
on this in the NY Times

Those contemplating becoming lawyers
will want to pick a concentration where they can uniquely excel or one which will
expect reduced competition from a computer. 
A good specialty to pick is one that is always changing and makes no
logical sense – like international tax — no human or computer will ever be
able to figure that one out. But no one should feel overly secure. Systems
thinking will attack any area of perceived inefficiency with automation and
likely deliver an automated solution over time.

So what to do?

In a world where you need to be awesome
or be outsourced
you should plan on a career where you can be awesome. 

Education and parenting should aim to
provide the conventional skills (math, problem solving, and test taking skills)
while also encouraging creative, out-of-the-box type thinking. Computers are no
match for the average fourth-grader when it comes to creativity.

Instead of making a resolution to learn
how to code in 2013, you might make a resolution to learn how to draw. After a
few months of lessons you might begin to observe the world differently seeing
details, light and shadows, shapes, proportions, perspective and negative space.

Instead of encouraging your child to
major in engineering, you might encourage her to study philosophy, ask smart unsettling questions and practice making
unusual and unexpected mental associations.

Albert Einstein said; “I have no special gift. I am only
passionately curious.”

Brain-color chart

Abe Lincoln will have 1 million children by 2033

Prediction: Twenty years from now, by 2033, Abraham Lincoln will
have over one million children. 

Colorful kidsStarting in 2023, scientists will have mastered creating and
manufacturing sperm from DNA.  This will be
a godsend for men unable to have kids and for female same-sex couples who want
children genetically related to both parents. 

Some B-list stars will start successfully selling their DNA
and this will quickly start a black market for stolen DNA from movie and sports
stars.  Stealing DNA will become a
capital crime but that will not stop paparazzi thieves from following around famous
people grabbing stray hairs, skin, etc. to determine DNA.  This will lead to celebrities always
travelling with bags of remnant hairs gathered from barbershops to throw off
the scent of those trying to steal their DNA. 
In fact, there will be four different DNA sequences on the market all
claiming to be those of Justin Bieber. 

Lincoln_childBecause of the confusion around whether a purported DNA
strand actually belonged to the claimed person, few people will trust the
designer DNA on the market.  But a
government FOIA request will make public the DNA of all former Presidents of
the U.S. that are no longer alive. 
Millions of mothers all around the world will pay top-dollar for the sperm
derived from the DNA of Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, Reagan, Teddy
Roosevelt, Kennedy, and (oddly) Fillmore.

Former President Lincoln, who had only one child who lived
past 18, will quickly become the most popular designer “father” in the world.
Over one million genetically related offspring will be born between 2023 and
2033 which will make him the most important contributor to the world’s gene
pool since Genghis Khan.