Standing Out


Today I was listening to a podcast interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the interviewer brought up an interesting topic. He said that from looking at Arnold’s photographs from his first bodybuilding competition (that he won) as a teenager, he could actually assume that Arnold won that competition without looking at any of the competitors’ bodies – just by looking at the confidence in young Arnold’s face. Arnold went on to explain that from an early age, he always had a clear vision that he was going to be a world champion in bodybuilding. So when he stepped on stage, he competed as if he was already the best.

What makes people like Arnold so special? There are many factors, for sure, but we can all agree that successful people in any field have this innate characteristic that makes them stand out from the crowd. Especially in the startup world, most investors always invest in people first, idea second. They look for certain qualities that make an entrepreneur an outlier – someone that can get things done and make something happen in this world. Someone that doesn’t necessarily have a gift, but they’ve cultivated certain qualities within them over time for an investor to think, “Wow, I want to join this person on this ride.”

I have a maxim that I wrote on a sticky note and have up on a wall in my room. It reads:



Put in another way, if you want to do extraordinary things within your lifetime, you have to be willing to break away from the thought and actions patterns of the average. I was masterminding this morning on this topic with a close friend of mine, and he brought up a great point – when we think of these outliers that we admire and emulate (Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Gandhi, etc. etc), it’s very natural to think that these figures are/were gifted with character traits that only the 1% have (i.e. the “I can never be like them” mindset). I thought about it for a moment, and I took the opposite point of view – it’s actually not as hard as we think to stand out.

It doesn’t take a lot to stand out and be “special” actually. The threshold is so low. Even in the classroom for example, raising your hand puts you in the top 50%. Going to office hours puts you in the top 10%. Researching what the professor worked on in the past and cares about puts you in the top 1%. By nature, most people in groups will conform to the actions of the majority. So it doesn’t take a whole lot to stand out.

So try a thought exercise: think about what it would take to stand out in a current situation in your life that could have a positive impact. What would it take to stand out in your company? To be noticed by that investor? To impress that girl?


Ray Dalio’s 5-Step Process to Success

I’m currently reading Ray Dalio’s new book, Principles, which outlines his principles that he’s followed throughout his life to create one of the most successful hedge funds in the world and within the top 100 wealthiest people in the world. He has a simple 5-step process that he says, “if you can do these 5 things well, you will almost certainly be successful.

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of your achieving those goals.
  3. Accurately diagnose the problems to get at their root causes.
  4. Design plans that will get you around them.
  5. Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results

How To Spot Intelligent People

How to spot intelligent people:

They ask you questions.

When you answer, they ask you more.

When you start using big words, they ask for clarification.

When they can’t understand anything you’re saying, they ask you to explain it to them as if they were a five-year-old.

When you say something intriguing, they write it down in their notebook or phone.

These people are not naturally more intelligent.

They’re better learners which makes them more intelligent.

They’re genuinely curious and ask questions from a humble standpoint.

I’ve met billionaires who’ve said, “explain it to me as if I were a five-year-old.

This simple phrase has changed my life when it comes to learning.

It comes back to the famous Confucius quote:

“The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”

As soon as you stop asking questions, you stop learning.

As soon as you stop writing down ideas, you forget them.

The hardest part of becoming intelligent is not lying yourself about what you know; it’s being humble enough to ask questions.

If you can do this, then people will see you as intelligent, too.

Steal Like An Artist

My good friend Elbert gifted me with 2 books today: STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST and SHOW YOUR WORK! both by Austin Kleon. I started reading STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST first, which is a book written by an artist with the intention of giving advice to his past self. I really resonated with his belief that nothing is really “original” in this world – everything is merely stolen and adapted from previous concepts/ideas. True authentic art, or any ideas for that matter, are stolen from inspiring work and made better or different. I liked this passage the most:

First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy.

Who to copy is easy. You copy your heroes – the people you love, the people you’re inspired by, the people you want to be.

What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that  you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want – to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody’s work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be more than a knockoff.



Book Review: Tribes by Seth Godin

Iust finished reading Tribes by Seth Godin and thought it was a great read. One of our most powerful survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe – to contribute to a group of like-minded people. Whether it’s with work, family, friends, interests, etc., we all already associate with different tribes. But nowadays 2 things are certain – it’s easier that ever to resist change/follow the status quo, but it’s also easier than ever to become a leader of a tribe and incite change.

Many of us are “sheepwalking,” meaning we do as we’re told, mindlessly go through routines, embrace the status quo, and don’t think twice about changing the current situation. Most of us react, several of us respond, but very few initiate. But it’s easier than ever with tools like the internet to voice your opinion, build a tribe, and lead change. Whether you’re Steve Jobs who built a tribe around Apple products, or an employee that starts a company newsletter to build a tribe and voice innovative ideas to breath life into the culture again, it’s easier than ever to be a leader.
Leaders challenge the status quo.
Leaders create a culture around their goal and involve others in their culture.
Leaders have an extraordinary amount of curiosity about the world they’re trying to change.
Leaders use charisma (in a variety of forms) to attract and motivate followers.
Leaders communicate their vision of the future.
Leaders commit to a vision and make decisions based on that commitment.
Leaders connect their followers to one another.”

Book Review: Contagious by Jonah Berger

I recently read the book Contagious by Jonah Bergerwhich one of my friends recommended to me. Wow, it was a fantastic read. For anyone that is in the field of business/marketing, I would say this is an essential read. But even for the non-business folk that are curious about how ideas and movements spread, this book provides some fascinating incite into what exactly causes videos to go viral, people to spread secrets & ideas, and how most of what we share is a reflection of how we want to be viewed by others.

I took the below summary of the book from Gavin Adams so I can revisit this content and brush up on it in the future.

Contagious Summary


If something is supposed to be secret, people might well be more likely to talk about it.

People share things that make them look good to others.

More than 40 percent of what people talk about is their personal experiences.

Harvard neuroscientists Jason Mitchell and Diana Tamir found that disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding.

Word of mouth, then, is a prime tool for making a good impression—as potent as that new car or Prada handbag. Think of it as a kind of currency. Social currency. Just as people use money to buy products or services, they use social currency to achieve desired positive impressions among their families, friends, and colleagues.

There are three ways to do that: (1) find inner remarkability; (2) leverage game mechanics; and (3) make people feel like insiders.

Sharing extraordinary, novel, or entertaining stories or ads makes people seem more extraordinary, novel, and entertaining.

Remarkable things get brought up more often.

Our memories aren’t perfect records of what happened. They’re more like dinosaur skeletons patched together by archeologists. We have the main chunks, but some of the pieces are missing, so we fill them in as best we can.

One way to generate surprise is by breaking a pattern people have come to expect.

Remember Blendtec, the blender company we talked about in the Introduction? By finding the product’s inner remarkability, the company was able to get millions of people to talk about a boring old blender. And they were able to do it with no advertising and a fifty-dollar marketing budget.

Game mechanics are the elements of a game, application, or program—including rules and feedback loops—that make them fun and compelling.

They chose the option that was worse in absolute terms but better in relative terms.

People don’t just care about how they are doing, they care about their performance in relation to others.

what good is status if no one else knows you have it?

Leverage scarcity and exclusivity to make customers feel like insiders.

Scarcity and exclusivity help products catch on by making them seem more desirable. If something is difficult to obtain, people assume that it must be worth the effort.

People don’t need to be paid to be motivated. Managers often default to monetary incentives when trying to motivate employees. Some gift or other perk to get people to take action. But that’s the wrong way to think about it.

Social incentives, like social currency, are more effective in the long term.

Marketing is about tapping into their genuine enthusiasm for products and services that they find useful. Or fun. Or beautiful.

Marketing is about spreading the love.

But what most people don’t realize is that they naturally talk about products, brands, and organizations all the time. Every day, the average American engages in more than sixteen word-of-mouth episodes, separate conversations where they say something positive or negative about an organization, brand, product, or service.

The reason people shared Grady’s article was emotion. When we care, we share.

Two reasons people might share things are that they are interesting and that they are useful.

It turns out that science articles frequently chronicle innovations and discoveries that evoke a particular emotion in readers. That emotion? Awe.

According to psychologists Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt, awe is the sense of wonder and amazement that occurs when someone is inspired by great knowledge, beauty, sublimity, or might.

It’s the experience of confronting something greater than yourself.

Indeed, as Albert Einstein himself noted, “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious.

More than any other emotion, awe described what many readers felt after looking at science pieces from The New York Times.

Awe boosted sharing. Awe-inspiring articles were 30 percent

Talking to others often makes emotional experiences better.

Emotion sharing is thus a bit like social glue, maintaining and strengthening relationships.

Marketing messages tend to focus on information. Public health officials note how much healthier teens will be if they don’t smoke or if they eat more vegetables. People think that if they just lay out the facts in a clear and concise way, it will tip the scales. Their audience will pay attention, weigh the information, and act accordingly. But many times information is not enough. Most teens don’t smoke because they think it’s good for them. And most people who scarf down a Big Mac and large fries and wash it down with a supersized Coke are not oblivious to the health risks. So additional information probably won’t get them to change their behavior. They need something more.

And that is where emotion comes in. Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.

The best results don’t show up in a search engine, they show up in people’s lives.

Write down why you think people are doing something.

When trying to use emotions to drive sharing, remember to pick ones that kindle the fire: select high-arousal emotions that drive people to action.

Excite people or inspire them by showing them how they can make a difference.

Work groups may benefit from taking walks together because it will encourage people to share their ideas and opinions.

Emotions drive people to action. They make us laugh, shout, and cry, and they make us talk, share, and buy. So rather than quoting statistics or providing information, we need to focus on feelings.

You should make something that will move people.

People don’t want to be entertained, they want to be moved.

Observability. Jobs realized that seeing others do something makes people more likely to do it themselves.

If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

People often imitate those around them.

Whether making trivial choices like what brand of coffee to buy or important decisions like paying their taxes, people tend to conform to what others are doing. Television shows use canned laugh tracks for this reason: people are more likely to laugh when they hear others laughing.

So to help resolve our uncertainty, we often look to what other people are doing and follow that. We assume that if other people are doing something, it must be a good idea. They probably know something we don’t.

Simply educating students about the risks of alcohol didn’t seem to be enough.

If most students were uncomfortable with the drinking culture, then why was it happening in the first place? Why were students drinking so much if they don’t actually like it? Because behavior is public and thoughts are private.

Because behavior is public and thoughts are private.

The more public a product or service is, the more it triggers people to take action.

The Movember Foundation succeeded because they figured out how to make the private public.

Shapes, sounds, and a host of other distinctive characteristics can also help products advertise themselves.

Designing products that advertise themselves is a particularly powerful strategy for small companies or organizations that don’t have a lot of resources.

But regardless, one thing is clear: the wristband creates more behavioral residue than the cross-country ride ever could have. As MacEachern keenly noted: The nice thing about a wristband is that it lives on. The bike ride doesn’t. There’ll be pictures of the bike ride and people will talk about the bike ride, but unless it goes on every year—even if it does go on every year, it doesn’t live on as a reminder every day of this sort of stuff. But the wristband does.

Behavioral residue is the physical traces or remnants that most actions or behaviors leave in their wake.

Items like the Livestrong wristband provide insight into who people are and what they like.

But anti-drug ads often say two things simultaneously. They say that drugs are bad, but they also say that other people are doing them.

Our basic hypothesis is that the more kids saw these ads, the more they came to believe that lots of other kids were using marijuana. And the more they came to believe that other kids were using marijuana, the more they became interested in using it themselves.

It’s been said that when people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate one another. We look to others for information about what is right or good to do in a given situation, and this social proof shapes everything from the products we buy to the candidates we vote for.

Create behavioral residue, discernible evidence that sticks around even after people have used our product or engaged with our ideas. We need to make the private public. If something is built to show, it’s built to grow.

Most viral videos are made by adolescents and watched by adolescents. Crazy tricks someone did on his motorcycle or cartoon characters edited to look as if they are dancing to rap songs. Things young people love.

People like to pass along practical, useful information. News others can use.

Offering practical value helps make things contagious.

If Social Currency is about information senders and how sharing makes them look, Practical Value is mostly about the information receiver. It’s about saving people time or money, or helping them have good experiences.

“Prospect theory.” The theory is amazingly rich, but at its core, it’s based on a very basic idea. The way people actually make decisions often violates standard economic assumptions about how they should make decisions. Judgments and decisions are not always rational or optimal. Instead, they are based on psychological principles of how people perceive and process information.

Diminishing sensitivity reflects the idea that the same change has a smaller impact the farther it is from the reference point.

If the product’s price is less than $100, the Rule of 100 says that percentage discounts will seem larger.

Practical advice is shareable advice.

In fact, narrower content may actually be more likely to be shared because it reminds people of a specific friend or family member and makes them feel compelled to pass it along.

Content that is obviously relevant to a narrow audience may actually be more viral.

That’s because people don’t think in terms of information. They think in terms of narratives. But while people focus on the story itself, information comes along for the ride.

Stories, then, can act as vessels, carriers that help transmit information to others.

Stories save time and hassle and give people the information they need in a way that’s easy to remember.

It’s harder to argue with personal stories.

Stories thus give people an easy way to talk about products and ideas.

Marketing experts talk about “the fool in the pool” as one of the worst guerrilla marketing failures of all time.

The key, then, is to not only make something viral, but also make it valuable to the sponsoring company or organization. Not just virality but valuable virality.

Virality is most valuable when the brand or product benefit is integral to the story. When it’s woven so deeply into the narrative that people can’t tell the story without mentioning it.

In trying to craft contagious content, valuable virality is critical. That means making the idea or desired benefit a key part of the narrative. It’s like the plot of a good detective story.