Eugene Wei: Compress to Impress – North Star Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • Whenever you see a huge wave of change (like the internet in its early days) you want to be at the forefront of the wave – “Ride the wave”
  • Eugene’s two personal rules:
    • Follow your interests
    • Keep renewing your “novice permit” – every few years go into a field where you are a complete novice
      • “If you want to grow as a person, you have to push yourself out of equilibrium”
  • Be a first principles thinker
    • Keep asking, “Why?” to get to the fundamental truth, and then work your way up to understand the problem from a new perspective
  • Kids today are much more visually literate and prefer to communicate with images over text

Intro

Books Mentioned

  • Born to Rebel by Frank Sulloway
    • The oldest child in a family usually mimics their parents, while younger children tend to rebel and go against the status quo
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
    • Eugene calls this one of the greatest novels ever written

Who is Eugene Wei?

  • Eugene was an introverted kid who read a lot of books and watched tons of movies
  • He attended Stanford and double majored in industrial engineering and English – because of this, he took a wide range of classes and grew both his left and right brain
    • As far as the generalist vs specific knowledge argument, Eugene says it’s better to be a generalist when it comes to building products
      • “A lot of the richest insight comes from crossovers between the two fields”
  • Eugene got into law school but deferred attending for two years – “I just knew in my heart I didn’t want to go to law school”
  • During the early days of the internet, Eugene spent a ton of time using it (especially on the new shopping site of the day – Amazon)
    • Eugene’s advice – Whenever you see a huge wave of change (i.e. the internet) you want to be at the forefront of the wave – “Ride the wave”
      • You can always be another business or law student, but the times when you can help build another Amazon or Hulu are rare

Life Advice

  • One of Eugene’s personal rules – “Follow my interests”
  • Another rule – keep renewing your “novice permit” – every few years go into a field where you are a complete novice
    • After 7 years at Amazon, Eugene went into filmmaking and moved from California to New York
      • “To start over and be a student again forces you into a different frame of mind”
        • It also puts you in a state of being humble and getting comfortable with failure – failure is how you learn
  • “If you want to grow as a person, you have to push yourself out of equilibrium”
    • Eugene went from a comfy job at Amazon to working as a film assistant in New York and then on to film school to become a director
      • After a year of film school, an old colleague asked Eugene if he wanted to help build a video service which eventually became Hulu

The Film Industry & Silicon Valley

  • There are a lot of similarities between launching a film and launching a product
    • Both are much more complex than meets the eye – people in Hollywood think building apps is easy while people in Silicon Valley think making movies is easy
  • Eugene sees tech eating up Hollywood in the future because tech companies are much richer than film companies – “For tech companies, cash is not really a constraint”
  • Both industries compete for the same resource – people’s attention
    • Nowadays, more and more tech companies are writing checks to movie/film companies in order to create content for more eyeballs and attention – “You are going to see tech companies continue to finance content”
  • The film industry used to have a moat where everyone was an employee of the film company – now everyone (directors, actors, writers, etc.) are all free agents and can move around and find the best deal for themselves
    • Today, there isn’t much differentiation among film companies – all of them do the same thing (fund movies) – capital is a commodity
      • The one film company with some differentiation is Disney – they’re attempting to build a moat is by creating and acquiring well-known franchises (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.)
        • With a franchise, people are already familiar with the film and have a connection to – this leads to lower marketing costs

Lessons from Amazon

  • It’s important to get the raw data on what’s working and what isn’t inside a company – employees should know of any problems before journalists do
    • It’s important to discuss/analyze stories of failure – those stories likely have more important lessons which need to be shared with employees
  • Jeff Bezos was a huge fan of raw data, so he banned PowerPoint to force people to write things out instead of compressing information into a quick slideshow – additionally, “Writing forces you to clarify your thinking”
    • Bezos, like Steve Jobs, was an excellent communicator to employees and customers
  • Bezos strongly believes in being a first principles thinker (as does Elon Musk)
    • Keep asking, “Why?” to get to the fundamental truth, and then work your way up to understand the problem from a new perspective

Communication Differences

  • Kids today are much more visually literate and prefer to communicate with images over text
    • Kids add emojis, gifs, and stickers to pictures and are able to communicate a thousand words with just one photo
  • Most people tend to be better visual learners – watch the master, then copy it
    • Both Amazon and Google have a shadow program where employees follow around an executive to see how they work in order to learn from them
      • A lot of successful individuals say they visualize the move they want to make and their desired outcome – this is especially true for athletes
  • Eugene references a study which talked about how when countries first get access to TV, it actually benefits them – it leads to more equality for women and minorities, less government corruption, and more social norms
    • Why? – Most TV shows have happy endings where the good guys win and share messages to viewers about social norms

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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