Pioneer Founder Daniel Gross on Catalyzing Success – The Knowledge Project

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • There’s a shortage of positive feedback today, thus reducing the number of people who explore their curiosities
  • Self-experimentation is more important than the results
    • Find a diet/routine that works well for YOU – don’t copy someone else’s
  • Find a group of individuals you can consider as your personal advisory board
    • “The people you are surrounded by will rewrite your brain whether you want them to or not”
  • Luck plays a crucial role in the success of many individuals
  • 10-20% of your time should be spent being “incredibly opportunistic”
    • “Focus on doing something that may not seem intuitive, that may not align with the metrics you’re collecting, and that may seem a little crazy, but has the potential of really changing your life”
  • “The meta-problem to productivity is just to focus on sleep, that’s the largest needle mover”
  • Fiction books are often more effective than nonfiction books at teaching life lessons
  • “Happiness to me is flow”
    • To go further: flow + knowing you moved the needle of the planet —> a good day

Products Mentioned

  • “I find the best form of in-flight entertainment to be noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask, and a podcast”
    • Daniel uses the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic model (if you prefer the over-ear version, these are top notch)
    • He doesn’t own them, but Daniel says Shure makes even better in-ear noise-cancelling headphones
    • Daniel didn’t mention which eye mask he uses, but here’s our recommendation

Books and Resources Mentioned

Intro

  • Daniel Gross (@danielgross) is a former partner at Y Combinator and current founder of Pioneer
    • Prior to starting Pioneer, he founded Cue, a machine learning company that was acquired by Apple

Curiosity and Positive Feedback Loops

  • Daniel has said – “The most important skill you can develop is an innate sense of curiosity about yourself”
  • It’s all about kicking off the positive feedback loop (Daniel refers to these as catalyzing moments) which gets you innately curious and willing to explore your interests
    • For example – Arnold Schwarzenegger really only got started down his path after going to a gym in Austria where he won a weightlifting trophy
      • That moment of positive feedback propelled him on his path in life
  • “A lot of what drives curiosity is you as a human feeling like it’s okay to go explore a particular direction” – (because of positive feedback early on)
    • The world needs more people who follow their curiosity
  • But here’s the thing…
    • There’s a shortage of positive feedback today, thus reducing the number of people who explore their curiosities
  • A real world curiosity/positive feedback example:
    • These Podcast Notes are posted on a blog
    • Our Twitter account is created
    • The Podcast Notes are tweeted out
    • Joe Rogan retweets it
    • More Podcast Notes are created
    • Here we are today

Some Real World Examples of Positive Feedback Loops

  • SpaceX was originally conceived as the “Green Mars Oasis Project”
    • On a simplified level – their original mission was to launch some stuff into space and take a photo of a green plant on Mars, and then the company would be shut down
      • Why do something like this? – The media surrounding a story like this would probably increase NASA’s budget and do some good for the world
    • Compare this to SpaceX today…
  • Check out some of the early versions of the landing pages for some of the major companies today (Google, Facebook) – they’re quite ugly
    • Facebook originally aimed to be a directory of people at Harvard and a few other universities
  • But the main point…
    • With all the above, things started small and then lapsed into a positive feedback loop which created what these companies are today

Daniel’s Personal Feedback Loops

  • “Self-experimentation is more important than the results”
    • The point – Don’t wake up at 5 AM because so and so Twitter guru also wakes up at that time, do what works for you
  • His ultimate feedback loop – “Am I doing things that seem good to the local circle of people whose opinions I care about?”
    • These people act like a board of advisers, and Daniel gauges their opinions to determine if he’s doing the right thing
    • It all comes back to this
      • For example – If he’s not sleeping well, the people Daniel works closely with/those on his personal advisory board would start to notice, as it would come out in the way he works/how he interacts

A Little Bit About Daniel’s Company – Pioneer

  • Some background first:
    • Applying to Y Combinator with Cue changed Daniel’s life
      • This was his “catalyzing moment”
    • After coming to Silicon Valley for the Y Combinator Program- “What led to my success wasn’t really my intellect, intuition, or talent, it was really luck”
      • Daniel says he just kept meeting the right people (for example – one of Pioneer’s main investors overheard Daniel pitching at a coffee shop to someone else)
  • After selling Cue to Apple, Dan launched Pioneer
  • One of Pioneer’s goals is to increase the number of people who are willing to work on the hard problems (like global warming or curing cancer) by funding them to do so
    • What if the world had 10x the amount of scientists working on these things?

Luck and Success

  • Both people and companies should for sure seek continuous improvement
    • But 10-20% of time should be spent being “incredibly opportunistic”
  • When opportunities present themselves, you have to be willing to act
    • Luck brings these opportunities to you, but it’s up to you to double down and pursue them
      • “In many ways, seeking opportunity and being lucky are the same thing”
      • For example – Daniel just so happened to come across Y Combinator’s website a handful of times, but it took a leap of faith to actually apply
  • Related to this is the data-driven trend in Silicon Valley:
    • There’s a current trend in Silicon Valley for many companies to be solely data-driven (collecting data about how people use your product and then continuously aiming to improve that data)
      • But sometimes you need to step back….
        • If Apple had stayed this route, the iPhone would probably never have been created (the data would just tell them to improve the Mac)
        • As a corollary to self-development – have your own iPhone moment
          • “Focus on doing something that may not seem intuitive, that may not align with the metrics you’re collecting, and that may seem a little crazy, but has the potential of really changing your life”

YouTube

  • “I actually think YouTube is more important to Google than web search if they’re thinking about it properly”
    • Why?
      • Their reach is huge – nearly everyone in the world has heard of YouTube
      • It’s true communication – it’s not written 
      • YouTube is proactive, Google is reactive
        • YouTube drives your intent – when you use the platform, you don’t exactly know what you want
          • The algorithms have a large control over what you watch
        • With Google, you come to the platform with an intent
    • “I think YouTube is one of the most important technology platforms that we have right now”
    • This is kind of similar to how Instagram, an acquired asset, is more important to Facebook than their core product

Capitalism and Privacy

  • When you start a company, it’s like a video game – your goal is to accrue as many points ($) as possible
    • But this results in a short-term outlook on a lot of things
    • An example:
      • Facebook very much optimizes for clicks/dopamine hits
      • This is good for their bottom line, but it creates a society that’s very reactionary
  • Is it possible for a company to break away from this model?
    • It is….but it’s difficult
      • For example – Companies like Apple would accelerate the growth/use of machine learning if they had access to more private customer data
        • Choosing to value customer privacy for the long-term slows them down financially

How can someone become a better leader?

  • Check out this talk from Daniel – How to Win
  • It’s extremely important to be able to distance your thought patterns and emotions from your actions
    • It’s like you’re playing the game of life in third person as opposed to first
      • Instead of thinking – “I’m angry”
      • Think – “I feel anger”
  • You need to be able to realize when you’re acting out of insecurity
    • “A lot of bad leadership comes from deep insecurity”
  • You need to be vulnerable as a leader in order to succeed
    • It’s actually a very rare thing to do 
  • Treat the people you’re leading as adults, and give them the full context/truths of issues – don’t sugar coat
  • People thrust into leadership positions for the first time tend to overwork themselves
    • This happens for a number of reasons, and it’s not really “wrong” …..until work takes over your life and you start not sleeping well
  • The best leaders are innately interested in the lives/problems of the people they lead – they have a deep sense of empathy
    • By learning about the personal stories of those you lead, you’re better able to design an environment that works well for them

The Best Nootropic Out There

  • “The meta-problem to productivity is just to focus on sleep, that’s the largest needle mover”
  • “I think setting alarm clocks is wrong”
  • “No one’s gonna tell you to take care of yourself, it’s up to you”

How does Daniel feed his brain?

  • “Information diet may actually drive your food diet, and it may be more important”
  • He reads
    • An important point – sure books are long, but as the narratives are often repeated over and over again, books have a sort of brainwashing power to them
      • Take advantage of this – if you want to do something challenging, read about it
    • Reading advice – if you don’t like a book, put it down
      • There’s an infinite number of books out there
    • Fiction > nonfiction
      • “I think fiction has a more potent effect on your mind, it’s just a little bit harder to track”
      • “Fiction books inject, at a much deeper level, information about how the world works”
        • Often when reading nonfiction, we have this “judgemental barrier” up, which we use to judge what we read
        • Fiction books tend to slip below this judgmental barrier and allow the information to slip into your psyche
  • He listens to podcasts (especially on flights)
    • “I find the best form of in-flight entertainment to be noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask, and a podcast”
      • Daniel uses the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic model (if you prefer the over-ear version, these are top notch)
      • He doesn’t own them, but Daniel says Shure makes even better in-ear noise-cancelling headphones
      • Daniel didn’t mention which eye mask he uses, but here’s our recommendation – a favorite of Tim Ferriss (as mentioned in these Podcast Notes)
    • Daniel also listens to podcasts while running

Lessons Learned From Reading Fiction

  • From Ender’s Game and the Harry Potter series:
    • Children are in charge
    • Shane is actually reading the former with his kids right now
    • Another takeaway from Harry Potter – the strength of made up tribal bonds
      • On top of this – games/sports (like quidditch) really strengthen these tribal bonds

How can one go about changing the way they think?

  • Change who you surround yourself with
    • “The people you are surrounded by will rewrite your brain whether you want them to or not”
  • Daniel gives a good metaphor:
    • Humans walk around with a basic firewall up to a lot of the information we’re exposed to
    • But for a select few people (the people in our tribe and those we look up to) – that firewall gets turned off ever so slightly
      • So to change the way you think – surround yourself with people you respect
  • Another tip:
    • Aim to understand why people have the opinions they do, particularly ones you don’t agree with

Phone Tips

  • Daniel puts his iPhone in grayscale mode to make it less appealing to use
    • He also does this on his desktop computer
  • His phone is always on “Do Not Disturb”

Decision-Making for Life’s Big Moments

  • For example – how does one decide when to quit a job? What’s going on in their brain that makes them pull the trigger?
    • One belief is that it happens in the moment
    • A more nuanced view is that it’s a combination of many different things
      • Perhaps 3 months ago your friend in the same industry told you he makes 2x as much as you do (let’s call this the “seed”)
      • This sits long enough in your head so that when a recruiter approaches you in the present day – boom (this is called the “catalyst”)
    • Often when people come back to work from a vacation, their minds are much more open to other job alternatives
      • This is tied to the reason companies have offsite events – new environments tend to open our minds up to new possibilities

What does happiness mean to Daniel?

  • “Happiness to me is flow”
    • To go further: flow + knowing you moved the needle of the planet —> a good day
      • Anyone can access the flow-state by watching TV/playing video games – you need to layer on some sort of meaning/fulfillment

Random Yet Useful

  • “I think it’s the struggle that really makes you successful as a company, whereas if you have the curse of plenty very early on, it’s really hard to develop that right organizational muscle in order to be successful”

These notes were edited by RoRoPa Editing Services

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