Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify — The Art of Seeing Around Corners, Two-Year Missions, Top Books, and the Essence of Fire Soul | on The Tim Ferriss Show

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Key Takeaways

  • One of Daniel Ek’s most critical roles as Spotify’s CEO is to enable others to do their best work
  • “Speed of iteration beats the quality of iteration” Daniel Ek
    • Daniel values agility and learning more than the quality of work at a certain time
    • If you create an environment where you can fail and iterate on the job, you create a learning organism that constantly improves
  • Little things seem small in isolation, but cumulative they can have a significant impact
    • The best program doesn’t matter if you can’t sustain it in the long run
  • “Be kind; everyone is on their own journey”Daniel Ek

Key Products Mentioned


  • Daniel Ek (@eldsjal) is the founder and CEO of Spotify
    • Check out these podcasts notes from Daniel’s appearance on the Invest Like the Best Podcast
  • Host: Tim Ferriss (@tferriss)
  • In this chat, Daniel and Tim discuss leadership, creating a learning culture, Daniel’s favorite books, and much more

Spotify’s Hybrid Culture

  • In Sweden, there’s a tendency for individuals to not want to stand out
    • The culture is more collective-centered
  • On the other hand, American culture promotes individualism and standing out of the crowd
  • Spotify’s culture tries to combine the best aspects of each culture

How Growing Up in Sweden Influenced Daniel

  • In Sweden, most people’s basic needs are met
    • Free healthcare, education, etc.
  • Daniel thinks that this structure may be more or less beneficial for different individuals
    • For him, this strong level of safety encouraged thinking big and trying new things
    • Sweden is “producing” a lot of musicians because it provides them with the means and security to pursue their dream

Daniel’s Favorite Books

  • Daniel reads around 60-70 books a year
    • He often buys books based on friends recommendations
  • Matthew Syed’s Black Box Thinking
    • Talks about good approaches and mental models for decision-making and clear thinking
  • Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist
    • Reading this book started a deep shift in Daniel
      • It got him to start thinking about spirituality and about the importance of balancing his energy
      • “Even during a day, if you have a few things that you know will take energy from you, balance it up by adding things that will add energy to your life” Daniel Ek
    • We’re all on a journey and we need to find out what that journey is for us
      • It’s bigger than our financial or career goals
  • Favorite books on Management
  • Daniel learns a lot about how he can better manage himself from biographies

Health Transformation

  • Daniel used to weigh 40-50 pounds more than he does today
    • He tried different diets and workouts regimen, but he wasn’t able to stick with them
  • He found that the most effective thing was to introduce small changes that he could sustain over time
    • He started working out twice per week
      • With time he found it enjoyable and increased it to 4-5
    • Stopped putting milk in his daily coffee
    • Started taking stairs instead of elevators
  • Little things seem small in isolation, but cumulatively they can have a significant impact
    • The best program doesn’t matter if you can’t sustain it in the long run
  • With time he found that he had a lot more energy and he was more productive at work

Creativity and Daily Schedule

  • The most creative people schedule their creativity
  • Most people don’t spend enough time thinking about their priorities
    • Daniel aims to only do 3 to 4 things each day
      • This way, he’s able to do all the things that truly matter while taking time to think about what else is important

Optimizing Meetings

  • A huge point of optimization is designing better meetings
    • Most people spend the majority of their working day in meetings
    • They all tend to agree on the fact that meetings are wasteful
  • We often don’t ask ourselves about what’s the true intention of a meeting
  • Daniel is shifting meetings from being a long presentation and short discussion to the opposite
    • He prefers to read the material in advance and only spend a short time listening to the presentation
    • Then they can spend more time discussing and collaborating

Daniel’s Most Critical Functions as a CEO

  • To understand your role as a CEO, it’s important to understand what kind of leader you are
    • Some companies are run with a top-down approach, where the CEO is involved in very specific details (Elon Musk)
    • Other companies have a bottom-up approach
  • Daniel used to try to model himself as the classic Silicon Valley CEO
    • With time, he realized that it’s most important for him to find the ways in which he can add the most value
  • Today, Daniel sees himself as primarily doing three things
    • Enabling other people to do their best work
      • Acting as a coach to help Spotify’s leaders unlock the best in them
    • Guiding the company’s vision
      • Remembering to ask the big questions when making important decisions
    • Setting the bar for the company to avoid complacency
      • It’s easy to get complacent and seek the “easy way out”
      • “Do the right thing even if it is not the easy way out ” Daniel Ek

Goal Setting

  • Spotify sets two-year missions to its staff to give a sense of purpose and direction
  • Daniel’s last two-year mission was “Become a good public company CEO”
    • He started by looking at what a good public company CEO looks like
    • He looked at what necessary skills he was lacking
      • That helped him see what new habits he’d need to set
  • Daniel used to write down his daily, weekly, and monthly goals and check on them daily
    • He realized that the process was taking too much time and that he wasn’t enjoying it as much
    • Now he simplified his process, he’s more concerned with his habits and how he allocates his time
      • He still sets daily and quarterly goals, but not weekly or monthly

Creating Continuously Improving Organizations

  • “Speed of iteration beats the quality of iteration” Daniel Ek
  • One of the main things Daniel looks at is the rate of learning of Spotify’s employees
    • He found that to be an indicator of whether someone will be successful in the long term
  • The world is constantly changing and we need to adapt
    • Daniel values agility and learning more than the quality of work at a certain time
  • We can’t predict what the world will look like in the future
    • If you create an environment where you can fail and iterate on the job, you create a learning organism that’s continuously improving
    • Daniel thinks that such an organization will be more resilient than one guided by a visionary entrepreneur

What Daniel has in Common with Shopify’s CEO Tobi Lütke

  • Daniel sees a lot of similarities between the companies
  • Both CEOs and companies had to do a lot of First Principles Thinking
    • Not being in Silicon Valley, they couldn’t learn many things from their environment, like most startups do
    • The company culture ended up being very different from most Silicon Valley startups
  • Both Daniel and Tobi have European roots that influenced the company culture

Additional Notes

  • Daniel’s Twitter handle, @eldsjal, indicates someone who’s intensely passionate about something
    • Often used by activists fighting for a better world
  • Brilliant Minds is a conference that Daniel started to bring Sweden to the rest of the World and bring the rest of the World to Sweden
  • Daniel has dedicated over €1 Billion to support the startup ecosystem in Europe
    • He sees Europe as having all the right “ingredients” to be a hub for innovative startups
    • Yet, somehow, Europe is still 20 years behind compared to the US
  • If Daniel Could Write Something on a Billboard seen by Billions of People
    • “Be kind, everyone is on their own journey” Daniel Ek
    • We’re all on our own journeys, we all have our insecurities and stuff happening in our lives
    • Being mindful of that as we interact with others helps us to be kinder to each other
Tim Ferriss Show : , ,
Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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