255: Minimizing Avoidable Failures with Russell Klusas

By January 29, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Tradecraft founder Russ Klusas discusses optimal decision-making amid life goals, recognizing avoidable failures, and learning from the successes and failures of Silicon Valley.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to understand and use bounded rationality
  2. How to identify avoidable failures
  3. The good and the bad from Silicon Valley

About Russ 

Russell Klusas is the Founder of Tradecraft, a full time, in-person immersive training program for people who want to work in startups. He was also previously the CEO of Big Lobby, and the Entrepreneur-in-Residence of Founder Institute. He attended the University of Illinois.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Russ Klusas Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Russ, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Russell Klusas
Oh, Pete, glad to join you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is going to be a whole lot of fun, I think, because we’ve had a lot of great conversations that probably should’ve been recorded over the years, and this time we’re doing one. And you’re in the minority, maybe only half a dozen guests are people I’ve known for years and prior to the episode. So, I want to put you on the spot and ask you to share with the world a favorite Russ & Pete memory.

Russell Klusas
Oh, what’s weird is that my strongest associative memory of you isn’t an actual event; it’s a hand gesture.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Okay.

Russell Klusas
And it’s yours, and it’s like this very particular like half Bill Clinton pointing fast, just really excited, like jazz hands thing that you do when something is really being optimized. Like every time I say your name or think of your name I always just imagine you like pointing out as you’ve made some really cool point and your hand kind of wiggles on its way down. It gets me excited.

Let’s see. If I had to actually talk about a favorite event, though, like looking back when that’s actually like relatively significant, if I go back and think about it, is when you and I we were in college, we spent one, I think, kind of like winter break working on some silly little idea called Connect Text.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Russell Klusas
Which we had decided that if we could text message blast everyone on campus on where they should go and where would be cool, and what bar was full, and what place was offering a new deal and whatnot that that would be great. And beyond being an idea that was a little bit ahead of its time, and it’s now then executed through things like Twitter and Instagram and Groupon and all these other things alike, if I look back on the group of people that worked on it there was me, and there was you, and there was Bo, and there was this guy named Sergei, and like pretty much everyone who worked on that has now gone on to do some pretty interesting and significant things in the tech world.

Like Sergei runs a vast majority of the product at Zillow; Bo started a company called FutureAdvisor that sold for a ton of money to, I think, BlackStone; I think Luke was kind of weighing in on some of that stuff who did MyMiniLife and Farmville; and you’re doing this stuff with this podcast and the coaching, and hearing about your more and more; then I’m kind of like pulling up the rear here by keeping myself busy here in the Valley.

Oddly, there’s pretty much nobody from that group who hasn’t gone on and done something relatively significant. I think that’s pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That is cool. University of Illinois in action, that’s good. And as I’m thinking about the gesture, you say, my buddy Dave articulates it by saying, “Okay, I have some things up here, and I’m going to bring them over here.”

Russell Klusas
Yes. Yes. That is the thing. And, like, I can’t hear not only your name but I can’t hear any variation of the word optimal without thinking of that gesture first. I think if an associative memory is a high-valence events that tends to recall a very particular set of feelings for you then that word instantly recalls my memory and vision of you, and, I don’t know, I always found that interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m flattered. Thank you. I’m encouraged to hear that. And I just think of, when I think of you, I think of not that this is to be like a 40-minute lovefest, but I just think of how you are just sort of seem to very quickly seem to get to know lots of impressive people really fast. And so, just like the folks that you get to have meetings with and are in the room with you it’s just sorts of astounding to me at times. So, impressive sort of the gift and the skillset you have associated with networking and relationship building is pretty awesome and hopefully we’ll learn a couple of those tidbits here today.

Russell Klusas
Well, it sounds good to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, just to orient folks a little bit, could you maybe tell us the shorter two- three-minute version of your career story from where you started to what you’re up to right now?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I would say like probably the most interesting part about my story is how early it started. I think I started my first real legit business, one that I probably should’ve filed taxes for and produced real revenue on when I was eight, that was a little snow shoveling business that I had started that ended up being kind of fun activity that I still talk about to this day with my parents and whatnot every time I see them.

But, basically, from the time that I was eight on, I have always kind of seen starting businesses as a really good excuse to go out and learn new things and to gotten to solve various problems I’ve seen in the world. So, that has saw like all these really eclectic path where, in high school, I ran a company that did PR for local small businesses, and I got to do really creative and fun things where I would be on a retainer for a local antique shop.

And in order to drive business for them I would end up throwing some party for high schoolers outside in their parking lot. And everyone would ask me, “Why are you doing that?” I’d say, “Well, because I’m going to make sure that the party runs over,” and all of these people need to be picked up by their parents. So, their parents wind up spending 20 minutes inside browsing while they’re waiting for their child to be done at this event.

So, in college, after I had sold the little PR company, I committed to the idea that I was going to have a normal college life. That lasted six days until my then girlfriend, and now wife, moved into her school, and I decided that the loft, the thing that actually raise the bed in her dorm room so that she can put her desk underneath it, just wasn’t up to my standards, and it was too expensive and not fit for the room and all this other stuff. So, then I started a furniture company that ended up blowing up on me one summer. I went away on vacation for a few minutes and came back and all of a sudden there was $100,000 in orders that I had to figure out how to solve. That was my first exposure to kind of explosive growth.

And really, since then, I’ve spent a vast majority of my career kind of floating back and forth between a kind of like a finance-heavy version of business where I invested in a lot of real estate and did some mergers and acquisitions on buying some small companies, and then kind of staying true to my roots which was more of a technology base and doing web design and marketing and software development for a variety of clients.

Until eventually I found myself out here in Silicon Valley where I now run a place called Tradecraft. And what we do at Tradecraft is we kind of help people figure out what’s next. One of the things that Silicon Valley is really good at is helping young founders and startups kind of succeed at the kind of company level. But there’s not a lot of focus on individual people and making sure that they don’t fail for avoidable reasons. Not the risk stuff, not the taking a chance but just like kind of the simple day-to-day things that make sure that they’re kind of achieving their highest and best use in the world.

So, we take people who are transitioning into technology. We take people who are trying to shift from another career or they’re trying to step up a level and kind of get a job that they, otherwise, wouldn’t qualified for and we kind of provide some mentorship and guidance and education, whatever it takes to kind of help them succeed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s right. And so, perfect, thank you for laying that out. That’s very helpful. So, now, I want to dig in a little bit. When it comes to working with folks on the full career perspective and helping them succeed, and cutting the avoidable failure, we’ve talked a number of times about sort of thinking tools and common mistakes that folks make when they’re putting the game plan together for their career.

And I love it, like you told me a great example of how someone said, “I want to work in Airbnb,” and then you say, “Well, why do you want to work for Airbnb?” And you sort of discovered that that’s not really the optimal path – there we go, optimal.

Russell Klusas
And the hand gesture starts.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, there it is – for them. So, can you share with me a little bit sort of how do you think about and guide folks as they’re sort of thinking through their next career move?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, when you actually kind of break it down and step back and look at the reasons that people both succeed and fail in their careers and, really, more holistically in their life in general, it can usually be traced back to this thing called bounded rationality. And not to get too geeky but a little Econ 101, like economics says that humans are these perfectly rational creatures and that we are constantly understanding what all of our options are and all our alternatives on how we can spend our time, and we have clear goals in mind, we understand our alternatives, we’ve collected all the information we can, we’re constantly selecting our own highest and best use in the market.

But, practically speaking, rationally, emotionally speaking, that’s not actually true. This guy named Herbert Simon, in the ‘50s, realized that humans are not optimizing creatures. We are boundedly rational which, to put it simply, means that when we’re making these big important life decisions we often find ourselves in situations where we don’t have enough information. We don’t actually have the key information that we need to make that decision.

If we did have that information, we don’t have what he called intelligence, but what I call insight, into why that information matters and how it will kind of play out in our lives. So, even if I gave you access to everything that you could possibly need when it comes to the actual raw data, because you haven’t developed an expertise around these subjects and around this thing that you’re about to do, you don’t understand how it all fits together, the greater system of it.

And, unfortunately, the last bit of it is that we are often in situations where we don’t have enough time to offset the first two, we don’t have enough time to go get that information or to really understand what that means. So, when you understand that bounded rationality is the reason why we tend to kind of miss stuff, then it makes it a lot easier to understand what it is that you have to provide somebody with in order to help them overcome that, right?

So, in some cases it’s just understanding what a career path looks like. And, for you, when you’re trying to break into a new industry, whether it’s tech or finance or anything else, it’s this unknown unknown, as Rumsfeld so famously told us. And it’s not even reasonable if you think about it to expect you to understand not only all of the options that you have but all the paths you can take, but what kind of opportunities and landmines you need to look out for along the way. You’ve never been there. You’ve never done that. It’s not that you are going to Google and being too lazy to do your research. It’s just you’re going to Google and you’re not even sure what to type in. You don’t know what the right questions are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, it’s like if you were to take someone who is going into college in the next few months, or he’s going to start college the next fall, like having been through college, having been there and done that, you would have all these great advice to provide somebody with. But going in that first time like you wouldn’t even know what the questions are.

You haven’t been faced with the problems yet, so a lot of times you end up making, what hurt in retrospect, pretty obvious mistakes, things that aren’t really all that unique, mistakes that people have been making for millennia in some cases, and you end up having to reinvent the wheel and kind of recreate all of these possible ways out for things that could be avoided if you just had access to the right people with the right information at the right time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Go ahead.

Russell Klusas
So, when it comes to getting people over that, a lot of it is just a matter of recognizing where people are, in fact, boundedly rational and trying to act as that mentor, as that friend who can kind of help them through those times.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then, in practice, if someone is looking to make a career shift, or enter into any new sort of great unknown unknown, what would you recommend folks do in terms of gathering a bit of that context expertise sort of base-level backgrounder to reduce the odds they’re going to do something really dumb?

Russell Klusas
Well, historically speaking, when you look back all the way as far as you can go up till now, there’s only really been one form of solution that has worked consistently, and that’s something equating to mentorship or apprenticeship, right? Even if you go back to medieval days right up to now, like usually the best way that you can overcome the challenges you’re about to face in college is to have an older brother or to have a friend who’s already been there and done that and can guide you along the way and kind of help tell you, not what to do but like help you understand what decisions you have to make and what your options are.

So, what I would say is seek out mentorship, and sometimes that’s literally going and seeking somebody out and trying to find a way to be valuable to them so that they will be willing to spend a few minutes with you, hopefully share some of that wisdom. But in the cases where that’s not available, like seek out mentorship online in the form of all of the knowledge that exist there, the books, the podcasts, these types of things. Go find people who have been there and done that, and kind of look at what they did and work your way backwards.

A lot of times when people come to us at Tradecraft and they’re trying to figure out what their first job should be outside of Tradecraft, they go to Tradecraft, they get some kind of immersive learning experience, and they go get that first job, we often don’t tell them to start with figuring out what that next job is. We tell them to go try figure out what they want their job to be five years from now. We call it our TN plus two, or plus three. Not one-time period out but a few times periods out.

We say, “Go find that. Then go find a few people who have that job then look for a pattern between the people who that job that you want to have someday and what they did prior in their experience.” If they were visual designers straight out of college, go be a visual designer. If they were just hustlers at brand new companies, like go be a hustler. Look for people who’ve been there and done that, and do that well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I think at the same time, while you’re having those conversations with them, make sure that’s what you actually want to do, like burst any bubbles that you might have in terms of poor assumptions and getting a realistic job interview.

Russell Klusas
Oh, yeah. I mean, far and away, the biggest ramification of bounded rationality is people avoiding it altogether. They avoid the big decisions. For some reason, the last 10 or 15 years it’s been like something approaching cool to like not have goals and to not spell them out because you’re supposed to just get on the rocket ship, as they say, or go where the world takes you, just pursue things. And that’s just ridiculous. When you talk to successful people one of the things they almost always have in common is they always have goals. They always have something that’s far and off out that’ll be kind of the north star of them in their day-to-day activities.

And when people think that if you pick a goal today then that means that has to remain your goal your entire career, and that’s not true. There’s nothing wrong with changing your goal as you get new information. But to not have a goal means that you can’t really evaluate whether or not you’re doing well. And for some people they find salvation in that, right? “If I don’t have a set of goals to compare myself to, to compare my performance to, then I’m definitely not doing bad because I just never ask that question.” Right?

But they almost always end up regretting it. They almost always end up looking back on it and having woken up one day, and going like, “Holy crap, I’m in my early or mid-30s and I don’t really like where I am. I’m not doing anything I care about. I’m not setup to have that senior-level position in the firm, or to have the influence or the impact that I want to have,” and it’s because they weren’t being mindful of their most valuable asset early in their career, which is time. On and on, the only thing that matters in the early stages of your career is time.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you say the only thing that matters is time. Do you mean in terms of how you’re spending it? And is that a wise use of the time?

Russell Klusas
Yes. Without a doubt, if I had to tell somebody like, “The asset in your life that you need to optimize for, especially early in your career, it is time.” Right? The thing that I would tell you to go seeking out in your early days is knowledge, right? In your early 20s when you have a low standard of living, a low burn rate and few responsibilities, that is the best time to make sacrifices and to dedicate yourself to learning and becoming an expert in your craft, going for mastery, if you will.

But the thing you need to be most careful of is time because that’s where this avoidable failure stuff really starts to kick in, not just in the small failures; the day-to-day stuff. But it’s a common thing you see out here in the Valley, it’s like people who go to law school, and they go to a great law school, they go to Harvard Law School and then they graduate and become a first-year associate in a top-tier firm in Manhattan, and then six months later they end up on my doorstep, and you go, “Whoa, wait a minute. What happened?”

There’s nothing wrong with deciding you want a different path in your life, but my question to them is always like, “Is there something that fundamentally changed about the field of law while you were in law school? Is there something about being a first-year associate that is different?” And they always go, “No, that’s how it’s fairly it’s always been.” And I said, “Well, if you had known that, if you had been forced to intern or something like that at a law firm for over three months, for the summer before you went to law school, would you have gone?” And they always go, “Oh, absolutely not.”

And it’s not that going to law school is bad. You and I, both, we have a bunch of friends who are lawyers and they love it and they really enjoy it. But, like, real avoidable failure isn’t often the stuff that you notice; it’s the stuff that you don’t even think that is failure. It’s going to law school and dedicating three years of your life there only to figure out that that’s not what you want to do, that’s not the vocation, the life’s work you want to have, and having lost that time, because time is valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we talked about these avoidable failures, of these whoopsie-daisy kind of moments, like, “Oh, man, I wish I hadn’t done that.” Let’s talk about some of your pro tips to get a little bit of a preview or a test in advance. You talked about getting a peek from mentors and apprenticeship master type folks, you talked about doing an internship, and you talked about availing yourself to the books and podcasts that they give you a glance inside? What are some of your other favorite tactics for getting a feel for things in advance of doing the thing?

Russell Klusas
Well, I’ll tell you one that is one of my favorites but is almost the antithesis of the ethos here in the Valley, at least when you first start to see it, and that is I tend to focus more on avoiding failure than I do on having some world-changing success. And it’s not because I’m not an optimist, and it’s not because I’m not ambitious. I like to think that I, and the people that I work with, are both of those things.

Like anyone who tells you that they can give you the five steps to success, how to turn yourself into the next Mark Zuckerberg, anyone who’s promising you that you’re going to be the next X Factor, they’re lying because either they don’t know how complicated this stuff is, and you shouldn’t be listening to them, or they do know and they’re just trying to sell you something.

Like it is impossible to predict with any level of certainly what is going to make somebody fantastically successful. There’s just too many variables that have to line up, too many things you don’t have control over. And because of that, like I tend to focus more on, “Let’s just make sure that I don’t screw up all the time. I don’t waste my time and energy and money on things that can be avoided.”

Because I think it was like Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s investing partner who said, “If I can avoid death long enough,” and it’s like Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett, these days are kind of the most famous examples of people where they’re like they don’t really try and knock it out of the park that often. What they try and do is make sure that they’re not doing anything that’s going to cost them in a really, really big way.

So, I would say like, very practically speaking here, mental models and cognitive biases, there are lists of them, there are blogposts, a hundred different ways to find these things, but cognitive biases are those things that your emotional brain, mostly, uses to help you make quick decisions. But a lot of times your cognitive biases will betray you, right? You’ll have the recency effect, you’ll have the anchoring effect, there’s always kind of different things.

And the more you learn about them, it’s kind of like learning about your own weaknesses. And the more you learn about them, it makes sure they’re like every time I’m making a big decision I always run through the list of cognitive biases and kind of ask myself, “Am I susceptible to this one right now? Have I considered this from the other angle?”

Same thing with mental models which are usually just kind of a way of offsetting these cognitive biases and knowledge blockers. Like, play devil’s advocate for yourself. Always look at it the other way when you can. And like they said, one really great example, as I said, “If you want to figure out how to really, really help something, a classic mental model is to, instead, think about what would really, really hurt something,” right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Russell Klusas
If you say, “I want to have the biggest impact in India that I can have over the next 10 years to raise the poverty level. I want to bring people out of poverty.” Like, the best way to find out what you can do to help is to start with going like, “What’s the worst thing that could possibly happen?” And that’s when you start at identifying things like infrastructure, right? Where it’s like, “The internet would be great, but we need clean water first. We can’t worry about whether or not they’ve got one laptop per child until they have a way of charging that laptop.” And those things are often forgotten.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. So, I’d love to hear, when it comes to the mental models and the cognitive biases, you said there’s these books and there’s blogposts. Do you have a couple of favorites or go-tos that have helped you expand your thinking and arrive at your checklist?

Russell Klusas
Sure. What I would say is on the book front, there’s a book called Seeking Wisdom from Darwin to Munger by a guy named Peter Bevelin who’s a professor and who was an early investor in Berkshire and he’s just kind of written down a lot of the things that they learned over time, and it’s a great book. It’s one of my favorites.

I technically work in complex systems. I’m a system thinker as from a field’s perspective, and people always talk to me about like The Fifth Element and it’s kind of more pop culture type books, but I would take the Seeking Wisdom on any day of the week.

Pete Mockaitis
We had Matt Bodnar also mentioned that back in Episode 127, so two votes of confidence.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, for some reason I just find that like any time I bring up that book, and somebody has read it, I am almost instantly like kind of on the same wavelength as that person. It just works out great. The other one I would probably surface is the cognitive bias codex which you can find on Medium. It started off as like somebody just running through ever cognitive bias they can and trying to explain it, and then it turned into pretty elegant little poster. It’s gotten more and more kind of popular over the days, but like that’s a good place to start from a cognitive bias standpoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Okay. Well, so then, I’d also like to get your take then in terms of that’s a great career tip in looking at the T plus two, T plus three, getting a real clear sense for, “What are we talking about here? In what ways might this totally go south or be disappointing?” Now, I’d love to get your take on, I’ve mentioned at the beginning, you’ve got quite a knack for networking, meeting people, building relationships. How do you do it? It seems like, I don’t want to mean this in a pejorative sense, but you mentioned a lot of names that’s very impressive. And like, “Dang, son, how did you end up in a room with Tony Robbins or whomever?” Like, what’s your philosophy and your best practices in this game?

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I would say that it’s actually kind of ironic that you would say that because nowadays, out here in Silicon Valley, as opposed to U of I, I think I’m actually one of the less impressive networker there is. There are some people here who are just truly amazing at it and they are actual extroverts as opposed to myself who’s an introvert kind of masquerading as an extrovert when I need to.

There are some people out there that I think are amazing at it that I would encourage them to continue to get. But I do think I have a couple, which is, the first one, like if you’re not an extrovert, if you’re not someone who naturally feels really comfortable like going out and striking up conversations with new people that you don’t know, get to know some people who are, befriend some people who are because I would tell you that a vast majority of what you’re saying are like impressive names that I’ve gotten to be in the room with, they’re not people that I reached out to cold.

They’re not people that I begged and borrowed and stole to kind of get in the room with them. They’re people where my friends knew them and decided that I should end up in a room with them at some point. It’s through a lot of introductions, so it’s just like understand in your industry who the kind of super connectors are, and try to defend those people, and tell them that.

If there’s one of the things that kind of openly tell people is like, “If there’s ever any one you think I should meet, up the ladder from me, down the ladder from me, regardless, like if there’s someone that you think I should meet, like just make an introduction, let me know. I will take the time.” Because I don’t do a lot of cold outreach, but I get a lot of great introductions. I meet some great people that way.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. And how does one go about identifying super connectors?

Russell Klusas
I think it’s kind of like with any, like for me, for example, my partner is just world class at this particular thing. He has traveled the world in his entire life from being a professional musician who’s on the road to living in a number of different countries with his wife who’s a diplomat. He’s a guy who’s had to kind of like drop into new communities and find his home over and over and over again, and he’s just really great at it.

And really early on in working with him and getting to know him, both as a friend and as kind of a business partner, I recognized that that was a weakness of mine in some cases and that he would be really great at helping me fill that. So, like you would generally know who they are once you meet them because they’re going to be the ones who immediately want to introduce you to somebody else, or the ones where you’re being introduced to them. It’s definitely one of these you-know-it-when-you-see-it kind of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you.

Russell Klusas
The other thing that I would say is probably as important if not more important than anything is always focus on creating more value than you capture. Like especially when you’re trying to kind of go upstream. The most important thing you can do if you really want to get in the room with somebody who’s important is be able to bring some value to their life.

It’s easy to think that just because they’re that really big and important, and you’re just getting started, that there’s nothing that you can do that’d be valuable to them, but that’s just not true. It’s just not. You have a certain hunger and a certain perspective on things that they just don’t have anymore. It’s just like always be thinking, “How can I find some way to provide value to these people?” And then offer that value up and just consistently commit yourself to creating more value than you try to capture. And, eventually, it will take hold and it will start to work.

And if you’re a kind of a good person, you’re willing to give back, you’ll continue to do that no matter what height you reach in your career, that’s how you just end up with a lot of really good friends, or a lot of people that you can kind of be on call when the time is needed.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it, yes. Generosity is a theme that’s come up numerous times and I’m totally, totally on board there. I’d also want to get your take when it comes to in your realm of Silicon Valley, startups, fast pace, everything changing so fast, what are your pro tips when it comes to learning quickly and adapting smartly as stuff evolve and changes?

Russell Klusas
One thing I’d say is having that goal in mind. The most important step in learning quickly is make sure you’re learning the right stuff. There are a lot of things that you can spend a lot of time learning that are kind of irrelevant to you. A good example of that is like I will often be asked by small business owners that I still run into whether or not they should learn to use WordPress or some other kind of site creator.

And I often tell them, like, “You should just pay somebody to do that.” And the reason isn’t that they can’t figure it out, or that it wouldn’t be interesting to them, it’s that the tools that are used to put websites together radically change every four or five years. And if you make a decent website as a small business, you shouldn’t be creating an entirely new website more than every four or five years.

Which means you’re spending all of this time upfront to learn something that by the time you need it again it won’t be relevant anymore. People forget that knowledge, like all other assets, has a decay rate. So, just make sure you’re learning the stuff that’s going to be valuable to you. The other benefit of kind of keeping that end goal in mind is it kind of forces you to remember that chances are, with the way the world is going, your job role will not exist in 30 years whether it’s artificial intelligence, globalization, automation, like there’s all these different things that come into play.

But the truth is your role isn’t going to exist, but if your job role isn’t going to exist, your job goal probably will.

Pete Mockaitis
Tweet that, it rhymes.

Russell Klusas
One of the things you notice about your job goal is that you start thinking about the people that you’re serving. If you’re a designer, people aren’t going to be using Sketch five years from now or ten years from now most likely. It’s just not a probable thing. But are they going to be trying to design great user experiences that help get people the exact information they wanted, the exact time they want it with the lowest friction as possible? Of course, they are.

Like, in psychology, learn these things that are kind of has a certain level of permanence. And the thing about having this kind of longer-term goal in mind is it helps focus you to make sure that you’re spending your time on the things that are really valuable so you don’t get surprised and kind of caught off guard.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Russell Klusas
One of the things that I worry about when I talk to a lot of young people today, especially people who are doing very, very well, is this kind of like – I don’t mean to harsh – but there’s like a certain level of hubris that our generation has around our own skillsets, right? Like the compare and contrast is like a web developer, a full stack developer here in Silicon Valley, versus like a coal miner, right?

And they look at these coal miners, and they go, “Oh, man, like that skillset, it’s completely useless. Their job, that’s not needed anymore. How could those people let the world kind of pass them by like that?” And I look at them and go, like, “Man, you know that’s going to happen to us, too, right? We’re not only going to disrupt all these other people. Eventually we’re going to disrupt ourselves. We’re one good algorithm away from not meeting a friend in engineering anymore.”

It’s like you have to assume that the time of you being able to join one company for your entire career, or stay in one role for your entire career, and just move up to levels of seniority, almost those have gone. You need to be constantly looking forward and seeing what you can do to make sure that you are always on kind of the cutting edge of what it is that it takes to fulfill the goals of your organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And as we kind of move into the final phases, I want to get sort of your reflection. So, you’ve seen a lot of people and inserting them into a lot of roles at the cool companies, and the up and comers across Silicon Valley. And because it shows up in the news a lot that I think some people have like startup envy, like, “Oh, man, that’d be so cool. That’s be so sick to even work…” you know, fill in the blank, Airbnb, Facebook, Google, whatever.

So, I’d love to get your take on what are some things that the professional world at large can learn and model from Silicon Valley? And what are some things that Silicon Valley really needs to tone down and learn from the rest of the professional world?

Russell Klusas
Oh, yes, I’m very passionate about this topic.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Russell Klusas
What I’d say is I almost separate kind of old-school Silicon Valley to the one that you see today, and I’m sure that everybody says this about their particular time. But the inspiration that I think we can take from the old-school Silicon Valley is to think big. Be ambitious. Recognize that Moore’s Law and these things that we get to do with our time, they can fundamentally change the world. I mean, people forget there were no iPhones 11 years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Russell Klusas
It’s only like 10 and a half years ago there was no iPhone at all. And from the first year of the iPhone there were no apps, there were no external apps, there’s no app market. Like imagine living your life without a smartphone, like the iPhone today, it’s crazy to think that. Like, in our parents’ lifetime the microwave was created.

These are transformative changes, and we have some huge problems that are facing the world right now, and to be even bigger ones that are likely to come with the kind of rapidly-changing market conditions we’re going to see with all this artificial intelligence stuff. Think big. Solve things that matter, right? Do work worth doing.

From today’s Silicon Valley, probably even more than the early days, the thing that we do really, really well here is we try to keep the cost of failure low. We look at things over longer-time horizons and more holistically than a lot of the rest of the world. Being from Chicago, not to mention friends that I have that are from East Asia and other kind of community-oriented societies, like failure hurt.

I failed a couple times when I was in Illinois. You feel like a failure and you feel like you’ve done something wrong. Whereas one of the things that Silicon Valley is really good at is recognizing that the 25-year old entrepreneur who raised half a million bucks from friends and family or angel investors or something like that, and spent a year and a half busting his butt trying to make something work, and fails miserably, like he may be a failed entrepreneur but he’s going to be the most qualified young employee you could possibly hire because they know what it’s like.

They say the best way to get promoted is to get your boss promoted. Like somebody who has tried and failed but had really worked for it, there’s very little that will prepare you to succeed in the world like being thrown in the deep end, and that’s something that the Valley is good at. We value it. The people whose startups failed here, they get recruiting calls all day long from the moment they accept it’s time to move on.

Now, on the flipside of that, I think we’re starting to see some of the pretty significant negative ramifications of what technology can do. And, on the one hand, there’s like the really surface level stuff. There’s things like, well, social media addiction, and the impact that that has on teenagers, and the impact that that has on relationships, the impact it has on the way we see the world.

Like, I am not someone who believes that teenagers posting things on Instagram, and then valuing themselves based on how many likes they get. I don’t believe that that’s going to be a good thing. And like so many other people are kind of starting to say, I think that social media addiction is going to become the sugar of this decade, and I think that Silicon Valley is definitely at fault for a lot of these things.

We do a lot of things that are right, and oftentimes just not out of any malicious intent but just out of ambitious excitement and kind of a little bit of naiveté, like we do what we can to make things grow as fast as we can, and increase engagement as much as we can, but those things, cognitive biases, that I just got done telling everyone, they should pay attention to so they don’t make mistakes.

Those things, cognitive biases, are used against people to get them to use products more and more and more and more. And I think Silicon Valley, nowadays, needs to start remembering that not everything is fail fast. There are some things that we should be thinking through the second and third order effects to make sure that we’re okay with where it is, right?

Like, Twitter is great. Without Twitter we probably don’t have Arab Spring. But without Twitter we also don’t have Donald Trump and fake news, right? Without Facebook and Instagram and some of these other things, we don’t have everyone being able to find – like if you go on the internet today you can find your tribe. You can find a group of people who are like you, and that’s amazing for that kid who felt like he was totally alone in his small town in the Midwest.

But we also have troll groups and there are things that make it worse. We need to start thinking through the ramifications of our actions, and sometimes we need to slow down a bit. And we need to make sure that we consider the real-world ramifications that some of this disruption will have because I don’t think that we’re always going to be happy with the results, and although I hope that everything that has already kind of been put out there already, I hope we’re going to figure out ways to kind of offset that and deal with it.

I spend a lot of time talking to people about automation and artificial intelligence, universal-based income, and, “What are we going to do when the world changes as things get even faster and faster here?” We got to be really careful about it from a systems perspective, like the number one job in 47 States is truck driver.

Most people are populated as truck drivers in 47 of our States, and Elon Musk could singlehandedly put all of those people out of business. And our economies are not setup to have 4% or 5% or 6% of the economy go unemployed all at once. And that’s what happens, because when semi-trucks become automated it’s not only all the truck drivers, it’s a lot of those mechanics, it’s all those little gas stations along the way, it’s all the little hotels and restaurants that are put all up and down I-80 running across the country. They’re going to have some big ramifications of these things and it’s kind of like our responsibility. If we’re going to break in, we’ve got to worry about how to fix it, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, Russ, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Russell Klusas
No, I would say listen to things like this, listen to podcasts and whatnot, but this should be the way that you get psyched up in the day. This is the way that you get motivated and you get excited and you get inspired. But, at some point, also turn these things off and just get to work. Just go do something. Go write something, go read something, go learn something that’s going to kind of move you forward at the end of every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Okay. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Russell Klusas
Oh, you gave me this one ahead of time that I was kind of torn on it. So, I have two, I’m going to share them both with you. The first one is kind of speaking directly to what we were just talking about, which is, “It’s not a super power if it can’t be used for evil.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Russell Klusas
And I think that people really underappreciate that. Like those things that can result in fantastic growth and wonderful success, there’s often a flipside to that, that do some real harm, and you’ve got to be appreciative of that and understand it so that you can be looking for it. It’s the defense against the dark arts, if you will.

And the other one is that people often don’t realize this, but like I used to play hockey, and I watched a lot of people who are figure skaters, kind of at practice. And one thing that I always notice was that professional figure skaters, the people who are really experts, they fall down a lot more than the amateurs do, and it’s because amateurs tend to practice what they’re good at because they’re looking for the reinforcement of, “Hey, I’m good at this. I know how to do this.” Whereas, professionals are always pushing. They’re always stretching themselves to try to accomplish something more, and they know that falling down is kind of part of the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I like how that is sort of clear contrast and visual. Nice. Thank you. How about a favorite study or bit of research?

Russell Klusas
I was originally going to say the Seeking Wisdom book is a good book to read. In the absence of that, if there was one like scientist that I would say that almost everyone should study, his name would be Claude Shannon, and he was the guy who created information theory, and was actually responsible for a huge percentage of the things that we do day in and day out right now when it comes to computer science and the early days of AI and whatnot.

But Claude Shannon was the guy who like technically he was working on encryptions for military stuff. But this guy, if you understand his work you’ll find yourself with a greater understanding of how people work and it’ll give you a high level of empathy because you’re going to start understanding that the world that you’re living in, the reality that you believe to be true is not reality for everyone else.

Everyone has their own interpretation of reality, and the sooner that you realize that, and the sooner you start focusing on, “What’s that other person’s reality? And how can I make sure that I understand and empathizing with that?” the farther you’ll go in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And any other key books you’d recommend?

Russell Klusas
Because I know a lot of the people here are talking about getting a job, look into something called The Minto Pyramid Principle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Barbara Minto.

Russell Klusas
Great writing is important in your career, and being able to present your ideas is important in your career, and Barbara Minto is uniquely qualified to kind of help people organize those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite tool?

Russell Klusas
Like, honestly, my favorite tool is our Dry-Erase Markers, specifically Ultra Fine Tip Dry-Erase Markers because I have really small handwriting and I have a whole bunch of whiteboards in my office. That’s like my mid version of it, if you have an office with whiteboards. If you don’t have an office with whiteboards, get 11X17 paper because you can express a lot more ideas on a little bit bigger sheet and it gives a little bit extra consequence. And then when you have some money to burn, go buy yourself something called a Microsoft Studio because it’s amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
What is a Microsoft Studio?

Russell Klusas
You will notice that the moment you type it in Google because it’s it had this beautiful launch with this wonderful advertisement. It’s a 27-inch screen that you can push down to kind of like have a flat kind of drafting type surface and it has the pen tool on it. And as someone who spent my entire life trying to take the notes that I take on paper when I’m reading and writing and all the stuff, and put them onto a screen, the Studio is just amazing.

Now, if it’s just as a replacement for pen and paper, it’s just a ridiculous waste of money. It’s something that’s like $3500 or something like that, but it’s fantastic. It’s so good that I can’t convince myself to buy another one, so I literally will carry this desktop. I will put it into the original box and carry it back and forth to my house on the weekends to make sure that I can still get at it if I have a good idea. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And how about a favorite habit?

Russell Klusas
Like, figure out how to find your own flow. I’m sure that flow has been talked about a number of times on this podcast. But you got to find your own routine and kind of the one that works for you. But you should know what it takes to get yourself into a mindset that allows for kind of maximal output.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. And what is it for you?

Russell Klusas
I have a very unique working schedule. Literally, the way that I space out and the way that I space out my week, like I have a true commitment to it where I do the exact same thing every week and it’s absolutely crazy. And I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody else, that it works for me. And it’s important to kind of keeping me centered.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to know, how do you enforce the rest of the world when they want a piece of you at certain times such that you stick with the schedule?

Russell Klusas
Ironically, that’s why my schedule exists. So, I am a person who is consistently in the maker category where I’m doing research and trying to create cool new things on my own. I’m in the manager category because I have a couple of businesses that I’m responsible for running and staff and clients and all those things.

I also have family, and I’ve got to find a way to serve those three people. Forgot about social and all that other stuff. Nobody has any of that if you have these three, but it’s hard to kind of make sure that I can fulfill my obligations to these groups of people that I really genuinely want to spend time with, but also find time to get in the zone myself and get stuff done.

So, I, for example, I work a lot of nights, so I will sometimes start my day at noon or at 1:00 o’clock and I’ll spend four or five hours with my staff, and then I’ll kind of work all night so that I can get stuff done, and so that I can be available to my kids when they wake up and when they go to bed. But that’s just kind of what works for me, and it’s really about prioritizing my time and making sure that I want to set myself up to have as much success as I can, and to kind of minimize the switching costs, the cognitive load of going from one thing to another.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I see. And so, what are the sleep hours then?

Russell Klusas
I mean, these are ones that I literally would not recommend to anybody at all because I’ve been doing this – and you know this, as one of my older friends – I’ve been doing this for a very, very long time, maintaining these crazy schedules, but I generally come into work on Monday around 10:00 or 11:00, and then I stay at work until Tuesday night around 5:00 or 6:00, and I work that whole time.

Then I go home and see my kids Tuesday night, I wake up with my kids on Wednesday morning, and spend a few hours with them there. And then I do it again, I go in Wednesday afternoon, I work all night, I go home Thursday, and then I do it again on Friday.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Russell Klusas
So, like for the last year or so, I’ve only slept four nights a week but it’s definitely not something I would recommend to the masses because it takes a while to get used to, and it’s also not something that I would do if it weren’t for the nature of my work right now. Like,       there are reasons why I don’t want to go to sleep with half of an idea, but I would expect that to change.

But it’s more about the fact that I found myself for too long feeling like I was always having to shortchange somebody, and I didn’t want to not be there for my kids ever, and not ever be home during the week, and I didn’t want to have to blow off my staff, and not be able to take new meetings. I also didn’t want to miss on the time that I felt was important for me continuing to make progress on my life’s work, and so this is the schedule that I found worked for me and it turns out that I don’t really value sleep probably that I should have, certainly not more than I value the other things.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow. That is fascinating. Thank you. I knew your hours were interesting but I didn’t know that they were so systematically repeated and in this fashion and it’s great.

Russell Klusas
Yeah, I’ve never been a big like World Wrestling Federation fan but I have become enamored with The Rock over the last kind of two or three years here, because oftentimes I am up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning or 4:00 o’clock in the morning, and for me that’s like mid-day a lot of times. I’m really just starting to get going.

I’ll take a break just to kind of give myself a little reset on something I’m working on, and I kept going online. And when I’ve opened Instagram, or something like that, I would see The Rock, and The Rock would also be up at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. He would be saying and doing the exact same thing I was saying and doing to myself. He’d be literally in the gym, in the Iron Paradise, he calls it, because he wants to make sure that he is the hardest worker in the room.

And I always thought to myself, like, “Man, this is the People’s sexiest man in the world, and the highest-earning actor, and all these things, and yet he always grounds himself by saying he does not sacrifice his time in the gym,” whether it’s a 12-hour day or a 30-hour day, that guy is in the gym because it’s not work for him. That’s how he keeps himself centered.

And I really, really, really respect his work ethic and I think he and I share the same mentality, that we’re either going to win or lose, but if we lose we’re going to be 100% sure that we did everything we could possibly do to succeed. Like I don’t like quitting, so that’s the only thing. I take a lot of risks in my life, and I’d failed plenty of times, but I don’t quit, and I like that mentality and then that keeps me focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. And is there a particular nugget that you share when you’re working with folks that really seems to connect and resonate with them, they’re taking notes and nodding their heads, like saying, “Yes, Russ. Yes”?

Russell Klusas
Honestly, I don’t know because that implies that I’m saying something that’s making them extra successful when in reality that’s not my job. Like, my job isn’t to make them fantastically successful. My job is just to kind of watch their back and make sure that they don’t fail. I’m Jiminy Cricket in a lot of their lives. So, a lot of times I’m having kind of like radically honest conversations with them about things that matter, but mostly I just want to make sure that they know that we’re there for them when we can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Russell Klusas
I’d probably point them to Tradecraft if we’re plugging something, go to Tradecraft.com. Otherwise, I would say go find yourself Claude Shannon because he will change your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Russell Klusas
Know what your TM plus two is. Make sure that the next job that you’re getting, like recognize that. Like I used to be a speechwriter, and I learned from some really great people on that, and they often told me, “You know what the point about first sentence is? To get someone to listen to the second sentence.” Like, it’s really stressful when you’re just trying to get odd jobs, especially early in your career when you’re in survival mode.

The money is kind of running out of your bank account, you’re getting pressure from your parents or see your friends get jobs. It’s really easy to kind of lose sight of the big picture. And just recognize that every job you get, every opportunity you take, it’s always about kind of going towards that greater goal – your vocation, your life’s work. Be thinking five years out because, I promise you, it’s easier. A lot of the details fade away. It’s not as scary when you’re thinking five years out. It just either feels right or it doesn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Russ, thanks so much for taking this time. This has been a ton of fun. We finally recorded a conversation of ours. Hopefully, it’s helpful to the world. And keep on rocking.

Russell Klusas
Thank you very much, Pete.

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