376: How to Become the Success Nobody Saw Coming: Research Insights into “Dark Horses” from Harvard’s Todd Rose

By December 5, 2018Podcasts

 

 

Bestselling author and Harvard professor Todd Rose dissects how Dark Horses became successful and how you can apply their secret to live a reliably fulfilling career and life.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The implications of pursuing personal fulfillment vs. power, wealth, or prestige
  2. The most important step to understanding what fulfills you
  3. Why fulfillment isn’t just for the rich

About Todd

Todd Rose was a high school dropout with D- grades and a GPA of 0.9.  He caused a ruckus in class and was suspended several times. He married his teenage girlfriend and by the age of 21, was trying to support a wife and two sons on welfare and minimum wage jobs.

In less than a decade, Rose was able to turn his life around from a dead-end factory job to the most influential spheres of American academia. Today he’s the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and cofounder of Populace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming how we learn, work, and live. His previous book, The End of Average, was a best seller and his talks have been featured at TedX, the Aspen Ideas Festival, SXSW, Google, Microsoft, Pixar, Costco, JP Morgan, Chevron, and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Todd Rose Interview Transcript

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

Todd Rose
And thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom here, but first I want to hear a bit about your story because it’s a unique one with some twists and inspiration. Can you lay it on us?

Todd Rose
Sure. Yeah. Today I’m a professor at Harvard, but I have the distinction of also being a high school dropout. Actually, it’s even worse than that. I dropped out with a 0.9 GPA, which I really believe you have to work super hard to do that poorly. By the time-

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious, and did you or how did you find yourself with a 0.9 GPA?

Todd Rose
It was interesting. From a very early age – I grew up in rural America and the school I was going to was all about conformity and it just didn’t fit. It kind of snowballed, where it doesn’t work and then it really doesn’t work and then you’re like, “Screw it. I’m just going to do what I need to do.” And like, I think if I just would have shown up in class enough, they probably would have passed me just to get me out of their class.

But I did that and I ended up – my girlfriend got pregnant. She’s still my wife today. We ended up on welfare with two kids, working a string of minimum wage jobs before realizing I got to do something different with my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
Yeah, that was the short version. And then ended up going to night school at Weber State University, an open enrollment university, mainly out of desperation. Not because I had some grand vision for what my life was going to be.

Through that process, really discovered who I was, discovered what mattered to me. I was able to turn that into something, which in my case turned out to be academia of all places, which I just couldn’t believe at the time. I ended up getting my doctorate at Harvard. Did a post-doc at the Center for Astrophysics and then came back as a faculty member.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m just intrigued with this astrophysics. Fellowship at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Okay, wow. There you go.

Todd Rose
It was a funny thing because it actually came out of a hunch that I had that I was working with an astrophysicist named Matt Schneps. We had this hunch based on some of the genetic and neuroscience work we’d done that actually people who have trouble reading, would have very specific talents with visual stuff. And there was no better place than in astrophysics.

I got funded. We went there. I did a post doc. I got to learn a lot about science, truthfully, really taught me how to be a scientist more than anywhere else. But I got to study astrophysicists and how they detect black holes. It was so cool. It was to me just this luxury for a couple of years that was just fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really cool. And I want to dig into a little bit of the Weber State part of it. This is a whole other conversation, but I think people talk about the – to what extent is America, United States, still a place where if you’ve got grit and hustle and determination, you can make something of your life and yourself regardless of the circumstances you’re born into versus are the scales wildly uneven.

That’s a giant conversation for a whole podcast, but I want to get your sense of so there you were. You sort of found the something inside of you to stick with it. What was that something?

Todd Rose
Well, at first it really was desperation because no kidding the last job I had before I decided I was going to go to college, I actually was working in a factory and then was a minimum wage job and then this home nurse assistant job came open, but no kidding I had to drive around and give people enemas. That was my job. I was like, look, it’s honest work and it’s important someone does it, but I was like, “there has to be more than this.”

For me, it was largely – my dad was the first high school graduate in our family. I remember when I was in middle school, he came home one day – and he was a mechanic. He said, “Look, for me I think there’s something more.” And he said, “I’m going to go to school.”

Well, no one in any of our families had gone to college. That wasn’t a thing that you do. And yet, he had figured it out. His parents actually weren’t happy about it. They thought he was kind of – he was big timing them. Yet, he still – he did that.

He became a mechanical engineer and he’s one of the most accomplished airbag designers in the country now. He’s got lots of patents. He’s done amazing work. I watched what education did in terms of changing our lives and life circumstances. So I realized that’s probably the way to go. I knew that much. What I didn’t know is like, “Okay, where does this path go?”

I got my GED. I went there. Didn’t want to go back. What was remarkable, it was really – it’s an open enrollment school. It takes all comers, which I think is the future of our country, frankly, is where the innovation has to go.

But it was actually the relationships I developed with faculty and people who taught me how to think about who I am and help me make I think kind of interesting decisions about what would help me get on a better path for myself.

But as I developed my abilities there, I went from thinking I was a terrible learner and didn’t have a lot of talent to thinking actually maybe I’m pretty good at a couple of things, to thinking actually maybe I’m reasonably smart. That was just a process. But it was just a remarkable one for me and something I’m always grateful for.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve done a lot of work there associated with The End of Average and how, we’re not average-sized people. We’re not average learners. That’s silly. We’ve got to really get customized on different dimensions of the brain and people and how they’re operating, which is really cools stuff. Could you orient us a little bit to what you’re doing now at Harvard? Then I want to talk about your book.

Todd Rose
Sure. So at Harvard I do a couple things. I’m the director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program, which is this really cool interdisciplinary program that brings neuroscience and psychology to issues of learning both in schools, but also workplaces and things like that.

Then I also run this thing called the Laboratory for the Science of Individuality. And in the lab, just as you were saying, there’s this cool revolution going on in science that most people don’t know about, which is we’re done studying averages, groups of people. It turns out that kind of science doesn’t really predict very much about individual people’s lives. That’s been true in everything from studying individual cells to cancer progression, to how kids learn.

Everything that people hear about, whether it’s personalized medicine, personalized nutrition, personalized education, is all coming because this science is giving us very, very actionable insights about individuals. We contribute to that science.

The third thing I do is I have a think tank that does a lot of my public-facing sort of work, called Populace.

I think academia is a fantastic place for science and reflection, but isn’t the best at action. It’s just not what it’s built for, so created this thing called Populace. Our purpose is to get these ideas to the public in a way that helps them be part of deciding where we go as a society because all of this technology and know-how is bringing deep personalization to everything that we do as a people.

That could turn out well. It could be really, really valuable, but it also could become incredibly manipulative. Right? It could be incredibly divisive in terms of the have’s and have not’s. Populace exists to ensure that we take the right path.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Let’s talk about your book here, Dark Horse: Achieving Success Through the Pursuit of Fulfillment, sort of what’s your main thesis here?

Todd Rose
The basic thesis is this: that we’ve been told that the way to be successful is essentially follow the standard path and try to be the same as everybody else only better. The thesis is basically, if you want the most surefire way to be excellent and happy, it’s actually to prioritize personal fulfillment and make choices off of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so you’re prioritizing personal fulfillment as opposed to what are the top alternative s that get prioritized instead of personal fulfillment.

Todd Rose
Yeah, and this is what we feel like society pressures us into. Usually it’s some combination of wealth, status or power. You think about picking the kind of college major you’re going to take or the job you’re going to do or the promotion you might go after. There’s a lot of pressure for prestige and showing that you make a lot of money.

That kind of view of success is very comparative. It’s like, “Am I better than somebody else? Do I make more than somebody else?” We know this. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. We know this. It’s also terribly zero sum. We tend to think somebody has to lose for me to win.

Personal fulfillment just orients things internally. It’s about achieving things that matter to you. It’s very personal because the things that will matter to you aren’t the same as things that matter to me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. This reminds me. I remember I had a buddy in high school. He loved cars, just all about cars. He knew the in’s and the out’s of the V6’s the V8’s, the V4’s, all the stuff. I don’t so much know cars. I remember his family – he said it was because “Oh, it’s my Indian parents.” I don’t want to paint with a broad brush. I’m sure people of all ethnicity and races can do this to their children.

But he said that he wanted to do something with cars, like own a car dealership and do repair or sort of body work and retool them, make them awesome, this kind of vision or dream for him and cars. His parents said, “Yes, yes that’s fine. You can do that. But you have to go to medical school first.”

Todd Rose
Medical school to be a good mechanic.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Rose
…. But that’s a perfect example. The truth is most of these parents are doing it not because they don’t want their kids to be happy, but because they are convinced that there are a handful of paths that really bring stability. Right?

They think, “Well, look, if you just go to medical school, you’re going to have a great job. You’re going to get paid a lot and then you can kind of dabble in the things that make you happy on the side.” The truth is that was actually a pretty good suggestion for a long time in this country. Right? Through most of our sort of industrial age, there were just a few paths.

My argument is simply that that’s really not true anymore and that in an age of AI and automation and a very diverse economy, this idea of figuring out you love cars more than anything else, let’s have that person go ahead and find a career and a life that revolves around that because they’re going to be deeply engaged, which means they’re going to be more productive and they’re going to be happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes. This is reminding me of some of the Shawn Achor research with the happiness advantage in terms of the engagement and the happiness and how it’s all kind of linked up there. You say that these dark horses, which you define as folks who just succeeded and no one saw them coming. It’s like, “Surprise. I have huge accomplishments now and you never expected that from me.”

Todd Rose
Yeah. What’s so funny is so this whole thing – it didn’t start out meaning to be a book at all. It started out as a project at Harvard, where we were just kind of interested why – we all know about dark horses. When they’re successful, there’s usually some media attention, people get excited about it like, “Wow, that’s amazing.” Then that’s it.

We feel comfortable just walking away as if there’s nothing we can learn from them because it seems like, too one-off, like, “oh, it’s too risk. They were lucky or super talented,” or whatever excuse we make. We thought, maybe that’s true, but let’s just study them.

We thought maybe someone’s looked at them and no one had. We ended up studying a wider range of fields and people from all walks of life as we could. After studying hundreds of people, I was looking for do they have anything in common.

I have to say, I’d like to tell you that I knew that it would prioritizing fulfillment, not even close. I like to, before we start any project, write down my hypotheses so I hold myself to them.

Pete Mockaitis
Of course I always do at this point.

Todd Rose
Yeah, like not revise it after. … new. Here’s what I thought it would be. I thought to be a dark horse you would have to have a certain kind of personality. You’d have to be someone who doesn’t mind bucking the system, like a Steve Jobs, Richard Branson because it’s kind of rough, right? You’re going to against the grain and people aren’t going to be that happy.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that just simply wasn’t true. Twenty people in, you realized their personalities are all over the place. The thing that was crazy to me is that I kept asking them questions about – I wanted to know were their tricks about they got great at things. All they wanted to talk about was how they figured out what really mattered to them.

Then they would use things like fulfillment. They’d talk about fulfillment or meaning and purpose. I was like, no, this can’t be it. It seemed too squishy and fluffy. I wanted – I’m usually a numbers guy. All of my research is quantitative up until this point. I just didn’t want to hear it. But it just kept coming through.

They prioritize personal fulfillment over someone else’s view of success. That is why they end up on these very individual paths. It’s also, we believe, what allows them to be successful and happy.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. In a way it sounds sort of too simple and somewhat squishy, but you mentioned that they kind of kept coming back to kind of tools or approaches, like how they came to these discoveries about themselves. Could you give us an example and tell us some of these strategies?

Todd Rose
Yeah. Exactly as you were saying. It’s one thing for someone to say, “Look, it’s all about living a fulfilling life.” Is that what you say after you’re successful?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Todd Rose
You rewrite your own history. We really pushed hard and realized, no, they’re prioritizing it early. What we were interested in is well, okay, how is this not follow your bliss off a cliff, right? Because it’s not the first time someone said, “Pursue happiness.” Follow whatever. We were digging into okay, what is it that makes this actionable really.

It turns out there’s a handful of things that they know that really does make this what we call a “dark horse mindset” a reliable path to success. The first thing – if you don’t get this right, we have plenty of non-examples, where if you don’t have this it doesn’t turn out very well, which is they have a deep, deep understanding of what really motivates them.

That sounds so simple. Who doesn’t know what motivates them. But I would actually argue most of us don’t really know what motivates us.

All you have to do is look at the engagement research. Gallup shows that the vast majority of Americans are disengaged in their jobs. Something like 30%, I don’t know the exact number, they’re called actively disengaged, which sounds kind of crazy to me, but actively disengaged. A majority of kids are disengaged in school in this country. Something’s wrong there. If we were so smart about what motivates us, wouldn’t we have made better decisions?

So dark horses do something that I thought was really, really interesting, which is when we think about what motivates us, most of us go to the way society talks about it, which is these big universal things, like, “Okay, are you more about …-”

Pete Mockaitis
….

Todd Rose
-or competition or whatever.” Some of those are true, right? But what we found with dark horses is that motivation is very, very individual, that people are motivated by a wide range of things, some of them big and universal and some of them are very, very specific to the individual.

All that matters is that you figure that out and you figure out that mosaic of what motivates you because then you’re going to make decisions that sort of check those boxes. When you’ve got a choice between A and B and A checks ten of your motives and B checks three, you know which one to pick. That starting point of figuring out what we call your micro-motives is by far the most important first step.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re saying micro-motives, you’re saying hey, it’s much more individualized and specific and precise than competition. Could you lay it out for us, either yourself or a few of your dark horses, like this is what a micro-motive sounds like? Like it’s not competition, it’s like seeing my opponent squashed on the mat or …. I don’t know.

Todd Rose
It’s even crazier than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Todd Rose
Again, certainly competition and those things are true for people. But – and we can imagine that being a motive. But what about aligning physical objects with your hands. That for me-

Pete Mockaitis
There we go.

Todd Rose
-saying it right now, I’m like, who in the world would be motivated by that, like truly motivated, not like it’s a nice thing to have, but I need this in my life.

Pete Mockaitis
So they’re misaligned, you mean the silverware drawer is askew or what do you mean by aligning objects with your hands?

Todd Rose
Like, for example, becoming an engineer that is actually aligning copper wire to fiber optic to solve one of the biggest problems in the telecommunications industry 30 years ago. That kind of stuff. This guy – we talked to this guy who – this is a primary motive for him, among other things. He’s this engineer, but then when that doesn’t – he gets out of it because – for a number of reasons.

But he is now the top upholstery repair person in New York City, which you’d never think of those two jobs as being the same, except for upholstery repair is terribly difficult and you’re fixing family heirlooms and leather, where you’ve got to align these things. He is just so happy and so good at what he does. We also-

Pete Mockaitis
I love this so much. It’s precise and beautiful. Please continue, more and more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
How about, again, we can imagine something like collaboration being great, but what about someone who truly is motivated by organizing people’s closets.

We talked to a woman who was a political rock star, who had basically worked at local, state, federal, all the way into a great job at the White House, so good at what she did. She realizes one day as she’s leaving the White House, she gets asked to help run Bloomberg’s government in New York. She realizes she can’t get out of bed. She can’t figure out why. This should be the next step.

She comes to the realization of what’s missing as she’s organizing her own closet. For her, everything is about being able to create order on behalf of other people, right? The benefits to other people that come from having their lives have order and meaning like that. She realized everything she loved early on in politics was about that, not about beating the competition, not about winning, but this.

As she rose in the ranks, you get less and less opportunity to do that. She said, “What am I supposed to do with that?” Except for she realized, wait a minute, there’s a whole field called professional organizers. She didn’t even realize they existed. She figures out, “Wait a minute. This is like what I’m born to do. I love helping people and I love organizing.” She literally loves closets more than anything because she sees it as the most intimate form of organizing for people.

She starts a company. Now she’s one of the most prominent in both New York and Florida. She makes great money. She loves what she does.

Over and over again, we found that what dark horses did got them on this right path is they really had this deep understanding of that quirky collection of things that matters to them. Even if they don’t matter to anybody else, that’s okay because it’s what gets them out of bed. They’re going to use those micro motives to start making decisions in their life big and small and that’s what gets you on the path to fulfillment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so aligning physical objects with your hands, creating order on behalf of others. Let’s hear a few more micro-motives.

Todd Rose
Some of them get a little more familiar you think, we talked to a woman who owns a flower shop, florist stuff and decorator, like that. She has this really interesting motive, where it’s like she likes to arrange floral stuff, but it has to include non-floral stuff.

She has this really weird combination of things. If she’s just arranging flowers, that’s not good enough. If she was just doing stuff with non-flowers, that’s not good enough. When you combine the two, it’s magic for her.

Another one, which I thought was remarkable, I just – for me none of these things are actually motivating. It’s like, I’m like, “Are you sure?” When you talk them and they just light up. They can’t imagine a world where they don’t get to do this. Imagine someone being motivated by literally holding paper in their hands.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s some good papers out there.

Todd Rose
Yeah, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I could be fired up if it’s the right paper.

Todd Rose
Interviewed a woman who is one of the most famous art conservators in the country, but for her it’s not any kind of art. It has to be paper. Her ability – she said, “Look, to be able to hold it” and it’s history and everything it means. She talks about it in great tactile detail. For her, she wouldn’t even take a promotion or move onto something else that would take her away from doing that.

Now, as a result she has actually been responsible for the restoration, some of the most prominent paintings and other kinds of things in the country.

But, time and time again, this is it. We all have things big and small that motivate us. If we turn to what society tells us should matter, we get in trouble because we’re not really listening to who we are. Now I would say probably the next question because I know you’re all about practical stuff and application I like, “Well, wait a minute, how do I start to figure this out then?”

Pete Mockaitis
I will absolutely ask you that question. But if I could first get even some more micro-motives when it comes to – those that you mentioned, they seem to fall under the category of I guess maybe sensory, tactile. Could you share a few that are maybe not something that you can see and smell and touch?

Todd Rose
Yeah. We talked to a woman who – probably most things end up manifesting in some ways in having some physical interaction with it, but talked to a woman who was – actually one of my favorite people. She loved music. That seems like, well, of course, … people do, except for she doesn’t like being in front of people. She doesn’t want to be famous. She doesn’t even want to sing. She can’t sing.

She has very specific combination of wanting to be involved in music, but at a production level, like, “I want to be able to take something that someone’s creating and make it better. It’s really weird. It’s very, very specific for her. But combined for her, it was with this but it has to be for somebody else’s benefit. Somebody has to be moved by it, but, again, she doesn’t want to create. That’s not what she does. It’s not what she wants.

She goes on to become – she starts from nothing, absolutely nothing. She ends up becoming Prince’s sound engineer for Purple Rain. She does these spectacularly great things. In the book, her story is laid out in great detail, so I don’t want to steal too much more, but she’s just remarkable.

We have some of the more traditional ones. Talked to a guy who grew up blue-collar town, came from nothing and just scraped by and built up a little mini empire of restaurants and bars and real estate. He was kind of king – big fish, small pond. Now you can imagine, that’s it. That’s great. Everyone is like, “You’ve really made something of yourself.”

But he knew there was this creative motive that he didn’t understand. He knew he had to have something around this creative space, but there was nothing there. He used to have jazz night at this blue collar bar. People are like, “Why are we doing this?” like nobody wants to hear it and he’d make them listen to it. It was bad for the bottom line.

He wakes up one day and says, “Look, I’ve got to figure out what this is.” He actually makes a pretty bold move. He sells everything and he moves to Boston. He’s like, “Look, if I’m going to figure this out, I’ve got to be in the city.”

Anyway, flash forward through some crazy things that he ends up doing. He turns out to become one of the top bespoke tailors in the country. It turns out he has this amazing love for fabric and creating stuff for people and create – it’s remarkable. In fact, it was the first bespoke thing I’d ever bought. I had him create a jacket for me. I’m like he’s very, very good.

These range of things – here’s the thing, nobody can tell you what yours are. They just can’t. There’s no test to take. There’s no – because they come from all kinds of places. Some of them might be innate; some of them might be learned. It doesn’t matter. If they get you out of bed in the morning, you’ve got to understand them.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I’d be curious, what’s yours, Todd?

Todd Rose
I thought a lot about that. I have – I think mine are probably common for a lot of people. But I have for sure the case that I am – I get bored easier than anybody I know. That’s a pretty big one, but I have to have a lot of novelty in my life.

One thing that I realized is that that causes a lot of problems if you’re not careful. Sometimes you’ve got to just keep doing things. You can’t just keep bouncing around because you get bored with something. You have to figure how to harness that.

I absolutely cannot have a boss. I just cannot have somebody telling me what to do. I think that’s – the ability to have control over the choices that I make matters more to me than anything else. I would take so much less money, I would take – to have that kind of autonomy is just so important.

The other thing is that I have this weird mix of what feels like contradictory motives. On the one hand, I need autonomy. I just need it. On the other hand, I deeply, deeply, deeply enjoy collaboration to the point where everything I do, I try to force to say I want to have a partner with it, I want to find someone to work with on these things because it’s just so meaningful to me.

It’s a fun kind of wait, but I want to have – I want complete autonomy, but at the same time I really need other people and I want to work together, so you’ve got to figure that out. Those ones are the big ones for me. I do actually have – I keep saying competition is not a – it’s definitely a motive. I definitely have that kind of streak, and what you do is try to harness it to be compete with yourself rather than other people.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Okay, well now at last, yes, micro-motives, that’s kind of what they look, sound, feel like in practice. How do you folks go about discovering and zeroing in on what they are for them?

Todd Rose
Here’s the thing. We’ve road-tested this not just on dark horses, but frog marched a bunch of our family members and all our friends and “Test this out and see if it really works. Let’s see what happens.” I might give you – it’s incredibly simple. All I want is for people to try it. Just try it a couple times and you’ll be really shocked.

A very easy thing to do is to just think for not very hard, but think a little bit about a couple things that you actually enjoy doing, like really enjoy doing and ask yourself why. The why is everything here. Most of the time when we engage in some kind of activity and we like it, we’re like, “Yes, I really love-“ for example, I really love football. I would say I’m pretty passionate about football.

What we end up doing is attaching – and we call it passion for something – but we attach it to that thing. That’s usually the sort of grain size that we deal with. Oh, I really love football and I like watching TV, whatever. But if you ask yourself why, is it the competition, is it the teamwork, is it the strategy involved, is playing outdoors. There’s a whole range of things for why you might actually like football.

If you start getting a handle on those – that’s really closer to your motives. If you do that a few times, you start to suss out some common themes. What’s really important about that is that once you realize why it is you like these things, that’s portable.

Let’s say for example, actually I can’t play football. I’m just too old now. I’d get hurt in two seconds and I‘d rather have a healthy back and knees than do that. But it’s like if I know why I liked it, I can actually make choices because there are other activities and things I can do that check those boxes.

It sounds really simple. I think you’ll be shocked at how much value it gives you in a hurry about figuring out why you care about the things you care about.

Pete Mockaitis
This is great. Well, thank you Todd. Tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Todd Rose
Actually, I’ll tell you one thing that I think matters the most to me and if there’s one thing I can get across is this. When we think about the pursuit of fulfillment, it can easily sound like a luxury item. Like, “Okay, after I get all of the things taken care of I need to,” it’s sort of like Maslow’s hierarchy or something, that’s it. Fulfillment is for rich people or for people who have it made, whatever.

I think it’s exactly the opposite. I think this understanding of making choices based on personal fulfillment matters most to people who don’t have a safety net, who really have to hit home runs on choice after choice after choice because there is no backup plan.

Because there, knowing who you are really and being able to make decisions on that puts you in contexts that are going to be engaging, where you’re going to be productive. You can string those together. I think it’s the safest way to a successful life.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Todd Rose
Yeah, I love quotes. I’m like a collector of quotes. For me this was actually hard to narrow down, but here’s the one I think is awesome. It’s by Joss Whedon if you know the producer. It’s, “Remember to always be yourself unless you suck.” I like that quote because I think it’s both true and then true. Yeah, we always tell people know who you are, be great, but if there’s some really dark stuff inside, yeah, let’s work on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s true for competence as well. It’s just like, “No, this is my style. This is how I do my thing.” It’s like, “Well, nobody likes that,” in terms of if it’s like a consumer or kind of commercial application market, it’s like, “That may well be, but it’s not working for the people who buy it, so you’ve got to change it.”

Todd Rose
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study?

Todd Rose
That’s actually an interesting one. Basically I would pick – I’ll give you a specific one, but I would pick almost any of them in the science I’m a part of because when we get away from group averages and we study you on your own terms, we find remarkable things.

It turns out individuals aren’t snowflakes. You can actually find patterns and it matters. It matters for how we keep you healthy and how you develop and what you can become.

My favorite one of them because this is pretty actionable is the new work out of Israel by Eran Segal on personalized nutrition.

We have the glycemic index, which is supposed to tell us how certain foods elevate our blood sugar. It’s really important for pre-diabetes, diabetes, just health and wellness in general. It turns out the glycemic index, it’s all averages. On average a potato will elevate your blood sugar by a certain amount.

What these folks found is there’s literally nobody that responds the way the glycemic index says you should respond. Nobody. We’re so individual. But importantly, they were able to use the science and some machine learning stuff to be able to create incredibly precise predictions for every single person.

They turned that into an app. I have no commercial interest in it, but I did buy it. It’s called DayTwo. It’s amazing.

One concrete example, for me – they tell you on average that if you want to keep your blood sugar low to eat grapefruit. It’s supposed to be really terrific. For me, it turns out to be the single worst thing I can possibly eat. It elevates my blood sugar more than chocolate cake.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Todd Rose
So what I love about this is it’s an example where understanding individuality, it matters. Your individuality matters and it’s not noise. We can build systems that are responsive to you and to everybody else. We don’t have to choose anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
This is just mind-blowing in terms of its implications over the next century of boy, technological and human progress, just thinking about that. So on maybe more pedestrian question, how does an app figure out how much a grapefruit is spiking your blood sugar?

Todd Rose
You have to send it you get blood work done, gut biome and a bunch of other things, so rather than reduce you to a type, they actually collect a lot of information on you. It’s analyzed and then it’s fed through the app. There’s some crunching done on the backend and the app is just how I interface with it. But it helps me basically, anytime I want to eat, I know exactly what it’s going to do to me.

I think what’s so cool about that is pre-diabetes and diabetes is like a massive problem in the United States. You realize wait a minute, we’re blaming everyone for their poor habits, which maybe that’s true and I’m sure it’s part of it, but actually we’re literally telling them, we’re giving them advice that guarantees, guarantees that we’re not optimizing their nutrition. It’s like it doesn’t have to be that way.

For me, I’m excited about the future. There’s a lot of dangers and challenges in this brave new personalized sort of society, but the idea that we can understand you as an individual and build systems that are responsive to you and get the most out of you is really remarkable.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s wild. DayTwo is generating an individualized profile of you based upon your genetics and your gut biome and your blood stuff.

Todd Rose
Yup and it really doesn’t matter if there’s anybody else like you, you can still have an optimized nutrition. We can do this, by the way, we can do this for cancer treatment. We can do this for how you develop. We can do this for how you best learn. This is the future.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s wild. Tell me, from the food perspective, is there something you can eat that makes you feel awesome and you wouldn’t even know it had you not done this adventure with DayTwo?

Todd Rose
Yeah, yeah, that’s great. What’s really funny is my wife did it and we just have completely different – like, trying to figure out what we’re going to cook at night now is like, “Huh, which one of us is going to spike our blood sugar?” But what’s really crazy about this, so you can imagine – so rum, it’s sugarcane.

Pete Mockaitis
Delicious.

Todd Rose
Yeah, but it’s sugarcane. You would think that should be – you’re just guaranteeing you’re going to spike your blood sugar. Nope. It doesn’t spike my blood sugar at all. I’m like, made in the shade. This is fantastic. There’s these things like that which I can do. It’s probably not making me healthy, but it doesn’t hurt me as much as I should.

The other thing is – this is kind of crazy – but, I can have soft serve ice cream as long as it’s chocolate and not vanilla. It’s that fine-tuned.

Pete Mockaitis
You would actually feel it in your body?

Todd Rose
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
You will have a different sensation in your head and your feeling of fatigue versus sharpness.

Todd Rose
It’s the fatigue thing that’s so clear. I would have never, honestly, never done it because I don’t really have – I don’t have diabetes or anything like that, but – so I never really appreciated the toll that spiking blood sugar takes on your body. If you understand the sort of science of it, it’s like pretty obvious. It’s a very, very taxing mechanism.

Even people who aren’t even near getting pre-diabetes, it’s like it is what – it drives fatigue, it drives up – it’s just simply optimizing against your own individuality. I just can’t believe how much cleaner my mind feels. I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s just like I feel cleaner and clearer and sharper to the point where there’s no chance I would go back. It’s like, I cling to this like I can’t believe. It’s so neat.

Then I think wait a minute, if we’re not careful, we’re going to live in a world where people who can afford get this kind of information and the people that can’t, keep getting the stupid faxed copy of “Here’s the glycemic index. You should eat this.” It doesn’t-

Pete Mockaitis
…. Yeah, that makes it a lot more real when you described Populace at the top of this. I thought, “Okay, that sounds important.” Then it’s like, “Oh, yeah, this is critical. Thank you.”

Todd Rose
It has to be about all of us. It has to. It can, but we’ve got to make good choices.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite book?

Todd Rose
Can I give you two or do I have to really-?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Todd Rose
Okay. One is my sort of nerdy one, but I think it’s really important called The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper. It’s the only philosophy book that I actually like. It really taught me what it means to do science versus not. It really changed how I do my work.

But one of my favorite books of all time is called City of Thieves by David Benioff, who most people would know from Game of Thrones, but it’s a fantastic book, just love it, that fiction book.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Todd Rose
I have – I do two things. I’m trying to sneak in a bunch of extra things. One of the most important things that I ever figured out because I am – I actually have really terrible working memory. If you ask me right now, “Hey, when we get done with this, will you remember to email me blah, blah, blah?” There’s a good chance I’m not going to remember to do that. Organization was really important to me.

One of the things that I do that I always do is spend the first half hour of every day organizing my priorities so that the rest of the day I’m actually doing things that matter to me rather than things that get put on my plate that are first in kind of like “Oh no, this is really pressing.” It’s like sure, but did it matter to me. This helps me stay prioritized and accomplishing things I want to.

The second thing that I do is related to my need for novelty, which is I really, really, really don’t want to become that person that’s so narrow in what I know and do because I just don’t think that’s good. I don’t think – I just think you don’t get any inspiration or new ideas just by doubling down on one narrow piece of the world.

I try once a week, at least once a week, I read or watch something that is absolutely not part of my wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean like high culture and …. Sometimes is just anything, just stay out of the same-

Pete Mockaitis
Like what’s up with this Kardashian’s business? Some people seem – I’m curious how do you get prompted because I think so often it’s like, “That’s not interesting to me therefore I’m not going to engage.” How do you kind of get over that hump?

Todd Rose
I have a really weird way of doing this. I don’t know, I’m probably revealing too much about myself. But I’m trying to use the way that Google and other things, they feed you stuff as a recommendation, which is actually up that – it’s super helpful in one way, but then it kind of narrows your world in a hurry.

So I create alternative – my alter ego kind of stuff, where I’ll go and set up stuff where I’ll look at different sites and set it up so that I know that feeds me things that are very, very different than what I’m actually looking at now, whether it’s political, whether it’s cultural, whether it’s even sports and stuff like that. If I can’t find it on my own, I always go visit my alter ego and get new information.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Tell us, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and folks quote it frequently to you?

Todd Rose
Yeah, it seems a little self-serving for the book, but it really is this idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is actually a reliable path to success. That people come back to “Wow, I can’t believe that,” but it’s true. When you really think about it, it makes a lot of sense.

The other one is the sense of this is not about selfishness. One of the most highlighted things in the book for me is this quote that said, “To build a great … society, we must get the best out of everyone no matter who you are or where you’re starting from.” The idea that the pursuit of fulfillment is something that’s good for the individual, but it leads to a much stronger, more thriving collective.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Todd Rose
Sure. They can follow me on Twitter. It’s LToddRose or ToddRose.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d like to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Todd Rose
Yeah. Getting back to the theme here, make choices based on fulfillment, not what you think will get you ahead or you’ll – or what you think other people want and you’ll be in the absolute best position to live a life of success and happiness.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Todd, this has been a lot of fun, eye opening, exciting. I wish you tons of luck in all of the good work you’re doing at Harvard and Populace and books and more.

Todd Rose
Thank you so much for having me.

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The Gold Nugget

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