07 June 2024

On today’s show, Greg McKeown discusses his core philosophy to time management and personal development, Essentialism. Greg is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, motivational speaker, and consultant to Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, and many more. He reminds us all to reevaluate what we focus on and only work on what is truly essential.



  • Why you feel like you aren’t succeeding.
  • What it means to follow Essentialism.
  • When you need to practice saying no.
  • How to be a better and more focused investor.
  • And much, much more!


Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors may occur.

Robert Leonard  00:02

On today’s show, I talk with Greg McKeown about the unpopular and often misunderstood concepts that have made Warren Buffett and Bill Gates ultra-successful, and how you can implement those same concepts in your life to achieve success in investing, business, or even your career.

Greg is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author, and accomplished keynote speaker. He consults for major companies like Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Pixar, Salesforce, and Twitter.

If you’re looking to get more content than just a weekly free podcast, make sure to follow me on Instagram. I post there almost every single day with different ideas about business, investing, the stock market, and real estate. I have new content coming out almost every single day. You can follow me on Instagram with my username: @robertattip. Now, let’s dive into the show.

Intro  01:01

You’re listening to Millennial Investing by The Investor’s Podcast Network, where your host, Robert Leonard, interviews successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and investors to help educate and inspire the millennial generation.

Robert Leonard  01:24

Welcome to today’s show! As always, I’m your host, Robert Leonard, and I’m very excited to have Greg McKeown here with me today. Welcome to the show, Greg!

Greg McKeown  01:32

It’s great to be with you, Robert.

Robert Leonard  01:34

Let’s start today’s show by talking a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

Greg McKeown  01:39

You know, I spent 20 years on an adventure. It all started, when I was staring at a piece of paper in my hands with all these scribbles and answers on it. I’d been brainstorming this question, “What would you do if you could do anything?” I noticed, when I looked at the piece of paper, that law school wasn’t on the list, which was it turns out, inconvenient, because I was, at the time, at law school. And so, that was good. That was the turning point. I quit law school and did what I really wanted to do, which was to teach and write. That’s what I wanted to do, but in an entrepreneurial way. I wanted to work with businesses. I wanted to understand how they work. I wanted to understand the leadership dynamics and the team dynamics, organizational behavior, and just what is it?

On that piece of paper were a series of questions. One of those questions, I think has such relevance for everybody listening today. And it’s this, “Why is it that otherwise successful people and companies don’t continue to be successful?” They should. But what I’ve found as I looked at the data and studied this question is that what should happen doesn’t happen. So, that’s like a driver. That question has been driving me for those 20 years. That’s sort of the background. I worked in Silicon Valley companies for many years and noticed some predictable patterns and so on, but that was really the question that kept me up at night.

Robert Leonard  02:57

If anyone knows that what’s supposed to happen doesn’t actually happen, it’s stock investors. So, I think the audience is definitely going to know what you’re talking about there. What really got you interested in this question, though? What happened? Was there an aha moment that made you decide, “This is what I want to study. This is what really drives me and I’m passionate about.”

Greg McKeown  03:16

In the midst of working with Silicon Valley companies, I noticed a pattern there called, “the paradox of success.” Let me tell you that pattern…and then something happened personally, and they connect together. In the professional observation, I noticed that when a company was small, they got focused, and they were able to drive success. Clarity led to success, and success bred so many options and opportunities, which all sounds like the right problem to have. But it does in fact, turn out to be a problem. It leads to what Jim Collins has called, “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” The undisciplined pursuit of more will plateau whole organizations. Instead of being able to go forward to what ought to be their next level of contribution to success, they can’t get there because they’re using all of their resources to do too many things at their current level.

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Right in the midst of all of this, I got an email from my colleague at the time. It said Friday, between 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., will be a very bad time for your wife to have a baby. My wife was expecting, but otherwise, it’s a strange email to get. To my shame, I went to the meeting and afterward, what I learned from that lesson was simple. If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will. And that’s kind of in hindsight, where the ideas connected. Because on one hand, I was observing the undisciplined pursuit of more in these organizations. Then, all of a sudden, I have experience on a personal level, where I’m trying to do everything, keep everybody happy, and violate something more important for something less important. What I found is I turned my attention to that particular theme.

I’ve found that many people, especially the millennial group feel these challenges. Google this. You can test this right now. Have they ever found themselves like I did, feeling stretched too thin at work or at home? Have they ever found themselves feeling busy, but not necessarily productive? Have they ever found themselves, where their day has been hijacked by other people’s agenda for them? And if the answer to those questions is yes, especially if that has become a regular answer, it means that you’re falling into the undisciplined pursuit of more. The antidote, the way out, and this is, of course, what I’m advocating. Essentialism is the disciplined pursuit of less, but better. That’s the way out of this conundrum.

Robert Leonard  05:35

What exactly is essentialism if you had to define it? What does it mean to be an essentialist?

Greg McKeown  05:42

Essentialism is the antidote to the problem that we’ve just been discussing. The problem is the undisciplined pursuit of more. The solution is the disciplined pursuit of less but better. The name for that process is essentialism. Essentialism is a way of thinking. It is to see the world through the lens of what is essential. There are three parts to it. You really create a space to think big, to think great, to think bolder than you’ve ever thought before, and to explore more broadly and more boldly than you ever have in search of those few things that are so valuable. They will change your stance.

And then, step two is that you start to eliminate all the other stuff you might find. When you find the key things you ought to be investing in, they might be so valuable that 90% of the work that you’ve been doing, or assumed you would be doing, just needs to be eradicated. You shouldn’t be doing any of it. You should be doing far less of what you were doing before. So, that’s step two. It’s to eliminate the non-essentials. Actually, it is to remove that investment. You’re no longer playing around with investments.

Then, step three is to build a system and execute. To build a system to make it as easy as possible to keep investing in those things that you’ve identified as being extraordinarily valuable.

That’s it. That’s the process. It’s an ongoing process. A disciplined pursuit of what is essential, rather than an undisciplined pursuit of what is non-essential. The process is to explore, eliminate, and execute. That’s what essentialism is.

Robert Leonard  07:14

As we have this conversation, it’s just about three weeks or so after the new year, and so that’s obviously, one of the biggest times, when people are setting new goals. How does this idea of essentialism impact how people should set goals?

Greg McKeown  07:29

I see that being a paradox. And actually, it’s one that even for people that read essentialism or get into it. They sometimes miss, and it’s this: you’ve got to create space to have a far greater vision than you normally have. Now, that doesn’t sound like a disciplined pursuit of less. But it is so critical, you suddenly discover. 

My family and I over the break, we spent a couple of weeks coming back again and again to these vision boards that we were creating. So, I have four children and my wife. All of us. We just kept coming back and kept asking the questions, “What do we really want to achieve? What is 2020 going to be about?”

It’s not about just rushing into the year and rushing in to email, but looking bigger so that you can start to make more deliberate trade-offs. This is the core idea. Let me share a core idea and one illustration of it. The core idea is the driving mindset of essentialism is that almost everything is meaningless noise. Almost everything is of low value. But a few things are superbly, incredibly, life-changingly valuable. That’s the mindset.

Now, if you believe that as an investor, for example. Of course, there are also different kinds of investors, but how might you approach it? If you think everything is approximately of equal value, you might just try and go with everything. You might try and do what everyone else is investing in, rush in, and rush out. If you’re an essentialist investor, what you will be saying is, “I’m going to pay the price to explore broadly until I find the thing that is so valuable. I’m going to go big, and keep it for a long time.” That would be my strategy. That would be the approximate strategy.

As it turns out, there is an investor that did that. They had that perspective upfront before they became famous. That was their precise event. These investors had a *inaudible*. They said they knew they couldn’t be right hundreds of times in their investment career. They likened it to having a 20-punch card. They could only be right 10 or 20 times in a whole lifetime. They had the understanding that that was enough if you find the right investments. But also, that perspective says you don’t just go and mess around with every investment that comes along. Just because other people are doing it, you do it too. That’s like the heart of it. We’re talking about Warren Buffett, of course. If you look back on the lifetime of the most successful investor in history, you will find that 90% of his wealth can be traced to 10 investment decisions. What’s fabulous about that is that he knew it upfront. It was a deliberate understanding. It was an understanding of how the world actually works. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s just how it works.

So, our job is not to shovel coal from one point to the other. As much as possible, it is to find the diamonds. And that makes it worth the effort necessary to find them because it’s so valuable once you do. Warren Buffett says that his investment strategy, listen to this, “borders on lethargy.” I mean, that’s amazing. The most successful investor in history, and his investment strategy borders on the lethargy. He wants the right things, then he’d invest big, and he keeps it forever. That’s his whole strategy. That’s so different than the average investor, whether we’re talking about stock, or whether we’re talking about entrepreneurs. They do the opposite. They think the opposite is the way to do it. Just do everything you can. Hustle on everything all of the time, and then you’re going to somehow get to the top. That’s just not what you actually find produces those kinds of results.

Robert Leonard  11:03

Why do you think so many people have trouble with this? Why do you think more people aren’t able to replicate what Warren Buffett has done? I mean, like you said, this isn’t a secret. This is very common knowledge, and a lot of people know it. So why aren’t more people able to replicate it?

Greg McKeown  11:19

They don’t replicate it because they’re living in success. Even if they don’t feel successful, and you’re listening to this and you think, “Wow, I don’t feel as successful. There’s so much I haven’t done, so much I want to do.” That’s fine, of course, but you are incredibly successful by virtue of the fact that you are able to listen to this and comprehend it. It means that you’re literate. It means that you’re well, and almost certainly live in a free or largely free society that is also largely stable. These conditions are the rarest, the rarest kind if you take the broad picture of the history of humanity.

And so, of course, people are blind to this. Especially as a millennial, we were born into stability. Now, I know it doesn’t feel like that with a variety of chaotic things that go on. Social media and news give us the impression of chaos all the time, but it’s still the most prosperous, the most successful, the most democratic, the most safe, and the least likely scenario that you will die at war than in almost any other time in human history. That means that everybody around you has more options and opportunities that they know what to do with as well. We’re born into the internet. Not quite, but almost. *inaudible* Surely, the internet is now a phenomenon. Now, there’s a massive opportunity in every direction. All you have to do is be born in that environment, do what everyone else around you is doing, and you’re going to miss the strategy. You’re going to miss this other alternative path because the number of shiny objects is immense. There’s not just a few more than it was before we were born, even back by a couple of hundred years.  Do you know how hard it was to even get a book? To just own a book was significantly challenging.

The amount of opportunity and options have exponentially increased just absolutely massively. We’ve just all been born into it as if it’s all normal. We are totally unprepared for it. As a result, the path of least resistance is just to do way too many things. Start doing it. Start doing it. Follow this thing and that thing in every direction without realizing it’s even a strategy or even a choice. What Warren Buffett demonstrates and helps us to remember is that there is an alternative strategy, and it is for the taking. It’s just not one that’s being modeled very often.

Robert Leonard  13:36

Now, let’s talk about that idea in the context of a career or even a side hustle. It makes complete sense from an investor perspective, but I think a lot of people listening to the show today work a corporate job where the amount of time that they’re putting into their work is often used as an indicator of their success. Right? If their boss sees them putting a lot of time into something, or that they’re really busy, that makes them look successful. But that doesn’t necessarily equal success or importance. Why is that?

Greg McKeown  14:04

Well, organizations can often get into this. Organizations are breathing the same air as the people who breathe air and work in the business, right? That’s true for the actual air, but it’s also true for cultural air. If you’re a non-essentialist outside of the workplace, you’re going to walk into that place, and you’re going to keep thinking like that.

The key, what I see people do to break this, is they wake up to the fact that this is a choice. This way of making decisions is a very particular strategy. They either wake up to it because they got worn out, exhausted, burned out, or they wake up to it because they’re thoughtful and selective. And you know, it’s a Warren Buffett style. 

For some people, that really is a very different way of thinking. They have never thought that way. In fact, I would say the book is more countercultural than I realized it was. And so then, what I see is this pattern. They start reading it and they start going, “Oh, my goodness! I can see it all wrong. I can see it in a new way. The opportunity is enormous if I can figure this out because instead of just doing more stuff, I’ll do more of the right things. With a few things that matter, I can go to the next level personally and professionally,” and they get other people on board.

I’ve learned not to try to be an essentialist on my own. You’ll want to do it collectively or not at all. I’ve seen the most successful essentialist. They don’t just say, “I’m going to be the only essentialist in my workplace.” They get other people. They say, “Okay, let’s read this book together. Let’s talk about this together. Let’s introduce the language of essentialism into our conversation.” And so then, they’re able to talk in a way they couldn’t talk before. They can ask each other. They can say, “Well, look! Is this essential? Is this really what we want to be doing? Is this the right trade-off? What trade-offs should we be making?” You can ask, “Well, if we could only do one thing this year, what’s that breakthrough thing? What really is it? We’re going to do one thing, one really important thing. What’s the priority?” All of this is a new way of speaking and talking, and they grow this.

I normally get involved in these organizations as a result of one of these people that grows the influence, and they’ll say to me and come in, “We’d like you to speak at this event,” or something like that. In a way, the story’s already been written. The first few chapters were already written by the time I’m there because somebody woke up, saw the non-essentialist costs, saw that they could become an essentialist, and grew an essentialist culture around them. That’s what to do. Don’t do it on your own. Don’t try to be the only essentialist in your world. It won’t work. People will think you’re a bit crazy. But if you get them on board, it’s amazing what people can do. Just amazing.

I just talked to a group. Let me just share this one illustration, exactly what I’m describing here. Somebody came across essentialism. They introduced it to their company. That company produces big music tours of artists that everybody listening to this would have heard of. Normally, the name of that game is to do tours as many times as you can, with as many people as you can, and that’s how you’re going to be successful. But after essentialism, they said, “Okay, that’s not it. What we need to do is do the right tours for the right people.” The idea is that they’ll be more successful. So within one year, they reduced their number of tours by 40%. 40% less tours, but their revenue increased by 4X. That’s what it looks like in play. He couldn’t have done it on his own. He got the whole team around this, to think about what was valuable and what was just noise.

Robert Leonard  17:31

So, how do we do that? How do we determine what is important and what’s just noise?

Greg McKeown  17:37

You know, it’s not actually that hard. I would say, it’s kind of easy. But it’s not what is normally done. That doesn’t make it hard. It just means you have to be aware that other people aren’t already doing it, so you have to take the path less traveled. It looks like creating space to really figure out…just to think about, and ask the question, “What’s the most valuable work I can do this year?” Your brain and spirit are like a Google search engine. It will provide you answers depending on the questions that you type in. If you type in the question, “What’s in my inbox today? What emails do I respond to? How can I respond fast? How can I get to a zero inbox?” It will help you to do that. If you ask, instead, “What are the biggest, greatest missions I could imagine for my life?” Okay, then it will process that. So, I’m suggesting to ask essentialist questions.

First, explore. That’s one thing. Explore what is really valuable. Pause for a moment. Live in the uncomfortable pause. I’ll give you an illustration of this. Again, this will sound counterintuitive, even to people that are familiar with essentialism.

Steve Harvey invited me to speak at his annual camp for single moms and their basically at-risk sons. They’re at-risk of crime and getting infected by negative energy and patterns. One of the things he said, it was really interesting because we know Steve Harvey as an entertainer, as a comedian, and even as a talk show host. But this was really different. This was him raw and passionate and visionary.

One of the things he said to this whole group as they were all together. He said, “Listen, here. The problem for all of you here is that you are asking for too little from your life.” I mean, actually, he put it this way, “You’re asking God for too little.” That’s what he said. He said you are praying, “Please help me to get the rent check.” And you always do. One way or another, that happens. That works out. He said, “Stop asking for that. You’ve got to dream so much bigger than that, and ask for something way better.”

And he suggested something that I started after his suggestion. He said, “You go home. Here’s a challenge. You go home and write–” I think he said 400 things, but then he *inaudible* to the room. He said, “That’s too many. Just go do 100 of the biggest vision that you can come up with for your life. The biggest things you want. You really want.” He said, “Now predict what happens. What’s going to happen is that you’re going to get to item 23, and that’s it. You’re out. That’s it. You don’t know anything else. Those things are already bigger than you can believe, bigger than you can imagine.” He said, “Keep pushing. Keep thinking. Keep allowing yourself the space.”

I started that, and every item on the list that I have now is significant and way beyond what I believe is possible. That’s exactly what’s so great about it. Maybe this all sounds very pie in the sky, but that’s the idea of creating space to explore. What you’re looking for is the stuff that’s 90% or above; important; valuable; significant; game-changing. You’re looking for that. Most of the time, people are just reacting to the latest text, news update, social media posts, news update about someone’s social media posts, and so on. Their mind is consumed with this total trivia. When instead, you could be envisioning turning that off, pausing, and really thinking what could be. Now, I’m not suggesting people go and do those 400 things. That truly would be non-essentialist. But, you first think big and great, and then curate. 

Step two, you start to look through the list and say, “Okay, well. Which of these things really matter to me?” You keep coming back to them. You start selecting them. Which things could I actually go after next? But my goodness, the exercise is so superb. What I’ve learned about it is that what starts as seeming impossible starts to seem improbable, then implausible; then maybe it’s doable; then maybe it’s achievable; and then suddenly it starts to feel like it’s going to happen. And all the while, the items that you are used to work on are irrelevant. You don’t want to spend any time doing that stuff if you can help it. That’s what I think.

Robert Leonard  21:55

The other side of this that’s so interesting, too, is it’s not only just deciding what’s essential or what’s the most important thing. It’s also learning what to say no to. I know you think that’s such an important practice, so talk to us a bit about how it’s not just finding out what’s important. But it’s also how you learn to say no to things.

Greg McKeown  22:13

Everybody says no all the time. The question is whether they’re saying no to the important essential stuff or the trivial stuff. That’s the whole issue. As soon as you have a library, you have way more than you could ever read. As soon as the internet existed, you literally have more options and ideas that you could learn and study and all that than you could possibly consume. So, we are saying no every time we make any decision to do anything. What I’m encouraging people to do is to make sure you’re saying no to the trivial stuff. Let the important, essential, the vital few, come up to the surface.

Think of Steve Jobs when he went back to Apple, a company that’s months from bankruptcy at that time. He has 330 products. What’s his intuition? This is amazing to me. If you were trying to save a company and you had months to do it, and the company has 330 products, what would you do? Because I think what most people would do is, “Okay, everyone. Let’s have an all-hands. Let’s really go for it guys. Let’s go after all of these things. We’ve got a lot of products. We have to just up our game on this.” It might be a kind of inclination. His orientation is completely different, and I want people to be thinking right now, “Why did he act this way? What did he have to believe to act this way?”

What he did was eliminate 320 of those products. So, he’s down to 10 products neatly divided into two by twos, four product categories. That is what he did. You’d have to believe something about the world in order to operate that way. You’d have to believe like an essentialist. You believe that only a few things matter and your job is to find them, and not just go along with everything and what everyone’s doing. You do not just do things because HP is doing them or Microsoft’s doing them, or someone else is doing them in your category. But because you believe in them, and you really have done the work to find that they really matter. They excite you, and you want to go do them. This, of course, is the key to the whole renaissance of Apple. This is the journey. This is the key to them becoming the most valuable company in the world, whatever we happen to be measuring. So, that’s an example of the elimination at work in quite an extreme way.

Robert Leonard  24:19

I remember hearing in one of your videos or one of your talks that you gave, about this a one-word answer to why Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have been so successful. Talk to us a bit about that.

Greg McKeown  24:30

The story is told in snowball that when they first met because Bill Gates’s mother would have these dinners and lunches and so on, and she invited Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to come, and they were chatting. They went around the room, and she asked the question, “Okay, give us one word. Why are you successful? One word.” And both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett said, “Focus.” That is what it was.

The relationship between Bill Gates and Warren Buffett is also worth [noting]. That’s the way it begins, but it’s interesting to watch as it’s evolved. Bill Gates at that time, rather, he’s the CEO of Microsoft. His calendar was packed full with so many things, with so many different directions. And he meets Warren Buffett, and they were talking about schedules. Warren Buffett pulled out of his pocket his paper calendar, flips through it, and shows him his schedule for the week. In one of the weeks, there’s one item scheduled for Warren Buffett’s calendar, and it was to get his haircut. He protects his time so conscientiously. He was so disciplined. Why? Because he wants to create space to keep exploring all the different options, and then say no to almost all of them.

Warren Buffett says it this way. He’s quoted as having said, “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” This is the line. You can see it in Bill Gates, when he then later goes on to start his Think Weeks, where a week for every six months, he’s cutting out all noise and just reading, trying to connect the dots, and trying to understand what matters and what doesn’t matter. Why is he doing that? How could you justify a week of your schedule? Maybe it doesn’t sound too extreme to everybody listening right now, but as soon as you imagine doing it yourself, it still sounds extreme. None of us have anything like the excuse that Bill Gates does in the midst of all of that noise as Microsoft takes over the world. This massively growing, exponentially growing company.

He gets it. You’re going to spend a week because otherwise, you’re going to miss what? You’re going to miss the few essential one or two things…the trends that are going to shape years and years within the technology industry. I was just speaking at an event, where the CEO of VMware said, “I’ve learned that you don’t even have to be the best in your market. You just need to be on the right side of the trend.” You don’t have to be incredible, but you got to be on the right side of the trend. That’s how powerful trends are. This is the idea. You’re going to find those few things that really matter and ride those trends. Ride those waves for a long time, so that the best trends are serving you all the time, rather than you’re fighting against [them].

Robert Leonard  26:57

This whole conversation is really speaking to me because it’s something that I’m trying to focus on here in 2020. I made a goal this year to not read any new books, because over the last two years, I’ve averaged about 40 or 50 books a year, and I said, “Am I really understanding the main concepts out of all of these books? Am I getting what’s essential out of these books? Am I understanding it and grasping it and applying it?” I knew the answer was no. So, I decided that I was not going to read any new books. I was only going to go back and read old books that I’ve already read before, and really make sure I understood and took out everything I could. So I’m excited. I love this conversation that we’re having. 

I want to talk about Gary Vaynerchuk for a second because he’s obviously a social media mogul, and he’s all over the place these days. One of the things he often talks about is how he believes a lot of his success has come from working on a lot of different things at the same time. While, Gary Keller, who’s also been very successful, the best selling author of The ONE Thing, talks about how people should only focus on exactly that. Just one thing. Is there a time and a place to not focus on one thing? Is it maybe dependent on the person?

Greg McKeown  28:02

We’ve touched on this conceptually already, which is that you’ve got to explore first. The first principle of essentialism is not elimination. Sometimes people forget that. It’s so compelling, the idea of elimination. “Oh, my goodness! How can I say no?” The tension is brought to that.

The principle; the first element of essentialism is exploration: to find out what matters. Connect the dots. And so, you do need to invest a disproportionate amount of your time to be in that mode, but not to go and commit to everything. You want to be exploring and connecting the dots. This is Steve Jobs on campus walking between the different classrooms, and he quits. He quits. Actually, still attending university, but he still goes and explores and learns and sees and wants to connect the dots. That’s Warren Buffett not backing up every single thing in his calendar. That’s not laziness on his part. That’s not being disengaged in his part. That is a strategic, disciplined, and passionate choice because he’s trying to make the greatest contribution he can make.

What I find is that the best entrepreneurs are doing this duality. Extreme exploration followed by extreme elimination. I was with a co-founder of Airbnb a little while ago, Brian Chesky. He told me the story, first of all, about the early days of Airbnb. It follows the map with respect to the beginning. In the beginning, he said, “We were all over the place. We’re exploring all sorts of things.” They had an idea for cereal, at one point. They were going to make cereal. They almost were a cereal company, but no one really wanted to invest in their idea. It was politically themed cereal, no less. This doesn’t sound like a super good idea, but I guess Airbnb didn’t sound like a super good idea at the beginning, right? Renting an air mattress in somebody else’s house. It’s a bit wild, too. But then they had this situation, where they had an investor conference coming up. 90 days in the future and they said, “Okay, this is it. It’s time to get serious. We have 90 days to prove that we are ramen profitable, which meant that if they ate ramen noodles three times a day, they would be technically profitable at the end of 90 days. He said, “That was the most focused we’ve ever been as a company. Then or since, for 90 days, we lived and breathed that single goal to try and prove that this could work.” And at the end of 90 days, they did. They got that first round of funding, and they’re off the races.

When he was telling me the story, he said he had just sent out an email to his whole group. He reiterated this to me. The whole company was certainly many thousands of employees by the time he was talking to me about this. He said that he had just sent out this email. In it, he said, “Look, my biggest concern with the company is we’re going to do too many things. We’re going to be pulled into too many different directions by our success. And our challenge,” number two concern for him, “is we’re not going to come up with the next big thing.” That may sound like a contradiction, but if you followed the thread of this conversation today, it’s not a contradiction. This is exactly the idea. Yes, explore, but don’t follow everything. Don’t invest in every good new idea and just keep going on it. Explore. Think. Go broad. Go bold, then be just as bold in your editing. Become a chief editing officer. Edit all the junk out.

I’m writing a new book now, and the process is exactly as I’m describing it. I explored for years, much longer than most authors take. You’re supposed to write a book 18 months after your first book. My agent in publishing has been ready for that for years now, but I just kept on exploring, thinking, and learning. I tried to make sure I’m in the right direction and explored much more broadly. Then over time, keep whittling it down until you find something that hopefully is really relevant to people. And I think that we have that now. I really *inaudible* about what it is, but I’m really excited about our direction. I think it’s going to be relevant to a lot of people, and be the right idea. That’s what we want. We don’t need 10 books. Nobody needs 10 books, where we do it every six months, popping out a new book. What we want is something that’s right and works.

Robert Leonard  31:59

I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait till it comes out so I can give it a read.

What is a common piece of advice that you often hear given by other experts that you don’t think is necessarily true? And how would you make that into good advice?

Greg McKeown  32:13

I think that sometimes the idea of being passionate is an over-emphasized piece of advice. “Do what you’re passionate about. Follow your passion. Follow your passion!” There’s something right about that, but it’s overdone. And it’s overdone to the extent that some other really important things get underemphasized.

For example, Steve Martin. Surely, the first thing we should be thinking about: “The advice to follow your passion is perfectly okay, but only if it’s kept in its proper bounds.” It’s a little bit like the separation of powers. It’s fine to pursue one’s passion, but not to the extent that you don’t develop competency and become great at something. Steve Martin’s asked all the time, “Oh, how do I get an agent? How do I get in? How do I get to show? How do I get in?” He says shouldn’t at least, one of the first questions be, “How can I be great at this thing? Competence first?” He’s fond of saying, “Be so great, be so good they can’t ignore you.” And I really think that he’s right.

Figure out what your actual competency is, and keep developing it into something meaningful. I have underestimated the effect of this in my life. I have sometimes underestimated how competency has developed over the years. Sometimes people will say, “I’d like to teach. I’d like to be able to be a speaker soon. I’d like to have a bestselling book.” Generally, my inclination, at least, is to say, “Well, good! You can! Go do this great thing. You can.” But I have sometimes found that…I gave that advice to somebody and they did. They ran after it to do it, and they gave up the thing they were actually competent in. I had underestimated how over 20 years, I’ve developed whatever extent I have competency as a writer, in teaching, in speaking, and in working with companies, and it all adds up. For 20 years, I have been focused on these areas. It all adds up. So, if you want to do it, it’s great. Just be willing to go put in the years before you become really competent at it. Then, you have every reason to expect that you will be able to do great things.

Robert Leonard  34:14

What is the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone listening to the show today that wants to achieve more success in life, investing, and business?

Greg McKeown  34:27

Ultimately, it’s got to be less, but better. Explore, yes, but do fewer things. A friend of mine, who is now the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner. He says it slightly differently. He says, “Fewer things done better,” but it’s the same idea. Another way it was said brilliantly in a book by Morten Hansen. He did research on 5,000 employees trying to not only discern, but also scientifically demonstrate the difference between the average performance and superior performance. The most important correlated data he found, he wrote up as a phrase, “First less, then obsess.” That was a lovely way of saying, again, a similar idea: “Fewer things done better.”

Robert Leonard  35:14

Greg, thanks so much for your time. I personally really enjoyed this conversation. I think for the millennial audience that’s listening today, I think it’s a message that they need to hear with so much information thrown at us, whether it be social media or just all kinds of different avenues. I think it’s a really important message to get out there, especially these days.

Where can the audience go to connect with you and just learn more about all the things you have going on?

Greg McKeown  35:38

I do write a newsletter. I wasn’t for quite a while, but I’ve actually found my passion, my voice as I’m usually passionate *inaudible*. And so, I’ve been writing more recently again on the newsletters. Enjoy the conversation and the ongoing pursuit of less, but better.

Robert Leonard  35:58

I’ll be sure to put a link to that in the show notes, so you guys can go check it out. I’ll also put links to all of Greg’s social media and his book. Everything will be in the show notes. You guys can go check it out. I highly recommend it. I know I really enjoyed the content, so I think you guys will as well.

Greg, thanks so much for coming on the show.

Greg McKeown  36:13

It’s my pleasure! Thanks for having me.

Robert Leonard  36:15

All right, guys. That’s all I had for this week’s episode of Millennial Investing. I’ll see you again next week.

Outro  36:22

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