Hidden Genius: The Atlas Society Asks Polina Pompliano

January 18, 2024 01:02:05
Hidden Genius: The Atlas Society Asks Polina Pompliano
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Hidden Genius: The Atlas Society Asks Polina Pompliano

Jan 18 2024 | 01:02:05

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Show Notes

Join CEO Jennifer Grossman for the 188th episode of The Atlas Society Asks where she interviews Polina Pompliano about her new book "Hidden Genius: The Secret Ways of Thinking That Power The World's Most Successful People." Founder of The Profile, Polina shares some simple, actionable habits that have helped some of the most recognizable people in the world achieve their success.

Polina Marinova Pompliano is the founder of The Profile, a media organization that studies successful people and companies in business, tech, sports, and entertainment. Previously, she spent five years at Fortune, where she wrote more than 1,300 articles interviewing some of the most influential dealmakers, including Melinda Gates, Steve Case, and Chamath Palihapitiya.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hi everyone, and welcome to the 188th episode of the Atlas Society asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. My friends call me Jag. I am the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit introducing young people to the ideas and literature of Ein ran in fun, unconventional ways, including music and animated videos and graphic novels. Today, we are joined by Paulina Pompliano. Before I even begin to introduce our guests, I want to remind all of you who are watching us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube. You can use the comment section to type in your questions, and we'll get to as many of them as we can. But I have to warn you, I really like this book, so I have a lot of questions of my own. Paulina Pompliano is the founder of the Profile, a media organization that studies successful people and companies in business, tech, sports, and entertainment. In her new book, hidden Genius, the secret Ways of thinking that power the world's most successful people, Polina discusses the simple and actionable habits that have helped some of the most recognizable people in the world achieve their success. Previously, she spent five years at Fortune, where she wrote more than 1300 articles, interviewing some of the most influential dealmakers, including Melinda Gates, Steve Case, and Steve Schwartzman. Paulina, thanks for joining us. [00:01:38] Speaker B: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited. [00:01:41] Speaker A: So our audience always likes to learn a bit about our guests origin stories. And one aspect of yours that stood out to me was that your family emigrated from Bulgaria to America when you were eight. I'm guessing you were born a couple of years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Did your parents share any stories about what life was like under communist rule? [00:02:08] Speaker B: Yeah. So actually I was born in 91, so a few years after. But both of my parents grew up in it. And my dad's side in particular was very radically outspoken against communism in a time when it wasn't allowed to be outspoken about communism. So a lot of my dad's uncles, grandfathers, cousins were sent to labor camps, to prison. Some were killed for just the way they thought or what they said in some instances. So when communism fell, my dad was in his mid twenty s and I was born, but he still went out in the streets and participated in these pro democracy protests which turned into these crazy situations where the police were beating them up with batons and tear gassing and all this stuff. So when I asked him why, like, you had a young kid, why were you doing this? It was dangerous. And he said that basically what the young people in Bulgaria wanted was this democracy that they saw in America, but they didn't quite understand what that. So when they know this was a democratic government, the government used their lack of information against them to manipulate them and be like, look, this is democracy. And my dad was like, it wasn't democracy. It was just another form of oppression. So my dad became really disillusioned with Bulgaria as a whole. And really, really, his dream was to move to the United States. So every year he applied for a green card lottery. And it was something that I think George Bush senior put into effect to kind of diversify. Yeah, that's right. Diversify. What kind of immigrants were coming to the US, because it was largely Canada and Mexico and they wanted more from different countries. So there were 55,000, I think, lottery visas or green cards per year. And each, like, Europe had some, Asia had some, Africa had some. And my dad kept applying. And in 1999, we won. And so it took about a year to interview with the embassy and all that stuff, and we ended up moving to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2000. [00:04:34] Speaker A: Wow. So given your father's experience and knowing a little bit about it, did that at all prime you for your Aynrand journey? Because I understand you read Atlas shrugged in high school and that the Playboy interview is your favorite. And we talked about how definitely we, the living needs to be on your reading list, but tell a little bit about what the stories and those ideas meant to you or how you took them in at the time. [00:05:09] Speaker B: Yeah, well, it was so interesting because I really didn't know anything about Rand or Atlas shrugged when I read it. But after I read it, we read over the summer, and then we came back to school to talk about it in our literature class. And I remember the teacher being like, well, this is a very controversial book and many controversial ideas. And I was like, why? I genuinely didn't know why it was controversial, because to me, it was like my family lived through something very similar. Right, exactly. We know what that's like. And for example, my dad's whole dream was to come to the United States and start a business. He thought that that was the highest form of democracy, and what you could do with your life is be a productive member of society. So I just genuinely didn't understand why it was controversial. And then when I kind of heard and I was like, oh, okay. I think that people who have never lived under communism and have only studied the theoretical aspect of it have a very different view from the people who actually lived. [00:06:16] Speaker A: And, you know, the other thing was in your book, you describe how in Georgia and not having a great grasp of the language, that when you moved again, you wanted to conform. And of course, Aynran's one of her central themes is about individualism. Certainly, that is one of the themes of the fountainhead, right? That you don't need to conform to other people's tastes. So tell a little bit about how those barriers affected in the way you interacted with others and how it informed how you saw yourself. [00:06:58] Speaker B: It is very interesting because I think a lot of kids, of immigrants or kids who immigrated here at a young age would understand this, which is that you come to the United States, all of a sudden you're different. You're like the new kid. You do strange things. For example, I was eating my food with a fork and a knife because that's how you eat food. But I didn't realize in America, you just eat pizza with your hands, like a know. And there were all these things like, we were playing kickball. I didn't know what kickball was or basic cultural differences that I had to get accustomed to. But when you're a kid, all you want to do is fit in. I didn't want to be different. I didn't want to be the new kid at school, all this stuff. So I was like, how can I become the most american? And as a kid, you learn quickly. I learned pretty quickly the language and the cultural norms. So I was able to become like everybody else. But at a certain point, you're just like everybody else, and you have no opinion, and it becomes really lonely because inside you believe one thing, but then outwardly you're like, oh, I don't know, whatever you think. And you have no true opinion. It wasn't until I moved to New York, which I know Rand also likes, that it's truly the one place where I've seen individualism celebrated. And on the subway, walking down the street, you just see so many different types of people, and it becomes kind of a bad thing if you're just conforming. And it's individualism celebrated. So I think here, I really, really found my voice. And then working in journalism at fortune, you have to find a voice and develop your own voice. [00:08:52] Speaker A: So that really helped the next stage. I think that prepared you for the path that you're on now was a little trouble that you had in history class. So talk about that. [00:09:05] Speaker B: Okay, so history was my hardest, most difficult subject in school because I was really bad at remembering and memorizing dates, places, historical events. History. A lot happened in history. So then at one point, I think it was in my european history class we were talking about the French Revolution, and for some reason, the French Revolution, I was like, oh, this is a fascinating story. So when I was studying for the test, I realized that if I could create a story with all these different characters like Marie Antoinette, I could emotionally empathize with them. So I was like, okay, Marie Antoinette was this young queen. She became the symbol of excess, and the commoners, the people hated her, and I understand why. But then she was so young. Did she even know what was happening to her? And then as she was walking to her death, to the guillotine, what was she thinking? She had a young son. All these things, like, did she feel humiliated? The second that I was able to say, what were the emotions that this person was feeling, I was able to put myself in their shoes, and I was able to remember it more. So then it's the first time that I thought of this as, like, people focused learning. So you're not just learning history or just dates and places and whatever happened, but you're really learning about the people themselves. So if the person is at the center of any story or any learning pursuit, stories trigger emotion, and emotion is what triggers memory. When somebody asks you, where were you on 911? You know exactly where you were and what you were doing on September 11 because it was such an emotionally charged situation. So you kind of, like, remember the things around the emotion. And that's how I came across people. Focused learning. [00:10:58] Speaker A: Interesting. All right, then you took that into various jobs, including the five and a half years that you spent at Fortune magazine. Given your focus on tech startups and venture capital, you were no stranger to the statistics showing that the overwhelming majority of new startups fail within a few years of being started. So what gave you the courage and the confidence to go off on your own, to leave this big brand media outlet and start the profile? [00:11:37] Speaker B: Yeah. So, like, you and I were chatting just for a few minutes before the interview. I told you, like, coming to the US was probably the hardest thing that my family has done in terms of, we had no family here, we had no money, no language, nothing in the beginning, and then we had to build it all up. The reason that I'm not afraid of uncertainty as much as other people who haven't had that kind of experience is because I know that even if something's completely taken from you, you have the skills necessary to rebuild, in whatever sense. When I was thinking about leaving fortune, obviously I was nervous because I was like, oh, man, five and a half years, I'm a big deal now. I'm an editor at Fortune magazine until you realize you could get fired, laid off, et cetera, and that could be taken from you. So in 2020, as I was, like, making a pro and con list of should I stay or should I go? On my con list were things like that could happen, right? So if I leave and start my own company, we're at the tail end of a ten year cycle. Usually there's a recession. Am I going to quit my job and start something in the beginning of a recession and all these things? And then the one thing that I didn't account for, because nobody could, it was a global pandemic. And so it just taught me, like, you can plan for everything, you can try to look around the corner, but there's always going to be something uncertain that hits you in the face and you just have to deal with it, and you don't know how you'll react until you're in the moment. So, like you said, as a child, I probably saw more things than most kids who are very sheltered. So that helped me kind of understand, like, the world's an unpredictable place and sink or swim, and you're going to have to do it. And I didn't know if it was going to work out, but what I did know was that I'm the type of person that when I pour my entire focus and energy into something, I will make it work. So even if it wasn't that, even if I failed miserably, I know that I would learn. And even if I had to go back and take a full time job at a media company somewhere, I would have the skills to get hired again. [00:14:03] Speaker A: Interesting. So in an age where everything is increasingly politicized and there's pressure to conform to one political tribe or another, certainly we saw that during COVID a lot of intolerance for people that took dissenting views on some of the interventions. And so many media projects have succumbed to the allure of confirming or even pandering to the biases of their audiences. Few outlets, I think the free press is one of them, managed to maintain independence. Has that been a challenge or an issue for what you do at the profile? [00:14:52] Speaker B: So it hasn't, and I think it hasn't because when I started, I was very clear that this wouldn't be like a political thing. When I curate profiles, like you said, it's tech, media, sports across every industry, pretty much. I very rarely include profiles of political candidates because I find that so many of them are so slanted and it's like, well, this isn't actually great journalism because it's not objective and you're not even trying to be objective. It's just like, here's what I think, and I'm going to kind of hide behind facts. It's not like that. So I avoid that. I avoid political candidate profiles. But also on top of that, because I write something at the top of every newsletter that's more like personal or what I think I like, in a weird way, throwing things in where people, right when they thought they knew where I lean or whatever, how I think I throw something in and they're like, oh, wait a second. That doesn't conform to what I thought she believed. And I think part of it is I genuinely don't think that every person's belief system falls into a two party, political whatever world. In Europe, there's like 17 different political parties. So it's very hard to be like, I'm this or I'm that. And here there's two major ones, and people have contorted themselves into fitting into one bucket. Yeah. You know exactly who they are when they open their mouth. And I think, thanks to my experiences in Bulgaria, in Georgia, and in New York, you can't do that to me. And I like that. [00:16:39] Speaker A: I like it. Yeah. I mean, I read the book. I was like, I have no idea what this person's political views are. And I don't really care because I got a lot out of the book, including your first chapter, which dealt with one of my favorite topics, which is creativity. You write that for centuries, we've treated creativity as something outside of our control. It's a talent, it's a gift, it's a muse. But you describe it as a skill that can be learned. How so? [00:17:12] Speaker B: Yeah. So I didn't know this when I went into writing the book, but as I was doing more research, I was like, wow. A lot of these words refer to something outside of the person's control. It was like, this is a gift given to you by the muses, which has this divine aspect to it. But in reality, creativity, I think, is a skill that can be developed. Some people aren't. They say they're not creative, but I think they're not creative because they haven't put energy into doing that. When I was writing the book, I couldn't just wait for the muses because I had to have, like, butt in chair writing every day or otherwise. The deadline. Exactly. So my favorite example of this is there's this chef called Grant Ackitz. And he has this really innovative restaurant called alinia in Chicago, and he's, like, at the forefront of innovation, and it's so interesting. And he surprises the guests with all these things. So the restaurant was voted, like, number one restaurant in the world. He was riding high, and then all of a sudden, he was diagnosed with stage four tongue cancer. And for a chef, that is a death sentence. Like, how can you be an innovative chef if you can't taste? And what he learned, I was watching this documentary, and he was like, what people don't realize is that he was like, taste isn't here. It's here. And he points to his head. So the whole idea is that actually taste is developed by your vision and your smell, much more so than your taste buds on your tongue. And he, ironically enough, when he was going through chemo and he was going through treatment and completely lost his taste buds, he says that was the singular most creative time in his life, because he was able to reason and think into creativity more so than just waiting for the muses. So it's a creative process rooted in logic, which I love. And he created all sorts of different techniques to do this. But the one thing that he did, he was like, basically, I wanted the guest to come in and look at a strawberry, eat it, and it's actually a tomato. So he's like, using deception. Your eyes are failing your taste and all this stuff. It's very interesting. But I think that the point is that when you are constrained is actually when you can be the most creative. [00:19:54] Speaker A: Interesting. So I remember speaking of creativity, one of my counterparts, someone who runs a large student organization, asked me genuinely, how do you come up with so many creative ideas for the Atlas society? And you describe creativity as a skill that can be learned, but I also think of it as a mindset that can be cultivated. And for me, it all comes back to how we at the outlaw society approach the philosophy of objectivism. Rather than treating it as some kind of closed dogma, we see it as open. And that means we're more willing to think independently and take creative risks and collaborate with people who aren't in lockstep with all of our views. So how do people constrain their creative potential? By fear of making mistakes or coloring outside the lines of what's been prescribed. [00:20:58] Speaker B: Yeah, I love this question, because the first person that comes to mind is Spanx founder Sarah Blakely. And when she was starting her business, which is like, she took pantyhose and cut the feet off of it to make shapewear, what we now know as shapewear, but at the time, that didn't exist. She said, I was an outsider. I didn't know fashion at all. I completely came in blind, but with my own experience. And so she said that she believes that every single person on the planet has had a million dollar idea in their life. The reason that most people haven't acted on that million dollar idea is because they ended up telling family and friends before it was ready, before they were ready to act on it. So those ideas never actually had the opportunity to develop into something meaningful. And she didn't tell anyone about Spanx until she already had everything ready. She had the patent, she had the legal entity, she had everything ready and set up to go. And that's when she told people, because she didn't want to hear the remarks of, this is stupid. If it was a good idea, it would already exist, or like, somebody would have already started it. All this stuff. So, like you said, when you fear, the way to not fear what other people think is just to keep it to yourself until it's more mature and then tell people instead of letting them squash it before it's ready. [00:22:31] Speaker A: Yeah. And I think also having enough self esteem to not be so reliant on other people's evaluations of your work and your worth and your ideas. And that is a confidence that I think is also born of experience. And it can be a confidence born of having made mistakes and survived. So, turning to that now, in your chapter on mental toughness, you use the example of David Goggins, former Navy SeaL, an ultra distance athlete, who argues that we should not only manufacture hardship, but seek it out on a daily basis. What? How does choosing the path of most resistance unlock hidden genius? [00:23:29] Speaker B: Yeah. And if you know David Goggins'story, it's fascinating. He really built himself into this ultra athlete. And his point is that most of society is very sheltered, very soft, cannot handle these big life events that will inevitably knock you to your knees. Right? So every single human will undergo some sort of really big hardship, whether they like it or not. You'll lose your job, or you might lose a relationship, or someone close to you will probably die at some point. And if you are not resilient and you're not used to dealing with these hardships, you might have a crisis, you might not be able to go on. So his point is that by exposing ourselves to tiny moments of hardship every single day, he calls it callousing the mind. You create friction so that when the big moments come, you're more prepared mentally, and in his case, physically. And that's the thing. Most people think of that as physical things. So. Oh, I have a marathon coming up. I need to train every single day to prepare for this big event. But actually, if you think about it, you can apply this to if you really hate negotiating for a raise at work with your boss, don't wait until you have to negotiate your raise. But instead, today, go sell something on Facebook marketplace and try negotiating with a person who wants to buy it. It's things like that where every single day, by putting yourself in uncomfortable, even slightly uncomfortable situations, can prepare you for the really uncomfortable situation. [00:25:11] Speaker A: And they will come. Speaking of experience, Nietzsche says that which does not kill you makes you stronger, but it's not automatic. I really think that it's a choice. And I learned this the hard way when catastrophe came for me in the form of my house burning down along with 55 others in our community. And I remember thinking, okay, I lost my house. What else can I lose? I could lose my job. I could lose my relationships. I could lose my health. So I focused not just on rebuilding this one thing, but on maintaining other things, because I was like, all right, I've sunk down from where I was. I need to get back up there, so I can't sink down any further. So when I looked around how different neighbors handled it, I found not everybody was able to be successful in doing that. And I think that, in retrospect, even something that was a pretty traumatic thing prepared me. It's a horrible thing. I don't want it to happen to everybody. And I hate all of the. Oh, at least this or the silver lining. But one thing is that I do feel more prepared, less attached for the next big thing, whether it is the loss of a loved one or illness or whatever. So what are some hidden genius tactics for leveraging loss to your longer term advantage and not getting stuck in that mindset? [00:27:02] Speaker B: Yeah. I've always been fascinated how two people can go through a very similar experience, and one, it changes them in this way, and the other person goes this way, and it's completely different mindsets, yet they went through the same experience. I think it's Esther Perrell. Who. She's a therapist, couple therapist, psychotherapist. Her parents were both in the holocaust. And she says something along the lines of, there are those who lived and those who didn't die. So it's like a slight nuance, but the ones who lived really went on to celebrate life and be thankful and have these families and the ones who didn't die were kind of kept in the prison of the mind. What they just survived was really awful. So I read this book. It's called the choice. It's written by a Holocaust survivor named Edith Eva Eager. And she, in it, she says that suffering is universal. And there's two types of victim mindset. Basically, there's victimization, which every person in this world will have been victimized at some point in their life. She's like, she defines this as your house burns down, or the neighborhood bully or the spouse that cheats on you, or things that are outside of your control in a way that the world is victimizing you. She's like, that's going to happen. But then there's victimhood, and that comes from the inside, in which we victimize our own selves by thinking in these really negative thought loops, which is blaming, worrying, just a lot of negativity that we impose on ourselves. And I have this quote somewhere. I have to find it. But basically she says something like, we become our own jailers when we choose the confines of the victim's mind. So if you work really hard not to give in to the self imposed victimhood, you can, like you said, be like, okay, what can I lose? And then how can I become more self sufficient in a way? So, one technique that I learned that I thought was really interesting, a lot of athletes do this, but anybody can do this. It's that there's a difference between listening to yourself and talking to yourself. So when something bad happens, the first instinct is for us to be like, oh, my God, how am I going to go on? This is horrible. I have no options. This is it. That's listening to yourself. When you're running a marathon and you start to kind of fall apart, you're like, oh, my leg hurts. My head hurts, my arm hurts, everything hurts. But then there's talking to yourself, which is, again, if we're doing the marathon example, when you start talking to yourself, you're acting as, like, a coach to yourself. You're saying, okay, your leg hurts, but you have three more miles to go, and then it's over. You don't have to think about this again. Your leg is not going to hurt forever. All this stuff, and a lot of it's cool. I was watching these videos of football players. They attach microphones to them, and right before a game, they're like, all right, you got this. This is what you've worked your whole life for. And they call themselves, like, I'd be like, paulina, this is what you've worked for. They talk to themselves like a coach. So I think that that's so interesting to ask yourself right now. Am I listening to myself or am I talking to myself? [00:30:31] Speaker A: All right. And in terms of listening and reading some of the questions that we've got quite a few coming from our audience. Jackson Sinclair was the first to the gate on Facebook, and he's asking, paulina, looking at Bulgaria when you were born and now have you gone back? Do you think it has improved? What's your perspective? [00:30:55] Speaker B: Yeah, I try to go back once a year. So we went last year. I now have two little kids, so I want them to see it because, like you said, you need perspective. And I think that grit is really hard to teach. I don't know that anybody could have taught me the lessons that I learned from those early days being so unspeakably difficult unless I went through them. Right. So I want my own kids to go there, see what it's like, go see their grandparents, all this stuff, and be like, yeah, not everybody lives like we do in the United States, and this is what they believe. I think the most interesting thing to me when I go back now is that most people would think, oh, Melina must feel like an outsider in the United States because she wasn't born here. This is a different culture, et cetera. And then she must feel like an insider in Bulgaria. But actually, I've learned that I now feel more like an outsider going to Bulgaria than I do here because people just think fundamentally differently. And the communism that went on for decades there, it does make a difference in people's mentality and the way they see the world. They're not as free thinking as we are here. They don't spend their time talking about ideas and whatever. So it's like, when I'm there, it's totally mean. I love America. I think we all know that. But I do enjoy going there and seeing family and wanting to expose my kids. [00:32:38] Speaker A: Your children. Yeah. Well, that dovetails into this question that we have from Candice Morena on Facebook, and I think you've already partly answered it. And that is, what do you think is something that was really helpful in your upbringing but is lacking in most young people growing up today and maybe even how you might be applying that to your own kids? [00:33:03] Speaker B: Yeah. Okay. So I think the best thing my parents did, and my dad should be watching right now. I hope he is. But the best thing that they did was I had a lot of interest as a kid. So both of my parents were chemical engineers. They met in college, and they were chemical engineers. So I thought that I would be some sort of scientist when I grew up, but it just did not come naturally to me. I did not like doing the experiments. I didn't like science. I didn't like any of it. I liked writing, and I liked writing the lab reports. I liked writing the research papers. That's what gave me life. I knew that that was kind of an interest, but I didn't know what I wanted to do or anything. But the thing that they did that I don't think most parents do is that they let me try a bunch of things, even though they probably knew I might fail, but they still let me do them instead of telling me, like, but you're not good at that. Why would you do that? Just focus on this other thing that you're really good at. So I tried everything. I tried the performing arts thing at my high school. Failed miserably. Soccer, not the best. All this stuff that I wanted to do. But eventually, when you do a bunch of stuff like that, you hit on something that you're really good at and you like. For me, that was finding the newspaper in high school. Once I found that newspaper, I was very, like, an introverted kid. But suddenly, when you have a job to go interview people, you're like, I'm a journalist. I can talk to anyone. And you become a little bit more extroverted, whatever, but you learn. Once I found that I could pair my love for research and writing together, and that was journalism, I was like, this is amazing. I can't believe people would pay me to do this. I think just, like, letting your kids do an array of things, even though you think they might not be the best at it, is really great. [00:34:58] Speaker A: All right, going to take another one. We'll get back to our other questions, and we will come back to audience questions. But like I said, I have a lot of burning questions. On Instagram, Tasha Molier asks, how do you maintain optimism with a 24 hours news cycle that is so negative? Do you just go on a news, try to avoid the news, or what do you do? [00:35:27] Speaker B: So this is actually a central reason why I started my newsletter, the profile. When I did it was February 2017, and I was working at Fortune covering technology and news and whatever. But if you remember 2017, there was a lot of clickbait and a lot of just things that weren't very interesting to me. Stories with so many anonymous sources, you lose track. It was just a bad time for journalism, I think. So to get out of that cycle, I started reading a lot of really deeply reported long form profiles. And I was like, at least you get some context and nuance about a person instead of reading these 300 word clickbait stories. So when I started doing that, I was like, and I'm going to use this as a conversation starter with family and friends. So I started an email to send seven or eight really long form, interesting profiles I had read that week to family and friends, and we would talk about them, but then that email turned into my newsletter, the profile. And so I kind of got out of that negativity loop by finding the thing that I really enjoyed, which was like, deeply reported articles that give you context about a person beyond just, they voted for this person, they're this type of person, whatever. So that's how. And I really do think that if you're unhappy with something, you can create something for yourself. It's the same thing with the people focused learning. I was not happy with how I was being taught in school, so I taught myself a way that worked. [00:37:09] Speaker A: Interesting. All right, well, getting back to your book, in your chapter on leadership, you describe how when individuals or companies find themselves in a crisis, creativity and experimentation are the first thing out the window. [00:37:27] Speaker B: They freeze. [00:37:28] Speaker A: And that really resonated with me because, again, I remember during the spring of 2020 when lockdown meant that all of our conferences and travel were upended by these government edicts, we had a choice. Other organizations essentially froze their operations and applied for government bailout funds, which came with their own list of restrictions. We took a different way. We rejected government funding and embraced 2020 as the year of experimentation and innovation, resulting in things like this podcast. So, from your enormous research on successful leaders, what are some examples of those who got creative when the going got really tough? [00:38:20] Speaker B: So I think the key is to not wait until there's like a black swan moment to get creative or reinvent. So the thing that I learned from Grant Atkins, the chef I was talking about earlier, is like, okay, how is his restaurant so innovative year after year? The truth is that when most people hit on something successful, that success starts to breed complacency, and they become complacent. And they think because they're at the top now, they're always going to stay at the top. And that's obviously not the case. So what Grant does with his team is, he says, every six months, I don't care what's going on in the world, and I don't care how successful our menu is, we're just going to blow it up every six months. We're going to start from scratch. New menu, new everything, new experience. And his team will be like, Grant, this is the best menu we've ever had. People love this. Are you kidding me? Can we just keep this one part? And he's like, no, because if you're not constantly disrupting yourself, somebody else will come in and disrupt you. So it's like every six months. That's so true. Yeah, if you do that every six months, and when the really big things happen, it doesn't matter because you're just doing what you've always done. [00:39:34] Speaker A: Interesting. All right. Another totally new concept that I got from your book was this idea of iliism. Honestly, I hadn't even heard of it before. So what is it, and how can it be helpful in maintaining objectivity and overcoming the victim mindset? [00:39:56] Speaker B: Yes, this is a really cool tool. Ilism is more of, like, a literary device that's used, but therapists sometimes use it with their clients. Iliism is the act of referring to yourself in the third person. So I might be like, paulina is moving back to New York City. She's so excited. It's like, why are you talking about yourself in the third person? That's weird. So it's generally not seen as a good thing. It makes you look kind of egotistical and grandiose and whatever, but athletes do it a lot. You've heard LeBron James say, this is good for LeBron. What are you talking about? You are LeBron. But the reason it's used is because a lot of people use that to create an alter ego. A lot of athletes do this because they have kind of an or ego on the field, but it's a form of self distancing and self distancing sometimes from your own self can give you a little bit of space and to help you manage your emotions better. So, for example, I used to be really introverted and really nervous speaking in front of people, except when you are a reporter at Fortune magazine, you have to go interview people on stage in front of 300 people. Let's say, how are you going to do that? And so I had to create another version of myself where I'm like, I'm confident, I'm great. When I'm on stage, I'm speaking to people, even though that's not how I may be in real life. We've seen this with Beyonce. She created Sasha fierce. Beyonce actually was not this powerhouse. Very extroverted. She was really shy and didn't like being in front of people. But that's her job. So she created this alter ego of, like, okay, Sasha fears is this kind of person. This kind of person. And then over time, those two entities get closer, and you become that. But iliasm is interesting because it's that, like, talking to yourself idea. When you are your own coach, you're talking to yourself as if you're another person. So it gives you a little bit of distance between, oh, I'm the victim. I'm whatever. And when you look at it from a distance, you're like, okay, but I can be this more confident, more logical, less emotional person. [00:42:20] Speaker A: Right. Well, it really resonates with me, because I remember after the board recruited me to run the Atlas society, and I needed to do a lot of reorganization, and I ended up hiring somebody that I had worked with, like, ten years ago or more when I was running a nutrition institute at Dole Food company. So I hired her. And her seeing me in this new role, she's like, where is my former boss? And what did you do with her? Because she remembered me as somebody who always had my door closed. I did not want to talk to anybody. I did not want to meet with anybody. And here I was giving speeches and giving interviews. And I think exactly the way that you described it. For me, it's like acting. Yeah. And even acting, even though it's not, like, my default state, but even by pretending that I'm really this person that just loves getting up on stage and being in front of the camera, I think it also begins to change you and know it's like the fake it till you make it. So here you go. Another gem that I found in your book was you shared Mark Bertoli's four levels of taoist leadership, which he described as, the first level, your employees hate you. The second level, your employees fear you. The third level, your employees praise you. And then the fourth level is, you're invisible because your organization takes care of itself. Is it fair to say that the best leaders find ways to make their roles obsolete or at least less pivotal in the long term success of their organization? [00:44:19] Speaker B: Yeah. And it's counterintuitive, right? Because everybody wants to be like, look, I'm this great CEO, because if you take credit for everything, then you can go to your board and be like, look, the company can't operate without me, but that's actually bad if you want longevity for the company itself. So Mark said, I interviewed him. I think it was two years ago or last year. He said, basically, the most exceptional leaders do two things. One, they kind of understand their employees needs. And two, they get the hell out of the way. And the reason for that is exactly what you want. If you ever sell your company, you want it to continue operating without you because you've trained everybody so well and everybody knows their role so well and can operate without you. A good example of this is Spotify CEO Daniel Eck. He believes in this idea of servant leadership where it's not a top down leadership style, it's kind of bottoms up. So he sees his role as CEO not as you do this, you do that, but more of, I'm here to listen to what the employees want to do and throw resources at them and help make it happen. So there was this group at Spotify that was working on this tiny project and they're really excited about it. So they were like, daniel, can we show you this? And he was like, okay. So they were like, okay, what if every person on Spotify could have a personalized playlist they could listen to? He was like, I mean, it's okay. I think the idea is okay, but I don't think it's anything interesting or exceptional. But fine, feel free to keep working on it. And then one day, Daniel Eck, the CEO, reads an article online saying that this thing was fully shipped to the public, so now it's available on Spotify. He's like, I did not know this was going to happen. And he said he remembers reading the article and thinking, oh, my God, this is going to be a huge disaster. That playlist, as many of you know, became Spotify's discover Weekly, which is like now its most loved feature. But it says so much about the culture of that organization that those people didn't. They felt so confident working on it, even after their boss wasn't that excited about the idea and shipping it to the public without his mean, at most organizations, you'd be fired. But it just shows, like, Spotify is very much know you make this company what it is. I'm just here to power the process. So I think that's a really great example of how if you want longevity and success in the future, you have to put your company and your employees in a position where they can succeed without you. [00:47:10] Speaker A: And yet, of course, there are limits, because when the employees of, oh, Joe Rogan, we don't want him. [00:47:22] Speaker B: That's right. [00:47:23] Speaker A: They said, you know what? Sorry. [00:47:26] Speaker B: Yeah. And I think there's also values and fundamentals that the company is founded on. So what is the saying? Write your values in stone and your opinions in sand. Something like that. So if your foundational value is we respect free speech and whatever, then there's no going away from that because you stated that as your foundational value, that. [00:47:53] Speaker A: Is a very good distinction. And speaking of journalism and free speech, a gentleman named Ivo Marinoff. [00:48:02] Speaker B: Oh, yes. [00:48:03] Speaker A: Your dad is here, and he says, polly, you are a rebel in your newspaper at the University of Georgia. [00:48:13] Speaker B: Yeah. What did he say? [00:48:15] Speaker A: That's what he said. [00:48:16] Speaker B: That's all he said. [00:48:18] Speaker A: You're a rebel. [00:48:20] Speaker B: It's over. Free speech, essentially, yeah. When I was the editor in chief of University of Georgia's newspaper, when University of Georgia's newspaper, the students have editorial control. So there are no adults, there are no board members. There's just advisors. But the students have final say. And in 2012, when I was editor in chief, this rogue board member came in and tried to take that away, but it was something that the students had fought really hard over in the like. That's not going to happen under my tenure. So if you want to do that, I will no longer be editor in chief. So I stepped down, and then the whole entire staff also stepped down. And then it caught the attention of the New York Times, and it became this big walkout because the students wanted to retain editorial control. But ultimately, we worked it out. And today, the students at the University of Georgia's newspaper still have editorial control. But it was, again, like values and ethics. You have to know what it is. Even though when I was making the decision at the time, people told me, you just have to do what they tell you, because in the real world, you would get fired if you don't do what. But I don't want to work somewhere where my ethics are being questioned. So I'll just leave. [00:49:47] Speaker A: Yeah. Well, there you go. Okay. I'll take a couple of more questions. Alan Norwich on Facebook asks, what do you think was the lowest point in your career and how did you overcome it? [00:50:01] Speaker B: The lowest point was when I graduated from college because I had been the editor of my college paper. I had interned at places like CNN and USA Today. I had so many things that I did in college where professors told me, you've done all the right things. You've checked all the right boxes. You will 100% get this amazing job at a media organization. But when I graduated in 2013, media was going through one of its cycles and nobody was hiring. Instead, actually, people were getting laid off and losing their jobs. So I was like, well, what do I do? And the reason it was the lowest point in my career and is actually lowest probably in personal life, as well, because up until that point, I had always had an identity. I was always a student. I was always an editor, an intern. I had learned to attach my identity to external things that I didn't control, but they were usually titles. And when I graduated with no job and had to move back home and live on my mom's couch, I was like, oh, no, who am I? If I don't have a job, what am I supposed to do? So it made me reflect on this idea of, there comes a time where you need to bet on yourself and learn that your identity isn't attached to something external that you could lose and never do that. When I started my newsletter, the profile, that was the first time where I was like, ooh, I'm starting to really wrap my identity around writer and editor at Fortune magazine, because that gives you immediate respect. When you walk into a room now with the profile, it's just Paulina, it's just me. But you learn that the most powerful thing in life is that your name and is your identity, because it's the ultimate thing that you protect your reputation. If you lose the reputation that your name has. That's really so, like, when Oprah walks into a room, she's just Oprah. Nobody's like, so what do you do for. So that was really low because I was like, I don't know who I am. But it taught me the big lesson of never attach your identity to something you could lose. [00:52:20] Speaker A: I love it. All right, we'll take two more questions. We'll get quick answers to them. And then I want to get to my last question for you on Instagram. Giorgios Alexopoulos is asking, do you think we can move mainstream news away from clickbait practices? Are you optimistic, or is media just going to evolve? Is journalism media going to evolve in a different way? [00:52:46] Speaker B: I actually think you're seeing that. What's being rewarded with the rise of substac and the free press? These are independent journalists who have left places like the New York Times and Fortune and Forbes and whatever, started their own thing. And people are showing that they value their work by backing up with their dollars. So it's no longer like advertising, you know, subscription revenue. I pay for this because I find value in it, and I really do think that that's what's going to become rewarded. Of course, people are people, and they're like, I like salacious headlines that tell me about Bill Ackman and Harvard and whatever, but that stuff is, I don't know. I think that the more that you read, and the more that you evolve in your thinking, you seek out, like, media, better reported things. And my hope is that with things like my newsletter, the profile, and things like the free press and what you guys are doing, that people actually get used to paying for really well reported, long form conversations, long form interviews, and written features just as much as all the riff raft, because sensational news has been, this has happened in the United States before. It's kind of part of the history, but it goes in cycles, and then people get really tired of it. It becomes really dangerous for society, and then it swings back. [00:54:22] Speaker A: Yes, and I like that. And so we're going to make sure that we put the link to the profile if people want to pony up for a subscription there. We're not quite a subscription model, of course. We're a nonprofit. So I see a lot of our regular friends that are here and asking questions. And maybe you're new to the Atlas Society, but our model is through tax deductible donations. So I'm going to ask the Gremlins to put a link to the donate page in the chats as well. Hey, you can start your career as a philanthropist with $5 donation. Feel good about yourself and feel good about what the Atlas Society is doing. All right, I'm not going to give you this question that we don't really have time for, but Thomas Guzman is asking about how you instill grit into kids without suffering. He can't imagine his kids having his kind of grit, but it came at a cost. So, Thomas, I'm going to also ask our gremlins behind the scene to throw into your chat a few links to some of the previous interviews that we have done with people like Lenora scanese and others who are experts on parenting. You might want to check those out. But meanwhile, Paulina, I wanted to say, know as someone running an organization dedicated to promoting reason and objectivity, your 7th chapter, clarifying your thinking, was my favorite. And you describe how the desire for acceptance by your tribe or the search for status by embracing so called luxury beliefs are inimical to objective thought. What are some examples of? [00:56:18] Speaker B: Oh, it's so good. So, Rob Henderson, he's an author, and he coined this term, luxury belief. And the whole idea is that these are the ideas and opinions of the wealthy that actually give them status with other wealthy people but inflict costs on everybody else. So there's ideas like monogamy is outdated. That's really fun and sexy to say to other elite college kids that will gain you social cred but it's actually very dangerous for people who grow up in not great situations in single parent households and all that kind of stuff, or defund the police, that's very great to say. If you're wealthy and you can afford private security or you live in a neighborhood that is very well surveilled and safe, but it's actually not great for people who need the police, and they live in not a safe neighborhood. So it's kind of like people used to show status with designer clothing and handbags and things like that. Now they show status with their opinions. So it's like luxury belief. I like that you said that that was your favorite chapter because that is the most underrated chapter in the whole book. People have never asked me about it, and I love it. It was my favorite because I really learned a lot while writing it. And if you know me, I'm obsessed with the idea of people who join cults, and I love that everyone's always like, I would never do that, and I would never join a cult until you do, because they manipulate you using very much, like, emotion and things like that, because you're not thinking clearly and you're not logical and you're not a rational person, they kind of brainwash you into not being a rational person. So there's this woman, her name is Julia Galeff, and she talks about how there's the idea that you can approach the world as a soldier or a scout, and a soldier's mindset is to defend, to fight, to win. That's ultimately what they want to do. But a scout is out there to survey the terrain and gather facts and take in information. That's kind of the mindset that you want to be, to be a rational person. And she says that you need to celebrate being objective instead of being right, because you should kind of congratulate yourself in being able to argue as dispassionately as you can than just being right. Because I think what a lot of us do is we go into an argument already knowing what the other person will say based on who they are. Especially in today's super polarized world. You see somebody and you're like, I know what they're going to say or what their message is going to be. And her thing is, if you could picture those same words coming out of the mouth of somebody who looked totally different, are you more likely to listen and think about what they're saying versus just judging them based on what they look like? And that's, I think, the ultimate key to being objective and rational is like, I'm going to use the scientific method in my own life and really criticize what the person is saying, but also criticize my own thinking and just constantly ask questions. [01:00:03] Speaker A: Great. Well, another of my favorite publications is our founder David Kelly's seven habits of highly objective people. So we're going to get your mailing address and we're going to send that to you. And another gem that you also shared in that chapter. So objectivists out there, get the book, chapter seven. Go to chapter seven, definitely, if you want to go straight to what for us is the dessert. But again, I also really love the chapter on creativity. And I love the point that you made when talking about objective thought, which was the greatest obstacle to discovery, is not ignorance. It is the illusion of knowledge. It is the dogmatic certainty that is actually a sign not of intellectual strength but of weakness. So really enjoyed this, enjoyed learning about you and your story. And we're going to keep watching you because I have a feeling that you have some more great chapters in your career ahead. So thank you so much, Paulina. [01:01:20] Speaker B: Thank you. [01:01:20] Speaker A: And thanks, everyone, for joining us, including Poli's dad. And if you enjoy this, again, as I mentioned, if you enjoy the work of the Atlas Society, please consider supporting our work with a tax deductible [email protected]. And then you can join me next week. Attorney Bobby Anne Flower Cox is joining us to discuss her historic lawsuit against New York state Governor Kathy Hokel and the unconstitutional, quote, isolation and quarantine procedures regulation during the Covid-19 lockdown. So we'll see you then. Thanks.

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