Episode 0020 · February 17, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

Humility is Fun


Rich Ziade: Everyone, my name is Rich Ziade I’m one half of the Ziade and Ford Podcast, and I’d like to introduce you to my six-year-old co-host Paul Ford. He’s in the first grade. Hi Paul.

Paul Ford: Hi! This is me, Paul Ford. I’m six, uh, the the other co-host.Uh, why did you introduce me as six Rich?

Rich Ziade: Because you’re taking piano lessons.

Paul Ford: Piano lessons is a stretch, there’s this very nice guy with a, with an accent who on Udemy, who teaches a class with like 200 separate installments, and I am learning by watching him.

Rich Ziade: Welcome to the Ziade and Ford Podcast. We’re gonna talk about learning to learn.

Paul Ford: Yay! Well, that’s nice, that sounds nice and generic, but, but here’s what’s up. After we sold our [00:01:00] company, something we’ve talked about, I was like, I should buy something to honor this moment, something I would never normally buy.

Rich Ziade: Ferrari?

Paul Ford: No [chuckles], I went, I went and got a profit, ex synthesizer.

Rich Ziade: Boring.

Paul Ford: It is very boring. Not even expensive compared to like, I mean, it’s just like, it’s expensive for a synth.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Um, but it’s not like a, it wasn’t a fancy thing, but I always wanted one. I always wanted like a good piano in my life.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: Okay, so this one-

Rich Ziade: That sounds fun. A toy, you got yourself a toy.

Paul Ford: A really fancy toy, and it plays, you know, it has like a great piano sample and it also plays all sorts of BBOPs and, and so, so great.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: So I found it for about six months-

Rich Ziade: Fun.

Paul Ford: And I learned how to turn, turn all the knobs. I learned subtractive synthesis and how to make it work.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

And then, um, I started to look at other synths and shop for them and I got kind of like excited about it.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: And then after ordering a few items on the internet, I had a little meeting with myself and I said, are you just gonna buy gear or are you going to actually learn and understand [00:02:00] music?

Rich Ziade: Okay….

Paul Ford: And the way that you understand music theory and kind of in the last 150 years is you do it with the piano.You, you get, you learn how to play piano, it is applied music theory. It’s 12 semitones and arranged in octaves, and you learn the chords and the, you know, the chord progressions and so on. And it kind of starts there, it starts with the keys on the piano. And so I was like, I better do it. So, then it was kind, I was kind of curious, I’m like, will I stick with this?

Rich Ziade: Let me ask you your motivation here, most people who are six years old take piano lessons cause their parents want them to.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: Maybe he’s got a god-given talent and will be a prodigy, so let’s, let’s, let’s try this out. Most people who do it, when they’re 16 years old do it because they wanna perform and they want people to love them and love their music, and they want to be a star.

Paul Ford: Correct.

Rich Ziade: Why in God’s name would a 48 year old [00:03:00] successful former executive want to take piano lessons?

Paul Ford: [Chuckles] There was a point where I was practicing it, and my wife just came into the room and said, I just need to know how far this is gonna go.

Rich Ziade: That’s a fair question.

Paul Ford: Well, cause she’s like, am I gonna have to go to like an event where you’re performing?

Rich Ziade: Why do it?

Paul Ford: I love music. I’ve always loved music. I’ve written about music. I like to listen to music. I know musicians, and I always felt that it was sort of away from me and outside of me. I was a writer, I was a technologist, but I’ve always kept a hand in, I’ve always, you know, had music software on the computer and so on and so forth.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: And there’s, there’s a point of just like, well, who am I gonna be? Am I gonna be a guy who, um, participates and knows how it works and can feel it and can do things with it? And then I was like, boy, yeah, you don’t have any dexterity, you don’t have any particular skills. Your ears okay, but let’s, and I was like, I, maybe I could learn it.It’s literally, I am learning piano [00:04:00] because the exercise of learning, it gives me a place to focus my energy and my mind.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Paul Ford: And because I, and it’s, I’m like, I need a hobby.

Rich Ziade: Okay, uh, I think this is great, and I’ll tell you why I think it’s great. First off, there are very, there are many passive hobbies you could collect, you know, stamps, you could collect, I don’t know, butterflies. I’ve seen people like glue butterflies to paper and they-

Paul Ford: It’s a weird one lepidoptery, yeah.

Rich Ziade: I don’t know what that is. Anyway, those are, those don’t require a lot of skill and those don’t make you feel like a novice, like right outta the gate. The, the bar for what you’re talking about, which is playing a piano well, um, is high. Do you suck?

Paul Ford: Oh, I’m terrible. Absolutely, without a– I didn’t know the names of the notes.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: I’m sitting there going, that one’s C, that one’s d. Um-

Rich Ziade: Also the brain at, at, as you get older and older isn’t as malleable.

Paul Ford: Oh, left hand, left hand and right [00:05:00] hand are supposed to do different things, it isn’t great.

Rich Ziade: It’s probably not great.

Paul Ford: I’m learning, there’s a thing called the Half Beat Bounce, where your left hand is like Bum-ba-bum-ba-bum.

Rich Ziade: Are you frustrated?

Paul Ford: Oh, I’m so frustrated.

Rich Ziade: Will you quit?

Paul Ford: I am not gonna quit, I don’t think, I might. Because I have choices in my life, and if I don’t want to, I’m never gonna be a professional piano player.

Rich Ziade: Sure.

Paul Ford: So it doesn’t, there’s no cost to me to quit and there’s very little benefit if I succeed, but, there’s a thing that happens when you really go deep on something, and to me, this is why learning is worthwhile, even if you aren’t gonna cash out the skill.

Rich Ziade: Okay.

Paul Ford: It’s that it connects you to a much bigger, weirder thing. You’re really into headphones, right now.

Rich Ziade: At the moment yes.

Paul Ford: And the conversations we have about headphones, sometimes you’ll be like, come listen to this on these.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And that’s cool, And you gave me a great pair of headphones. It was generous and I love it, and I enjoy them.

Rich Ziade: I don’t think I gave them to you. I put them on your [00:06:00] head. You’re like, these are unbelievable.

Paul Ford: Thanks, thanks.

Rich Ziade: You can’t have them back as, as a really as how I believe it went down.

Paul Ford: That’s a side effect of, of working together for a long time.

Rich Ziade: But can I highlight a distinction here or do you want to finish your thought?

Paul Ford: Well, no, let me finish my thought because as we talk about headphones, we don’t just talk about music, we talk about supply chain, the community around headphones, how people focus on this particular thing, how they analyze and understand them.

Rich Ziade: Mm-hm, mm-hm.

Paul Ford: And so what I, what I, what I look at when I see headphones is you going, I need a way to interpret it and understand the world, I love music, this is really interesting that there’s a whole world here.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it’s a way for you to connect with and interact with the world purely focused around a thing, it doesn’t have any complexity. There’s no, like, you’re not worried about Lebanon being okay today, like you’re ju- it is just a thing in your brain.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, it’s a place to go. People who– people think about this, we’re talking abstractly right now.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: They think about this when it comes to travel, people who love to travel.

Paul Ford: Yes.

Rich Ziade: They, they have a list and their goal is to go to places they’ve [00:07:00] never been and experience things.

Paul Ford: Soak it in. Learn 10 words in the language.

Rich Ziade: Exactly, exactly. I, I, I happen to not be that per- I mean, there are places I want to go, but I don’t have a list. Like my wife actually has a list.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Like she wants to go experience strange, weird, she hates the hermetically sealed resorts were-

Paul Ford: I mean that’s fair.

Rich Ziade: Where you don’t, oh, sometimes you just wanna decompress.I’m not gonna judge people who do that, but she wants to go take those in. I, I think it’s great, by the way, I also think it’s rare, and I, I think I would put collecting stamps and headphones in one category and then learning a skill and failing spectacularly at it as another.

Paul Ford: I’m kind of realizing how much fun it is to connect to something that is hundreds of years old, that is one of the books is from like 1890.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And that makes me think about the fact that, um, what was my neighborhood like and were people, people were definitely playing piano in my neighborhood at that time. And so there’s this connective tissue, [00:08:00] there’s a, and there’s just a sense of like, I will never win, like, I will never be good at piano at a level that people would go, “boy, that’s a really good piano player”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Like, that’s, I-

Rich Ziade: Yeah, no, you, you never will, I can confirm that for you.

Paul Ford: Yeah. I never will.

Rich Ziade: Um, look, I, I, I’m gonna take a leap here and, and, and kind of make a statement that I have absolutely no authority or citation to back up.

Paul Ford: Go for it, go for it, it’s a podcast. You’re really allowed to do that here.

Rich Ziade: That’s what they do at all the podcasts [chuckles].

Paul Ford: No footnotes in a podcast.

Rich Ziade: It is really good for your mental health to learn something brand new, uh, it is and and I don’t mean that as in like, oh, keep learning and expand your horizons, I mean, it is gen- genuinely good for you. I, for a law, I learned most of the skills I used today after law school. Like I went to law school, I was supposed to just go cash in on the damn law diploma and go to work.

Paul Ford: No, and then you learn, then you learn how to program, right? You learn how [00:09:00] to-

Rich Ziade: I learned project and product management for five years, and then I was 31 and I took six months off and learned how to program. I, I wasn’t gonna be a programmer. I could tell by, after I was learning the program that I wasn’t gonna be a programmer, but I learned to program.

Paul Ford: You need to have control over the thing you do, I do. Like you, you and I had the same path. I was not a natural programmer, I taught myself, I got pretty good, but never like, oh my God, this is the, the, you know what’s hard if you’re not a natural programmer, that last 20% where you’re like, I’m gonna write the unit tests because otherwise my job isn’t done.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Uh, never, that was-

Rich Ziade: I, that didn’t interest me.

Paul Ford: Yeah, yeah.

Rich Ziade: And, and there are people who really enjoy that last 20%. Uh, I think, I think I, for me, programming was communication.

Paul Ford: That’s right.

Rich Ziade: Uh, like I, I was very like, you know, I wrote a piece of code that was actually popular and I showed it to the engineers at my old shop, and the way I presented to them was like, think of this as a prototype. I want you guys to make it happen, [00:10:00] make it better. Because I, it was, it was almost a way of expression, it wasn’t really anything that was supposed to be for the world. It ended up being used in the world, but that’s beside the point.

Paul Ford: You know who hates when you program that way?

Rich Ziade: Who?

Paul Ford: Programmers.

Rich Ziade: Oh, for sure, oh my God. They thought I was a fraud.

Paul Ford: Oh, they really did.

Rich Ziade: They thought I was a fraud.

Paul Ford: There’s a tremendous disciplinary focus, this is why learning things when you’re older is hard. When you’re little and you’re learning fine, cause you’re not a great piano player, you’re six.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: But when you’re older, what happens is you start comparing yourself to all the people who do this for a living.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And people are gatekeepers around their own disciplines. They’re like, why are you in here, in my JavaScript?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford:That’s mine, that’s not for you to write.

Rich Ziade: Right, yeah. Oh, a hundred percent. And, and sometimes, here’s the reason I learned a program. This is the cynical piece of shit, Rich, for a moment.

Paul Ford: Yeah, go for it.

Rich Ziade: Um, I, I got tired of being lied to.

Paul Ford: Oh no it’s real.

Rich Ziade: People would give me, they would give me time estimates on stuff, I was like, I’m done, I want to understand everything.

Paul Ford: [laughter] As a product manager, it’s a great reason to learn to program.

Rich Ziade: I became a nightmare of a product leader after that, for a [00:11:00] while because I could not hear it. And I’ve sat down sometimes with some really serious technical thinkers and said, you’re gonna draw the pseudo code for me on this board as to why this is gonna take eight months, cause I don’t believe you.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And they couldn’t do it.

Paul Ford: You know what’s tricky is the, um, oh no, they just, it’s, I have, I have-

Rich Ziade: I treated it- this sound, I sound like a bully right now, I used to treat it as collaboration. I’m like, let’s see if there’s a faster way.

Paul Ford: It’s not just that there are, there are really good reasons why it will take three months to update one web page.

Rich Ziade: There’s always good reasons, right?

Paul Ford: Really good reasons and it’s, and when you are not, and, and if you don’t have the domain expertise to be like, seems a little long.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Uh, people will give you those reasons. You’re like, well, I, there’s no nothing I can do here.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: You know-

Rich Ziade: Uh, I, I will say, uh, you know, what is the takeaway? I mean, we’re talking about advice, first off, we are in a fortunate position, we can pick up these entire domains and play with them. Um, even if you’re doing it just a little bit, go do something you’re gonna fail at. Go feel like a novice even if you’re [00:12:00] older. I think that is the advice. I had an, uh, a law professor who was sort of my mentor during law school, and he taught, you know, at the law school, but also took on Supreme Court cases. Like this guy was very well regarded.

Paul Ford: Fun hobby.

Rich Ziade: Fun hobby.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: But you know, when you take on a Supreme Court case, it’s the date of oral arguments could be five months away and you’re, you gotta get to work.

Paul Ford: Okay, okay.

Rich Ziade: And I was like, why are you, you know, why do you, why do you still do this? I thought maybe it was like a, you know, a high minded justice for the people thing. He’s like, I just gotta keep my brain working. Like I’ve been teaching the same, you know, criminal procedure courses for 20 years.

Paul Ford: Yeah [laugher]. Okay, let’s, yeah, it’s true. Like, okay, it’s Tuesday, it’s evidence.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. He used to, I remember one, one of the classes, he ended one, it was like a beautiful day, he’s like, wow, who are we kidding? And it was like a two hour like lesson that day, he ended it like 45 minutes and he was like, go outside. Who are [00:13:00] we kidding? And everybody’s shocked [chuckles]. But the point is, for me personally, if I don’t, yeah, I’m not, well, like I have to keep learning. I, I’m, I think I’m, I’m an outlier a little bit. For most, it’s hard. They have their job, which for most people are they in, you know, most aren’t in R&D most, there is redundancy in the job. And as you get older, you fall into the grooves, the same grooves over and over again, the weekends, the nights.

Paul Ford: Well, there’s, there’s, there’s a lesson in my story that relates to this, which is I was eyeing gear to buy because I, it felt good, I was gonna buy it, I would get the little dopamine release when the package came in.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And I bought some gear and I was feeling like, okay, alright.

Rich Ziade: Sure, sure.

Paul Ford: And then, then there was this moment where it was, the only way I’m gonna get the value here, the only way I’m actually gonna experience this stuff and understand what it’s about.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Is if I become just enough of a musician to really understand the the technology.

Rich Ziade: Absolutely, absolutely, and [00:14:00] diving deeps out of fashion right now, we skim across everything.

Paul Ford: It’s all very skimmable.

Rich Ziade: It’s all very skimmable.

Paul Ford: There’s no way, unless I teach my hands to touch the keyboard and hit the notes in the right order.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: It doesn’t work.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So you gotta do that and it’s awful. It sounds like, bo-bo-bo-bo.

Rich Ziade: It’s awful.

Paul Ford: That’s it.

Rich Ziade: It’s awful, and, and, and, and, but it’s satisfying on the other side, even the little wins.

Paul Ford: Well, you start to perceive the world in different ways, and actually you start to see all the- it’s cheat codes. You start to go like, oh, I see what they did in that song.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Oh, that was actually really easy.

Rich Ziade: Can I end it with one last little tiny piece of advice, and then we can close this out.

Paul Ford: Absolutely.

Rich Ziade: Alright, listen, I, we live in New York City, everybody’s kind of close to each other. If you’re over 40, don’t start with a, like, don’t learn the saxophone.

Paul Ford: Oh God, no.

Rich Ziade: Nobody needs to hear that, it’s ike nine o’clock, 10 o’clock at night, you’re doing your sax lesson.

Paul Ford: Oohf, guess what’s coming next though, right here in the office after I’m done with piano.

Rich Ziade: Saxophone?

Paul Ford: Hell yeah. I’ll get a digital midi sax.

Rich Ziade: Oh I’ve seen that.

Paul Ford: Those are the best.

Rich Ziade: Those are the best.

Paul Ford: They, oh, they sound, it’s like [00:15:00] a robot, making love to another robot.

Rich Ziade: Go forth and learn.

Paul Ford: That’s right, just a little, a happy, positive, uh, cheerful, let’s go kind of Ziade and Ford Advisors.

Rich Ziade: I think what’s nice about what you’re suggesting here is, is you’re not aiming towards an outcome, there is no success, you’re just exercising.

Paul Ford: This is the ability to do things without an outcome [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: That’s, yeah, that’s, that’s-

Paul Ford: You’re not even there half the time.

Rich Ziade: Me?

Paul Ford: What skill are you gonna go get.

Rich Ziade: Me?

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Oh, I’m so metrics driven, Paul.

Paul Ford: I know you.

Rich Ziade: Come on, come on, I need to learn something. You know, I learned to swim very late in my life.

Paul Ford: Okay.

Rich Ziade: And, uh, to this day, it’s still not a comfortable experience. I, when you learn to swim in your forties, It’s never comfortable, even if you know how to float and swim.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Um, it’s terrible actually, but so credit to others, uh, my lovely wife who’s like, you’re, this is not gonna work, you’re gonna save our children.

Paul Ford: Right, right.

Rich Ziade: If the situation arises, she didn’t care about my enjoyment [laughter].

Paul Ford: No, if we’re at the beach, you’re gonna [00:16:00] save the children.

Rich Ziade: You’re gonna save the children.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Um, so keep learning, I think that’s a good, uh, it sounds very-

Paul Ford: Swimming is great. No, cause I’ve actually been thinking the piano is a great, the, the reminder here is really good as I’m getting my physical health back, because working out is incredibly incremental. I started working again with weights and I’m just, I started trying to like, lift horizontally up, put 25 pound weight and my, my arm was like, no, no, no.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah. You’re gonna have, that’s not gonna, you can’t flip that switch right away.

Paul Ford: No exactly. And it’s gonna take incremental gains on a, on a recurring basis.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: So that’s, that’s the other thing, is you can take that lesson of constant humiliation and apply it to the other humiliating parts of your life. That’s great [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: You’re gonna become a, and the thing is, is I’m like, you’re gonna become a champion swimmer, no, you’re not.

Rich Ziade: No, you’re not.

Paul Ford: You just, but you might have more control over your body in the water, and that’s cool.

Rich Ziade: I’m enjoying swimming more.

Paul Ford: Exactly.

Rich Ziade: I mean little by little it’s little wins. It’s all little wins.

Paul Ford: That’s the thing, you just going for the half a percent is great today.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: Great.

Rich Ziade: Yes.

Paul Ford: All well, Rich, Ziade Ford advisors, if people wanna get in [00:17:00] touch, who do they, what do they do? Where do they go?

Rich Ziade: Hello@Ziadeford.com.

Paul Ford: That’s enough, that’s all anybody needs to hear.

Rich Ziade: We’re on Twitter @ZiadeFord, if you still know how to use Twitter, they keep moving shit around.

Paul Ford: They really do, it’s quite a thing these days [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: But here we go [laughter].

Paul Ford: Alright.

Rich Ziade: Hit us up, we love, uh, getting, uh, feedback and, and suggestions for topics. Have a lovely day.

Paul Ford: Bye.

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