Episode 0030 · March 30, 2023

The podcast about what to do next.

What You Learn as You Get Older

Rich Ziade: [00:00:00] You know Paul?

Paul Ford: What’s up Rich?

Rich Ziade: I just feel like I’m getting smarter everyday.

Paul Ford: [chuckles] Alright, so here we are, we are middle-aged men.

Rich Ziade: I think middle-aged, I think I crossed the chasm.

Paul Ford: [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: I get ARP magazine gets sent to me.

Paul Ford: Oh, yeah no they-

Rich Ziade: I never asked for it, never signed up for it. They bought me, I must have bought like a multivitamin, like a J- like a iron, like a, like a, I don’t know, like some sort of multivitamin or maybe I got, oh, I know what it is I get tablets for my like mouth guard at night.

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: So they think I have dentures and they bought me off a list and now I get ARP magazine, which is shocking every time you get it cause it’s like “whoa John Mellencamp is on the [00:01:00] cover” [chuckles].

Paul Ford: It is a lot, it is a lot to, to, I’m, I’m not quite there yet, but I know you’re right you, you buy that multivitamin and like a-

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Um, a consumer research firm in Iowa, five bells go off.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I, I’ll tell, I mean for, to clarify, I’m 53. Paul, how old are you?

Paul Ford: 48.

Rich Ziade: 48, you’re a baby.

Paul Ford: I, uh, you know, it’s funny for me because we’ve talked about on the, on the podcast before, my physical health is getting better. I’m actually getting younger in a weird way.

Rich Ziade: God, that’s amazing.

Paul Ford: It’s wild. I’m down about 40, 43 pounds, I mean, it’s just-

Rich Ziade: What a gift.

Paul Ford: Because of these new meds and, uh-

Rich Ziade: You definitely have a, you, if we can go on a tangent and talk about you for a minute.

Paul Ford: Go for it.

Rich Ziade: You definitely have more energy than you used to have, and at first you weren’t sure what to do with it and you were just kind of snapping at everything.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: And you’ve settled down, but you definitely have more energy than you used to have.

Paul Ford: No, you know it’s been, I’ve had a year we sold our company, I was sort of organizing my brain around that. Then I get on a new med where I’m losing a bunch of [00:02:00] weight and like suddenly my relationship with all of reality changes.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: My dad passed, we talked about that. We’ve talked about a lot of this, right? And, uh, I, I, I have to say I was down, we did a good job at saying goodbye to my father, and I went, you know what? You know what’s healthy? Let’s go back, let’s get to work, let’s be in the office several days a week or more, and, uh, uh, let’s start taking things into sequence, putting stuff into Google Calendar, organizing our time. So anyway-

Rich Ziade: Your, your, it’s interesting you didn’t feel like “oh my God, time is precious, I must spend a lot of time”, you said “I wanna go back to work”.

Paul Ford: Oh, I had all of those thoughts. I’d love to sit at home and dink around with pianos and synthesizers for 12 hours a day, but you know what that will make me?

Rich Ziade: What?

Paul Ford: A crazy person.

Rich Ziade: It’s not good. It actually gets pretty bleak pretty fast.

Paul Ford: It’s not good. What is wonderful is a hobby for about an hour or two a day.

Rich Ziade: Balance it out.

Paul Ford: Uh, but when you’re hobby, the other thing too [00:03:00] is, okay, let’s say I did that, I know this, I’ve had these thoughts, but I’m really enjoying music lately, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And, and I’m a creative person. I I’m a writer, right?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I, I, I made a living as a writer. It starts as a hobby, and you feel wonderful and you express yourself and you go “man, I’m figuring it out. I really am”.

Rich Ziade: You’re a learner.

Paul Ford: But now you make it a career or now you make it the one focus of your life.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: And it’s miserable.

Rich Ziade: It’s be- I have a theory about hobbies. I’m not good at hobbies. My wife tells me all the time, she’s like, you need a hobby. You can’t just-

Paul Ford: I don’t, I don’t want you to have any hobbies. If you get into model railroads, our relationship is over. Cause I look first of all because simply this office will be overtaken by a giant model railroad within about seven minutes, there won’t be room.

Rich Ziade: There won’t be room. Yeah. There’ll maybe, yeah, you’ll be able to look in from the front door.

Paul Ford: Like we won’t be able to, we won’t be able to work together simply because this will be a three-dimensional, like tunnel driven environment.

Rich Ziade: Yeah yeah, no that’s right. And, and here is my [00:04:00] thing about hobbies, which is related to getting smarter and wiser as you get older.

Paul Ford: Mm-hmm.

Rich Ziade: There’s only one path to getting wiser and smarter, and that’s not to say that I’m wiser, smarter, and neither are you, Paul. We’re not gonna be that presumptuous here.

Paul Ford: Two regular men in a regular world.

Rich Ziade: Two people on a podcast, that’s all this is.

Paul Ford: Good for us.

Rich Ziade: Uh, I’ll tell you why hobbies don’t appeal to me. I can’t fail at them. You want to grow forever for your entire life? Seek failure. If you don’t seek failure, you won’t grow.

Paul Ford: See, I, I see it as the opposite. I started as a writer and it was all failure, and then it became, then I failed less and I became a successful writer. But it was a hobby, I started as a technologist, as a hobby because, and then I, I failed less and it became-

Rich Ziade: No, let me give you credit for something, you like going to the places where you’re a novice.

Paul Ford: Oh, I will-

Rich Ziade: Your whole career is that.

Paul Ford: I [00:05:00] have no fear of humiliation at this point.

Rich Ziade: When we started our agency, I said to you, I was like, why do you wanna do this? And, all you had for me was, I just wanna see what’s inside.

Paul Ford: This is real, I’m like, all right, I live in a giant capitalist society and everybody keeps writing things about how the world works and I don’t know, I should go check it out.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, you, you like to learn.

Paul Ford: I’m an eternal tourist.

Rich Ziade: And, and look, learning is hobby, with a hobby, you learn.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: You may learn, you know, piloting drones or, or whatever. But the thing about the hobby is, your neck’s not on the line, that’s kind of the beauty of hobbies.

Paul Ford: Oh yes.

Rich Ziade: You can just sit there and fail in your den, all day and it’s like, I’m playing, who cares? [chuckles].

Paul Ford: That is true. The reality is, as I’ve been getting more, I mean, I’m learning piano.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: There are no stakes because I’m not going to, let’s say I got really, really good in about three years.

Rich Ziade: There is no Carnegie Hall for you.

Paul Ford: There’s not only is there no Carnegie Hall, [00:06:00] let’s say I-

Rich Ziade: There’s no Joe’s Pub either [chuckles].

Paul Ford: Yeah, exactly, let’s say I wrote, but, but go wild, let’s say I wrote a good song, right? And like the world was like, wow, that’s a good song, at this stage in my life, it doesn’t do a lot for me.

Rich Ziade: No, no, no, it’s, it’s, you are, you’re scratching an itch. It’s fulfilling for you personally, but you can’t fail, and that’s kind of the point of a hobby is, is it’s not supposed to be “oh my God, I’m not doing well at this hobby”, nobody says that.

Paul Ford: Well, let me, let me frame it a little differently, I’ve had plenty of failure. I don’t really feel like I, you don’t, I don’t need the experience of failing anymore to, to know that I’m alive like we have though-

Rich Ziade: But you do wanna be challenged.

Paul Ford: It’s really hard and I, I, like, I am failing, I’m failing when I sit down to play the piano, I don’t know how to do it, it’s really hard, and I need to take more lessons, I need to figure it all out, but I don’t, um, it used to be that that was a motivating feeling, I don’t have that. I’ll, I’ll tell you, I don’t even have it in [00:07:00] quite the same way with, with the, the software product we’re building called Aboard, and here here’s why Aboard, a, a new software product will go into the world and it’ll find some users and then it will actually be in a failure state. invariably.

Rich Ziade: Invariably.

Paul Ford: I don’t take that personally anymore.

Rich Ziade: You don’t?

Paul Ford: No.

Rich Ziade: I do.

Paul Ford: No, no, no, I take it as a responsibility. Alright, I said-

Rich Ziade: Let me correct myself I, I take it as a challenge, I don’t think, “oh my God, I screwed up”.

Paul Ford: Yes, that’s right. So instead of now, I would say 20 years ago, if I was building or programming something, I’d put it into the world and I would say “boy, if they don’t like this, it’s kind of all over”. This is all-

Rich Ziade: You’re reading the comment threads, you’re scouring

Paul Ford: I don’t, I don’t know, I don’t know how else to be other than what I’ve just put into the world.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And so if people don’t like it, they don’t like me. I don’t expect that, I expect us to launch and I expect it to go boom, and then we go–

Rich Ziade: It’s what everything does, right?

Paul Ford: Maybe, maybe we have a hit, that would be [00:08:00] amazing. And that would be a whole different set of problems. But, but the, uh, but the reality is I think people will be like, “oh, interesting. Oh, what are you up to? Okay, well I’ll take a look”. And then you have to see what happens next, and then you go, okay, we gotta double down over here cause this is what people actually care about.

Rich Ziade: Success is just navigating out of failure and it’s, it’s thinking-

Paul Ford: See, I think these concepts, these concepts are really dangerous, right? Failure as a concept is a disastrous concept because 99% of what people talk about, especially like middle class people working in the tech industry, when they talk about failure, isn’t real failure, real failure is like the car we bought for $500 doesn’t work and I don’t know how to get to my job at the hospital.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: That’s not, we’re not.

Rich Ziade: That’s a great point.

Paul Ford: Yeah, we’re not dealing with failure, we’re dealing with a kind of like success risk or there, I don’t know, there’s just, it’s, it’s not real.

Rich Ziade: Well, you know, I mean, I, I think about certain startups that actually have impressive scale.

Paul Ford: Right. [00:09:00]

Rich Ziade: But are viewed as kind of failures, like they missed their exit opportunity. Like, I’ll give you two examples, SoundCloud, SoundCloud’s story arc is actually fascinating, it was just like, oh my God, this is disrupting everything around audio on the web. It was explosive at one point.

Paul Ford: Sure.

Rich Ziade: Obviously, all the, the, the, the typical suitors showed up. Google shows up, everybody shows up, and you know, that is a pivotal moment where you have to decide, okay, is now the time, oh, but wait a minute we’re going over the moon with this one, and then they don’t. And then it settles down, and now it’s probably, I, I don’t know, I don’t have any insight into this, but probably tens of millions of users, not hundreds of millions of, it’s this niche kind of like DJs put their stuff on there.

Paul Ford: No, I know. Look, we, we built a whole economy for the tech industry that is similar to the economy around like Michael Jackson albums.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, it’s silly, right? And so [00:10:00] Foursquare is another one. Four Square, by any measure of any other sector, is a success, but never exited, I think Google aggressively pursued them and they, they said no. And then you end up with like, okay, wait, what do we do? Do we get more money and try again? And then these other, they, they like rebranded, there was, I think Swarm was a product that they came.

Paul Ford: You know what’s funny is no, these come up as the disasters because they had it in their hands and then they became a little smaller. But you know who, you know what nobody brings up? Groupon. That was like up for a 6 billion acquisition and then went, [plane crash].

Rich Ziade: No one bought it.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: Did no one buy it?

Paul Ford: No, no one bought it. It might, it might be now like owned by some company.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, let, let me just say this to the world. We won’t do that, we are complete cowards.

Paul Ford: [chuckles].

Rich Ziade: If someone showed up and is like, wait, you want my little coupon thing for 6 billion [laughter].

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: I’d be like, “Hey, God, you, you guys make really nice t-shirts, off we go” [laughter].

Paul Ford: [00:11:00] Absolutely, absolutely, acquire away my friends.

Rich Ziade: It’s not even arrogance. I, I, I can’t, well, maybe it is arrogance. I don’t know the backstory of why people wouldn’t take ungodly amounts of money for something that is at its peak, but it’s also it’s beliefs, it’s it’s faith in this aspiration of what you can be.

Paul Ford: You just nailed it, you just put it down, at its peak, that’s the concept, that’s only in retrospect, are you able to say that was the peak. At the moment look here-

Rich Ziade: It’s an ascent at the moment.

Paul Ford: And this is, this is the actual subject of this podcast. We sat down talking about what we’ve learned as we’ve got older, and I think that the thing that I’ve learned is, that and this ties back to not feeling failure as profoundly and not getting as excited and sort of figuring out things day to day. I am increasingly incapable of creating and believing myths.

Rich Ziade: Interesting. So-


Paul Ford: We’re all negotiating our own models of human behavior, and they tend to kind of relate to our belief systems and, and what, what we care about. But in aggregate what humans are, they like to buy things, they like to talk to each other, they enjoy eating food like humans are, are surprisingly simple. And if you put too many of them in a room together, they hit each other with sticks. You gotta be careful.

Rich Ziade: And, and if you are aspiring to do something, say out loud what you’re actually trying to do and be careful with a couple, I had a dinner with a friend recently and he was telling me about, he just raised a bunch of money recently for his startup and, and, and they said he met, anytime he met someone who said, what’s your exit strategy? He would pretty much end the meeting.

Paul Ford: Hmm.

Rich Ziade: He’s, he’s a seasoned guy and he didn’t care, but, but he is like, I’m like, why’d you do that?

Paul Ford: Right.

Rich Ziade: He’s like, how can I possibly run a business to some goal like that? [00:13:00] He’s like, I’m gonna run a business.

Paul Ford: Yeah.

Rich Ziade: If an exit door shows up on my journey, interesting. But don’t ask me that question, that’s an insane. I, I once had lunch with a very well-known entrepreneur who had a massively successful web platform that, speaking of fizzled out, also fizzled out, but at the time it was a monster, and I was like, so what are your goals? Uh, and he said, I’m gonna make this company worth a billion dollars. And I thought it was just one of the most preposterous things because it was so detached from the actual thing anymore. He had put this external sort of, frankly, it looked like a personal aspiration it had nothing to do with his business, right?S

Paul Ford: Sure, he wanted to do with, he thought that, that those, that was a cool number of zeros.

Rich Ziade: Or something [chuckles].

Paul Ford: So there was a, there’s a TikTok going around and it’s Carl Icahn, the activist investor who is clearly someone who’ll drive you crazy. And he’s [00:14:00] talking to a journalist from the New York Times and he will not stop talking, it’s kind of an amazing TikTok, it just runs out cause TikTok time limits get hit. Um, but he tells a story and the story is about going to a company that they acquired and there’s like 12 floors of people in a building in Manhattan, and uh, he can’t figure out what any of them do.

Rich Ziade: All 12 floors?

Paul Ford: All 12 floors, you just can’t figure it out. And he’s like-

Rich Ziade: A lot of floors in Manhattan with that [chuckles].

Paul Ford: He’s like I’m a math guy, and no one can tell me what these people do, and I don’t, you know, it’s like, so there’s a point of success, there’s a point in life where you’ve kind of done all the work and you’ve agreed, and you’ve tested all the complicated hypotheses. You’ve met with the McKinsey consultants and listened to people tell you about the future.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And then invariably it gets down to like, I don’t know, I don’t know.

Rich Ziade: [laughter].

Paul Ford: You know, it’s like it’s real simple, it’s real simple and I feel that like I don’t think I’m smarter or less smart. I don’t think my brain is slower or faster [00:15:00] or whatever. I think that once I hit on the really, really simple solution, that may not be the most pleasant or exciting or innovative solution. Something clicks in me now and I just go like alright. You know what people like? They like to shop. I don’t wanna mess with that, I don’t want to, I don’t have the power to convince the world that shopping doesn’t matter. I can’t like tell, you know, I went through the, the, a whole lifetime as a, as a writer and a journalist working for, and I worked with serious magazines, I still work with Wired and you know, there’s always this sense of like “boy, you know, if people could just wise up and read our important essays on these subjects, it’d be a better world”.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, you know what’s interesting about what we’re saying here, and I think it’s the through line-

Paul Ford: I thank, thank God somebody knows.

Rich Ziade: Uh, you know, most people tell you to think big, and what we’re actually saying is think a little smaller and the vision and the inspiration behind it can, can [00:16:00] connect people emotionally, but the, the actual journey, no matter what, it’s kind of grizzly, it’s gonna be. Think smaller.

Paul Ford: Let me even simplify that. Let me simplify that, it’s really hard to think small when everybody’s looking at you and you’re not a hundred percent sure, right?

Rich Ziade: You got to speak lofty.

Paul Ford: You have to, you be like, well, you know, I see, and that is, that is the secret of the consulting and technology industries. They can tell you like AI GPT three is gonna change absolutely everything about the way that we sell carpet.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Ford: And you’re like, okay, let’s go, let’s get I’m going to that conference.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. Um, I,

Paul Ford: I, and, and the right answer is will it?

Rich Ziade: It, it’s, yeah, it’s going to be, it’s gonna be small, incremental steps that humans connect to, right? And that being willing to navigate that, if you’re stubborn about your vision, you’re kind of done. If you’re like, the world has to understand this because they don’t get it yet. When you start to hear that kind of [00:17:00] tone, that defiance, you’re kind of done at that point. Look, there are people who walk into a room, think big thoughts, draw a circle and then put like a dot in the middle of it and they’re like, this is the future. And then they bill you somehow an-

Paul Ford: I mean, that was, that was always the dream in my twenties, right? Like I’d become that person.

Rich Ziade: Yeah. And, and it turns out that if you look at any, just about any success story, everybody gets in there, they get in there, they fly to storefronts to see how their, their franchises are doing. All the great leaders, Bezos is notorious for swooping all the way down the question mark responds in email all nobody, yeah, you can have that offsite, have your offsite think big thoughts, but when it comes down to it, it’s grizzly and you just gotta embrace that. I, I, I really believe that I’ve seen it.

Paul Ford: Ideas are useless.

Rich Ziade: Come on, man, dial it back, Ford [chuckles].

Paul Ford: [Laughter] No it’s real [00:18:00] though.

Rich Ziade: Ideas are good, everything starts there.

Paul Ford: Everything’s great, but you know what? If ideas were really, really important?

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: Then as a magazine journalist and thought leader.

Rich Ziade: Yeah.

Paul Ford: I would be the president of the United States.

Rich Ziade: Well tell that to the Aspen Ideas Festival, Paul.

Paul Ford: Those are just entertainment products for extremely wealthy people.

Rich Ziade: Let me rephrase what you’re saying, ideas are cheap.

Paul Ford: Well, yes-

Rich Ziade: You could toss ’em out, they’re like, they’re like snacks. But going, going through it and seeing it through because man, you better be ready to just get vegetables thrown at you, like that’s the game always. There is no shortcut, there is no quicker way straight to your vision. And I think that’s a gift for me personally, let’s go back to the beginning of this, that is a gift, cause that horrendous journey when like you’re pitching to a dumb dumb and they’re telling you you’re doing everything wrong, is the gift.

Paul Ford: Yeah, that’s true [laughter].

Rich Ziade: It really [00:19:00] is. It is humanity, it is everything, it is the, those interactions that make it interesting, and for me personally.

Paul Ford: No, I think that’s right. I, I think that the model of human behavior that, that I have is probably much more reductive than it used to be, I used to think everyone was a, was a subtle genius in the world, and it actually-

Rich Ziade: Look, there are a few, don’t look, don’t get us wrong [laughter].

Paul Ford: I think I would’ve put myself on that list.

Rich Ziade: Yeah [chuckles].

Paul Ford: And I think now what I realize is, I like to play with pianos because the sound is nice.

Rich Ziade: You’re a simple man.

Paul Ford: I enjoy technology because it’s fun when the screen lights up.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, I want to pluck something you said earlier for another podcast.

Paul Ford: All right.

Rich Ziade: Um, you talked about a big company and nobody knows what they’re doing on those 12 floors, there is a cycle when something gets big enough that it, it goes back to the idea state and nobody does anything again. It’s [00:20:00] like a story arc.

Paul Ford: The symptom-

Rich Ziade: It reaches success and stability, and then what happened was it lulls everyone into a particular state, and I want to pose it as a question and not get into it in this podcast, how does a big company get stay hungry?

Paul Ford: Oh God.

Rich Ziade: That’s the question because that is a, that is real on a very, we see it again and again, we see big, wealthy, successful companies just not able to tie their own shoes.

Paul Ford: No, my god, I have thoughts. All right, we’ll talk about this.

Rich Ziade: Great topic. Uh, hit us up hello@ziadeford.com. Uh, for ideas, topics, questions, compliments, um, tell us, come on guys, you are great. You’re not simple.

Paul Ford: [Laughter] No don’t do that, I won’t trust you if you do.

Rich Ziade: Yeah, we’re @ZiadeFord on Twitter and, uh, everywhere, podcasts, um, broadcasts.

Paul Ford: Alright, we’ll see you next week.

Rich Ziade: Have a lovely week.

Paul Ford: Bye. [00:21:00]

More Ziade+Ford Advisors
RSSApple PodcastSpotify