Image for Shane Parrish: The Big Impact of Little Decisions

Shane Parrish

The Big Impact of Little Decisions

The author, podcaster, and writer behind the Farnam Street blog discusses how to make better choices that position you for long-term success.


Today, without even knowing it, you might make a decision that shapes the rest of your life.

That may sound like an overstatement. But to a degree, it is true. The choices we make today influence the opportunities we may have, or may not have, tomorrow. And often we aren't even aware of the consequences of the actions that we're taking.

Our latest guest, Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street blog and The Knowledge Project, understands this well.

He's dedicated his research and writing to documenting and sharing the best of what other people have figured out.

What began as a way for him to process and chronicle his own journey in reading and learning blossomed into a curated collection of ways to make smarter decisions, sharpen your mind, and ultimately live better.

His findings in many ways boil down to this: Contrary to popular belief, you should sweat the small stuff. You should have a rationale for making your choices. Decision-making needs mental models.

And his message is resonating. Shane's Brain Food newsletter has a subscriber list of 600,000 people, and his new book "Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results," is a New York Times best seller.

In the book, Shane writes about letting go of ego and emotion in order to make the best decisions — especially the seemingly small ones —every day in order to position yourself for long-term success. And in our new episode, Shane sat down to elaborate on those points and share new insights with you, our listeners.

During our interview, we spoke with Shane about…

  • How he prioritizes his time and makes progress on the tasks that matter most.
  • The underappreciated moments that wind up determining our overall outcome in life - and how to handle them better.
  • How he successfully pulled off a complete career pivot. He left a very safe, stable job to follow a new calling - and it led him to find work he likes even more, where he's having an even greater impact.
  • Why he feels everybody has a superpower, and how you can learn more from the talents of others.

To celebrate Shane Parrish's appearance as a guest on the show, we're offering listeners the chance to win one of 50 copies of his bestselling new book, "Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results."

Through personal insight and anecdotes, Shane's book details key ways to make wiser decisions in everyday life, which will ultimately make each day better, more productive, and more enjoyable.

  • How he prioritizes his time and makes progress on the tasks that matter most. (3:45)
  • The underappreciated moments that wind up determining our overall outcome in life - and how to handle them better. (8:13)
  • How he successfully pulled off a complete career pivot. He left a very safe, stable job to follow a new calling - and it led him to find work he likes even more, where he's having an even greater impact. (21:26)
  • Why he feels everybody has a superpower, and how you can learn more from the talents of others. (43:21)

FRANK BLAKE: All right, Shane, welcome. It is truly a privilege to have you on Crazy Good Turns.

SHANE PARRISH: Thanks Frank. I'm excited to be here.

FRANK BLAKE: So in your latest book, Clear Thinking, you offer some great strategies and thought processes for living and working more effectively.

One of those, which I thought was pretty arresting image, is to imagine a film crew following around and see how you act, if you imagine that film crew.

So I'm going to start by asking, what would your imaginary film crew have captured you doing so far this week?

SHANE PARRISH: Well, this morning they would've caught me being a little bit lazy in bed.

Normally I wake up and I just hop out of bed, but this morning I was like, I grabbed my phone and for 20 minutes or 30 minutes, I was sort of just dilly-dallying in my bedroom, which I don't normally do.

I think, you know, my days are pretty structured personally, so I usually don't book meetings in the morning. I book meetings after lunch.

12 o'clock for me is like a transition period, so 12 to 1:30-ish, I go to the gym and then in the afternoon I tend to take meetings and that allows me the freedom to have creative work in the morning.

It allows me the freedom to focus on my most valuable opportunity. I never have to find the time.

So by structuring my day with these little rules or little rituals almost too, if you want to think of them that way, I always have the time to do the things that are important to me, whether that's getting the kids to school and making them breakfast and not feeling rushed or writing a book or working on an article or thinking or just doing whatever it is in the moment.

That is the biggest opportunity in front of me and that way I'm prioritized and what they wouldn't see me doing, which is really interesting, I always think of this as the negative.

It's like, what wouldn't you want the film crew to see? That's the most valuable part of this.

It's almost like if you just get rid of the stuff you don't want them to see, you're going to do a lot more of the stuff you do.

I wouldn't want them to see me dilly-dallying in bed this morning sort of just lying there tossing and turning with my phone, but they wouldn't see me working on 10 or 15 different priorities.

They would see that 80 to 90% of my effort goes into three or four different priorities and those span work and business.

So I have work priorities, I have business priorities, but there's usually one or two only, and that way I can focus on them.

That doesn't mean there's not more priorities, it just means I'm allocating the bulk of my time to those.

FRANK BLAKE: That's terrific. And a great segue into the content of your book.

I love the basic structure, which is the power of clear thinking in ordinary moments.

And there's a good quote right at the start that every ordinary moment is an opportunity to make the future easier or harder.

It all depends on whether you're thinking clearly and you've sort of described that right with what the film crew is doing.

My initial question is, how'd you think of that?

What is it that prompted, what's the foundational story behind that concept for you?

SHANE PARRISH: So I think Clear Thinking involves three really key things.

You have to position yourself for success.

You have to manage your defaults and you have to think independently.

A lot of times we put ourselves in poor positions because we're not thinking - if you're in a argument with your partner or your spouse about emptying the dishwasher because you had a bad day at work and all of a sudden he or she said something that just slightly skewed and then all of a sudden you start escalating.

Now in that moment, if I tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey Frank, you're making a decision here and the decision is you're going to escalate this, it's probably going to wreck your night, might wreck your weekend, and it's going to take all this time away from things that are really important to you.

You would look at me and be like, you're right. I don't want to pour gasoline on this situation. I want to put water on this situation.

But you don't realize in that moment that you're making a decision.

And so often in life, this is what happens. If you think about who you're going to marry, you consciously know you're making a decision.

Everybody in the world tells you this is a big decision. Most of the time we're pretty rational.

We get those directionally correct, not perfectly rational, but we know we're making a decision.

So we're thinking about it and we're thinking about it logically and we all have our own process for what that decision looks like.

But a lot of our position comes from these ordinary moments where we're not thinking about that, where we're angry and we get upset and then we react and then we have to clean that up.

So if you have a fight at home with your kids, you're having breakfast with them, you're rushed, you're hurried, things get a little snippy, you carry that with you through your day and by carrying it with you through your day, it just weakens your position at every step.

And by weakening your position all the time that you spend sort of correcting these little slights comes at the expense of those priorities that are super important to you.

And so I think that the ordinary moments are very underappreciated aspect to our positioning and our overall outcome in life. If you add up the sum of these ordinary moments, I would say by far, by far, they matter more than those big decisions.

And a great example of this is who to marry. If you pick the right person to marry, but you don't get the ordinary moments right, you will not be married to that person.

That's just the way it goes.

You could pick the right job, but if you don't show up and work hard and do the things that you're supposed to do and go above and beyond and create contrast with other people, then you're not going to be in that job very long or you're not going to be very good at that job.

FRANK BLAKE: No, it's a huge thing.

Important insight and leads to a question, if you don't mind, on your personal level, if you go, to what extent is this book written as a bit of encouragement and learning for yourself versus, okay, this is where I am or phrased it differently, on a scale of one to 10, where are you on being able to do this?

SHANE PARRISH: One of the concepts in the book is make the invisible visible.

And so I've been studying decision-making for probably 15, 20 years now, and it's all been invisible.

It's all been in my mind.

So the writing of the book was to take that and to make it visible and share it with the world in a way that I think is very unique approach to decision-making.

Very different than every other decision-making book I've ever seen or come across.

And that helps me to understand the material.

The very act of reflecting on what I've learned over the years has helped me to understand it.

And I think I've put it out in a way that other people will understand it.

That does not mean I'm perfect.

One of my big hesitations with this title, with my publisher was, Hey, I don't want to be held up as the guy who thinks clearly all of the time.

That is a standard I cannot live up to, and nobody can live up to that standard.

It's not about being perfect, it's about progress. It's about getting better. It's about reminding yourself.

It's about creating rituals and automatic rules so that you can avoid situations where your emotion or your ego or you're just going along with everybody else because that's what everybody else is doing, so that you can think independently.

If you want to diverge from the crowd, you need advantageous divergence, right?

You need to diverge and you need to be correct.

But to do that, you need to think independently.

So if you can't think ordinary moments, you do have to think in these moments, it's going to be a big problem for you.

FRANK BLAKE: So let me, I'll switch gears entirely and ask for a societal comment because it would seem to me if you were characterizing our current time, one of the things most at risk is independent judgment.

People have such an urge for tribal judgment and that is being, we're over-indexing.

Do you agree or disagree?

SHANE PARRISH: I think we're thinking less than we ever have before, and we're starting increasingly to outsource our thinking to tools.

Not that that wasn't happening before, but it's accelerating.

I see it with my kids. They're asking me why do I need to generate an essay when I can type in 16 words and get my homework and get a perfect mark?

I see it with online comments where you identify as part of a group, right?

We're humans, we're hierarchy based, we're territorial, we're self preserving, we're all of these things. We want to belong to a part of a tribe.

And once we do, we identify with that tribe. And then anything that threatens that tribe threatens our sense of territory, our ego, our identity.

So when somebody treads on that territory, what do we do? We react without reasoning.

And what are we not doing when we react without reasoning? We're not thinking clearly.

FRANK BLAKE: So let me switch gears again and go to the beginning of your career, and if you correct me if I don't have this right, but shortly after college, you landed a job in the Canadian equivalent of the NSA.

Why did you choose that line of work or was that sort of a random path?

SHANE PARRISH: Oh, that was not random. That was my dream job.

This was like a kid winning the lottery. I always loved playing with computers from grade 9 on I would stay up all night.

I was that kid who was programming computers, probably getting into a little bit more mischief than I should have with computers, but just wanting to really understand how they work, what you can do with them.

I also happened to grow up with two parents, who are amazing, in the military, and my parents served their country for a long time in that role.

And I was brought up with sort of a respect around what it means to be Canadian, how lucky, how fortunate we are to be born in a free country that's democratic, that has a reasonable education system and reasonably good healthcare system, and just how I won the ovarian lottery and I wanted to give back and part of my way of giving back, anybody who knows me knows I am not going to be the person standing on the front line with a machine gun.

That's just not me. I have no desire to do that.

I respect, have a lot of friends who do that. They're some of the bravest people I know, but that was never going to be me.

What I wanted to do was give back with my brain in a different way.

So could I align my passion for computers, my passion for tinkering, my passion for figuring out how things work in a way that helped my country?

What I didn't expect was two weeks after I started September 11th happened, then everything changed.

I worked with a very small group of people. I don't think, you know, I joke that I didn't leave the building until 2007, but that's not far from the truth.

We were working 16 hours a day, six days a week. The whole agency was, it wasn't one person.

We were asked to step up in a time of need for our country, and that felt amazing to be a part of.

I look back at that as some of the fondest memories of my life.

FRANK BLAKE: So obviously an interesting connection between working for an intelligence agency and then turning to an investigation of thinking.

Was there any training on just decision-making process and how to sort information that you got to through that job?

SHANE PARRISH: A little bit.

I mean, what happened was a lot of very young people were thrust into roles that today would be done by a lot of very senior people, and they weren't prepared for those roles in the way that we think of preparation today.

But they stepped up and they did their best and that was all we had at the time. So you had to step up.

And I remember just being in a role of responsibility and decision-making and coming home one night after making a decision and just crying.

I was walking home at 2 AM and I was like, there's a lot of responsibility on my shoulders at a very young age and I'm making decisions and I'm making them alone.

And they impact not only me and my team and my agency, they impact my country and they impact troops in theater.

So that impact our country's relationship with other countries and these decisions, they're gravitas, they carry weight to them.

And then I remember just thinking, how do I know that I'm making the right decision? Nobody's ever taught me how to make decisions.

FRANK BLAKE: So they didn't have sort of a chain, here it is, we're going to take you through intelligence decision making 101, how you go through data coming in and scrubbing the data and all the rest.

There was none of that.

SHANE PARRISH: Well, there's role-based training, but there wasn't specific role-based training around what we were doing.

I mean, we were starting something new and figuring it out as we go.

And I remember going to work the next day and just being really down on myself, almost a crisis of confidence.

If you've ever had a moment where you feel like an imposter, you've ever had a moment where you feel like you're in over your head, like somebody threw you into the deep end of a pool and you didn't even know how to swim.

So it wasn't a sink or swim thing. It was just like you're going to sink unless you figure out how to swim.

That's how I felt in that moment.

And I remember trying to relinquish my responsibility the next day and just say, Hey, the world deserves somebody better in this role than me.

I'm doing my best, but my best isn't good enough. It's not up to my standard for myself, let alone other people's standard for me.

And I remember my boss just saying, you're all we got, get back to work.

FRANK BLAKE: I don't know that that's terribly inspirational.

SHANE PARRISH: Yeah, well, it's the time, right?

It was sort of, and then so what happened after that, to get back to the original question, I just went on this journey.

I'm like, well, if nobody is really going to teach me how to do this, I got to teach myself.

And that was the first inclination for Farnam Street, which was an online website that was keeping track of my notes as I was learning.

So if you think of cobblestone road, I was taking these cobblestones and then I was adding the grout between them. My role was to add the grout.

So the idea behind is mastering the best of what other people have figured out.

So I wanted to take the best cobblestones and then I wanted to put this grout between them and the website was my way of connecting them.

So it was reading, reflecting, thinking, and connecting different ideas and then trying to make them practical.

Because I'm learning all this theoretical stuff.

And this is the problem with most decision-making tools, most decision-making books, they're so theoretical.

It's like, here's a spreadsheet, calculate the expected value, do a decision tree down to the nth degree.

Well, I've studied some of the best decision makers in the world, and I have never seen an expected value spreadsheet.

I've never seen a decision tree written down.

Sure, they do first and second and third order thinking, but it's not the way that we see it in books today.

What they do is they focus on, how do I put myself in a position where the circumstances aren't thinking for me?

If circumstances are thinking for you, you're not thinking, so right?

I want to position myself in a way that circumstances never force me into a bad decision.

Everybody, even an ordinary person who puts themselves in a consistently good position will outperform a genius who is consistently in a bad position.

FRANK BLAKE: So back to the starting of your blog and Farnam Street.

At one level, it seems like a peculiar decision from someone working at a hyper-secretive agency to publicly go, here's my decision making process.

How do you get there? How do you get from where you were to the start of your blog and Farnam?

SHANE PARRISH: Well, there's a bit of a story behind this.

We were not allowed to have a public profile that was not only frowned upon, it was outright denied.

Now, I will say intelligence agencies have come a long way.

So now you're allowed to have a public profile.

I'd like to say that I played a small part in this happening, but originally the website was completely anonymous and it wasn't intended for other people.

The original URL was like 1440 dash, no, it was 68131 dash 1440. That was the original URL.

And that was because nobody would type in this series of digits. Nobody would find it. It was just me. I didn't expect anybody to find it.

I knew I was in trouble around 2011, 2010 when somebody at work forwarded me one of my articles and I was like, oh, boys. They're like, you should listen to this guy.

Then I was like, now I'm in trouble. And obviously you have to disclose this.

I had the highest level of security clearance that we could have.

And so you're going through this and you're disclosing all along because security clearances are about trust and they need to be able to trust you.

And part of that trust is revealing things that they don't always want to hear.

And having an online presence was not something they wanted to hear, but they were okay with it for a while because it was anonymous.

But once it started to get really big, then it became a bit more of an issue.

FRANK BLAKE: And so what was the decision process? Okay, this is the direction I'm going. I love writing this blog. I like exploring decision-making, successful decision-making.

SHANE PARRISH: Yeah, I had the best job in the world, I would say until 2007. And then I just woke up and the uniform didn't fit.

There's a saying in the military, the uniform didn't fit anymore, the job wasn't going to change.

I just didn't want to do it anymore.

So I went back, did an MBA, went into management at the organization, so out of a pure operational role and into more of a management role, sort of rose through the ranks a bit there.

And I wasn't living the life that I wanted to be living. Right?

There's this saying, I think when you wake up and there's too many Mondays where you're just not excited to go to work, then you should probably change something.

And it's really hard for government employees all over the world to change something because you get the golden handcuffs.

That pension is, that pension's amazing, but that's not the life that I wanted to be living in.

It's not the life that I wanted my kids to see, and I didn't want to become one of those cynical public sector employees that we see so often.

FRANK BLAKE: And then take us through the path to the success that you've achieved.

Was it pretty much, okay, you've been working on this blog for a while.

People are starting to notice, it grows pretty dramatically, or for the first couple of years you're going, what the hell?

This might've been a bad decision.

SHANE PARRISH: Well, I got divorced. I quit my job all within a span of, I think, a year.

FRANK BLAKE: All right. That sounds pretty intense.

SHANE PARRISH: We had no income at Farnam Street at the time that I quit.


SHANE PARRISH: None. No. Yeah.

So I mean, that was intense, right?

But I believe in what I've learned about thinking, and I believe in sort of living a life of meaning and not having regrets.

And I also, I don't have the confidence for the whole journey at the moment.

I remember thinking back in 2015, 2016, I don't know where this is going to lead, but I'm confident that I will figure it out.

But the only way I'm going to figure it out is that if I burn my ships, I burn my bridge, I land on the island and I burn it, cashed out my pension.

There's no dependence. Nobody's going to come save me. It's just me. That was a moment.

What that does is it focuses all your attention on one thing.

So from a work perspective, I was only focused on making Farnam Street a success.

Other than my kids, there was nothing else in my life. It was kids, work.

I have to figure this out. I have to figure this out in a way that I can make a living out of this.

And luckily, a lot of people started to read around that time. It wasn't anonymous anymore.

Our readership grew exponentially. Now we have a newsletter that's read by 600,000 people every Sunday.

FRANK BLAKE: What I'll also say as one of the readers of your newsletter, I can highly recommend it to our listeners, and I will just put in a plug for what you do.

I believe that one of the great skills in life is to be able to pack fairly complex thoughts into straightforward or interesting sentences.

And you have a great skill at doing both.

SHANE PARRISH: I appreciate that.

FRANK BLAKE: And the newsletter is terrific.

SHANE PARRISH: But if you told me in 2016 that 2023 was going to look like that, I'd say you're crazy.

But I didn't want to be somebody who just wrote about things and didn't do things, right?

So once we got to a place with Farnam Street where I thought we were good, I started another business.

FRANK BLAKE: But before we get into the other business, which is also great, when did that occur?

SHANE PARRISH: Probably around 2018, 2019 in that timeframe.

I think I got to a point where I wasn't making nearly as much as I was sort of making at the government, but I was making enough that I wasn't super worried about the future from that.

And then started hiring people because I was like, how do I scale and how do I do more of the things I want to do and less of the things that I don't want to do?

And that's still my motto today.

Every year I go away usually for a night or two, and I just think, what did I spend time on this year that gave me energy?

What took away energy? Can I outsource that?

What do I want to do more of next year? What do I want to do less of next year?

And that's sort of my philosophy, and it has been since then, and there's no hard and fast rules around it, but it's a very good guiding sort of principle for me to...

FRANK BLAKE: Well, you have a great phrase that for someone like me who's at the latter stages of life is very convicting, which is "with each passing year, the opportunity cost of your time should be going up."


FRANK BLAKE: You're still young enough that you don't fully get how profound that comment is, but it is a profound comment.

SHANE PARRISH: I see it right?

I see it with my kids in a very meaningful way because as they grow up and they become more independent, all of those years where I spent with them at the start means so much because I know that our relationship looks different now, right?

They're not dependent on me in the same way that they were before, which is a beautiful thing.

But it's also, you see the opportunity cost of, wow, that was the highest opportunity cost for me at the time.

I'm so glad that I went all in on that and did that.

FRANK BLAKE: Well said. So now you branch out.

So talk about, so Farnam Street's good. What's your next step?

SHANE PARRISH: So we started four companies since then. Well, three companies since then, I guess.

So we started Lattice, I started Latticework Publishing, and that was to start publishing books, old out of print books that I like, publishing our own books.

I don't recommend anybody to become a publisher. It's like, I like pain. If you could pick...

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah, exactly, Shane, exactly...

SHANE PARRISH: If you could pick a harder business than publishing, I would love to know it.

So I love books. I love reading, and I love high quality books.

And so I wanted to start my own imprint and publish books.

And that's sort of what we did. And it's been a fun ride.

I think we've published six or seven books in total, and we published some out-of-print books.

We brought books back into print that were out of print and we take them...

FRANK BLAKE: So what's an example of that?

SHANE PARRISH: Oh, Men and Rubber.

So one of my favorite books to give away is this book by Harvey S. Firestone, written in 1925, 26, and it's called Men and Rubber.

And so there's no copy of that.

I owned 12% of the world inventory of this book, and I was tired of paying like 300 bucks a copy every time I gave it away to friends.

But the book is so powerful. There's so many lessons in it, especially the front half of the book.

And you have to excuse the language and some of the thinking. Keep in mind it was written in 1926.

We took that book, we scanned all the pages, we did OCR on it, we typed it out, we had it proofread, we had it laid out, we had it bound, and we just published it again, and we made it more accessible to people.

We reached out to the family, got their permission to do it, even though we don't need to because it's out of copyright.

But it's sort of doing the right things in the right ways.

And it's not the best financial idea to run a publisher, but I think it's kind of fun to give back to the world in a way that's meaningful.

After that, I started a company called...

FRANK BLAKE: Well, that's a crazy good turn right there, putting together some books that need to see the light of day.

SHANE PARRISH: And then I started another company called Cyrus Partners, and that was sort of, I've always been investing on the side.

And that's kind of how I've made a living basically since I even started at the intelligence agency.

And so the idea behind that was to invest and to make investments all on my own.

There's no LPs, there's no outside money.

We partner with people occasionally, and then we buy full businesses.

We operate them. We buy partial stakes in businesses.

A great example of a company we own shares in is like Athletic Greens, which I'm sure most people listening to podcasts have heard about.

And so we invest in companies we believe in that we want to see succeed in the world.

They tend to be in a couple of different spaces, but we don't do a lot of VC investing.

We're more into profitable sort of businesses.

And then that's done really well.

And then I started, last year, I started a real estate company to own and operate multifamily residential.

We made one really big real estate investment last year, and hopefully we'll be doing that for the next 15, 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

FRANK BLAKE: Wow. Is there a common theme that you see running through that?

A thread through those different activities, cause that's a pretty disparate group of things to be doing.

SHANE PARRISH: I find them all really fun. That's the common theme. Yeah.

Well now instead of, remember when I was saying Mondays, I woke up and I didn't want to go to work so many Mondays in a row.

Now I don't even know what day Monday is, and I'm just excited about every day.

FRANK BLAKE: So as you've gone on this journey, one of the things I remember, and I think it's a great point, but you had a blog post at some point that addressed the fact that we can always learn more from our mistakes than our successes, or more often than not.

What are the mistakes along the path that you've learned from?


Well, I've made many, say the failing of my marriage was probably my biggest mistake, my contribution to that.

And it takes two people to be in a relationship.

So I'm not speaking for her, just speaking for my contribution to that.

At the time, I felt like the world was ending and my dreams were ending and I was crashing down.

So it was hard to process sort of my role in that failure.

And then financially, we've made tons of mistakes.

We've had months where literally millions of dollars have been lost. And that's really hard.

But that's part of the game we play. And that's sort of, you got to learn from them and move on, and you can't hold on to them.

And if you watch athletes, you'll notice after a play, they'll bounce the ball the same number of times.

They'll sort of walk the same way. They'll do the same things.

Like you look at LeBron James coming out of the court, he grabs the chalk dust.

You look at Michael Jordan, he bounces the ball the same number of times before he shoots the free throw.

Why does he do that? Why do these people do this?

That's because you have to forget, you have to learn from what happened, but you have to forget what happened.

You can't attach a gravity to it, and you can't let it prevent you from taking risk and you can't let it keep you in place.

And so I think it's really important that we're able to look back and identify our mistakes.

And I mean, you have to be able to look in the mirror and be like, you know what? I just messed up.

Here's what I can take away from that situation.

What can I do differently next time? What was my contribution to it? What should I have done? What should I have known?

And part of that is making the invisible visible.

As I explained in the book, you have to be able to see the thoughts in your head because if you don't see them, you're going to convince yourself you thought things that you didn't actually think at the time, and then you're not going to be able to calibrate your decisions.

FRANK BLAKE: So if you were, and you are, assume you are advising our listeners who are, they want to read your book.

They love the idea of getting to some point of clearer thinking.

What frame of mind or approach would you be advising listeners to pick up the book with?

How should they be thinking of it when they pick up your book?

SHANE PARRISH: It's not one of those books where you can read the introduction and then, oh, I get the gist of the book. I don't have to read more.

It's littered with stuff throughout.

FRANK BLAKE: Yeah, yeah, and I would say, so I'll give you, this is just a bias on the arc of thinking on how one approaches thinking.

I think ultimately you get to, if you do star-gazing at all, one of the things you learn about looking at the heavens is that you see the stars better when you're not looking directly at them.

You see them better when they're in the corner of your eye. Thinking is much the same way.

You do better when you're not at the center of the thought, and to the extent you can move yourself off of the center of the thought, your thinking is better and the centrifugal force of putting yourself in the center of your thinking is, in my view, the hardest thing to do, but the most important thing to do.

So that's my unsolicited dime.

SHANE PARRISH: I love that take. Thank you for sharing that.

I think they should think of it with an open mind.

It's not going to be like any decision-making book you've ever thought of. It's full of stories.

Some will make you laugh, some will make you chuckle. And some are really about my failures.

This is my process of learning about emotion and how it gets in the way and ego and how it gets in the way.

I mean, there's one story in the book about how the person who would go on to become my best friend in life basically said they never wanted to work with me again.

And if I couldn't figure that out, they didn't even want to see me and how hard that was for me to process.

And my initial reactions to that, which I think are natural and normal, which is to defend yourself.

And I think that by seeing things through those lenses and those failings of mind and through different anecdotes, it becomes really a powerful way to think about decision making.

And we also give you repeatable behaviors, which I haven't seen in a lot of places about how to go about, when you create...

FRANK BLAKE: Very good grounded advice.

SHANE PARRISH: So when you create the space for reasoning through clear thinking, what does it mean to sort of reason in reality?

How do the best people reason through a problem, practically speaking, right? Not theoretically.

What do they do in practice? And can we bring those behaviors to all of our decision-making?

FRANK BLAKE: I have to say, as a New Englander or I was born in New England and a fan of the Patriots, I thought your discussion of the Super Bowl with Seattle was a great discussion.

And I'd love to just repeat for our listeners what that discussion was in your takeaway.

SHANE PARRISH: Well, often we look at the result of a decision and we judge the quality of decision based on the result.

And one thing you have to learn about decisions is you have to judge it on the quality of decisions, not the result of the play.

So in the Super Bowl where the New England Patriots play the Seahawks on one of the final plays of the game, everybody thinks Marshawn Lynch is going to run it.

Russell Wilson drops back, goes to throw the pass. Malcolm Butler steps in, intercepts the past.

Now there's a couple things here that are going on.

Everybody thought Pete Carroll made the worst decision in history, and he made the worst decision in everybody's mind because it didn't work.

Had it worked, nobody would've talked about it. Had he run the ball and failed, which was what he was expected to do, nobody would've talked about it.

Nobody would've said he should have thrown.

So he did something unexpected. Now that's really interesting. So how do you judge that decision based on doing something unexpected?

It's probably the right decision.

Everybody was expecting a run. Well, everybody except for Bill Belichick, right?

So Bill Belichick, for whatever reason, call it intuition, call it whatever.

I mean, they have a run front on if you watch the film, and I'm a big football fan, but you put yourself in a position to win before the moment happens.

I teach my kids this with school, which we can come back to if you want.

How did the Patriots put themselves in a position to win?

They practiced this play since training camp.

They'd never run it all year, but they practiced it regularly.

This one particular play where they jumped the slant route, this is the first time all year they've run that play, but they practice it all year.

They put themselves in a position to use that play, right moment, right time, right outcome. Yeah.

FRANK BLAKE: So how does that tie to how you teach your children? I think that's interesting.


So I remember one of my kids came home one day this year and he got a really bad grade and they go to a really tough school.

So I'm going to preface this with, they do not go to a normal school when it comes to grading.

They go to a really, really tough school.

They get 90 minutes of homework in grade 7 and 8, very strict, very tough, high expectations, high standards.

So they come home, he's like, I did my best, hands me his test, which I think was a 62 or something.

And I'm like, I know from sports, this is not the moment to talk to him, right?

Most kids quit sports in the car ride home when the parents start critiquing, this is not the moment to have this conversation.

He needs a little bit of space. He needs to calm down so he is not so emotional. And then we can have a conversation.

So I remember the next morning things dissipate a bit. I'm like, oh, let's talk about this. Let's talk about what it means to do your best.

And he's like, well, I answered all the questions to the best I could.

And I was like, your best has nothing to do with what happens after you say, you're telling me you did your best from 10 to 11 AM during the period of the test.

That's not your best.

Your best is the position you're in at the moment you sit down to write that test, you don't even know what's on the test.

So what does your best mean?

Well, it means what happens leading up to that, did you put yourself in a position, positioning again, keeps coming up over and over.

Did you put yourself in a position to succeed? Did you manage your emotions, right?

Manage your defaults in the language of the book, right?

So emotion, ego, social inertia. Did you think about what was going to happen in advance?

So positioning, what does that mean for him?

Well, it means I got a good night's sleep. It means I ate a healthy breakfast.

Both things he controls, it means I studied the thing.

What is that? Another thing he controls.

So positioning is all about the things you control.

You don't control what's on the test. He doesn't control, that test could have kicked his butt, but he still could have been in the best position possible, doing his best had nothing to do in reality with what happened between 10 and 11, doing his best is what happened in sort of the one week leading up to 10 AM.

The moment he sat down, that's the moment.

The moment you show up on the field, have I done my best to prepare myself for this situation?

Now I'm going to go out there and I'm going to give it my best.

That's a different type of best. But how do you put yourself in the position?

And we can think of this in life too.

If you're working in an organization, you want a promotion, you want more responsibility, how do you put yourself in a position to get that promotion, to get that responsibility in advance of it?

Well, you have to prepare. You have to learn the skills that are necessary for the next level.

You have to take on more work. You have to create contrast with your coworkers.

Well, now you can think about how you're positioning yourself in relation to other people and in relation to the situation.

And it's all things you control.

FRANK BLAKE: Right? That's a phenomenal, phenomenal anecdote that goes to the absolute core of your book. That is brilliant.

I have a couple of last questions.

First question, I also listen to your podcast, I encourage all our listeners to listen to your podcast, The Knowledge Project.

You have phenomenal guests on, and you obviously not only through your discussions with them, but also your thought processes around a lot of other famous and thoughtful people.

Is there someone though, who is not very famous, that no one may even have heard of that you go, boy, this person is someone I hugely respect and learn from, and who is that?

SHANE PARRISH: That's been on the podcast?

FRANK BLAKE: Nope. That probably none of our listeners is aware of.

SHANE PARRISH: Well, I tend to learn from, yeah I tend to learn from history.

So I read a lot of biographies like John Rockefeller, but everybody's heard of these people, but nobody studies them.

Carnegie, yeah, I don't tend to listen to other people's podcasts as much because in my mind I don't want to become other people.

FRANK BLAKE: Just friends, people, acquaintances, people that you've heard of.

I mean, the Goodyear example is an interesting, never would've occurred to me.

SHANE PARRISH: Yeah, I learn a lot from, I have a lot of friends who keep a low profile and do various things.

One of my good friends is in real estate.

I learned a ton from him about real estate, what it means to operate a multi-generational company, what it means to own and operate a building for 20 years, what it means to be good to tenants.

And he's also one of the best husbands I know.

And so what role does that play in my relationship? How do I become a better partner for the person I'm with? How do I become a better father?

How do I become, I'm always looking at other people trying to go back to the core of what we do at Farnam Street, which is master the best of what other people have figured out.

You don't need to be famous and get a lot of attention to be really good at something.

I teach my kids that you're Sherlock Holmes, everybody has a superpower. Your job is to uncover that person's superpower.

They know something you don't know. Your job is to find out what it is and learn it.

And I very much think that way in life.

Everybody knows, everybody is way better at probably most things than I am. What can I learn from them?

What can I take away and does that integrate into my ecosystem or not?

Because it's not a matter of just taking these ideas and sort of bringing them back to you.

And it's like, does it fit with who I am? Does it fit with what I want to achieve? Is it going to help me?

What I tend to not be attracted to is overnight success.

The Twitter threads about, here's the six things you need to do to optimize your morning routine to nail the world.

I feel like, I have this little saying. I think of compressions, right?

So if you think you have an experience, you reflect on it, you create a compression and then you act.

So this is the learning loop.

You experience something in a conversation, you read something, you reflect on that, and the reflection is actually the act of learning and you create a compression.

The compression is what you'll do next time or like a statement.

But that statement is just, it expands in your mind to this big thing because you've done the work.

And one of my compressions is a lack of patience changes the outcome.

And I think that when we're drawn to these quick overnight successes, these get rich schemes, these hacks to make your morning better, to get what you want.

And here's how I did it, and here's how you can do it too. I think two things are happening.

One, it's the lack of patience that's really motivating this. But what else is motivating it is you're focused on the outcome and not the process.

And when you focus on the outcome, you're focusing on something very distant in the future.

And if you focus on something distant in the future, it's really hard to see how I get from here to there.

And so what you tend to do is just take the shortcut and the shortcut becomes, how do I do this tomorrow?

If you focus on what is the process, going back to the movie camera.

If a movie camera was following somebody who achieved what I want to achieve around, and they're at the same stage as me, so I'm gaining a different perspective on this problem, what would they be doing right now?

Am I doing that?

And you can also think of this, another way to think about this that's very powerful is to ask yourself, if somebody else took over my life right now today, what would they stop doing?

What would they look at me doing and say, no, no, you shouldn't be doing that.

That's not helping you. That's getting in your way.

FRANK BLAKE: Great question. That is a great question.

So I always ask every guest, and because I think I love having you as a guest on Crazy Good Turns, I think what you do, and it's witnessed by what you've said today, what you do is really help others think about, Hey, how do I position myself better in life?

Who has done a crazy good term for you? And what was it?

SHANE PARRISH: I think anybody who's ever bet on me or taken a risk on me.

The first person to really bet on me outside of my parents was my grade 11 teacher in English.

His name was Mr. Duncan. And to put this in context, I joke I was a straight D student until grade 10, and that's not far from the truth.

My grade nine report card basically said, Shane would be lucky to graduate from high school.

Grade 10 comes around, my social group changes a little bit. So I start hanging around kids who are expected to go to university.

I didn't even know what university was. That's a different story.

But grade 11 hit, and for the first time in my life, I had a teacher in grade 11 who were like, you have these abilities that other people don't.

You can see things that other people can't see.

And that was the first time through all of my schooling when I had a teacher believe in me.

And it totally amplified my attention, my focus, wanting to please, wanting to live up to these expectations.

I remember, to contextualize this even farther.

My parents came home from parent-teacher meeting and they still joke about this all the time, and they're like, the first question they asked him was, are there two Shanes in the class?

Because, this is not our son. And they were right. That wasn't who I am.

But that was one of those moments that sort of changes your trajectory and it became, it's still something I think about this today.

I'm super fortunate. I've had a chance to thank him as an adult for the total impact he's had on my life and thousands of other students.

I mean, he was just a phenomenal teacher.

FRANK BLAKE: That is awesome.

And since my daughter is a high school English teacher, I particularly enjoy that as an example, because I think it's so true.

You get people making an enormous impact on your life.

SHANE PARRISH: We give teachers a hard time, but we don't realize that how much they really impact, not only where we go and how far we go, but they impact that at scale.

They have a lot of leverage 'cause they get a new class every year.

FRANK BLAKE: Every year. Yep. Absolutely.

Well, Shane, I can't thank you enough for your time. It's a phenomenal book.

I hope all of our listeners get your book, go out and buy it. We're also giving away copies.

We'll be describing that at the end of this podcast, how listeners can get a free copy of your book.

I think it's pretty obvious, but just for the benefit of our listeners, if you'd say, if you want to learn more about Shane Parrish, what do you do?

SHANE PARRISH: Go to or @shaneaparrish on Twitter.

FRANK BLAKE: Perfect. All right, thank you. This was awesome.

SHANE PARRISH: Thank you Frank.

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