204: How to Cultivate a Bias Towards Action
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Do you ever feel that things aren’t moving forward or aren’t moving fast enough? If so, this episode is for you. In today’s episode, Steli and Hiten talk about how to cultivate a bias towards ACTION. Accomplishing your tasks and learning how to take better and faster action starts from just doing it—just start moving! Listen as Steli and Hiten shares tips on how they became action-oriented people and why Einstein was right when he said “nothing in the universe happens until something moves”.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
- 00:05 – Today’s episode is about how to cultivate a bias towards action
- 00:32 – Feedback from listeners say that Steli and Hiten have a bias towards action in their podcasts
- 01:15 – Steli was travelling the past two weeks and the one theme that kept coming up was people need to take more action
- 02:34 – Entrepreneurs in the startup world need to create this bias to take better and faster action
- 03:08 – Hiten shares the companies that have a bias towards action like Nike’s, “Just Do It”
- 03:46 – Progress takes action and actually doing things
- 04:14 – You should understand what motivates you to take action
- 04:24 – For Hiten, it is a spark or a motivation to do the action
- 04:55 – Hiten says his motivation for the podcast is Steli’s passion for it
- 05:54 – Steli knows that he is not the main driver for the action, but has people in his life that can make it happen
- 06:27 – When travelling, Steli finds friends who will organize the trip so that he can just join in
- 07:11 – Steli and Hiten have people around them that take care of things and they play the support role
- 08:19 – Hiten has a priority list of people that he responds to via email
- 09:31 – Hiten knows someone who responds to emails on the 30-day mark
- 10:15 – People take action either because they want to get something or want to get away from something
- 10:38 – Pain is a much stronger motivator than pleasure
- 11:17 – If fear is your main motivator, you will more likely take less action
- 12:32 – Steli says there was a time when he did not take action because he was not inspired to do things
- 13:03 – Steli now has an internal mantra to act even when he does not feel like it, and he has accomplished a lot more because of it
- 14:13 – People don’t take action because they get paralyzed without even knowing it
- 14:52 – Steli says the trick is to make sure that you address the problem of why you are resisting doing the important things
- 15:14 – Steli shares how he was not as action-oriented as he is, today
- 15:51 – Steli realized that the only way to generate results was by taking action
- 16:40 – Steli learned that he needs to create results first, and study the data later
- 17:30 – During meetings, make a decision and get things done rather than adding things to discuss
- 18:19 – Hiten is driven to take action when he is impatient or bored
- 19:28 – Hiten is very impatient with business matters and takes this attitude in addressing the issue at hand
- 20:09 – Action is about impact and impact starts from small steps
- 21:40 – Know what the end goal is so that you are motivated to take action
- 21:46 – “You need to know where you need to go”
- 22:05 – Steli shares Albert Einstein’s quote, “Nothing in the universe happens until something moves”
- 22:21 – The only way to move things forward is to TAKE the responsibility to take action
- 22:46 – Do not be afraid of negative results or making mistakes, because it is an opportunity for learning that can help you take faster action in the future
- 23:17 – End of today’s episode
3 Key Points:
- Cultivating a bias towards action starts from actually doing it.
- Do the necessary action first, then study the data later.
- Know what your end goal is so that it will motivate your actions.
Awesome. Hey, this is Steli Efti.
And this is Hiten Shah. On today’s episode of The Startup Chat, we’re going to talk about how to cultivate a bias towards action. As many of you probably already know if you’ve listened to more than just this episode of The Startup Chat, many of you listen to many from what we hear, from the feedback we get, Steli and I have an almost automatic bias towards action. We wanted to talk about this because we feel like we haven’t really doubled down on it and kind of talked about it. We’ve talked about a lot of things like how we started the podcast, and I’ve even mentioned how I think Steli definitely inspired us to start this podcast. We did it literally right away, within the same coffee meeting, we walked over to his place and did it. And this is really the start of how even this podcast started, so I think this is a great topic to talk about. I know, Steli, you kind of came up with it, so I’d love to hear if anything inspired you because we like getting inspired by things, so I’m assuming something did. So bring it.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, you’re absolutely right. You know, what it was, I traveled a little bit around the world in the last two weeks. I was in Belgrade in Serbia, I was in Berlin in Germany, and I was in Mexico city just before coming back home. One theme that developed itself was that a lot of the startups I was meeting, a lot of the advice that I gave at the end boiled down towards you guys need to take more action, move faster, be more ruthless about the way you … A lot of these startups, they were describing to me their plans and the ideas they had and the things they’re trying to test and the things they’re trying to figure out, and the common theme was that I almost every time I felt like why is this plan lacking … Their thinking was lacking a stronger bias towards action. It seemed to me too slow, it seemed to me too much in the theory. I was like, “Why can’t we just get something done right now? Let’s go out, let’s talk to five users. Why do you have to build this whole feature? How can we just create a pop over and see how many people would click this thing and get some data before we make any decisions?” I came back to this theme, so I thought no better person to talk about this than you. I felt like this is just something that the more people cultivate a bias towards action, especially as entrepreneurs in the startup world, a lot of times the better entrepreneurs and the better the results they’re going to be able to generate. So I wanted to talk to you about this. How did you got to where you are? How can we help other people cultivate that bias towards action? Take more action, take better action, take faster action, that’s what inspired the topic for today’s podcast.
Yeah, I mean there’s a massive brand out there that was created on this concept of a bias towards action. I’m going to call out Nike, “just do it”. Just do it. The folks I think in Boston have this thing called JFDI, just fucking do it.
Just fucking do it. Yeah.
There’s GTD, get things done, which actually gives you a process, which I don’t think is the same as a bias towards action, but it’s super interesting that there’s these things out there that should inspire you to just get it done. I think defining a bias towards action is literally like, instead of ruminating on things and getting either emotional or debating too much, the way you make progress in life is actually just doing more things and taking action on these things. One of the things I’ve learned that really helped me is that I think people are actually quite different. There’s a number of personality types, and I know both you and I have studied things like this, whether it’s hypnosis or the geekiness I have around personality tests and understanding humans and things like that, it really starts with understanding what gets you to take action. In my case, the thing that gets me to take action, which I’m pretty sure is different than you, is when I have some inspiration that motivates me. I would have said it differently maybe a couple years ago. Right now I would say I just need some spark, and it’s usually not my own spark. It’s usually me reading something or talking to someone or wanting to do something with somebody. That goes back to how we started this podcast. I wouldn’t have done this alone, and the reason is I had no inspiration, I had no reason. In a way, we have a really weird podcast where we don’t bring on guests, and we just talk to each other. I think without you specifically, and your motivation to do it, I would not have been as motivated. For me, that’s my pattern. For example, a lot of the businesses I’ve started in the past, and even currently, I want to do with somebody else, and somebody who’s an equal partner. If it’s not like that, I’m less motivated to do it. I don’t know … I’m sure I could change that about myself, but it’s something I like about myself, and it makes things easier for me. When it comes to a bias for action, to me it has a lot to do with you yourself understanding what causes you to take action. I’m damn sure that you’re different than me, so I’d love to hear your side of that.
Yeah, I love that. And you know what? That actually makes me think that we should talk about this because I’m not that different in that regard, but it just feels like I do this in different ways. I’ve noticed this pattern in myself as well where there’s certain areas in my life that I know that I’m not going to be the driving factor, I’m not going to be the person that’s initiating a lot of action or a lot of things in a specific type of field, but because of that I’ve picked friends and people in my life that make that happen where I’m a happy Robin to them being Batman or something. There’s a lot of things, travel, for instance. When it comes to traveling to new places, there’s just a few friends that I’ll try to make sure they’re in the city or in this place when I’m there because I don’t like to research the city and go to all the places and find the coolest restaurants and meet new … Like I don’t like to organize all of this, but I always find somebody close to me, a friend or somebody, that’s really great at that, and then I just benefit from it. I’m a very willing participant and cheerleader to that person organizing whatever, a sailing trip or something crazy like that. There’s different people in my life that have tendencies that I appreciate, but I don’t have, so I keep them close because they create certain adventures, or they create certain things in my life, that I would not do myself, but I want to experience. Slightly different from what you said, but this is something I’ve noticed in myself. More in my personal life funny enough than in my business ventures, but it makes a ton of sense. I’ve noticed this in you, you’re really good at collecting humans that inspire you to participate and start businesses and do certain things.
Yeah, we’re actually very similar, but I think with a different framework, right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It seems so.
So that’s pretty fascinating. Like you almost bring these people around you, and then you’re happy to push things along. In my case, I won’t even necessarily consciously bring these people around me, but when I see an opportunity, I’m definitely happy to dig into it and feel it out. I think another thing I wanted to say about this is not everyone is like you or I. Even us, we have slightly different takes with probably one framework still, which is the other person is what’s really helpful in getting us to do something.
And taking actions. For me, I’ve construed that to be like if I get an email, it’s about somebody else, and I just want to help them, so I’ll respond to it as fast as I can. These days my email definitely backlogs more because I’ve got other things that I’m doing as well, and then a bunch of them, but then that’s my bias. Even today, there’s a priority list I have in my head, and if those set of folks or categories of folks email me, I’m responding right away to them. That goes back to they sent me an email, I need to respond to them and get them moving, and that’s my bias for action, which is how can I help that other person, at least in the small things like when it comes to email. Because I get a lot of questions about why are you so fast at email, and why do you have such an inbox-zero attitude about it versus letting a thousand emails in there and then claiming bankruptcy. Because for me, claiming bankruptcy would be like I failed everybody, and that sucks. But, again, people aren’t like that. Like I know a few folks who are very successful that I can literally count the days ’til when they’re going to respond to an email I sent them, regardless of what the importance of the email is. For example, I’ve had one person, super successful founder for many people because his company makes a ton of money and it’s big, but I can tell you, every time I’ve emailed him, and I don’t email him often, but 30 days. Exactly on the 30 day mark somehow, he emails me back.
I’m like what the fuck? That’s just on mark. Again, I think he has a bias for action, but in email it’s definitely a delayed one, but it’s very on the mark. I don’t know how he does it or what the mark it, but every time. I’ve emailed him half a dozen times, and every time it’s literally 30 days. He’s probably got some system going on. I have no clue. And I don’t think he read my email ’til the 30 days later, which is fascinating too. That’s my theory. So, yeah, I think the bias for action’s such a big deal, but it really starts with what are things that get you to take action and really thinking through that in your life. I’ve rarely seen people do that.
That’s so interesting. If you think of the very fundamental levers that motivate any type of action, and you can make this a lot more granular, but on a very high level, it’s either moving away from pain or moving towards pleasure. Behind almost every action, there’s something that we try to either avoid or something we’re trying to get. Unfortunately, I think, or biologically, the stronger motivator’s always been the moving away from things that we want to avoid. So pain is a much stronger motivator than pleasure. And I tell people, if I told anybody here I’m going to give you a million dollars if you run 200 kilometers right now, almost nobody would start running, but if I put a gun to the head of somebody you love and I say, “You run 200 kilometers or I shoot,” nobody’s going to go through the, “Is this really realistic? Is this going to happen or not?” You’re just going to start running. If the pain is strong enough, if you’re afraid enough, you’re going to take pretty massive action. Hence why I think a lot of people, the reason why they don’t take as much action, is because the bigger motivator in their life is probably trying to avoid rejection, failure, emotional or physical pain. If fear is kind of the main thing that drives your decisions and drives as main motivator for what you do and what you don’t, you will, more likely than not, take less action I think. When I look at people … I mean some people stress themselves out and take a lot of action, or have this fear of missing out, or this panic that they’re not going to get rich or they’re not going to get famous or they’re not going to get … That can be a big motivator for people to take a lot of action. But I don’t know I feel like for me that was probably part of it growing up, was more of like a chip on the shoulder, having gone through a lot of adversity and then trying to prove myself, and coming from that kind of an angle, but as I’ve matured and as I’ve experienced more and more things in life, today I find that almost the only way for me to take any kind of action is out of inspiration, which you call the spark, something that inspires me, something that motivates me. But also, and I want to talk about that for a second, a lot of times … There’s a Stephen King quote that says, “Most of the people sit around waiting to be inspired before they start writing, and us pros, we just write independent from,” I’m butchering this quote, “But independent from if we’re inspired or not, we just start fucking writing every day.” That’s another thing, to me, in my past, we’ve talked about consistency I think, I only took action when I was really inspired to, and when I was really feeling like it. And then I had times when I didn’t feel like doing something, I felt depressed or I felt tired or something like that, and I would just not do it. Today I’ve just learned to take action, especially take action when I don’t feel like it because that usually creates a much bigger spark, and that makes me take more, more, more action. I’ve talked about this internal mantra of saying, “Om, fuck it, do it anyways,” even if you don’t feel like it. Funny enough that you mention Nike, earlier in the episode, I had a guy that actually did the Nike logo, and instead of saying Nike it says “Steli” and then below “Fuck it, just do it”.
I think he put it as a poster in his office and I told him to send it to me.
Even more awesome.
I don’t know why this has helped me so much, but this has helped me so incredibly much because ten years ago, Hiten, I was oftentimes a victim of my own emotions. If I felt fearful or if I had doubt or if I felt depressed or if I felt whatever, tired, I would just not take action out of those bad emotional states. Today I’ve learned to take action despite these feelings, and it’s just allowed me to accomplish a lot more and be a lot more consistent, just by learning to say that, “I can do this although I really don’t feel like it. It doesn’t matter.” And if I do it poorly or if I do it depressed or if I do it fearfully, it doesn’t matter, just do it. Do it while feeling shitty versus waiting for you to feel amazing or perfect or ready before you take action. That has made a huge difference for me.
I really like that. I think it’s easy to get stuck in paralysis, and that’s another … That’s not even another, that’s like a big part of why people don’t take action. They get paralyzed and don’t realize that they’re paralyzed. What I would say is in any moment, you can probably easily assess the things that you’re having friction or having anxiety over doing, and really feel into that and figure out why does that exist, and is it something you should keep resisting or is it something that you actually should take some action on. For myself, on a daily basis I can come up with things that I’m resisting. All of us can.
And the whole trick is, and I love your framework around it, the whole trick is to basically make sure that the important things that you’re resisting you actually address, otherwise they turn into much more important things or bigger problems if you want to take that approach.
One thing that I’ve been thinking about since I’ve talked to so many startups in the last few days was that I ask myself, was I always like this? And the truth is I wasn’t. I can remember back 10 years ago, 10, 15 years ago, 15 years ago when I started my first businesses, I was not as action-oriented as I am today. I do think that it’s part of my personality, but I do think that I cultivated that part. I was not always like this. And when I thought of, when I asked myself, what happened in the last like 10 years to make me a lot quicker on the trigger of taking action, I think that a big part of this was realizing that the only truth is, the only way to know what works and what doesn’t, is to generate results and to expose your ideas and your thoughts to truth and to reality, which can never be in your office or in your home or in the brainstorming discussion. I’ve learned over time that the longer … I’ve learned not to say this is a good idea or bad idea and just to say, “This is an interesting idea, or an idea we should test, and how can we test this really quickly?” Versus 10 years ago you told me something, I would’ve said, “Oh my God, this is an amazing idea. This idea’s going to be huge, this is going to make such a big difference.” You’ll never hear me say these words, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t either because I don’t fucking know. I know I need to test it and get results before I know if this is good or not, if this works or not. So I’ve just I think, through a lot of exposure, a lot of failures, I’ve learned that I need to create results as quickly as possible, and let the results or the data dictate if something works or not, and not my opinions, biases or thoughts on something. I think that that has helped a lot. The other thing is, I was telling this the other day, that I have this framework of the power of “right the fuck now”, which is like how many things, like how many meetings, how many calls, how many interactions do you have a day where nothing is decided and nothing is getting done, where you just talk about what should be decided and what should get done. I was doing these types of meetings for many years until I realized that any meeting I have where at the end we have even more decisions we haven’t made or have even a longer to-do list than at the beginning of the meeting, is just a horrible waste of energy and time. Learning to slow things down in a meeting and go, “Wait, wait, wait, wait. Let’s not decided this later, why are we not deciding this right now?” “Well, we need more data.” “Well, last week we said we need more data, what has changed? Can we make a decision right now, can we get this off the table?” Or if I talk to somebody and they say, “We should email such and such,” I go, “Can we email them right now?” Let’s just get it done. Let’s make sure that at the end of this meeting we took off some work from everybody’s plate instead of just keep adding more and more things and wasting time just debating and discussing things. And I know that you have that sensitivity as well of like, we talk, how can we convert that conversation into action and results and real data versus just opinions and thoughts and more stuff to pile on to some kind of a bucket that hopefully eventually will force you to take action.
Actually, I definitely do. I hate wasting time. I’m very impatient. I used to just frustrate myself with the impatience, but these days I just apply it to these things and I get happier. Oftentimes, you’re right, there’s a lot of debates about what to do, looking for more data, when there’s probably a really simple step you can take. I would say it’s one of the most difficult things to cultivate. For me it just started with just being perpetually impatient and/or bored. Depending on which of those moods I’m in, I might use a different approach to taking action. Like if I’m bored it’s just like, okay … Growing up my dad would be like, “If you’re bored, like what are you doing? That’s your problem. Just solve it.” I was an only child and so I used to say that to him quite a bit, and he would just get pissed off. He never got pissed off actually, but I would feel like he was pissed at me and then I would go do something about it. I do the same with my kids. Like, “Oh, you’re bored? I mean the world’s your oyster, figure it out. That’s the perpetual state.” If I’m bored, it’s more about causing trouble I call it, so then I’ll cause trouble, but that’s a different story. That’s usually taking action or making someone else take action. And then the impatience is really where I get it from for myself, which is I’m very impatient. I used to just feel like nothing would move fast enough, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Usually for me it’s like … It’s usually in business and it’s usually the teams because in my personal life I’m actually super patient, just because I just go with the flow, but in business I’m definitely hyper-impatient. What I’ve done now is take that impatience and say, okay, I’m being impatient about this, is there anything I can do? Should I direct my attention towards this problem or not, or whatever I’m being impatient about, or am I just impatient in general? What can I go impact? I think for me action is really about impact, and impact is really like what can I go impact right now with the smallest baby step? I’m in meetings a lot, in my companies and others, and one of the biggest things that I learned is that people are not very impatient. People are happy to defer a decision or defer an action for later, and that is actually why I get impatient. Even my way to manage engineering, because if you’re running a company, whether you like it or not, you’re also managing engineering, if you’re a founder, CEO, even if you’re not, meaning even if someone else is taking care of it. That’s at least how it is in all … Basically I have three endeavors I call them, and they all have one engineering manager who’s the head of engineering, but I’m managing that person as well as sometimes people that work with him or her. What ends up happening is that they always give me estimates that I hate because I’m impatient. What I learned about myself is how do I get them to learn that they can take an action without having all the data? They can go do something without worrying about the full answer if that thing is such a bite-sized chunk. So if someone tells me it’s going to take a day, I tell them, “How can we do something in an hour that gets us closer to the goal, or closer to it being done, or closer to the customer?” You have to have some end goal in mind and some way to kick people out of this inaction is at least what I’ve learned. Maybe that’s my tip is you can’t take action, you can’t have a bias for action, unless you know what the actual goal is in what you’re trying to do.
Yeah. I love it. All right. So I think piling on to that, you need to know where you need to go.
Ooh. You need to know where you need to go.
Where you need to go.
Done, dude. That rhymes too. Good one.
It rhymes. I didn’t even know as I was saying it. I love that. I think that to me it comes down to, I’m a big quote guy, and it comes down to this quote from Albert Einstein, it’s one of my favorites, which is, “Nothing in the universe happens until something moves.” I kind of feel like being alive, part of my responsibility is to make something move forward. To make a difference in the universe means to move things forward, and to move things forward, the only way to really, truly to do that, is to take some kind of an action, to make decisions, to help things get accomplished, get done. So every day I just feel this responsibility, how can … Once you know where things need to go, where you want to go, is taking the responsibility to get there, and get them there, and help other peoples get there. The way to do that is just to take more action faster, sooner, more decisively, not be afraid of any mistakes along the way, not be afraid of any negative results or feedback because that’s going to … That should speed you up even more because it means learning and the ability to adjust, versus slowing you down. If you take on that responsibility, I feel like you’ll, in every meeting in every conversation, every single day, you’ll try to ask yourself, how can I help move the universe forward, and doing so by taking action. I think that’s it from us for this episode.
Yup. Later. Take some action.
Take action right now. All right, bye bye.