>>Female Presenter: Today it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker to you. Born right
here in the Bay Area, Michael Ellsberg is a renowned expert in entrepreneurialism, career
development, and education, whose work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall
Street Journal, CNN, and Good Morning America to name just a few.
Michael is author of the incredibly popular "The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret for
Success in Business, Love, and Life," a book that provides simple tools for improving relationships
throughout all areas of your life.
He also writes the Need to Know blog for Forbes dot com, which is full of even more valuable
tips for personal success. His new book, "The Education of Millionaires: It's Not What You
Think and It's Not Too Late," will be released on September 29th, but we were lucky to get
a few pre-release copies over here if you're interested.
While the workplace today often places heavy importance on a person's alma mater, for his
new book, Michael spent the past year and a half interviewing some of the world’s
most successful individuals who did not obtain a college degree. Instead, these individuals
were self-taught and learned the skills they needed for success through their experiences
in the real world.
In his talk today, Get Rich and Invest In Your Own Human Capital, Michael will explain
how to make the most fast-acting, direct, high-impact investments in your own human
capital and career success based on what he learned from these masters of self-education
and from his own personal experience.
And with that, please join me in welcoming Michael Ellsberg.
>>Michael Ellsberg: So, what I plan to do in the next 45 minutes is to radically alter
the way you all think about the concept of investing. Now, you are all highly accomplished
engineers, managers, executives, professionals in Silicon Valley, the heart of innovation
You all work for a legendary company in the history of capitalism. So, for me to stand
up here and say that in 45 minutes I might alter the way you think about a concept as
fundamental as investing is a tall order, but that is what I'm gonna aim for today.
So, I'm not here to talk about stocks, bonds, real estate, 401Ks.
You've all heard those kinds of lectures before. You all know the rap about that kind of investing.
The type of investing I wanna talk about is one you've probably heard less about 'cause
it's discussed a lot less. But I think it's very, very important. And that is investing
in your own human capital.
And the title of the talk today is "Get Rich Investing In Your Own Human Capital." If you
haven't guessed already, its slightly tongue in cheek title, I wanted to poke a bit of
fun at all those books about the other kind of investing. Get rich investing in real estate!
But in all seriousness, I do think that investing in your human capital can potentially much
more lucrative than all those other kinds of more traditional investments. It's possibly
much more safe, which is something that we're all interested in now given the craziness
of the markets in the last several years.
And it also can be possibly more rewarding and more fitting in with the fabric of your
career and your sense of meaning. So, that's what we're gonna be talking about. And I'm
gonna start with a pretty uncontroversial statement. We'll get to a bit on controversy
But let's start with uncontroversy. Most economists, most career development professionals, will
agree that spending your time, spending your money, investing in human capital is a really
good investment. So, you're not gonna find many people who disagree with that statement.
But almost all the discussion around that concept focuses on investments in formal credentials
and formal higher education. And those can be very powerful investments. And I know that
Google, as a corporate culture, highly values educational attainment, educational investments
in its employees and its recruits.
And you've all probably in this room made a lot of those investments. And those can
be very powerful, very worthwhile investments. But almost all the discussion centers around
those. And there's a whole world of investments that I've been exploring over the last several
years talking to very successful people who didn't go that path, who boot-strapped their
human development, their human capital.
And so, if you think of formal education, it might be thought of as almost a venture
capital model of investing in your human capital in that there's often a lot of financing involved,
a lot of effort in money up-front; sixteen, eighteen years to get through elementary school,
undergraduate, more years for graduate education. And then, after all this investment, all this
potentially financing in debt, then you get some benefit afterwards. And what I want to
talk to you about today is styles investing in yourself that can just be put into action
right now with not a lot of expenditure of money.
You don't have to leave this wonderful campus where there's all this free food available
that I've already been enjoying. And you don't have to take time off from your career. You
don't have to go into student debt. It's available to you right now. So, these might be thought
of as more of a boot-strapping model of human capital development.
Or, lean. Lean is a very hot word now in the investing, entrepreneurial world. Or, you
could think of it as a guerilla-style of investing. So, that's what we're gonna be talking about
for the next 40 minutes or so. Now, before I dive in, who am I? Why the heck do I have
any credibility at all to be talking with you about this today?
So, I'm a professional author, book author. This is my second book that's been published.
There's a few before that weren't published. I won't talk about those. But this one is
coming out in a couple weeks from Penguin. It's called "The Education of Millionaires."
And you're actually some of the first people to hear about it or even see it. I just saw
this book like two days ago for the first time. And what I did is I got very interested
in this question of how can you develop your talents outside of the normal ways that we
hear about developing your talents, going back to school.
And to explore that question, I decided to interview some of the most successful people
on the planet who don't have college degrees. And I went around the country. I talked to
about 35 millionaires, self-made millionaires, entrepreneurs, who didn't finish college,
about four billionaires.
Some of them are pretty famous. Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook. I talked to Sean Parker,
founding president, who by the way, if you've seen the movie "The Social Network," I think
he is totally different than Justin Timberlake. They did him a disservice in that movie after
hanging out with him for a couple hours and picking his brain about this stuff.
I interviewed Matt Mullenweg, who is the founder of Wordpress. I run my own personal blog on
that. Probably a lot of you are familiar with Wordpress. Outside of the tech world, I spoke
John Paul DeJoria. He's the co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems.
He was homeless at two points in his life early. Lived out of a car with his son and
was at one point collecting soda bottles to make sure that he had enough money to feed
his son. And he went in business with a hairdresser called Paul Mitchell. They invested, I think,
like 700 dollars in creating their first formula.
They went salon to salon, built it into a multi-billion dollar business. And he's been
on the Forbes 400 forever now. And another person on that list I interviewed was Phillip
Ruffin, who started out building a hamburger ch--. Not even a chain, a stand. A hamburger
stand in college.
He eventually decided to drop out to build that. Built it up quite successfully. Just
kept building businesses. Now he owns Treasure Island Resort and Casino on Las Vegas strip.
So, a bunch of famous people. I also just interviewed people you probably haven't heard
of, but who are just doing really, really interesting cutting edge things.
The inspiration for my book actually was my wife, Jenna, who's here in the front with
my mother. And Jenna is a successful entrepreneur. She has a thriving weight loss coaching practice
and wellness center in Manhattan. And she dropped out of college in Australia.
So, she was the inspiration for me getting excited about this topic. For the record,
I did graduate--Brown class of '99. So, I'm not an example of the people that I write
So, we're gonna get into some really specific takeaways that I wanna give you in this next
40-odd minutes. You're gonna come away with some really specific things you can implement
for your career success.
Before we dive into that, I wanna get a kind of more Google Earth view of the issue and
then we'll zoom in more specifically towards the end of the talk. And we'll also have plenty
of time for questions. So, the Google Earth view. In my write-up for this talk, which
you may have seen or not, I'm not sure, I start out with a comparison about two different
types of people.
Take a billionaire executive. You probably know of a few here in this company, or just
someone who is at the top of their game in the corporate world. And then you take someone
who's earning minimum wage, which is around seven fifty an hour these days.
These two people don't have very much in common professionally. They pretty much couldn't
be more opposite professionally. Except, they have one really, really important thing in
common. Can anyone guess what that one thing they have in common is? They both have 24
hours in the day.
I don't care how much money you have. There are ways you can use money to leverage your
time. But I don't care how much money you have, even if you owned all the stock of Google
on IPO day and cash it out that day, all that money could not buy you a 25th hour of the
So, we're all working with 24 hours. So then the interesting question becomes, what distinguishes
these two kinds of workers who have the same amount of time to work with? Why is one earning
so much more than the other? And it's quite dramatic.
The average executive compensation for CEO of a major corporation is around ten million
dollars in both salary and stock options and benefits. I know that Larry and Sergey were
at one point taking one dollar, so they're not the best example here. But your average
CEO of a large corporation is around ten million dollars.
They don't get paid hourly, but if you break that down say, 80 hour weeks, 50 weeks a year,
you're looking at somewhere around three thousand dollars an hour the market is valuating their
time versus someone whose minimum wage pouring coffee kinda thing is getting valued at seven
And they're both putting in roughly the same amount of time each day. So, what is the difference
between them? Well, economists, when they look at who's earning what and why people
are earning more, they have this concept called "productivity," the productivity of someone's
And productivity is a pretty simple function. It's just a function of labor, the time you're
putting in, mixed with capital. So, you take the same amount of labor. You mix it with
more capital. And you get more productivity, more compensation.
So you think of someone who's earning minimum wage, their capital is a mop and very basic
level of training to clean what they're cleaning. It's a low amount of capital. They're mixing
their time and they get low results financial-wise, whereas very highly compensated executive
is putting in roughly the same hours, but they are mixing those hours with an enormous
amount of capital for each minute they're putting in.
It's being mixed with an enormous amount of capital. They have, of course, a human capital.
They have their training, formal education, and their informal training, all their experience
on the job. They have a rolodex, which is a form of human capital, or it might be called
Then they have all the capital of the company. They have executive teams that can put their
vision, execute on their vision. They have all the financial resources accompanied. So
each minute is being mixed with a lot of capital and that's why more value gets created out
of each minute.
So, what I wanna do today--. You all have a lot of human capital already in your expertise,
your education, of course your experience, but I wanna give some really guerilla-style
boot-strapped ways you can start adding even more to your human capital so that each minute
of your time, each hour you spend here is mixed with more capital and therefore, more
And that your career will develop that much faster, your compensation, your earnings will
develop that much faster. So, I'm gonna talk about four main types of lean, or boot-strapped,
human capital that we can all add to. And the first one I'm gonna talk about is sales.
And that might sound a little bit crazy. I'll bet a lot of you in the audience are engineers.
You may not ever in your career get in a position of formally selling something in the context
of the business. Maybe some of you do, but my guess is probably most of you don't.
So, why would I be standing up here telling you that learning about sales is a valuable
way to add to your human capital? Well, even if you're not selling a product for money,
all of us, all of you, are working in a knowledge economy, a knowledge society here.
And we'd like in a certain sense, you're getting paid for your creativity and your ideas. And
we'd like to think that the best ideas win, but we know in office politics, in just the
way things work, that isn't always the case. The ideas that win are the best ideas multiplied
by the best persuasion, the best influence, the best sales, if you will, of those ideas.
So, formal education, which we've all had, I've had, teaches us about the ideas. It's
a pure idea environment where there's this very high premium on coming up with brilliant
ideas. But the thing that you don't tend to learn in a formal environment is how to pitch
and sell and persuade those ideas to real world teams in the real world.
And someone I interviewed for this book actually once went through the entire course catalog
of Harvard's, Stanford, and Wharton Business Schools and was looking for courses in sales.
And there was not a single course in sales in the entire MBA catalogs of those three
most prestigious business MBA programs.
There was one course in sales force management, which is very different from sales. Now, if
you talk to the people I interviewed in my book, these self-made millionaires, self-made
billionaires, successful entrepreneurs, if you talk to them about what was behind their
success, they are almost all very, very passionate about the concept of sales, both traditional
sales in the sense of selling things for money, but just as much, sales in a sense of persuasion
and a sense of getting people excited about your ideas.
And you all are very idealistic. You wanna make a big impact on this company. You want
a big impact in the world of tech, Silicon Valley. And what I'm putting forth to you
is that your impact, the leverage point here is actually gonna be your persuasiveness in
pitching your ideas.
Now one resistance that a lot of people have and I used to have around the idea of learning
sales or persuasion is that it sounds kinda manipulative. The word sales has a bad ring
to it. The word persuasion has a manipulative ring to it. And the truth is, there is a lot
of really manipulative, cheesy, low-grade sales out there.
And that's where we get that impression is that it exists. And it has that connotation
of an encyclopedia salesman or a used car salesman. Well, I'm not here to tell you to
learn that kind of sales. I promise. That's not what I'm talking about. Hopefully, well,
Wikipedia is putting encyclopedia salesmen out of business.
Maybe the Google's Car project will put used car salesmen out of business. We don't know.
You can just order your car off the internet. If you guys did a good job on your algorithms,
you could put insurance salesmen out of business, auto insurance salesmen, if these cars aren't
crashing into each other.
So, I'm looking forward to that. No more of that kind of sales. The kind I'm talking about
is high integrity sales. And it does exist. If you're somehow resisting the concept of
learning to be more persuasive because you think it's cheesy or manipulative, that is
actually, I think, an excuse that is holding you back from furthering your career.
'Cause there are ways to learn this stuff that are high integrity, that are befitting
of your careers of the Google brand. So, a very specific recommendation I wanna make
is a book called "SPIN Selling," S-P-I-N Selling, by Neil Rackham. And this is, in my opinion,
the best book on sales ever written.
As far as I know, the only book that is based on actual observation of in-field sales sessions.
And they were doing--. They had a budget of a million dollars and I think dozens and dozens
of researchers and they went all around the country observing in-field sales sessions
of high-ticket priced items that were considered major sales by the buyer.
And what they found, fortunately for all of us, is that that kind of slickster manipulation
doesn't actually work. That's not what is ultimately what is persuasive in pitching
your ideas to your teams, to people who are gonna buy your ideas. And what works is two
things: asking the right questions and listening very closely to the answers.
And so that, actually, the more the person you're trying to persuade talks, the more
likely you are to persuade them of your vision. And so, sales becomes not a cheesy pitch,
but actually a human conversation where you're listening to your team, you're listening to
what you want, and you're finding ways to demonstrate that you really get what these
people care about and that tailoring what your pitching, what you're selling, quote,
unquote, to their needs.
And when people get that feeling that you're tailoring that way, they listen and they're
persuaded. And your ideas start diffusing through your team and through the company.
So, there is one example of a very highly leveraged way to invest in your human capital.
I just mentioned one book.
I think it's probably 30 bucks at most. You can read it in a few evenings. You don't have
to leave Google. You don't have to go into a master graduate program and take on student
debt to start making these kind of investments in your career. You can do them in this boot-strapped,
on the fly way.
So, the second type of human capital I wanna talk about today, the second type of investment
is attention, investing in the quality of your attention. Now, this is a huge issue
in the tech world, in all of us who are involved with computers. We know Facebook, Twitter,
now Google+ is just one more thing to keep us distracted in the day.
Everyone, email, IM, text message, everyone is struggling with this. I don't know anyone
who's not struggling with issues of attention during their workday. And if you take two
people who have roughly the same educational credentials, roughly the same training, technical
knowledge, same background, and one of them has a fantastic attention and just gets to
They've got a clear mind. They're focused. They can get right to work and not be distracted
and they're going throughout the day with a great level of energy and focus and attention.
And you compare that to your typical corporate worker, who is drinking three or four cups
of coffee just to get awake in the morning, get started, gets distracted by all these
social media things, doesn't really know where they're going in a workday, maybe has to have
another huge jolt of caffeine in the afternoon just to get through the day.
You compare those two people and the first person I mentioned is gonna win in a career
ten times out of ten. So, that's again another type of investing in your human capital that
is highly leveraged in that it doesn't take a lot of money. This is stuff you can learn
You can focus on your time and your money and your attention and you can change yourself.
And we can all change ourselves this way. And it has a huge impact on our careers. And
if you think again about productivity is being labor times capital, you all have a certain
amount of labor that you're bringing to the table here.
Eight, ten, twelve hours a day. I don't know quite how much all of you are spending each
day, but it's a fixed amount. So, we're talking about changing things in ourselves that makes
each of those minutes you bring to the table more productive. And that ends up in bringing
much, much higher career results.
So, there's a lot of ways to focus on attention. I just saw a wonderful sign there about meditation.
So, there's techniques you can learn. I mean, there's a sign right there you can check out
about a meditation group. There's a specific kind of investing in your attention span and
the quality of your attention that I wanna talk about that's very near and dear to my
I had a pretty serious problem with this issue in my 20s. I'm 34. Four years ago, on the
eve of my 30th birthday, I was suicidal. And I had struggled throughout my 20s with Bipolar
II, which a pretty serious mental illness that involves really strong mood swings.
So, my attention was really either--. It was one of two things. It was either super jacked
up, where I was like this and could barely contain myself, which was surprisingly actually
hard to be productive 'cause my mind was just so jacked up. Or, I was in bed and I could
barely get out of bed and pull the covers off of me.
So, neither of those was very conducive to good work. And if you think this stuff about
attention is airy-fairy and New Age, it really isn't. It has a very direct correlation with
your earnings. So, in the darkest moments of that period, I was working as a freelancer
and I earned in my lowest year eight thousand dollars in one year.
'Cause I just wasn't able to bring quality attention to my hours in a day. And it showed
in my pocketbook. And the way I got out of this, it was a long story. I actually wrote
an article about it on Forbes. If you Google my name and Bipolar II, I have a very detailed
article about it.
But essentially, I got of this through better nutritional and eating habits. And I went
through a whole gauntlet of doctors, psychiatrists. I was on all kinds of drugs. And eventually,
I came to a doctor who knew that there were nutritional components to attention and to
And he told, specifically with these mood swings, that sugar was a really big issue
and blood sugars issues. And he told me to get off caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugar,
which I was all of them consuming in rather high quantities. I resisted this advice for
quite a while.
I basically told him to F-off and that I didn't wanna live without those things. Eventually,
it got really bad, as I mentioned. I was literally on the verge of suicide. I was like, "I need
to make a change." I implemented what this doctor told me. And within two weeks, my life
had radically transformed.
And so, you don't need to be in the brinks of that level of darkness to have this effective.
Google is on the forefront, literally the forefront, and I'm not saying this to flatter
you. It's actually true, of paying attention to people, worker's nutrition as a component
of their value in the company and the attention they're bringing.
And Google has gotten deservedly a ton of great press about the healthy food that's
available to you in the cafe and all of that. But we can always do better. We can always
learn more. There's a very high leverage way to increase the value of each minute you're
bringing to your day, is to get this part of your life handled.
To get your nutrition, your health, really handled. And probably all of us could tick
off a list of the basic things you need to do to be healthy. We all know it's basically
eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, cut down on refined sugars, cut down on alcohol
consumption and caffeine consumption, get more exercise, get better sleep.
All of us know these things. But really the difference--. The difference is whether we
implement them or not. So, again, this is in some ways one of the fallacies of formal
training and education is that it's really about like what you know and do you know things
intellectually and can you tick them off on a test.
But what you know is only part of the issue. Really, it's what you put into practice. And
that is actually in some ways the more challenging part. And you really have to train at these
things. I think there's an analogy to training like an athlete. You actually have to train
your taste buds, your senses to respond to healthier eating.
And it is a training process. I have another specific recommendation. A book that was very
helpful to me in this process of transforming my own life is called "The UltraMind Solution"
by Dr. Mark Hyman. He's an MD. It's a very straight-forward, scientifically-based book
on the nutritional aspects of mental performance and mental health.
A lot of books on alternative nutrition have woo-woo New Age concepts. This is a very straight
ahead book written by an MD. I highly recommend it. And again, this is the kind of thing maybe
that book is 15, 20 bucks. You can read it. You don't have to leave your job to bring
this kind of education into your life.
And that's really what I've been talking about in this book is that I think institutions
of higher learning have inappropriately monopolized the word "education." They all undoubtedly
provide very good education and important and valuable education. But that's all we
think of when we think of the word "education" is going to school, taking classes, getting
a degree, getting advanced degrees.
And we don't think about all the other ways that we can educate ourselves for, oftentimes,
much less expensively and often much more relevant to what you're doing right now in
your careers. There's just all these ways available to us and that's really what I interviewed
all these people about was just the more street smart ways that they went about educating
'Cause this group that I talked to is really probably the group in the world that has the
most success with the least formal credentials for that success; the most success with the
least formal credentials. And so, all of their success came in these more street smart, practical
intelligence type ways.
So, we've talked about sales, persuasion. We've talked about your attention. The third
one I wanna talk about might ruffle some feathers, but I think it's really important. And that
is what I call "overcoming emotional liabilities." Overcoming emotional liabilities.
And I have a very technical definition of emotional liabilities. You might want to take
notes on this technical definition. I define an emotional liability as any emotional issue
you haven't dealt with that could come back and bite you in the ass. And we all have these.
All of us. I definitely, definitely have these. All of us in this room have emotional liabilities.
Usually, we're not aware of them. Another way you might think of them is blind spots.
So, everyone else is aware of them. I assure you your team is aware of your emotional liabilities.
You're the only one who isn't. Same thing goes for me. One that I struggle with a lot--.
So, there's several kinds that I'll talk about that are very common in the work world. One
that I personally struggle with a lot is defensiveness, which is essentially being totally unopen
to any kind of feedback around your improvement.
My wife is laughing. She is the one who is the mirror to my blind spots. So, she'll say
something very reasonable, very normal, wifely criticism of a husband. And I'll get extremely
defensive and I'll deny it and I'll start criticizing her right back. And she's very
I'm very lucky to have such a patient wife, who will patiently and compassionately say,
"Honey, you're doing that defensiveness thing again." And she's gotta actually point it
out to me 'cause when you're in the grips of it, you're actually not aware of it. You're
possessed by this and you don't see it, but everyone else sees it.
So, defensiveness. Another one that's extremely common in the work world is what I "victim
mentality." And I have a whole chapter about that in here. I call it the "entrepreneurial
mindset versus the employee mindset." And these are mindsets. This is not about whether
you're actually an entrepreneur or an employee.
It's about mindset. And one thing that I noticed about all the people I interviewed is they
seem to have a mindset in common. And I call that mindset the "entrepreneurial mindset."
And it's very relevant if you're an employee also. The essence of that mindset is a complete
absence of any kind of victim mentality and a sense that these people are creating the
results around them.
They are the cause of the results. So, if you're in a victim mentality, everyone else
is the cause of your results, of your bad results. So, if your team doesn't do well
on a project, "Well, it's my team members. They didn't get that piece of programming,
that piece of code in on time."
All those kinds of excuses that we always hear. So, you're not really the cause of the
bad things in your life, but the problem with that is that it throws the baby out with the
bath water. If you're adopting this mentality where everything else is the cause, then you're
not really the cause of good things in your life, either.
And so, the people I interviewed have a very different mindset around this. And I think
it stems from them being entrepreneurs. Where, if you're an entrepreneur and one of your
employee’s screws up, maybe some entrepreneurs say, "Oh, well the employee is terrible.
It's their fault. That's why we messed up." But those kinds of entrepreneurs don't last
very long. The ones that are successful say, "OK, this is my fault. I created this. Either
I made a bad hiring decision, in which case I need to fix that. Or, I didn't provide the
leadership necessary to have that employee do the right thing.
So, I'm in control. I'm in the driver's seat. I'm creating my reality." There's a lot of
cheesy stuff out there about this issue, the law of attraction and "you create your own
reality." I think for a lot of things that gets overblown and overhyped. And you can
fairly have skepticism about some of the more extreme New Age ways that this gets expressed
in like that movie "The Secret."
But just on a basic level, overcoming this emotional liability of "I'm a victim," "other
people are screwing me over in my career," "if just that one employee, if just that one
boss did something different than I'd get the results I want," that's an emotional liability.
And learning to overcome that is a very, very powerful way to invest in your own human capital.
So, if you think about the most successful--. Think about the best leader you can imagine,
either a boss you've had or just an idealization of your perfect boss/leader.
So, this person is highly inspiring, highly motivating, makes you wanna work for her,
makes you want to bring out your best to perform for the vision she's setting out, is giving
you really hard-hitting solid feedback, but done in a very compassionate way that's not
aimed at cutting you down, but rather in helping you grow.
So, you think about the most inspiring leader like that. And we've all probably had one
or two in some context or another. That person has overcome a lot of their emotional liabilities
'cause we've all got them from childhood. My mother is here, also.
I had a very happy childhood, but just from normal growing up stuff, we've all got this
baggage that we carry around and if we don't learn to let go of the baggage, it will come
back to bite us in the ass. And it will affect, this is not airy-fairy New Age stuff. it will
affect your bottom line.
And so, again on the theme of specific takeaways, on this one, emotional liabilities is very
hard to do just on your own because as we said, they're blind spots. So, you need feedback.
And I'm a very big believer in executive coaching. I'm almost like a religious convert to executive
It's transformed my own life, my own earning power. I mentioned in the darkest days of
my professional life, I earned eight thousand dollars in one year. That was just about four
or five years ago until I finally got my health issues taken care of, which is the second
kind of human capital we talk about.
And then I was in a place to start, once I got my health taken care of, to start focusing
on my money. And I said, "You know what? I can't be in this place any longer. I've got
to get my money handled. And I'm not gonna attract--. No woman that I want to spend my
life with is gonna wanna be married to such a financial basket case."
And this is before I met Jena and I really had my vision. I needed to get this handled
to meet the kind of partner that I wanted to have in my life. So, I invested and it
was literally a financial investment in really high-quality coaching. And there's all kinds
of workshops out there, coaching you can get.
Again, there's enormous amount of BS out there. I would say, I'm probably gonna piss some
people off for listening to this on the video, but I would say 80% of coaches I've come across
are pretty messed up in their own life and they're using coaching as a way to sort out
their own life by coaching other people.
That's a really, really common meme that you'll see out there. So, you gotta find the people
who aren't like that, who actually have their stuff already handled. And who can help you
get your emotional liabilities handled. What's the best way to find them?
Referrals is always the best way I think. Find people who've got this stuff handled.
Find people who are where you wanna be. Find, whether in this company or elsewhere in the
Valley, find people who are where you wanna be and ask who they learned from. What books
did they read?
What teachers did they have? What mentors did they have? It's possible that those people
teach workshops, teach classes. I'll make two recommendations right here if you're looking
for specific recommendations. I have no--. I'm not affiliated with these people.
I have no benefit from recommending them, but one is actually a former Googler, Jenny
Blake, who used to organize this Authors@Google series. And she was an executive coach here
at Google and she decided to go out and do it full-time herself. She's great.
She's helped me a lot. She's a friend now. I actually pay an executive coach also. So,
there's a mix of informal and formal. So, you can find mentors, which is a form of coaching.
But I really do believe in investing with your wallet and paying for some executive
I pay for an executive coach. He's a guy called Peter Shallard. S-H-A-L-L-A-R-D. He goes by
the moniker, "The Shrink for Entrepreneurs." And I think we're all, whether employees or
not, we all live in an entrepreneurial environment. We all need some kind of shrink quote/unquote.
And so, go out and find one that works for you and make that investment. A good executive
coach--. The going rate for a really good one who knows what they're doing is about
a thousand dollars a month. And that may sound like a lot, but compare that, for example,
to going back and getting a master’s degree.
That could be 50 thousand dollars a year for a good program plus forgone earnings. That
could be another 50 to 100 thousand dollars a year in forgone earnings. Much of that will
be put on debt. So, there's gonna be interest associated with the debt.
So, you're looking at possibly 150 thousand dollars a year to get that kind of formal
increase in your human capital, whereas a really good executive coach might be one-tenth
of that in a year. It's gonna be a form of education, but highly tailored to your specific
needs and your specific circumstances.
And again, this is like a more kind of guerilla lean style where you don't have to leave your
job. This is done in dialogue with your job, this kind of education. And all the people
I talked to in this book are really, really big believers in the power of mentorship.
And since they didn't have formal educations, they didn't have professors, they had to go
and find their professors in the world. So, I have a chapter, the second chapter in the
book, is a step-by-step way to go on how to find informal mentors who can help you with
these issues and help us get to that higher, more clean level of leadership where we're
not getting triggered and weighed down by emotional baggage issues.
So, that's the third kind of human capital investment. And the last type of human capital
that I'm gonna talk about today is meaning and bringing meaning to our careers. And I
have another pretty serious personal story around this. After dealing with that whole
bipolar health issue, I got out of it.
I got out alive. Pretty soon after that, I got diagnosed with testicular cancer about
two and a half years ago. And knock on wood, I got the surgery four days after I found
out about it. I was on the surgery table. I got the surgery. Everything seems to be
So I am a cancer survivor of two and half years. And it's kind of clichéd or cheesy,
but there's something about being diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness that gives
you a permission slip to really start thinking about these big issues. Like, what does my
What impact do I really want to make here on the planet? And so, I thought about those
a lot during the time of the surgery and after. And I just spent a lot of time thinking about
those issues. And to me, it's actually kind of sad that it generally takes a life-threatening
illness for us to give ourselves permission to start thinking about these issues in our
Steve Jobs just stepped down from his incredible tenure of leadership. There's a really beautiful
commencement speech he gave in 2005 at Stanford where he talks about this and he talks about
his cancer diagnosis and how he started thinking about these big picture issues facing death.
And my hope is that we all in this room don't have to face those issues for a very long
time and we all live very, very healthy long lives. But I want us to give ourselves permission
to think about those issues without facing mortality and do it now. And again, this is
not an airy-fairy concept.
It has direct relevance to your success in your career. So, if you take two people again,
same educational background, same training, same technical skills. One of them is just
showing up for work like, "Hey, Google's a cool place to work and get this free food.
It sounds cool on my resume."
And that's their relation to their work. Not a lot of meaning. And you take someone else
who has a very clear sense of what they want to accomplish on this planet, of what impact
they want to have made in their company, in the industry, in the world, through their
Which one of those two people is gonna be promoted faster? Which one is gonna advance
in their career? Which one is gonna earn more over their career? It's really clear the latter
one will. So, I'm gonna give you my definition of meaning and how we can add more to it.
I'm sure that you did not expect coming at 12 PM at a lunchtime talk to get a definition
of the meaning of life, but I'm gonna give you mine right here from a lot of reflection.
The way I like to think about it is the way we can add more meaning to our lives and our
career is making a difference in the lives of people you care about.
Making a difference in the people you care about. And there's two components to that.
Making a difference and the people you care about. And both of those components need to
be there for a sense of meaning. So, I have two of the most important people in my life
here: my mother, who gave me life. My wife, who gives me life every day and inspiration.
And these are people I deeply, deeply care about. And Jena and I just had our one year
wedding anniversary. And a year ago, a little over a year ago, I was giving her my vows
in the wedding and I said, "Jena, I vow to you that if you're ever in danger, if you're
ever in harm's way, I will sacrifice everything. I will sacrifice even my own life to protect
you and to get you out of harm."
And I meant those words and there's very few people on the planet I would say those words
to, but I said them to Jena that day. And that is a level of meaning that I'm talking
about here. That's the level of care and we all have that in our families. We all have
that with people we love, whether it's a spouse or significant other, children, siblings,
And so, we get this is in our personal life that that's what gives us meaning is making
a difference. On that difference point, it's not just caring. It's also--. This is--. Jena
is someone I care deeply about and I know I'm making a difference in her life. I know
that her life is very different because I'm in it and we have a relationship.
And it goes both ways. My life is completely different and pretty much unrecognizable because
of Jena's care and the difference she's making on me. So, it's the caring and the making
a difference. So, how does this translate into the professional realm? Well, the level
of care may or may not be that intense, but you all work with people.
We like to think--. We may think that we're here because of technical skills, because
of training background. But nothing gets done without people. And you all work on teams.
And presumably, you care about your teams. And there's an analogy here.
If you interview soldiers about why they fight, why they put up with these horrendous, hellish
conditions, what keeps them going day after day on no sleep, risking their life every
day? If you interview people like that about why they do it, they may say something about
the cause or the reason they're fighting or their country.
But if you really dig deep and read the interviews with them, almost always they're talking about
their team mates, their fellow soldiers and this profound love and care they have for
the people that on are on their side. And it's very elemental thing in our psychology,
this caring for teams.
So, the more you learn how to get in touch with why you're here, why you care about what
you're doing, the people you care about, and getting really, really inspired by making
a difference in what they're doing, the more powerful your career is gonna be, the more
powerful each minute of your labor, which is fixed.
You only have a certain amount of it each day. So we're talking about how to make it
the most effective. The more each minute of that labor is gonna be powerful. And there's
not really books or things you can do. This is inquiry. This is internal inquiry that
we all have to do.
And it tends to get put aside for other types of investing. So, people, when they think
of investing, they think of stocks, bonds, real estate, portfolios. A common benchmark
is that you're supposed to put 10% of your pre-tax earnings into retirement and that
kind of savings and investment.
So, that's roughly 10% of your energy going towards that kind of investment. But we never
ever talk about these, giving ourself time for these kinds of investments in our human
capital. And the people I talked to for the last two years, this is their focus.
I mean, these are masters, masters, of investing in their own human capital in very inexpensive
ways, without having to go into debt, without having to take out student loans. Again, I'm
not trying to bash those things. All of you have probably done a lot of that in your life.
I'm just trying to expand the conversation in a direction that it hasn't gone very much.
[pause] So in closing, I hope that this talk has inspired
you to change the way you view the concept of investing. That all of the things that
I'm talking about are actual investments of things that matter to you.
I mean, even than money, what's more valuable to all of us than money is time. And all of
these things are gonna take time. I'm not minimizing the amount of time that these things
are gonna take: to learn to be a more persuasive communicator about your ideas, to learn to
increase the quality of your attention through better health habits, to learn to get over
these emotional baggage issues that we all have, to do this deep inquiry into what is
meaningful for you about your career, why you show up every day other than just collecting
Those are all gonna take time. But in my view, these are extremely powerful, lucrative ways
to invest your time, your energy, and your money. Thank you so much.
So, we have some time for, let me just see how much time we have here. We have some time
for about ten minutes for questions, so any questions from the audience. Yes.
>> Michael Ellsberg: Here.
>>MALE #1: So, thank you for the talk. One of the things, though, when you're talking
about attention, you gave these two examples. The person who comes in, has to drink a ton
of coffee to wake up and then the person who's naturally there and they're fully focused.
I mean, those are two rather extreme examples. I think probably the majority of people here
fall into the middle. They know they need to focus. They're trying to focus. But distractions
still come up. Do you have any thoughts or specific things that you do or that some of
the people in your book do to actually be able to maintain that focus for extended periods
of time at work amidst all the distractions?
>>Michael Ellsberg: Right. Great. So, the question, if you didn't hear it is probably
all of us in this room are more in the middle of that range that I gave that we're not complete
basket cases with our attention, but even if we're in the middle of that road, how can
we improve even further?
So there's the street eye view and the bird's eye view. A lot of the books out there on
this topic, a really popular one in the tech world is "Getting Things Done" by David Allen.
It could be useful for you. It focuses on really day-to-day strategies of this kind
The issue I have with that book and those kinds of books is that they tend to be very
good about how you should plan your tasks, but they don't really get you thinking that
much about which tasks you should be doing and which ones are gonna have the highest
And I actually think, again, that that inquiry into your meaning about, like what you really,
what are the really important things you wanna be accomplishing here? That is a big picture
inquiry that can cut out 80% of the low-level tasks that you have to do if you really get
in touch with that meaning.
On the more street eye view, a system--. This is an area I'm still working on a lot. A system
that I have found very useful is called the Pomodoro Technique. Has anyone heard of that
one? If you look it up, Pomodoro, there's a lot of stuff of it online.
The name comes from the Pomodoro kitchen timers, those tomatoes that you twist and it tick-tocks
in the kitchen. And the idea is that it's basically a timer and you can get digital
versions of this. That goes for 25 minutes.
And in 25 minutes, you focus on one thing and you turn off all the email and the notifications
and the Facebook and the Google+ and all these things. You focus on one thing for 25 minutes.
The timer goes off. You get a five minute break and you can do whatever you want.
You can go and get tea. You can make some cell phone calls. You can check your Facebook.
Then the timer goes off in five minutes. You go back to 25. That cycle, they call it a
Pomodoro. You do four of those Pomodoros, which is roughly two hours. And then you can
take a longer break.
And I found that to be really, really effective in my own life. I'm self-employed. I work
at home, so I don't have a team that's keeping me on track. So, I have needed to implement
something like this to stay on track. But there's all kinds of things out there like
that available to you really cheaply.
And I guess my big picture point is to not view those things as extras. Like, "Well,
maybe if I have some time I'll learn those things." These are things that are going to
make your labor more valuable next week, the week after that, day after day, month after
month, and you will see the results in your career and in your earnings and in the leadership
you're able to take.
There's books available over there.