Cake
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
    • Chris

      When TED was a small conference, the format was Richard getting a conversation going between fascinating people on stage. I remember at an early TED sitting with Walt Mossberg in the seat to my left and Jeff Bezos in the seat to my right.

      When I heard Richard was coming to Comic Con to have a conversation with the great musician Kevin Eubanks, I fought the crowds and got Richard to let me call him after the show. I wanted to know what makes for great conversations because of what we're trying to do with Cake.

      The show organizer mentioned Richard's new book, Understanding Understanding. I bought it and it astonished me. I'll tell you why when I get a chance to post again.

      Two things Richard said on the call which I will always remember (he has said these things publicly):

      1. If you're not terrified, you're probably not pushing hard enough. I mentioned to him that I have started companies before and it was terrifying in the beginning, and at times as they grew. He said you have to be confident enough in the idea to handle the terror, but no terror means you aren't trying something hard enough. Significant things are hard.

      2. The greatest thing in life is conversation between people. And public conversations are best when they happen between two people with a third acting as the conscience of the conversation. He guessed that's what we should chase for panel conversations on Cake.

      He said if I ever got to Florida, I could stop by his home. If I did, what would you have me ask him?

    • yaypie

      And public conversations are best when they happen between two people with a third acting as the conscience of the conversation.

      That's interesting. The choice of the word "conscience" instead of "moderator" or "mediator" seems significant.

      When I think of a moderator I think of someone who steers a conversation and keeps it from going off the rails, and a mediator encourages participants to empathize with each other, but the word conscience brings to mind a more substantial role — perhaps requiring active empathy both for the participants in the conversation and for those not represented.

      I'd love to hear more about this!

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      The funny thing about that, Ryan, is I wrote that down when he said it because I thought it was an unusual choice of words, and knowing him he picked it purposely. I just went back and checked the notes and I see that his actual wording was semi-invisible conscience. He then went on to say that some interviewers like to ask provocative questions that generate headlines and he made it clear that he and Walt didn't do that.

      Richard said his formula was find two interesting people and have them talk to each other, not the audience. That meant looking at each other. For one thing, nodding is so important in face-to-face conversation, you can't not do it. And Richard would guide the the conversation towards the things that interested him, that he wanted to know. He paired people of different backgrounds who had different understandings and, I think the term he used in his book was, hug their way of understanding. He called the conversations intellectual jazz.

      He wrote a chapter on a conversation he had with Walt Mossberg. Walt ended it with this:

      Richard is the most interesting person I have ever had the privilege to know. He just simply is. I mean, look, was Steve Jobs a phenomenally interesting person? Yes. Were Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and those guys historical figures? Yes. But neither of them had the breadth of curiosity and sense of intellectual investigation that Richard has. He got to pull people from all these different disciplines and find their common avenues.

      I am not just saying this to bullshit you, it's just true.

      I told Richard this morning the phone call with him was the most interesting call of my life, and I had many with Steve Jobs.

    • jl

      As trite as this sounds, I think an interesting question for him might be what his favorite question to ask people is...I don't think you can get to the level of knowledge he has without asking people a lot of questions, and I bet he has some favorites.

      I'd also be interested to hear more about what he means by "terror" -- when I think of terror, I think of debilitating fear, but I don't think that's what he means, since debilitation isn't very helpful for difficult new ventures. I might just have my definitions wrong, though...

    • Chris

      Jesse, I had the same reaction when he said "terror" and asked him about that. He said he organized a small conference called EAT, which was an acronym for envy, admiration, and terror—the three forces he thinks are most important in achieving great things. He said when terror gets paralyzing, it stops you, but if you can muster the confidence in your idea, it pushes you to extraordinary levels.

      It's funny, because we think of leadership as calm under pressure, but I remember how Steve Jobs was always nervous Nellie, calling in the middle of the night because something was scaring him.

      As far as the question goes, here's a fascinating 2-minute clip of him addressing questions.

      And some quotes from his book:

    • Shay

      I read Phil Knight's book. He used to phone his father at night and, while talking to his father, rock himself from side to side ( from what I remember, read the book a while ago). Poing being, he was under enormous stress / terror every day until the company went public.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Wasn't that an amazing book?!! I remember hearing Steve Jobs say several times that you can tell a lot about a company by the heroes that it keeps. He used Nike as an example, their heroes were athletes. He said shoes are a commodity (I never figured out why he thought that) and Nike elevated them into something else by putting ads featuring Michael Jordan in their commercials.

      I didn't know until I read the book what you pointed out: that he was terrified a lot of the time.

    • Shay

      he walked a tightrope for years -

      Borrowing to buy shoes - selling them then borrowing more -

      And the vicious circle continued... talk about pressure !!! Don’t know how he did it

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      I said I'd comment on his latest book, Understanding Understanding. He said on the phone that he dictated the parts of the book he wrote into his iPhone. You can tell as you read it that it sounds like a transcription of how he speaks. I kinda liked that.

      The design, tho. He gave huge credit to Jenn Shore, a young recent grad who did the design production. It's incredible. The design, the photos, illustrations, quotes in the sidebars. Someone said in their Amazon 5-star review (all the reviews are 5-star) "it's the only coffee table book you'll ever need."

    • kikoteixeira

      Hey Chris, I am glad you got back in touch with Richard! I hope that it helped in your search for how to bring great conversations into the information age. I am rooting for you guys in this journey!

    • kikoteixeira

      And public conversations are best when they happen between two people with a third acting as the conscience of the conversation.

      It is worth dissecting "conscience", like Ryan has done here. My interpretation is a concept in psychology known as triangulation. It is the idea that "intellectual jazz" when under stress can become unstable, but a third person brings stability to the duality of egos.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      Kiko, a day after the call and I'm starting to question some things about what I heard. I deeply respect him but he made it clear his comfort zone is person-to-person. So, for example, he would say two people looking at each other and one serving as semi-invisible conscience is best.

      But is it for panel conversations on the Internet? He has never tried them. Think of how much fun some channels are in Slack with 10 people chiming in.

    You've been invited!