Ryan Holiday’s Top 10 Rules For Success (@RyanHoliday)


Just because you’re doing something and you’re successful at it, does not mean you have to continue doing it. If you do two things, it’s hard to be good at those two things. But if you do like a bunch of things that are all somewhat related, they’re kind of like fueled into each other. What’s the single worst marketing decision that you could make? And I think we’ve all been there – it’s that you start with a crappy product. I think the big thing is you don’t leap until you’ve spotted the landing. I find it so manageable, that I want them to be successful or I want them to work well for me like more than they wanted it for themselves. I worked on close to a dozen bestsellers. It was the single most effective thing that I have ever seen in the history of book marketing. Wealth is nice if you have it but if you make your personal happiness dependent on having this money that’s bad. Honestly, if I ever caught like the 18 year old version of myself, saying like, “I was destined for greatness or some ridiculous thing like that”. I could beat the __ out of him. How do we make this product go viral? But of course, it’s never going to go viral because it sucks. If you think you already know everything, you stop doing this thing; you’re not going to learn anymore. I’m an American author, marketer and entrepreneur. I’m a media strategist behind bestselling authors like Tony Robbins and Robert Greene. I worked with big brands like Google, Complex and Taser. I’m the former marketing director from American Apparel. And I’m the editor-at-large at the New York observer. I’m Ryan Holiday and here are my Top 10 Rules for Success. Just because you’re doing something and you’re successful at it does not mean you have to continue doing it. And in some ways, your willingness to take big risks defines where you’re life is going. Like, right now, I have a great house, I have great stuff. Like, “Am I willing?” “If the right opportunity comes up, am I willing to leverage all that to bet again?” That – Your willingness to take those risks, especially when you are young is the difference between, like an average life and an extraordinary life. What I found, that I have this great thing where, I think, “If you do one thing, you could be like really good at that one thing. If you do two things, it’s hard to be good at those two things. ” But if you do, like a bunch of things that are all somewhat related, they’re kind of like fueled into each other. So, it’s like: I was working for this author and I was learning how blogging works. Which turned around, and became very relevant in American Apparel. But then, among the other things like ad buying, the media and stuff like that. And then, you know, the work with the authors, I learned how books get made. So, all the things are sort of these series of like contented circles – that sort of all add to each other. So, for me, it’s not like I did one thing and I dedicated myself totally to that and then I did another thing and then I did another thing. It was like, all sort of simultaneous. There’s one period where I had basically like 3 full time jobs. Which was not exactly a fun experience but it sort of compressed of a period of learning that would normally taken like years, like one or two years. Where I just learned so much that I kind of experiment and do things when I took some of that stuff off my plate What’s the single worst marketing decision that you could make? And I think we’ve all been there – it’s that you start with a crappy product. But as marketers this is what we do day in and day out. Our job starts when the product is finished. But the growth hackers say why? Why can’t the product be improved? Why does it have to start so late in the process? Why are we getting handed this final product when market feedback would incorporate into the product, the elements that make it successful? And so, when marketers stop thinking of their job as to simply work on what’s already have been done but to answer these questions: Who’s the product for? Why would they use it? Why I use it? Marketing is being tuned to the product. So, I love this quote from Paul Graham, the founder of Y Combinator says, “Make stuff people want. That’s the best marketing decision that you can make.” And I think if you look at a company like Instagram, you see this very clearly, right? Instagram launched as a Foursquare competitor called Burbn, it was a geo-location service. And it had a feature that allowed people to upload photos and put filters on them. It got a little bit of traction but nothing truly profound. And so, they decided they’re going to zoom-in on this single feature. They’re going to throw everything that they have done out so far. And they’re going to re-brand as Instagram. It launches, I think there’s something like 25,000 downloads, its first day. And it’s sold to Facebook a year later for a billion dollars. So you could argue that the best marketing decision that Instagram made was changing from Burbn to Instagram. Everything else was extra. Everything else was window dressing. The product was the marketing. I think the big thing is you don’t leap until you’ve spotted the landing, right? And so, I think what people like, “I hate what I’m doing so I’m going to stop doing it.” And then they think they’re, what they love doing is imagine they’re going to fall in the rut. It doesn’t work that way. It’s like, again, you know, Mark Zuckerberg didn’t start Facebook after he dropped out. He started this side project in college. He built it into something that was then realistic and reasonable to transfer his energies from traditional things to the un-traditional things. And so, you know, I started reaching out to authors that I wanted to meet and you know, learn from while I was in college. I didn’t quit college because I hated it and then go to do this thing. So I think that’s a very important thing that people have to realize. It’s not …You don’t magically get the life that you want. It’s a series of steps. And take the smallest possible step you can. And then, you take another one, and another one and another one. And then, all of a sudden, they start to be not just some momentum but the next step is clear, you know. I would have no…when I was dropping out, I had no idea that… It would lead where I am now, it’s a series of individual decisions but I knew that it was probably going in the direction that I wanted to go. So, I am more of a proponent of like having the direction that you wanted headed rather by going like, you know, “By 28 years old, I’m going to be first woman to land in the moon.” You know, like, that is very certain and then somewhat it’s partly limiting you from other awesome stuff that might come up along the way. On my biography, at the back of the book, it says like, well, I’m an apprentice under Robert Greene. That’s the word that you make out for what happened after it happened. You know what I mean? Like, it’s not like: I met him at this launch and he said, “Hi,” and then he, you know, in some ceremony like inducted me into being his apprentice, like we’re like Masons or something, you know. It was, “Hey, I’m going to give you a shot on this thing because I need some help on something because I don’t want to transcribe all these really, long interviews.” “Fine, whatever you’re willing to pay me to do it, I will do it. And I’m going to deliver something that you’re going to be happy with. And then, I’m going to ask you for feedback. I’m going to ask how I can improve. And then, I’m going to ask for another shot. And I’m going to get better that time. And I’m just going to slowly build momentum and trust with you.” And that’s what I did. You know, there was no formal arrangement; sometimes we go weeks or months without talking because he was busy. And I understood that my job was to contribute and not be a burden or a thing that he would have to feel obligated to, you know, monitor or whatever. And if he didn’t give me something to do, I would try to think like, “Is there something that I can do that he doesn’t ask me to do? How can I make that contribution? And, how can I have me working for him be as painless for him as possible?” The second thing, you know, that I find what I have with people that I think I was able to differentiate myself with is I wanted it really bad. And he knew that anytime, he knew that like I always wanted more. And he never had to chase me. Like, he never had to call me twice. Or email me and say like, “You know Ryan, I emailed you three days ago, why haven’t you gotten back to me?” Because like, he gave me a week deadline, it was done in two days, you know. Or if he called me, I called him right back. If he asked me to read a book, I read it and I didn’t give him excuses for why. You know, I find it so manageable, you know, I want them to be successful or I want them to work well for me like more than they want it for themselves. In late 2012, I worked on a book launched for Tim Ferris. He wrote a book called the “4-hour Chef”, it was his third book. It was published by Amazon. And because it was published by Amazon, we found out at the very last minute, about six weeks before launch that it was going to be banned by every major bookstore in the United States. And this is pretty much the worst thing that could happen to you if you’re doing a traditional book launch because that’s where the books are sold. So, how do we hit the New York Times Bestseller list? How do we move copies if all the traditional marketing stuff is out the window? That leaves growth hacking right? How do we do this? How do we treat this book like a startup that we’re creating from nothing? One of the first things we did was a bit of a give away. We give away something like 250 pages of the book, videos, photos, all sorts of extra stuff. It ended up getting downloaded like about 3 million times. It drove 250,000 people to the Amazon page. It was the single most effective thing. I’ve worked on close to a dozen bestsellers; it was the single most effective thing that I’ve ever seen in the history of book marketing. And it came from giving a sizable portion of the book away. And so, it was this proof for me that the traditional marketing, the un-track-able, the untested things, are aren’t working anymore. And we want to experiment, we want to try new things. What Seneca is saying is, he’s not, and all Stoics, they’re not saying you can’t be wealthy, you can’t be successful. You can’t go out and do things. What they’re saying is that you can’t be dependent on these things. Like he’s saying like, “Wealth is nice if you have it but if you make your personal happiness dependent on having this money, that’s bad because it’s not in your control, right? The economy can melt down at any moment or your house can burned down or you could lose your job. And if you have equated wealth with personal happiness, now, your personal happiness is outside of your control. So, this is always about control in that sense. How do you make the distinction between externals and internals and focus most of your energy on internals. Having externals was nice but sort of, what they would say, understand that they are yours in trust, which means that they could leave you at any moment. And a lot of Stoic exercises are sort of about practicing not having those things. So, Seneca was famous. One day a month, he will craft this being poor. So, he wore like crappy clothes, and he was like not eat at his house, he would sleep outside. He was just…I mean, more now, a metaphor than anything else. But the idea is like, we’re so afraid of these things so we don’t think about them and therefore, we’re not prepared for them. And then, it makes them much scarier and we dread them that much more, even though if you look at it really objectively, it’s really not that bad. Our accountant is a super guy, he was talking about ironies over…He was talking about how strange it is that we… What it says about our economy that there are so many jobs now that companies wouldn’t even have someone do for free because like, even just training them or bringing them into the system is expensive, you know. And so, for me, it’s like, I have to decide, its like, do I want to do this myself? Or do I want to take like months? Or like, do I want to undergo the whole training, you know, bringing someone up to speed process with someone who might I will have to fire, you know, because they can’t cut it. Interviewer: Partially, you are at fault because you romanticize the vision of being an intern for one of the best writers in the world. So, you probably get some of the worst candidates. You probably get the candidates that want to be on a myth. Ryan: Totally. I get lots of really nice kids, lots of ones that I referred to other people and then I also get all the crazy ones. They were like, “I’m just like you man.” Like, “I’m destined for greatness.” It was like, honestly, like if I ever caught like the 18-year old version of myself, saying, I was like, destined for greatness or some ridiculous thing like that, I’m going to beat the __ out of him. Because it was like, that sort of lack of humility and that like ego, this delusion is precisely what makes it really hard to work. I worked not just for Robert and I was mentored by a lot of successful people. The single worst trait you can have is being a crazy person because they do not have time for that. And it’s like, what I say; I bring this the whole time, keep crazy at home. Like, be crazy to your parents, be crazy to your girlfriend, be crazy in private but like, if you’re going to be like that you are going to blow everything up. Virality relatively gets a bad rap because we’ve all been to those meetings where someone says, “Hey can you make this video go viral for me?” Or, “How do I make this product go viral?” But of course, it’s never going to go viral because it sucks. But it’s also never going to go viral because there’s not a reason to it. It’s not built into the product. So, when I think about “viral-ity”, I think about people who build share-ability and public-ness into their product. So, I think about Apple and Blackberry adding this, the “sent from my I-phone” or “sent from my Blackberry” to the bottom of each one of their emails. Or Groupon and Living Socials “refer-a-friend program” which paid users to bring in new users. Look, viral-ity isn’t law, it’s not magic, it’s definitely not random either. There is a science behind why people talk about things, you have to build those into the product. Dropbox is another amazing example Its gift-free space program at one point, it was driving 33% of their user sign-ups because they paid users in free storage which cost them next to nothing to refer their friends. And this is the goal of every growth hacker, right? To build a self-perpetuating marketing machine, so, you create an amazing product, you bring in users and then those users bring in more users. Interviewer: What is like the number one thing to take from the “Ego is the Enemy” and a piece of advise you will give to, you know, a young Ryan Holiday who’s now 19, 20 years old that’s watching this right now? Ryan: Yes, so, I mean, one of my favorite sections of the book is this idea of: “That you can never stop being a student.” Because students are humble because they understand that there is someone above them, who can teach them. So, if you never stopped being a student. And there’s a quote from Epictetus, which says, “One cannot learn that which they think they already know,” right? And so, if you think you already know everything, you stopped being a student and you’re not going to learn anymore. And in some ways, it is over for you. I was forced to look at the world the way he looks at the world like, how I researched books. I learned from Robert’s system because as his research assistant, he wasn’t like, “Go make up your own system.” He’s like, “That’s how I do it – you need to do it this way, so you can be of service to me.” So, you’re sort of learning how to do that thing rather than, like, you know, sitting down and reading a book about it or trying to learn a song by ear. It’s like, no, somebody showed you how to do each step. Evan: This has been a super cool experience. I’ve never done a “Top 10” on anybody where the guy is actually introducing himself, so, Ryan, thank you for that. I’m wondering if you can a bonus 11th tip with us. Nobody’s got 11 tips, you’re the first. Will you do it? Ryan: Yes, okay, so one of the things I talked about in “Ego is the Enemy” is this idea of adapting the student mindset. And this is something we see not only on people who are aspiring to do something but who have already accomplished something. Because being a student, is inherently humbling, you are deciding, “I don’t know, I’m never going to know everything and so I’m always going to think as though there is more to learn than I already know.” There’s a great quote from Epictetus, he says, “One cannot learn that which they think they already know.” And so deciding, “Hey, I don’t know,” is a way to combat your ego. And by finding people who are smarter than you, surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you, tackling topics that make you uncomfortable or scare you, this is a way to keep you from ever getting too big of a head. It’s a way to prevent you from ever thinking like, “Okay, I’ve arrived, I’ve made it.” There’s another quote, it’s from a physicist, I’m forgetting his name, but he says, “As our island of knowledge grows, our circle of ignorance grows with it.” And the idea is that, “The more you know, the more you bump in to stuff you don’t know.” And I think if you continue on that path both when you’re aspiring to be successful, it what’s helps you absorb as much knowledge as quickly as possible, you know. Attract mentors and masters who will show you the way. But then, once you’ve arrived, rather, you’ve made it in some way. If you stay a student, you never going to be that successful person who thinks they know everything and dives into some project they are not prepared for or tackles something that’s outside their strengths. I think you have to keep that beginner’s mindset even if you are not a beginner anymore. Evan: For people, who haven’t read the book, why is it important to combat your ego? Ryan: Sure, I would say ego is the enemy of that sense of realism or objectivity about who you are and what you’re doing. So, when you’re young ego is problematic, right? Because it’s preventing you from learning, from getting feedback. When you are successful, ego is problematic because it’s telling you, you know, it makes you complacent, or makes you entitled, or makes you selfish or self-absorbed. So, really, whether you’re aspiring to success, ego is what prevents you from achieving that success. When you are successful, ego endangers your success because it makes it so fragile and precarious. Like, How many successful people implode and ruin everything that they have because, you know, they over reached or they made an enemy out of someone or you know, they over invested in something? We see that over and over again. So, ego is what prevents us from that sort of sense of realism that I think you need to do or work. Evan: Would you have an advice for Donald Trump? Right now, people thinking that he’s an ego-maniac. Ryan: Of course he is an ego-maniac. And you know, I think it’s interesting with Donald Trump, it’s like, on the one hand, ego might be helpful when you’re the least qualified person to ever run for the presidency of America. It’s what tells you, “Oh yeah, I should totally do this.” But I think, it doesn’t take a smart person to see like, he would make that ego will be his worst enemy if he was actually president, right? Because he can’t collaborate with other people, he can’t understand what other people feelings are. He lacks this sort of empathy and he would never…there was an interview yesterday where someone was saying like, “What’s your formal past experience? And he seriously said, “Well, I hosted the Miss Universe contest in Russia three years ago.” So, like, he thinks that he understands the complicated geo-politics between Russia and America because he hosted a beauty pageant in Russia a few years ago, like, “That’s insane!” And so, that goes back to the Epictetus quote. This idea of like, “You can’t learn something if you’re convinced that you already know it.” And so he’s not going to be good on those situations because his ego has already told him that he’s heard everything he needs to hear. Evan: And for people who don’t know who Epictetus is? Ryan: Epictetus is a Stoic philosopher. He is a fascinating figure. He was a former slave. He was granted freedom and then he adopt this Stoic philosophy and becomes the most powerful, one of the most important and influential philosophical teachers in all of Rome. One of his most famous practitioners or not direct student but came into Epictetus’s work was Marcus Aurelius who became the Emperor of Rome. So we have this slave who adopts a philosophy and he ends up influencing the most powerful man in the world in that time. So, I found that fascinating. Evan: And if you had to summarize what’s Stoic philosophy was, for people who would like…the first time who heard about it. Ryan: Yes, sure. So, Stoic philosophy is not what you quite…when you heard me say philosophy, like, “Oh, that sounds pretty boring.” Stoic is this practical philosophy. It’s designed, what Stoics called to help you with the “art of living.” But if I have to sum it up into one sentence, I would say, “The Stoics believe we don’t control the world around us, we control how we respond to the world around us.” So, they are always thinking, “Okay, I don’t control what other people think, or I don’t control what my boss does but I control my reaction to that thing. I don’t control what the weather is but I control how I’m going to make use of my day despite the weather.” And I think as an entrepreneur, that’s how you have to wake up and see the world. You don’t have time to complain about whether something’s fair or unfair or whether somebody screwed you over. Whether this is really hard or stressful. You just, you have payroll to meet and you have a job to do and that’s all that you can focus on – is your reaction because that’s the one thing that’s always in your control. Evan: Cool. And then, the last one, you’re talking about, you have to be a student. You have to always be learning. So, what are you learning right now? What’s Ryan Holiday working on, he’s a student of? Ryan: Yes. So, I’m, like I was so…Whatever you’re doing there’s always someone better than you at that thing. And I think you want to be thinking, “Okay, what are they doing differently that I’m not doing? What have they mastered? So, as a writer, I’m thinking, “Okay, I’ve gotten good at this style of writing, what is another style of writing? When it’s, “Who’s the master that I look up to that’s doing great? And that’s how I started my career. I was an apprentice to Robert Greene who was my favorite writer in the entire world and I wanted to…I was quite literally his student. Like, I would go to his house and asked him a million questions. And now, I don’t do that as much. But I, you know, I had dinner last night with a writer I look up to, his name is AJ Jacobs and so, I’m thinking, like, “I’m trying to ask him as many questions as I can and learn from him.” And you’re trying to…there’s always…there’s that Jim Rohn quote about like “You’re the product of the five people you spend the most time with?” Evan: Yes. Ryan: I think that’s true with your education. It’s like what influences are you surrounding yourself with. Are they better than you? Are they pushing you better? Or because of your ego, you’re so insecure that you only want to be around equals or lesser, that’s not a recipe for improving. Evan: Right, so, you’re still studying to try to be a better author, better marketer? Ryan: Yes, totally. I mean, everyday, I’m waking up and like, you can’t be satisfied. You can be proud of what you’ve done but you can’t say, “That’s as good as I can do.” Because you can always do better, I think. Evan: Thank you guys so much for watching. Ryan: Yes, thanks for having me. Thanks to Garret D for suggesting me for this. And I thought I would suggest 3 people I would like to see do “Top 10 Rules.” Robert Greene, James Altucher and Maria Popova who does BrainPickings.org Evan: Cool. Thank you guys…I also would love to know which of Ryan’s Top 11 Rules you’d like the most. Leave your comments below and I’ll join the discussion. Thank you so much for watching. Continue to #Believe and we’ll see you soon. BONUS: I think exercise is very important to the creative process. I try to either run…I run or swim almost…run, swim or I do cross fit every day. That’s very important. Like, I tend to have my creative breakthroughs when I’ve stopped working on something and I went to do something else. What I did earlier, I think, that’s probably why that’s there. It’s like you did work and work and work on a problem and then you stopped and then, when you’re thinking about something else, it sort of magically comes together in your mind. So, I think that’s important. Books obviously are very important, I’ve realized. I tried to read 2 or three books a week. And, for me, what I’ve realized very early on, and it’s a little bit clear for me because I work in book publishing and I’m a writer. I felt like, I considered reading to be like, part of my job. So, like, that was actually somewhat weird when I was working full time at American Apparel. It’s like I would want to sit there and like read a book but I can’t do that in an office, you know. But so, now, I work from home so I can sort of do…I can arrange my day in a way that like appearances matter a little bit less. But I think, you know, reading…like what I say…is like, “Okay, well, chances are whatever problem you’re going through right now, someone else went through before you. And they probably wrote it down.” And so, like, books are other way that we reacts at that knowledge. And if you’re not availing yourself to it, you’re going to learn a lot of things the hard way when you don’t necessarily need to. So, I consider like, reading to be like part of my job and part of what accelerated what I’ve been able to accomplish. And so, like, when people, are like, “Oh, how do you find so much time to read?” It’s like, well, “How do you find time to sleep? And “How do you find time to eat and go to work?” Like, that’s just what you do. It’s not like this extra luxury that I squeezed in when I’m on vacation. Interview: Got it. That’s was going to be one of my questions, about reading, so. Ryan: Yes, there is no secret. And I don’t read fast. And I think, a lot of people think that people who read a lot must be like speed readers and so they focus on that. Its like, “No, people who read a lot just spend a lot of time reading because it’s important to them.” That’s sort of distinction that I made. I think we tend to…I call this “blockbuster syndrome.” We want every launch to be enormous. We want to concentrate it all in a very small period. And we want to bring in millions of millions of users. We want to be a trending topic on Twitter. We want millions of video views. We want to be in the front page of newspapers. But is this really what we need? Or is it better to find the right early adapters cheaply and quickly? And so, when you look at a company like Google which launched first, not worldwide, but in the select number of cities. And they targeted very early on specific users, typically tech, male users in cities like San Francisco and New York. And when they said, “Okay, how we are going to grow this product?” They latched on South by Southwest, it’s the place to launch because their target customers from all over the world will be in one city for one week during the year. And they gave away millions of dollars worth of Google rides. They’ve forced people through the product, they’ve thought them how to use it and then, they took that knowledge back to the cities that they are from. AirBnB is another amazing example, they said, “Okay, we’re a tiny startup, we’re trying to get people to get comfortable using…to get using it, where we find our customers. So, they created a work around that allowed people to cross bows their very early AirBnB listings on to Craigslist. So, here they are using the dominant platform for apartments to grow their brand. And so, I like this idea of hacking the system. And there’s this core for me of how the founder practically is saying, “Because we don’t have the budgets, because we don’t have the huge marketing departments, we have to look for the tricks and the shortcuts. How do we bring people through the system? Force them to use it? Get them acclimated to doing so.

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