[00:00:19.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success. Introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[00:00:11] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success, the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than 3 million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
Today's episode is a bit different than a normal episode of The Science of Success. We share the incredible real-life story of the epic quest to see how the world's most successful people launched their careers including a wild journey of hacking The Price is Right, meeting Bill Gates and Lady Gaga and an epic five-year quest to study and learn from the world's top achievers. This is a topic I've dedicated my life to, and this fascinating discussion with our guest, Alex Banayan, shines some new light on one of the most important questions of our lives. What was the inflection point to set massively successful people's lives on a different trajectory?
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In our previous episode we showed you how to solve any problem in your life using a simple and no risk tool that you can start using right away. We dug into why you get stuck on problems and how we often deceive ourselves. We talked about why reasons are often a ruse and how they can become dangerous once they turn into excuses and much more with our previous guest, Dr. Bernard Roth. If you want to be able to solve any problem or challenge you encounter, listen to our previous episode.
Now for our interview with Alex.
Please note this episode contains profanity.
[00:03:11] MB: Today, we have another awesome guest on the show, Alex Binayan. Alex is the best-selling author of The Third Door, which chronicles his five-year quest to track down the world's most successful people to uncover how they broke through and launch their careers. He's been named to Forbes 30 Under 30, Business Insider's most powerful people under 30, been featured in major magazines, including Forbes, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Bloomberg, CNBC and much more.
Alex, welcome to The Science of Success.
[00:03:38] AB: Thank you so much for having me.
[00:03:39] MB: Well, I'm really excited for this interview because my passion has been, for years and years and years, sort of the same passion that you have and it’s this idea of studying the world's top achievers and trying to figure out what was the inflection point or what was the change, what was the thing that set them off on a trajectory that was different from a sort of a normal person? You and I met in person at one point and we were kind of talking about this, and the thing that I'm the most interested – I read tons and tons of biographies of every – Rockefeller, Bill Gates, all of the – Warren Buffett, all of these billionaires, all of these people who are really successful and the part that's the most interesting to me is always like the first 10%, 20%, not when they’re children, but the early beginnings of their career and that part where –
[00:04:24] AB: That’s my whole obsession.
[00:04:25] MB: Yeah, and I always get frustrated, because the whole story is about what they're doing once they’re super successful. That's not really interesting or compelling to me, because I can’t apply it. What I want to figure out is what was that breakthrough? What was that point? What was that change that they did when they were young that set them off in this different path? You took that passion to a completely another level and spent years of your life and – I mean, the stories are insane, and we’ll get into them in a second, but basically following this path that I've been fascinated with. So that's why I had to have you on the show. To start out, I’d love to figure out how that journey began for you.
[00:04:58] AB: First of all, that means a lot, and the fact that we have the same awkward obsession is going to make this really fun. I've been doing the same thing you’ve been in really for the past seven years, just really obsessing over studying success. The journey started seven years ago. I was 18-years- old, a freshman in college and I was spending every day lying on my dorm room bed staring up at the ceiling. I don’t know if you've gone through the what do I want to do with my life crisis, but if you have, it's this all-consuming thing that you follows you everywhere you go. It's what you think about right before you go to bed.
To understand what I am going through this crisis, you have to understand that I'm the son of Jewish immigrants, which pretty much means I came out of the womb. My mom cradled me in her arms and then she stamped MD on my ass and sent me on my way. I wore scrubs to school for Halloween in third grade and thought I was cool. That was my childhood growing up.
I checked all the boxes in high school. I studied for the SATs. I took on the biology classes. I even want to premed summer camp. By the time I got to college of premeds, but very quickly I remember lying on my dorm room bed looking at this towering stack of biology books and feeling like they were sucking the life out of me. At first I assumed I was just being lazy, but very quickly I began to wonder, “Maybe I'm not on my path. Maybe I'm on a path somebody placed me on and I'm just rolling down.”
So now not only do I not know what I want to do with my life. I have no idea how all the people I looked up to, how they did it. How did Bill Gates sell first piece of software out of his dorm room when nobody knew his name? How did Steven Spielberg become the youngest Judeo director in Hollywood history without a single hit under his belt? This is what they don't teach you in school. I just assumed there had to be a book out there with the answer.
So I'm going to the library and I'm just ripping through business books and biographies and self-help books, the similar biographies you were just talking about. I had a very similar frustration that you had, which is that all these biographies had so much time talking about what Bill Gates' leadership style is like once he becomes a billionaire. But to me I wanted to know when no one would take his calls, when no one would take his meetings. How did he find a way to break through?
It's not really about an age in someone's life. It's more about a stage. After going through all of these business books and biographies, I was left empty-handed, and that's when my naïve 18-year-old thinking kicked in and I thought, “Well, if no one’s going to write the book I'm dreaming of reading, why not write it myself?” I thought it would be super simple. I would just call up Bill Gates, interview him, interview everybody else. I thought I’d be done in a few months, that I assumed would be the easy part. The hard part I figured was getting the money to fund this journey. I was buried in student loan debt. I was all out of bar mitzvah cash. So there had to be a way to make some quick money.
Two nights before final exams, I’m in the library doing what everyone's doing in the library right before finals. I'm on Facebook, and I’m on Facebook and I see someone offering free tickets to The Price is Right, and I'm going to college at USC, so it's not too far from where the show is being filmed. My first thought is, “What if I go on the show and win some money to fund this dream?” Not my brightest moment, plus I had a problem, I had never seen a full episode of The Show before, plus I had finals into in two days. I told myself the dumb idea, “Do not think about it.” But I don't if you’ve ever had one of these moments where an idea just keeps clawing itself back into your mind? No matter how dumb it is and you tell yourself to stop thinking about it, this one idea just keeps clawing itself back and back into your mind.
To prove to myself this is a bad idea so I can get back to studying, I remember opening my spiral notebook and I’m sitting at this small round wooden table in the corner of the library and I opened up my spiral notebook and I write best and worst case scenarios. I just start writing out the worst case scenarios; fail finals, get kicked out of premed, lose financial aid, mom stops talking to me, mom kills me. There’s 20 cons, and the only pro was may be, may be win enough money to fund this dream, and it felt as if somebody had tied a rope around my gut and was slowly pulling in that direction.
That night I decided to do the logical thing and pull an all-nighter to study, but I didn’t study for finals. I studied how to hack The Price is Right, and I went on the show the next day and executed this ridiculous strategy and it ended up winning the whole showcase showdown, winning a sailboat, selling the sailboat, and that's how I funded the book.
[00:09:36] MB: The story of you hacking The Show is hilarious. I mean, it was something about – I forget the exact details, but you rolled up, you’re wearing a ridiculous outfit and costume, right?
[00:09:45] AB: . I got there and during my all-nighter of research, I'm on the 23rd O of Google by 4 AM, and I find out that The Price is Right isn’t exactly what it seems. Although it looks completely random, like, “Alex, come on down,” as if they pulled your name out of a hat. What I learned is there's a system to it and like all things in life, although it looks like random luck, there's actually a system. What I learned is there's a producer who interviews every single person, the audience right before the show begins. Then on top of that, there is an undercover producer planted in the audience, then confirm or denies the original producer’s selection.
I’m sure you’ve done very similar things where it looks like this completely random series of events, but if you do your research or you actually do the homework, you realize there's a system and you can learn how it works.
[00:10:35] MB: I want to hear a little bit more about the story, because I think not only is it a crazy story, but it gives a really good context to the broader journey that you went on. I mean, from somebody who had never even seen a complete episode of The Price is Right, how did you then go on to, as you’ve put it, hack it and end up winning?
[00:10:53] AB: Well, when I got to the CBS Studios where the show is filmed, the second I got there I knew I had no idea who the undercover producer is. So I’m just assuming everyone is. I’m dancing with all the ladies. I'm flirting with custodians. I’m breakdancing, and I don’t know how to breakdance. After about an hour of waiting outside the studio inline, I spotted the casting producer, and I saw him from 50 feet away and I knew exactly who it was, because during the night before I did all these research on him. I knew his name was Stan. I knew where he grew up. I knew where he went to school and I knew he had a clipboard, but it’s never in his hands. His assistant who sits 10 feet away from him holds it, and if Stan likes you, he’ll talk to you a bit more. If he really likes you, he’ll turn around and wink, and his assistant will put your name on the clipboard.
If The Price is Right is a night club, Stan is the bouncer, and if you're not on his list, you’re out. Bore I knew it, he is standing right in front of me and he's like, “What's your name? Where are you from? What do you do?” I’m like, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m 18-years-old. I’m a freshman in college. I’m studying premed.” He goes, “Oh! Premed? You must spend a lot of time studying. How do you have time to watch The Price is Right?” I'm like, “Oh! Is that where I am?” The joke just dies. No laughter. I can see his eyes are darting like he's about to move on to the next person.
I had read in one of these self-help books that I read during my life crisis, it said that personal contact, personal touch, accelerates a relationship. So I had an idea. I had to touch Stan. But I’m standing like 20 feet away from him behind this railing. So I’m like, “Stan! Come over here. I want to make a handshake with you.” He’s like, “No. No. It's okay. It’s okay.” I’m like, “Come on!” So very reluctantly comes over and I teach him how to pound it and blow it up and he's laughing. He wishes me good luck and starts to walk away. He doesn't turn around to his assistant. She doesn’t write on the clipboard, and just like that it's over.
I can remember really vividly the feeling like my whole dream was sort of walking right away from me, almost like sand slipping through my fingers. The worst part is I knew I didn't even have a chance to really prove myself. So I don't know what got into me, but I felt this rumbling in the pit of my stomach and I started yelling at the top of my lungs, “Stan!” The whole audience sweeps their head around. They think I’m like having a seizure and Stan runs over and he’s like, “Are you okay? Are you okay? What's going on?” I have no idea what I’m going to say. I'm looking at him, and you have to understand Stan is in a typical Hollywood, red turtleneck, or he's wearing a black turtleneck with a red scarf even though it’s 70° outside. I’m just looking at him and I’m like, “Your scarf!” and now I really don't know what I’m going to say next.
I just look at him with all the seriousness that I can. You can feel the tension and I just looked at him and I'm like, “Stan, I’m an avid scarf collector. I have 362 pairs in my dorm room and I'm missing that one. Where did you get it?” He starts cracking up, because I think he finally figured out what I was trying to do and he was laughing more at why I was doing it. He gives me the scarf. He’s like, “Look, you need this more than I do.” We joked around a bit more. He turns around, winks, and his assistant makes a mark on the clipboard. At that point the line moves on and I think maybe like 20 minutes later I noticed this woman with long brown hair looking around at people's nametags a lot. She’s in the audience and she’s looking around people's nametags. She keeps walking around. Then I looked closer and I see a laminated badge sticking out of her back pocket and I figure this has to be the undercover producer.
I just come out of puberty at that point. I’m blowing your kisses and she's laughing and then I started dancing and she's laughing even more. She takes a sheet of paper out of her pocket, looks at my name tag and makes a mark. At this point you would think I'm feeling on top of the world, but it was right then that I realized I had spent my entire all-nighter studying how to get on the show. I still didn't know how to play. No big. I just out my phone and I Googled how to play Price is Right.
I'm reading up, but about 30 seconds later I feel a tap on my shoulder and security takes my phone away. At this point I have no plan B. I remember sitting on this cold metal bench outside of the studio and I'm just sulking, and I’m sitting next to this old lady with white hair and she noticed something’s wrong. So I asked her what the problem is, and I just started venting to her. I tell her about finals. I tell her about premed. I tell her about this book. I tell her I’ve never seen a full episode of the show before, and she pinches my cheek and she's like, “Honey, you remind me of my grandson.”
I asked her if she has any advice, and she's like, “Sweetie, I’ve been watching this show for 40 years,” and decades of wisdom starts downloading into my head in a matter of minutes and I have this idea. I gave her a big hug. I say thank you. Then I turned to the person next to me and I’m like, “Hey, I’m Alex. I’m 18. I’ve never seen this show before. Do you have any advice?” Then I turned to another person, then a group of people, then another group of people. Over the course of an hour I end up crowdsourcing the wisdom of about half the audience. Right about then, the doors to the studio opened and the rest of the show unfolds and we can go into this story in more detail if you want later. But it was less Einstein and more Forest Gump the way the rest of the show unraveled. But I ended up winning the sailboat and selling it and that prize money is how I funded this entire seven-year adventure.
[00:16:30] MB: So I'll save. There're some other hilarious nuggets in that story. Actually, one of my, I mean, literally laugh out loud moments in the rest of The price is Right journey, but I'll save that for listeners who want to dig in to the book. You hacked The Price is Right. You win this sailboat. You sell it. What's the next step in the journey to interview and study from the world's top achievers?
[00:16:49] AB: First of all, I sell the sailboat and I have all this cash for the first time in my life and I feel like a millionaire. So I’m going back to my college campus. I’m taking my friends out to lunch to Chipotle. I'm like, “Free guacamole for everybody.” I’m feeling really good.” Now that I have the money though I realized, “All right, it’s time to start trying to get interviews.” That's when I realized I had another problem. I didn't really know exactly who I needed to interview, because I knew I wanted to interview the world's most successful people, but I didn't know who was on that list, and I don't really believe in these Forbes list or these algorithms that quantify success. I did what I always do when I have a problem. I called my best friends.
Me and my best friends, these are the boys who I grew up with. They all came over one night. It’s midnight. We’re all in my room, and I just asked them, “If we could make our dream university, who would be our professors?” Then it became really easy. Bill Gates would teach business. Warren Buffett would teach finance. Spielberg would teach film. Maya Angelou would teach poetry. Jane Goodall would teach science, and that list, Larry King would teach broadcasting. Steve Wozniak would teach computer science, Mark Zuckerberg for tech, and it was really that list that became the treasure map for this journey going forward.
[00:18:10] MB: So once you have the treasure map, and I want to make sure we have time to kind of dig into some the lessons from this journey too. So I want to accelerate the journey a little bit. What happens once you kind of started down that path, and was it easy to kind of get access to these people and interview them?
[00:18:27] AB: Like literally just thinking about the answers like very preposterous, because every single interview that came to be for the journey is its own ridiculous story. For Tim Ferriss, I had to crouch in a bathroom for 30 minutes and like jump out when he was walking by. One of the crazier stories, by far the most miraculous one happened about halfway through the journey. So I had just – The context is I just spent eight months on this quest to track down Warren Buffett, and I ended up hacking his shareholders meeting. But you’ve read the book. So you know it ended as a sort of this gigantic disaster at the end that sort of backfired in my face. I was really dejected. I went back to L.A. where I lived and I just couldn't get out of bed for a week. I was really down on myself.
Again, my best friends are incredible, and one of my best friends, his name is Corwin, he wanted to cheer me up and he's like, “Yo! Let's go grab some lunch and talk.” So we go to our grocery store and we’re sitting on the sidewalk eating some sandwiches, and Corwin is trying to raise spirits and he's like, “Hey man, you just got to focus on the future. Do you have any other interviews lined up?” I’m like, “Dude, I have nothing.” He's like, “Come on! Let's say you did have an interview lined up, who would you want to talk to?” I’m like, “Dude, even if I had an interview lined up, I would probably mess that up too. Not only do I not have an interview lined up. I don’t even know how to interview people.” He's like, “Dude, you got to stop being so hard on yourself. Interviewing is not a science. It’s an art.”
As we’re talking about this, by far the most miraculous moment of this entire journey happens. A black car pulls up and parks right in front of us. It has tinted windows. The door swings open and out walks Larry King. I don’t know if you’re the same way, but weirdly when everything is lined up perfectly for me, whenever like the stars align, that's actually when I get the most nervous. That's when I'm paralyzed by anxiety. I looked at Larry King and I just freeze, and he walks right past me into the store’s sliding glass windows and I don't say a word.
My friend Corwin is like, “Dude, what the fuck? Why didn’t you say anything?” I call the sensation the Flinch, when I become so nervous that I don't do anything. The thing about the Flinch is it's very good at disguising itself as logic. I start giving these logical excuses to Corwin like, “Oh, I don’t want to be that guy. It's better to find an introduction.” I'm just giving all these excuses and Corwin is like, “Dude, at least you can just go and say hi.” Then excuses [inaudible s 00:18:27], I’m like, “I do know. He's in the grocery store. There's no way I'll be able to find him at this point,” and Corwin’s like dude, “He's 80 years old. How far could he get?”
Very reluctantly I stand up and I walk into this grocery store to look for Larry King. I’m looking at the bakery section, no Larry. I walk over to the produce section, fruits, there's vegetables, there's no Larry. Right then I remembered that he had parked in the loading zone, which means he must be leaving any minute now. So this boost of adrenaline kicks in and I just start running through this grocery store and I’m running down every aisle, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry. I cut a corner, I'm now sprinting down the frozen food section. I’m dodging cans of tuna, no Larry. I figured he has to be at the checkout counter. So I run over to the checkout counter, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry, no Larry.
At this point I want to kick myself, because he had been right in front of me and I hadn't said a thing. I walk out of this grocery store. I’m walking to this parking lot. I'm staring down at my feet and I looked up and 20 feet in front of me is a Larry king suspenders and all. Similar to that moment with Stan, all these pent-up energy and baggage inside of me combusted and out of my mouth uncontrollably I just yelled, “Mr. King!” and the echo reverberated through the parking lot way louder than I expected.
The poor guy, Larry King has had quadruple bypass surgery. I'll never forget, he pretty much jumps in the air and slowly turns his head around. Every wrinkle on his face sprung back as if he's looking at the Grim Reaper. At this point I have no idea what to do. So I just start running after him and I'm like, “Mr. King, Mr. King, my name's Alex. I’m 19-years-old. I’ve always wanted to say hi,” and he's like, “Okay, hi,” and he just starts speeding off towards his car.
I'm too late in the game to pull back now, so I just am awkwardly following him to his car and he’s know opening up, stuffing in his groceries. He opens up the driver door, he’s about to climb inside and I’m like, “Wait, Mr. King, can I go to breakfast with you?” He just looks at me like I’m this lunatic, but before he can answer, he looks out on to the sidewalk and sees about 10 people are watching this go down. I think out peer pressure almost, he just sort of shrugs his shoulders and he goes, “Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay.” I’m like, “Oh my God! Thank you! Thank you so much. I’ll see you tomorrow I guess?” He's like, “Okay.” He gets in his car and shuts the door and I’m like, “Wait, Mr. King, what time?” He just looks at me and he like starts the engine and I'm like, “Mr. King, what time?” He even looks at me again and he just puts the car and drive.”
I'm now standing in front of his car flailing my arms in the air shouting, “Mr. King, what time?” He looks at me and just goes, “9:00 and just speeds off.” The next morning it's not 9:00 and I show up at his bagel restaurant and there he is sitting in the corner booth with all of his best friends having breakfast and there’s actually an empty seat at the table, but I had a chance to reflect on how I acted the day before so I thought I’d be a little gentler. So I like walk up to the table and I'm like, “Hey, good morning, Mr. King,” and he looks to me and just mumbles under his breath. He’s like, “Blah-blah-blah.” I don't really get a response.
So I figured he probably just wants some alone time with his friends and I'll sit at the table next to him and wait for him to call me over. So I sit at the table next to him and I’m waiting 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour passes and finally Larry King stands up and he starts walking toward me and then he walks right past me and heads for the exit.
I put a hand up in the air and I'm like, “Mr. King?” He is like, “What is it kid? What do you want?” At that point I felt this very sharp familiar pain in my chest and I just looked at him and I was like, “Honestly, I just wanted some advice on how to interview people,” and this slow smile spread across his face almost as if to say, “Why didn’t you say so?” He ends up putting a hand on my shoulder and giving me one of the best monologues of interview advice and then he checks his watch and then he looks up at the ceiling as if he's debating something in his mind. He looks back at me and he goes, “All right, kid. Tomorrow, 8:45. See you here.”
I show up the next morning at 8:45. He calls me over to his table. He asks me why I even want to learn how to interview people. I tell them about the book and he's like, “Okay, I'm in.” Over the course of the past five years I've been to breakfast with them over 50 times.
[00:25:57] MB: The crazy thing about that story is that it's just one of, as you said, maybe a dozen or more similarly absurd and ridiculous things that happened on this kind of real-life epic quest to interview some of the world's top achievers. I want to get into some of the meat of some the lessons that you learned from this. So fast forwarding all the way to the end, just to give the audience a sense of the scope and the breadth of some of these people that you interviewed and connected with over the course of writing the book, tell me sort of who you ultimately ended up talking to.
[00:26:28] AB: So thankfully a lot of the people in that original list ended up saying yes, But it took two years to track down Bill Gates. It took three years to track down Lady Gaga. Whether it's Maya Angelou, or Jessica Alba, or Quincy Jones, or Steve Wozniak, Pitbull, Quincy Jones, it's really been this unbelievable journey and I couldn't be more grateful for them really – Because the truth is I'm not CNN. I’m not the New York Times. I was this 18-year-old kid. So I'm very well aware that they weren’t doing this interview because it was serving them or that he was going to help them in any way. They were really helping with this mission. I believe that if all these people come together, not for press, not to promote anything, but really just to share their best wisdom with the next-generation, people can do so much more. I couldn’t be more grateful, they all came on board.
[00:27:24] MB: Obviously, in the book, you get a lot more detailed into all the specific lessons and strategies from each of these individuals. I want to come back to the meta-question that we began the conversation with, which is this notion that once you interviewed all these incredible achievers across a huge spectrum, what were some of the – Well, let’s just start with the main question that I have. What was the inflection point? What was the big change? What was the big shift? What did you see that was the common thread between all of their journeys and what set them apart from a normal every day person’s trajectory?
[00:27:56] AB: When I had started this journey, there was no part of me that I want to find that one key to success. We’ve seen those TED Talks, we’ve seen those business books, and normally I just roll my eyes. What ended up happening after the seven years of interviews and thousands and thousands of hours of research and going through hundreds of biographies, is I started realizing – I don’t know if you're a music fan, but there was almost this common melody to every single interview I did. The analogy that came to me, because I was 21 at the time, is that every single one of these people treats life and business and success the exact same way. They treat it the exact same way.
It's sort of like getting into a nightclub. There's always three ways in. There is the first door, the main entrance, where the line curves around the block, where 99% of people wait in line hoping to get in. That’s the first door. Then there’s the second door, the VIP entrance, where the billionaires and celebrities go through and. School and society have this way of making us feel like those are the only two ways in. You either wait your turn or you're born into it.
What I've learned is that there's always, always a third door into the entrance where you have to jump out of line, run down the alley, bang on the door hundred times, crack open the window, go through the kitchen, there's always a way in, and it doesn't matter that's how Bill Gates sold his first piece of software, or how Lady Gaga got her first record deal. They all took the third door.
[00:29:35] MB: That was one of the most interesting takeaways that I had from the book, was this notion that there's a different path that may not be what most people's perception of success is, and as you said, most people think about it's either – I like that analogy, waiting your turn or being born with it. There's another path, there's another journey, and the funny thing about the book is that you essentially take that third door to achieving all the interviews that you had with all of these individuals.
[00:30:02] AB: Yeah, by accident. What I've learned is that if you have a dream, it note doesn't matter if it's starting your own business, if it’s growing your existing business, if it's getting a big promotion, if it's u creating a book or a work of art that you've always imagined of creating, there is no other option but the third door. There is no other option.
The reason I've come to learn this is that there will always be a point. One of the big things that I realized about this journey is that a universal struggle and conflict. The reason most people end up not achieving a dream is not because the dream is unachievable. It's because of their fear of going after it. When I had started working on the book, I was consumed by fear, not just the beginning, the whole way through.
If you asked any of my cousins who I grew up with, I was like the most scared kid you would ever meet. I had a nightlight on. I was terrified of roller coasters. I was not a brave kid, and I remember when I was starting out doing this research, one of my obsessions was trying to figure out how all of these people became so fearless. I just assumed Bill Gates and Elon Musk, they had to be fearless, or else how could they have done what they did.
What I learned during my research and when I would end up interviewing them is I started realizing every single one of these people was not only not fearless, they were completely terrified the whole way through. That was the exact opposite of what I assumed. What I learned is that while it wasn’t fearlessness they achieved, instead it was courage. While the word sounds similar, the difference is critical. Fearlessness is jumping off of a cliff and not thinking about it. That's idiotic. Courage on the other hand is acknowledging your fears, analyzing the consequences and then deciding that you care so much about it you're still going to take one thoughtful step forward anyway.
[00:32:07] MB: I think that's a great way to put it, and even that phrasing that you just used, take one step forward, one of the other takeaways that I had from reading the book that I thought was fascinating was this idea that all of these successful people, there wasn't a single moment or tipping point that changed the entire trajectory of their lives, but it was rather one step at a time that –
[00:32:28] AB: Right. It's such an alluring idea though. As someone who’s obsessed over success, I’m sure you have too. There is this allure of like – It's almost like the Holy Grail, that tipping point. It's this like very magical concept.
[00:32:47] MB: Exactly. We actually recently had an interview with a gentleman named Beau Lotto and he talked about this from a creative standpoint, the idea that creativity is sort of one step at a time into a place from knowing to not knowing, into a place of doubt and uncertainty, and that creative leaps from the outside look impossible or unachievable to the person making that creative leap. It's just the next step in the journey that they've been traversing. It seems you're –
[00:33:14] AB: Right. 100%.
[00:33:16] MB: Your research uncovered essentially the same conclusion about the success of Bill Gates, and Lady Gaga, and Steven Spielberg and all these incredible people that you came across in your journey.
[00:33:24] AB: Yeah. What I've learned is that when you're looking in hindsight, only then can you see a tipping point. If you're looking back on Bill Gates’ career from a 50-year vantage point, you're zooming out and you can see all 50 years. Yeah, you can say, “IBM deal he made in Boca Raton was critical to the eventual success of Microsoft.”
Now, when you're Bill and you’re 20-years-old and you're going into that meeting with IBM and they're telling you to go fuck off, it sure doesn't feel like a tipping pint. Then when you get the deal and it's about to fall apart because you can’t finish it on time and your employee wants to quit and your server crashes, it sure doesn't feel like a tipping point. What I've learned is that when you're in the trenches, when you're an entrepreneur, when you're building a dream, there is no tipping point. It's all just little steps.
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[00:36:36] MB: There's another idea that came out of the book that I thought was really fascinating, and it was the notion of building a pipeline. Without going super in detail, I’d love to talk about or maybe just touch on briefly how you met Elliott and how he sort of shape that journey and tell you that lesson as well.
[00:36:53] AB: Well, the book on the outside is really this book about tracking down the world's most successful people and uncovering how they launched their careers. But there’s also all these layers of themes, and one of the biggest themes is how critical mentorship is to achieving a dream. By far, the biggest mentor I met happened about a year into this journey. This is the mentor that changed the course of this book.
It’s a year in, I've been working on the book nonstop. I'm still in college. Finally after a year, I was – To me, Bill Gates, was my Holy Grail interview. That was the mountaintop. About a year I get a call from Bill Gates’ chief of staff. It took me a whole year to make this happen. But I finally am on the phone with Bill Gates right hand guy.
I’m standing in a CVS parking lot eating like an ice cream cone. I’m 19. He’s like, “So you want to interview Bill, huh?” I’m like, “Yeah! It’s my biggest dream,” I'm telling all about the book. He’s like, “Look, I love what you're doing. I love that you're doing this to help your generation, and I feel like I'm 95% there.” He's like, “But the thing is you’re only about 5% there,” and I’m like crashing down to the ground, and he explained to me that, “Look, even when Malcolm Gladwell wanted to interview Bill Gates for outliers, it wasn't an obvious yes.” Bill Gates' chief of staff is telling me I need to go build more momentum and I need to go get a publishing deal with either Penguin or Random House and to call him back when that’s done.
I remember just standing in the parking lot after he hung up and just two words were echoing in my head, “5%.” I remember going back to my room with my head in my hands wanting to pull out my hair, because if I am on the phone with Bill Gates chief of staff and I'm only 5% there, then I must be at -50% with people like Bill Clinton, or Richard Branson. I end up having this thought like sort of flashed through my mind, this random, almost like itch in my head, and I remember someone once told me about Richard Branson and Bill Clinton speaking on a cruise ship once. So almost to procrastinate, I take on my laptop and I Google Richard Branson cruise ship. This article pops up. It's on fastcompany.com and the headline says, “Summit Series takes the high seas.”
I start reading this article and its talking about Richard Branson is the keynote speaker and there's Tim Ferriss, Gary Vaynerchuk and Blake Mycoskie and Russell Simmons and you know The Roots are the house band and it's all happening on this cruise ship in the Caribbean and I'm like salivating. This is like my book in cruise ship form.
I'm reading and I'm reading and I'm reading and at finally at the end of the article it says, “Summit Series was founded by serial entrepreneur Elliot Bisnow, 26-years-old.” I was like, “What the fuck?” My cousin is 26-years-old. I didn't think you could do that at this age. I end up Googling Elliott Bisnow and I go down another Google rabbit hole where hours start passing by without me noticing. I'm just reading everything I can. I’m skipping meals without noticing, and reading about a Elliott online was sort of like reading about the guy from Catch Me If You Can, where there's a lot of stuff about them on the internet but nothing that actually said who he was and what he did.
By the end of that night, I remember feeling this very overwhelming sensation of, on the one hand, I can't wrap my hands around the sky. But on the other hand, I felt like if there is anyone on earth who could teach me how to build momentum and who could teach me what I have to do to get to Bill Gates, it have to be this guy, Elliott Bisnow.
I remember closing my eyes, and when I opened them, I took out my journal and I opened to a fresh page and I wrote, “Dream mentors,” across the top and I underlined it. On the first line I wrote Elliott Bisnow, and a couple of weeks later, I'm in the library studying for an accounting exam. It finals again. It was time for an accounting final, and I couldn't get this Elliott guy out of my head and I needed to focus on studying. So I was like, “All right, I’ll just spend 10 minutes writing Elliot a cold email and then I’ll go back to studying.
I had interviewed Tim Ferriss a bit earlier. So Tim Ferriss gave me his cold email template. So I use this secret Tim Ferriss cold email template and I email Elliott Bisnow, but of course it takes me three hours to really perfect this email and edit it down. I end up sending it off to Elliot. I can't even find his email address online. So I end up having to guess what it is. An hour later I get a reply, “Great email. What are you doing on Thursday?” I look at my calendar and on Thursday it says, “Accounting final exam.” So I replied back to Elliot the only thing I can, I go, “I’m completely free. What do you have in mind?” He goes, “Great. I'll meet you at 8 AM on Thursday in Long Beach at the Westin Hotel,” and he's like, “Read this book before we meet.” I’m thinking, “All right, my final isn’t until 12 in the afternoon, the meeting is at 8 AM. It's probably going to go 15 minutes. I'll still make it back in time for finals.”
I read the whole book Elliot told me to read and I show up for this meeting at 8 AM, but our 15 minute meeting turns into four hours. I end up missing my file, but I end up spending that entire summer traveling with Elliott around the world. He not only became my mentor. He’s still my best friend to this day.
[00:42:39] MB: There are so many interesting lessons from your relationship with Elliott. I mean, there are so many takeaways that I want to pull out of this. One of the lessons that you had from Elliott and one of the ideas that he shared was this notion that adventures only happen to the adventurous. I want to talk about that, but before we dig into that, let’s come back to this idea of pipelines, because that was one of the biggest takeaways that I took away from the book and I think that Elliott taught you as well.
[00:43:04] AB: Right. I learned this the hard way, because I had mentioned briefly earlier, I went on this eight-month quest to track down Warren Buffett where the only thing I did for eight months was trying to get an interview with Warren Buffett, and Elliot was just yelling at me. He’s like, “You idiot! You have to build this pipeline.”
What Elliot was trying to explain to me is that you're naturally going to get what he calls bullshit noes, where you ask someone, let's say, for an interview and they're like, “Oh, I would love to. I’m just really busy right now. Thank you so much.” That’s a bullshit no. That's not the real – It’s not just that they're busy. Everyone's busy, but if Opera calls and says, “I want to interview you tomorrow,” all of a sudeen you become free.”
Elliot is like, “They're called bullshit noes,” and Elliot’s like, “I get a thousand of them a week.” He said the key to dealing with bullshit noes is you will never be able to logically argue a bullshit no, because you don't actually know the real reason. You need to do a couple things. He gave me three things. The one is you have to build a pipeline. If you have 30 people that you're working on, if you got a bullshit no from one, you still have 29 more to work on and it frees you up from being desperate, because desperation clogs intuition. That’s the first one, building a pipeline.
The second one, he said, “You have to think bigger.” If you’re offering someone, the reason they probably say no is cause what you’re offering them isn't big enough. It's not exciting enough. It's not commanding attention. The third thing is, is you're not thinking – He's like, “You have to think different,” where you're asking these down the middle request, “Can I sit down in your office for 60 minutes?” These very down the middle things, but he is like, “Look, if you –” With Warren Buffett, I ended up asking my questions to him during his shareholders meeting with Larry king. I ended up having breakfast with him with Steve Wozniak. We had lunch outside Apple headquarters. He’s like, “You need to start thinking more differently.” So those are the things that Elliott did that started changing me from just being hounded with noes starting to slowly get some more yeses.
[00:45:08] MB: I think a pipeline is something that a lot of people don't think about when they envision marching towards their goals, and it's something that's been really helpful for our show as well, is having people – Not every guest says yes to us and there's lots and lots of noes that we've gotten, but it’s not about the people who say no. It's about the people who say yes.
[00:45:26] AB: Right. 100%.
[00:45:27] MB: The other fascinating lesson that was I think one of Elliott's catchphrases was adventures only happen with the adventuress. Tell me a little bit about that.
[00:45:35] AB: He has a lot of good phrases.
[00:45:37] MB: He does. He does, and they’re littered throughout the book. I mean, I know it involves at some point or another last-minute flights around the world and all kinds of crazy stuff that you go a lot more detail into in the book, but I just thought that was a great phrase.
[00:45:49] MB: I think it's not only a phrase, it's a way of life, where Elliott's phrase of adventures only happen to the adventurous, is it's not just literally about you jumping on airplanes and stuff like that. It's really about just saying yes when you’re scared, when things don't make sense, when an opportunity is in front of you, you have to jump.
Every so often you'll be lucky enough if the stars align 80%, and I think what Elliott is really trying to say is that everyone tries to over optimize and wait for things to be perfect until they’re hundred percent lined up. Really what his life motto is it's never going to 100% line up. If it's 80% there, it's up to you to jump and close that gap, and that's what adventures only happen to the adventurous means.
If someone says, “Hey, it was great meeting you. Let me know the next time you're in L.A.,” saying, “I'll be there next week.” Even if you don't have money, you’re selling your laptop so you can buy a Greyhound bus ticket to go across the country, that’s adventures only happen to the adventurous.
[00:46:55] MB: And that ethos underscores the whole narrative throughout the book, including one of the last themes I’d love to touch on is this combination of the power of boldness and not being afraid to ask for something, and this notion of the mindset of possibility. Tell me about those.
[00:47:13] MB: One of the best – Talking about like great quotable catchphrases, one of them came from the founder of TED. He said something that I'll never forget. He like looked me in the eyes and he goes – He’s like, “I live my life by two mantras.” Number one, if you don't ask, you don't get. Number two, most things don't work out.” I think that's like the perfect balance of life mantras. Number one, if you don't ask, you don't get. Number two, most things don't work out.
I love that, and really like you said, all of these – If you look at any one of these individual stories in the book, if you look at how Spielberg launched his career, if you look at – It doesn't matter who you're looking at. There might be different stories and different lessons. The Bill Gates chapter has Bill Gates’ negotiating secrets. But when you pull back, when you get to the end of this journey and you can sort of look at it in hindsight, I started realizing that the soul of this book goes much deeper and it's really about possibility.
What I've learned is that you can give someone all the best tools and tactics in the world. and for some reason their life still feels stuck. But if you change what someone believes is possible, they’ll never be the same.
[00:48:29] MB: That’s a great way to look at it. That idea has shaped my life in many, many ways and sometimes you have this shift in the way that you perceive the world and it suddenly opens a tremendous amount of opportunities.
[00:48:40] AB: Yeah. I'm all for optimizing and using research and data to figure out how to make sure you achieve your goals, but that's like the frosting on the cake. I think sometimes it doesn't work unless you have that foundation of a mindset of possibility, because you’re going to have all the hacks in the world at your disposal. But if you don't actually believe it's possible, you'll never try it.
[00:49:07] MB: And that in many ways wraps together a lot of the themes you write about in the book and go in much more detail and contextualize with amazing and hilarious and absurd stories, some of which you touched on and many of which there’re tons more that we haven't even scratched the surface of or we’re going to run out of time and won’t be able to. But this idea that taking the third door, that there is another path out there if you can see it, if you can conceive of it, if you can believe in it, if you can be bold enough, adventurous enough, as you put it, courageous enough. There is a huge amount of magic and opportunity out there in the world, but you have to take that step. You have to take that action. You have to be somebody who executes.
[00:49:47] AB: 100%. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.
[00:49:49] MB: So for listeners who want to execute, who want to take action, who want to concretely implement some of these ideas and themes into their lives, what would be one piece of homework that you would give them as an action item to take action and implement some of these themes that we've talked about today?
[00:50:05] AB: So it sort of depends on what stage you are in your journey. I have different action items that I always recommend people if they’re in the middle of their grind, in charging through the must, a lot of people who I've been meeting on the book tour are people who – Some people are just starting out with their careers. Some people are late in their careers, in the 50s, and 60s and they're trying to find their next big jump. Let's say you're in that latter group, where you’re looking for that patch and you're looking for your path something that makes you jump out of bed every day. Here is something very concrete that you can start doing today that will change your life forever, and it sounds super simple, but the results are unbelievable. It sounds so simple that it's almost hard to believe that it’ll even make a difference. But it is shocking, and it's called the 30-day challenge, and this is how it works.
If you want to do this, go by, go today to – Go to like a pharmacy and buy a $1 spiral notebook, a really just simple spiral notebook and write 30-day challenge on the front, and it's really important that this is a fresh spiral notebook and there’s no many other writing in it. So you write 30-day challenge on the front and every day for the next 30 days you have to journal about the same three questions, and it's super important that these are 30 consecutive days. You're not doing 30 days spread out over a few months, over a year. You're doing 30 days in a row and you have to choose one time of the day, whether it's morning or night, where you will consistently do this. These are three questions you have to journal about. Number one, what excited me today? What excited me today? What filled me with enthusiasm? What excited me today? That's the first one. The second one is what drained me of energy today? What drained me of energy today? The third one is what did I learn about myself today?
If you journal on these three things, the first few days will be sort of, but by day 10, 12, you're going to start really hating this exercise. It’s going to start feeling really boring and really repetitive and you're not can you think it's going anywhere and you’re going to want to stop. By day 20, it's going to start getting a little interesting again. By day 28, 29 and 30 is when the magic happens, because then you can start seeing that pattern over 30 days, and I highly, highly recommend anyone who's looking for their path, looking to find their enthusiasm, looking to find their passion, looking for the next step to feel more alive, to go after their life's work, the 30-day challenge helps more than I could say.
[00:52:41] MB: That was great, extremely practical and applicable. For listeners who want to find out more about, who want to find the third door, where can they find you and the book online?
[00:52:49] AB: The book is everywhere you like to buy books. So whether it's Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, Kindle, audio books, I recorded the audiobook myself. So it’s a ton of fun. So it’s on Audible and iTunes, and if you ended up getting the book because you heard it on the podcast, definitely say hi to me on social so I could say thank you. My handle is @AlexBanayan. So A-L-E-X B-A-N-A-Y-A-N, and I would love, love, love to say.
[00:53:18] MB: Well, Alex, thank you so much for coming on the show for sharing your stories, some of your stories and all these wisdom. I can say I've read the book and it was a fascinating journey. Incredible stories, you'll laugh, you'll cry, but it reminded me of when I read it the first time that I read the 4-Hour Work week, and it had that kind of energy that vibe that more than anything opens the space of possibility and makes you think about all the exciting cool and fun and unknown things that are out there.
[00:53:48] AB: Thank you so much, man. That means more than I could say.
[00:53:51] MB: Thank you so much for listening to the Science of Success. We created this show to help you our listeners master evidence-based growth. I love hearing from listeners. If you want to reach out, share your story, or just say hi, shoot me an e-mail. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s M-A-T-T@successpodcast.com. I’d love to hear from you and I read and respond to every single listener e-mail.
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