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Author and optimist Jason Feifer joins Chelsea Follett to discuss change, why we fear it, and how we can embrace it to build a better future.

Jason Feifer: The Human Progress Podcast Ep. 31 Transcript

By Chelsea Follett @Chellivia

By Jason Feifer @heyfeifer

The full conversation between Jason Feifer and Chelsea Follett can be found here. The transcript is below.

Chelsea Follett: Joining me today is Jason Feifer, he is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur magazine, host of the Build for Tomorrow and Problem Solvers podcasts, a keynote speaker, startup advisor and self-described “non-stop optimism machine,” who strives to help his clients and audiences future-proof their careers and lives, becoming more resilient and adaptable in a world of constant change and opportunity. And he joins me to discuss his exciting new book, Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change, Adapting Fast and Future-proofing Your Career, out in December and available for pre-order now. Jason, how are you?

Jason Feifer: I’m so great, thanks for having me. And thanks for that very nice introduction.

Chelsea Follett: No, thank you for joining me. So what led to your interest in this topic and to writing this book?

Jason Feifer: Well, it was a couple of things. I have spent a lot of time with entrepreneurs, as you can imagine, at Entrepreneur Magazine, and I came to realize that the thing that was driving people’s success was their ability to adapt. It seemed to be the single biggest difference maker between people who built gigantic world-changing things and people who were left behind. And I wanted to understand how they were doing that so that anybody could. Because it doesn’t seem like adaptability is a skill people are born with, it seems to be something that people can learn. And at the same time as I was doing that, I was also doing this podcast, Build for Tomorrow, that you guys have been great supporters of, and I really appreciate. And that show is somewhat obsessed with change over time, why were people concerned about something that today we think of as common place, when it was new back then, why were people so resistant to cars and to coffee and to bicycles? And I realized I was looking at the same thing. I was looking at the entrepreneurs who were adaptable were the ones that got ahead, and the people across time who were able to see the benefits of new innovations and therefore kind of harness them themselves were the ones that were able to shape the world.

Jason Feifer: And so I wanted to marry those two things, that’s what the book is, the book goes back and forth between stories of history and stories of innovators today, so that anybody can become more adaptable themselves, but also be the change makers themselves.

Chelsea Follett: Right, the book is filled with, in part, historical anecdotes of people panicking in the face of new technological change, usually a change in their industry. And that’s something that grew out of your old collaboration with Louis Anslow on his Pessimists Archive project. The Pessimists Archive podcast became the Build for Tomorrow podcast, which is yours alone. Can you tell me a little bit about that project and the path from Pessimists Archive to Build for Tomorrow? Much more optimistic title!

Jason Feifer: Yeah, yeah. So for those who… I imagine that you’re speaking to an audience that may be familiar with Pessimists Archive. So, Pessimists Archive started… So it’s pronounced Louis, I didn’t know that…

Chelsea Follett: Oh, sorry, Louis.

Jason Feifer: For a long time, [chuckle] ’cause Louis and I first started… We first met over Twitter DM, and for the first year or something, I don’t know, in my head, I was always like, “Lewis,” and then I met him and it was Louis. So, Louis had started Pessimist Archive, the Twitter feed, and I found it pretty early. And at that point, it was just this Twitter feed, this wonderful Twitter feed in which he was finding these old clips of newspapers where somebody would talk about how damaging novels are, whatever. And I, at the time was working as an editor at Fast Company, and I was writing about that same stuff, I was really interested in why people say the same thing about every generation over… How is it possible that every generation is lazier than the next? That just logically doesn’t make sense ’cause we would have declined as a civilization, but that’s not what we did. So I was very curious about it, so I found Pessimists Archive, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is… What a weird thing that somebody else is super obsessed with.”

Jason Feifer: So I reached out to him, we decided to collaborate, and we made the Pessimists Archive podcast as a kind of growth of the Pessimists Archive brand, and then we operated together as kind of co-founders of Pessimists Archive for a number of years, in which Louis was really responsible for social, and I was doing the podcast. And then over time, this kind of shift happened, which was that Louis wanted to dive deeper and deeper into the archives, the history, the interesting recurring fears, and I was driven by this kind of broadening curiosity, which is, “Well, how is this relevant to us today? If we find these things from the past, how do I marry it with what I’m seeing people grapple with today, so that people can use it themselves?” And then that was really validated…

Jason Feifer: I hired this consultancy to survey the Pessimists Archive audience. I have to tell you, if anybody’s listening right now and is running a business or is trying to understand an audience, you think you know your audience and you don’t. You just don’t. Because I started working with this amazing audience insights researcher named Richelle DeVoe at Pen Name Consulting, and she dug into my audience and she came away with all these insights from people listening to the podcast that I didn’t know. And the number one thing was people said the reason they listen to the show is because it helps them feel more resilient about the future. And I thought, “Oh my God. It’s happening.” This show that was really about history, people were using in a very tangible way to help them be forward-facing. And I really wanted to lean into that, and I was coming to realize that the name Pessimists Archive was not serving that purpose, because it had this word pessimist in it, which even though the name is supposed to mean an archive of pessimists, people don’t quite process it that way. And so Louis and I, towards the end of 2020, really just realized, “I think we’re going on separate paths here,” and so he kept the name Pessimists Archive and continues to operate Twitter.

Jason Feifer: And I’ve completely left the company Pessimists Archive, and then built my own called Build for Tomorrow, which just had that kind of optimistic tone that I wanted to convey. So that’s… Yeah, so now I will probably be forever associated with Pessimists Archive, but to be very clear, that is now Louis’ show, and I’m off on my own thing.

Chelsea Follett: Right. So you have the Build for Tomorrow podcast and this book, Build for Tomorrow, which is organized around four phases of change that you say you gleaned from interviewing successful entrepreneurs. And we’re going to go over each of those phases in detail, but first, can you give an overview of why you decided to structure the book that way and explain how you arrived at those four phases?

Jason Feifer: It’s funny, that insight that change happens in four phases… And those phases, by the way, are panic, adaptation, new normal and wouldn’t go back. That came out of the pandemic. I had been very interested in change, how people manage change and adapt to change for a long time, but it wasn’t until the pandemic where I got to watch this fascinating thing happen, which was that everybody went through the same change at the exact same time, and as a result, you could see what people were doing. And everybody experienced the same thing. As Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Magazine, I get to talk to everybody.

Jason Feifer: It’s really… It’s a great honor. People running smart businesses that you’ve never heard of, but also the Richard Bransons and the Ryan Reynolds’es of the world. I get to talk to them, and everybody goes through these four phases. I found it’s just like… The question really is, how efficiently can you move through them? So I started to tell this story through the pandemic. I would be interviewed on podcasts or I would just be talking to clients, advertising clients, entrepreneurs. And people would ask me, “What’s going on? What are people doing?” And I said, “You know, I’ll tell you, I’ve been observing that people move through… Are moving through this experience in four phases.” I tell them, panic, adaptation, new normal, wouldn’t go back. And they’re all like, “Yes, that’s exactly what’s happening.” It just resonated.

Jason Feifer: And I realized I’ve hit upon something. I’ve hit upon this story that I think helps people understand the moment that they’re in when they are navigating change, and that the single most important thing that you can do is orient yourself, because, look, this is maybe too simplistic of an observation, but when you’re disoriented, just think about when you’re physically disoriented, you’ve been spun around, or… I don’t know, you plummeted into the water. The very first thing you need to do is just know where am I? Like, Where am I right now relative to other things? Because once you know that, you can start to plot a path forward. And I think that during moments of change, people don’t know where they are, and helping them figure that out is, I think, the first step to just getting them through it.

Chelsea Follett: Right. They’re disoriented. So let’s start with panic. You have all of these great lessons from history and from your conversations with entrepreneurs throughout the book about times when industries were disrupted by new technologies and they often were met with fear and resistance, and you begin with the story of the phonograph and the insight that we, in a sense, come from the future. So what do you mean by that and what can the history of recorded music teach us?

Jason Feifer: Sure. So, I like this phrase, you come from the future. It’s funny… Well, actually, when I pitched the book, the title of the book was, You Come From the Future. Penguin Random House decided to change it, which is fine. But you come from the future, to me, is a reminder that the things that you love and the things that define your day, whether that’s waking up in the morning and having coffee, whether that’s giving your child a teddy bear, whether that’s playing games or listening to music or whatever, all of these things were once new. And when they were new, they were seen as disruptive and often very scary.

Jason Feifer: Studying the history of innovation, I love it ’cause you just keep discovering that even the things that we think of as the most obvious and foundational were themselves at one point, new and radical introductions, right? The idea that you would walk around a store and pick products off a shelf yourself, was like a new thing, and people hated it. The idea that you would be able to walk around at night because there are lights, there was a time when that did not happen. So anyway, the thing is, you come from the future, which is to say you literally are the representation of the thing that people of the past feared, and yet you don’t think that that… You don’t think you’re bad, you don’t think that you’re surrounded by bad things, you think that you’re surrounded by good things.

Jason Feifer: And so what we can recall or what we should know is that if we are a representation of the future and that future was scary to other people but we think that it’s fine, well, then the future is not just inherently scary. Like, new things aren’t by themselves bad, and therefore we have an opportunity right now to be more embracing of the next phase of things, because new things will come along and they will challenge our comfort zone, and we’ll say, “Oh, that new thing is terrible, kids shouldn’t communicate that way,” because I’m familiar with them communicating this other way. And that’s just… We shouldn’t lock ourselves in. The more that we can come from the future, more that we can shape the future.

Jason Feifer: Now, you asked specifically about recorded music. So, the reason I think that people panic when they experience change is because I think that they equate change with loss. It’s very easy to see loss. It’s the first thing that you see. Something new comes along, the first thing you think of is, “What is this going to replace? How is this going to change something that I’m already familiar with?” And then you experience that as loss, and then because you want to know what’s coming next, you extrapolate the loss, you say, “Because I’ve lost this thing, I’m gonna lose that thing. Because I lost that thing, I’m gonna lose this other thing,” and on and on we go, until you start to feel totally disoriented. And what we need to instead do is to extrapolate the gain. We need to identify gain and then we need to figure out, “Well, if there is going to be this gain, how do I take advantage of it?” And the reason I’m telling you this, because you prompted me about recorded music, is because there’s a story that I love about the leader of the resistance against recorded music and the phonograph that I think really encapsulates this.

Jason Feifer: So, turn of the century, late 1800s, early 1900s you have the phonograph, the very first record player, and it’s hard to appreciate how radical of an innovation this was, because before the phonograph… Just think about this. Before the phonograph, for all of human history, all of it, the only way in which you could hear music is if there was a human being playing an instrument in front of you. There was no other way to do it until this machine, and this machine was so revolutionary, people literally didn’t believe that it worked, they thought that there must be a musician playing behind a wall somewhere, and you had to prove to them that it was real. And then people loved it, but the people who hated it were the musicians, because they saw their livelihood being impacted and they saw themselves being replaced. And the leader of the resistance was this guy named John Philip Sousa, whose name you may not know today, but whose music you still do. He wrote all the military marches…

[vocalization]

Jason Feifer: John Philip Sousa. So, John Philip Sousa, he wrote this wonderful piece that everybody should Google because it’s just hilarious, it’s called The Menace of Mechanical Music, and it ran in Appleton’s magazine in 1906. And he makes just a string of arguments against recorded music, mechanical music, as he called it. And my favorite went like this, he says, “So if you allow a phonograph to come into the home, then it will replace all forms of live music. Nobody will perform in the home anymore when now a machine can do it, ’cause why would they perform live?” And because there’s no more live performances in the home, mothers will no longer sing to their children, naturally, because why would they do that when there’s a machine that can do it? And because children grow up to imitate their mothers, the children will now grow up to imitate the machines and thus we will raise a generation of machine babies. And that’s ridiculous. It’s funny, but it is also a version of exactly what we do. He was extrapolating the loss, he was saying, because this new thing has happened, it’s going to replace this old thing, and then because of that, we’re gonna lose this other thing, and then because of that, we’re gonna lose this other thing, and now we’re really down a crazy logical.

Jason Feifer: And the answer we know now is that that isn’t what happened at all. Instead, what happened is this thing that always happens, which is that instead of replacing old things, new things integrate with old things, which is the reason why I sing lullabies to my children, I have a seven-year-old and a three-year-old, but I also play them music on Spotify. I do both at the time in which it’s appropriate. And that’s what we do. We take the best of the old, we take the best of the new. And so the more that we can reframe in a moment of change and understand, “Well, what new thing is this giving me and how could that be put to good use,” the more that we can start to identify some kind of gain and then mentally extrapolate from that gain and then move ourselves towards being able to take advantage of that.

Chelsea Follett: I love your line that history is us defending weird little things over and over again, because it’s really true, isn’t it? So why is change so terrifying and how can we combat the instinctive reaction to panic and put our present moment into this proper historical perspective?

Jason Feifer: Yeah, so thanks for pulling that line out. I think that I wrote that in relation to how musicians of today have spent a lot of time… Maybe a lot of them have moved on, but there’s been a lot of effort to try to hold on to the way in which music was sold in the ’80s and ’90s, like a kind of record that was sold. And it was a good model for a while, to make a CD and sell it, but when you look at the broad scope of history, that model is not some kind of natural way in which to make a business out of music, it was literally just a weird thing from a specific moment in time, because it’s not how music was sold for most of human history, and it’s not how it is sold now. It was a blip. And that’s often what we’re doing, we identify these very specific things that we think are natural, but when you look at the broad scope of history, they are actually just a weird little thing from a specific moment in time, and now for some reason, we’re holding onto them thinking that they’re the only way that we can do things.

Jason Feifer: So, how do we do better? I propose that one of the ways that we really could start to do this is that we must have a good sense of what is changeable and what is not. We all as individuals, I think we identify far too much with the output of our work rather than with the reason why we do that work. The reason why that can be really scary is because if you identify with the way in which you are doing something at a particular moment in time, that is very, very changeable. If John Philip Sousa saw himself not as a musician who brings joy to people, but rather as someone who simply performs live and sells sheet music, which is clearly what he was thinking of, well, then those two things are easily disrupted, there are going to be new ways in which people consume things and there’s going to be new products that people want. And so if you are only anchored to the output of your work, well, then you are really setting yourself up to be massively disrupted whenever that work changes.

Jason Feifer: But if you identify something that’s far more core, something that can drill down so that it is the thing that is inside of you that drives you to develop the skills that enable you to do the tasks, that is where… Now you have an understanding of who you are. That does not change just because some market force changed. I’ll tell you. For me, for example, and I went through a long process of doing this, and I started as a newspaper reporter. I identified as a newspaper reporter for a long time, and it was very scary when I wasn’t a newspaper reporter anymore, I was like, “Well, now what am I?” I did the same thing with magazines. And now I have this line for myself which is, I tell stories in my own voice. It’s a very simple sentence. I tell stories is really critical, like the language that I’m using there because I’m not… I don’t tell magazine stories, I don’t tell newspaper stories, I don’t tell podcast stories, I don’t tell book stories right? I tell stories.

Jason Feifer: Which means that if one of those things changes, I am not left out in the cold, I’m not disoriented. Because look, those things really change. They have already for me, and then in my own voice… I tell stories in my own voice and setting the terms for the work that I’m going to do. I don’t tell other people’s stories. I don’t get subsumed by an organization and just kind of do whatever the voices of that organization. I tell stories in my own voice. That’s the place that I’ve reached and that’s my mission. The more that we can all have something that’s very clarifying for ourselves or for our organizations, the more we can anchor ourselves towards what matters and be less concerned with how the day-to-day shifts might impact us.

Chelsea Follett: Absolutely. You’re a storyteller, and an independent-minded one. And you mentioned loss aversion. But could you describe that a bit more and the other psychological biases that affect our reaction to change and make us afraid of it.

Jason Feifer: Yeah, so there’s a whole bunch of them. Loss aversion is a well-documented psychological phenomenon where we become more focused on what we have lost or what we potentially will lose than what we gain. An example that I give in the book is, I had a friend tell me to buy Bitcoin when it was at $4000 a Bitcoin, and so I bought two of them ’cause I was like, “I don’t know about this but I guess I’ll put $8000 in.” And of course, we know what happened to Bitcoin. And then I foolishly, because so Bitcoin went up for a little and then went down for a while. And I was like, “Ah, I probably wasted my money on this.” And then it started to go back up, and when it hit $16000 a Bitcoin I was like, “It can’t possibly go any higher.”

Jason Feifer: And so I sold. And so as a result I made a decent chunk of change. It was pretty good. But then it kept going up and up and up, and up. And what I did mentally is I got angry at Bitcoin, I couldn’t listen to news about Bitcoin anymore because I just kept focusing on what I had sort of lost in theory. Because there was all this money I could have made instead of what I did, which is that I made money. I made money on what felt like a very speculative investment. And we do versions of this all the time, where whenever we have a choice to make… There’s a study I love this pizza study that… Where these researchers. What they did is they took people and they divided them into two groups. And by the way, I don’t know if you can hear my three-year-old like screaming, wee-ooh wee-ooh in the background but anyway, if you can, Sorry.

Chelsea Follett: I can’t, we’re good. [chuckle]

Jason Feifer: And so there’s this wonderful pizza study, where these researchers. They had people in… They took research participants and they’d broken them into two groups and… Which we could call the scale-up group and the scale down group. And so the scale-up group started with a basic pizza just like cheese pizza, and then they had options for toppings, and they were asked to add whatever toppings they thought would make the pizza great, and then they would have to pay for the pizza based on what all of the cost of the toppings were. And then the scale-down group started with a fully-loaded pizza with all the toppings and they were asked to remove whatever toppings they wanted to in order to reach the perfect pizza, and then they would have to pay for it.

Jason Feifer: And the results which were the same in both America and Italy, found that the scale-up group, the group that had to add ingredients had far simpler and less costly pizzas than the scale-down group that started with the fully loaded pizza and had to take out. Because the thing was that the people who already had the pizza fully loaded had a really hard time eliminating things, because we have such a harder time with loss, we have a loss aversion. It’s super interesting, and so you can see how this drives a lot of our decision-making, where when we are grappling with some kind of change, instead of being able to focus on the new thing, the great new thing that we’re going to have, we instead are instinctively trying to hold on to the old thing, we see it as loss and we cannot get over that, and therefore we really halt our ability to grow because the growth is gonna be in the things that’s next, but we’re so, so tightly holding on to what we are afraid of losing.

Chelsea Follett: And you also talked about the myth of the good old days.

Jason Feifer: Yeah.

Chelsea Follett: Another sort of bias. And you write, “When we long for the past, we may start preferring it over our present or future at the most extreme level, demagogues from Hitler to Pol Pot have appealed to nostalgia by promising a return to some romanticized past.” That’s clearly very dangerous, but what are some examples of nostalgia throughout history, and can you elaborate on some of the threats great or small of seeing the past through rose-colored glasses?

Jason Feifer: Yeah. So, there are two ways to address that. There is kind of thinking about it societally, and then they’re thinking about it personally. So we’ll do a little bit of both. Societally. It’s funny, I had this question which was, “Was there any time in history in which people considered themselves to be living in a Golden Age?” We talk a lot about the Golden Age of whatever the good old days. Did anybody think that they were living in one? So I started with now and I thought, “Well, when did people generally talk about a Golden Age?” I feel like people often talked about it sort of like in the 1950s, the manufacturing economy, and so I called the historian of the 1950s and I said, “Did people at the time think of themselves as living in a Golden Age?” And he was like, “No, absolutely not. There were all these massive concerns and people thought that television was turning people into zombies, and there was concerns about nuclear war.” Anyway, I was like, “When did those people think the Golden Age was?” And he was like, “Well, they thought it was just before the Great Depression.” So then I called a historian, and I basically I did this, sort of like calling every historian and saying, “Oh, was it the good old days?” “No.” “When did they think the good old days was?” “Well, it was this other time.” And I tracked that as far back as… [chuckle] Now, my kid is definitely gonna be on the podcast.

Chelsea Follett: That’s okay.

Jason Feifer: And I tracked that as far back as the Sumerians, the earliest language written down on clay tablets 5000 years ago. We have been talking about the Golden Age for literally as long as there has been recorded history. So just like factually speaking, there was no Golden Age, there just wasn’t. But why is that a problem for us? The problem is, because if you have enough people who believe that there was a time before theirs that was better, well, then they are going to be disregarding of anybody who is interested in growth and progress. And they’re instead gonna be very interested in people who are going to be promising them a return. And that doesn’t move us forward, instead what that does is actually allows for great manipulation of people. Now on individual basis, there’s a really fascinating thing that is called fading affect bias.

Jason Feifer: I learned about this from some memory researchers who I interviewed, and fading affect bias means that the emotions associated with good memories last a lot longer than the emotions associated with bad memories. So we retain the good emotions of good memories much longer and we start to forget the emotions associated with bad memories. Doesn’t mean that we forget the bad memory, and also trauma can completely change this, but talking about normal memories, that is our experience. Which is the reason why, for example, women are willing to have more than one child because you forget the emotional experience of child birth which could be really… That is not an easy process so. Well, why do we do this? We do this for a very logical reason, and that’s because our brains are not designed to be recording devices in the way in which you and I right now are talking, in a way in which a recording device is capturing us. And it is capturing us for the sole purpose of creating an absolutely clear and indisputable record of our conversation.

Jason Feifer: Our brains are not built for that. Our brains are built to move us forward, our brains are not built to remember every single little thing. Because every single little thing can hold us back. If every time that you had a flashback to a bad experience, you felt the emotions of that bad experience, you would have a really hard time moving forward. If you took one risk and it didn’t work out, you would probably never take another risk. Our brains are… They’re deletion devices and they’re getting rid of things that hold us back so that we can move forward. Also, our brains do not record information in the way that a camera does, which is to say that it doesn’t record a complete piece of information, a complete memory. What it does is it breaks the memory up into a million little pieces and then they’re all stored separately, and then whenever you recall something, your brain is actually reassembling all those little pieces into a memory. Every single time that you remember something, that’s what it’s doing.

Jason Feifer: And so this guy, Felipe De Brigard, who is a memory researcher and professor at Duke University was explaining to me. And he said, “Look, you can kind of imagine it like a paleontologist putting together a dinosaur bone. You have these fractions of or like these fragments of dinosaur bone, and you’re trying to put them back together and you’re not gonna have all of them, which means that there’s going to be some gaps, and then you have to fill those gaps in. Now, a paleontologist will do that with the best knowledge that they have about what this dinosaur was like. But you know what our brains do? Our brains fill those gaps in with imagination, because the parts of our brains that are responsible for memory are very, very closely associated with the parts of our brains that are responsible for imagination.” So what we’re doing is we are re-assembling a memory and then we’re filling in the gaps with an imagination, but we’re still experiencing it as a memory. And now, so we’re doing that and we’re also removing all the bad emotions associated with bad memories. So what are we ultimately doing? What we’re doing is we are without realizing it, and for perfectly good and logical reasons, we are creating a rosier understanding of our past.

Jason Feifer: And because we are creating a rosier understanding of our past we are also creating this thing where we forget that the things that we came from were difficult. We forget that parts of our past were hard and maybe not worth returning to. And instead, we have this memory, this false imagined memory of a great time, and that holds us back. I go and I… Chelsea, I speak to companies all the time. They bring me in to talk to them, and these companies are going through big changes and maybe they’re growing really fast, or they’re going through some kind of re-org, and one of the things that’s driving concern among the people who work at these companies is a feeling of nostalgia for what it used to be like at that company. It was so much better when it was just a smaller group and we could get together in a conference room and hash things out, and now there are all these people and I don’t know all their names. And I go in and I tell them, “Look, I get it. Parts of that were great, but you were forgetting all the bad stuff, you just are. And as a result, you are trying to recreate something from the past that wasn’t perfect, instead of trying to figure out how to make the next phase of this company as good as it can be.” And that’s where we really stumble.

Chelsea Follett: And that’s a great way to go to the next phase, adaptation. So those are some of the psychological biases that cause us to panic at the thought of change. How can we assess when change is worthwhile? Because sometimes it’s not, right? There is such a thing as negative change.

Jason Feifer: Sure.

Chelsea Follett: And how can we come to terms with change when it is worthwhile?

Jason Feifer: So I mean look, this is gonna be on an individual situational basis obviously, but I think there are a couple of strategies that you can employ to figure this out for yourself. One of them is… I’ll tell you a quick very embarrassing story as a way of just kind of highlighting a challenge that we all have which is that… So I was wondering this question that you’ve asked here. How do we know what is the right decision to make? How do we know where to go? And it’s like, we are not in dispute that change has to happen. And so I thought, “Well, has anybody… Who has kind of systematically broken down this process?” And I thought, “You know what would be really interesting is to talk to a company that does forecasting for a living.” So people who literally their jobs are to figure out how to look at something and make the best determination about what comes next and what direction somebody should move in. And so I called this company called Good Judgment, and the reason was because Good Judgment operates in this very interesting way, which is… So let’s say that you’re in plastics and you wanna know what’s gonna happen in plastics in the next two years.

Jason Feifer: You would call Good Judgement and you would have this question, and what Good Judgment would do is it would put the question out to it’s array of super forecasters who are people who have been determined to have a considerably better than average ability to look at data and then decide what is the best path forward. And those people go through a big test, like a lot of tests to determine if they have ability to do this. And so I was asking their CEO, who’s also a super forecaster Warren Hatch. What makes for a good super forecaster? ‘Cause I thought maybe there’s some way in which we can… We can all learn to do this better. And so I said, “What are the qualities that drive an ability to be a super forecaster?” He says, “Well, there a lot of them, super forecasters are excellent pattern matchers, and they are also really good at setting aside their own biases, and very importantly, they are not over-confident.”

Jason Feifer: And Warren tells me, “When we… If you asked a bunch of people in a room, raise your hand if you’re over-confident, nobody’s going to do that, but if you test them for over-confidence, you’ll find that most of them are actually overconfident.” And I say, “Well,” the obvious next question, “How do you test for over-confidence?” And he says, “Well, they’re… It’s like a whole long thing, but I’ll give you one question that we ask, and that question is, What year was Gandhi born?” And… Chelsea I’m gonna let you choose your intervention here. You may have already read this in my book at which point, there’s no use in playing along. You may have not read this part or don’t remember it, and you are welcome to play along, or you don’t have to play along because you don’t know the answer and you’re gonna feel embarrassed. But I will tell you that I’m going to tell you what I said, and it is embarrassing. So at least one person is gonna get embarrassed here. It will certainly be me. Do you wanna play along?

Chelsea Follett: I would encourage whoever is listening, the listeners of this podcast to right now in their head come up with a year that they’re guessing and have them play along. I think that’s more important.

Jason Feifer: That’s it. That’s it. That was a good… That was a good side step. Alright, here’s what you wanna do. Warren says to me, and so therefore I say to you listener, what year was Gandhi born? And I say, and maybe you will say, I don’t know what year Gandhi was born. And then Warren would say, Well, that doesn’t matter. That’s not the point of this. It’s not a trivia question. So here’s what I want you to do, I want you to tell me what is the earliest year that you think Gandhi could have been born in, and what is the latest year that you think Gandhi could have been born in? Earliest and latest. Alright so take a second, think about that. And so I said, “Okay earliest and latest.” So I was like, “I don’t know when Gandhi was born.” He’s like, “It doesn’t matter.” Okay, so I said, I told you I was gonna embarrass myself, so here it is, I said, “I think that the earliest that he was born was 1940, and the latest he was born was 1955.”

Jason Feifer: And Warren said, “Okay, Gandhi was born in 1869,” so I wasn’t anywhere near. And I said, “Oh that is embarrassing.” He’s like, “It’s fine. You didn’t need to know when Gandhi was born, but the point of this exercise is actually to look at the range of dates that you selected.” So Warren says, “You told me that you don’t know anything about Gandhi but then when I asked you the earliest and latest possible dates, you picked a 15-year range. So you didn’t know anything, but you narrowed it down really significantly anyway. And the whole point of this exercise is to become aware of how confident you are in the knowledge that you think you have. Because a sign of over-confidence is that you are quite confident in the knowledge you think you have even if you don’t have that knowledge.” And what I needed to do, he said, was I needed to widen my bands. What I had is that I had my bands too narrow. And what’s so interesting about this, and the reason why I feel good about repeating it is because the second Warren ran me through this, I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to do this with other people.” And so I did it with a lot of people, and everybody did a version of what I did. I mean, my years were especially bad and embarrassing, but generally speaking, people pick like a 15 to 20 year range and nobody knows when Gandhi was born.

Jason Feifer: So everybody’s doing this, and Warren says to me, he’s like, “Look, the problem that we have is that if we go into a situation and we are not aware of and respectful of what we do not know, then we will start to make decisions based on what we do not know, and then that decision that we make will compound itself. Because once we make one decision based on what we don’t know, we will now know… We will now make another decision on top of it. Well, because I know that, I will now decide this, and then because I’ve decided this, I will now decide this, and that is how you get really far out on a statistical limb needlessly so.” That was his words to me. And so what we really need to do is be aware of what we don’t know. “What I should have said,” and this is what I said to Warren, “What I should have said is the earliest… I don’t know anything about Gandhi, so the earliest year that he could have been born was 1600, and the latest year he could have been born was 1980. Because although that would have been embarrassing to say, I would have gotten the answer correct because 1869 would have been in there, right?”

Jason Feifer: So I wasn’t respectful of and aware of the knowledge that I thought I had, and that is what we need to do more of. So the reason I tell you that is to say that when we are going into these stages in which we do not exactly know what decision we need to make, what we really need to do is start not with the decision, but with ourselves, and with an awareness of what we know and what we do not know. And then once we know… There’s that funny Donald Rumsfeld line, “There’s known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns,” which was actually… Where is funny and people laughed at it, but it was actually came out of this thing called the Johari Window, which was… It’s a psychological assessment. It was a very logical way of thinking. And this is what we’re also kind of doing with ourselves right now is kind of being… We’re being aware of what we know and what we do not know, and what we might not know we don’t know. And the more that we can do that, the more we can start moving forward with an open mind, with driving ourselves to ask other people for, “What have you done in this situation? What did you learn?” The more that we can move forward into a situation that we don’t know enough about with an acceptance that we have to learn rather than that we should know what we’re doing, the more that we can be open to what the next step is.

Chelsea Follett: That’s a good segue into the next two phases which I’m going to ask you about together, to be mindful of your time, I know you’re on a deadline. The new normal, that has kind of a negative connotation or sounds to it, but you view this stage as another opportunity. And then there is, “you wouldn’t go back.” And you write that that stage is the moment when we become something new. So tell me about those two phases.

Jason Feifer: New normal is where we start to have something that feels familiar again. When we’re adapting, we’re rebuilding. When we’ve reached a new normal, we’ve established a new routine. Feels good, but to get to wouldn’t go back, which is to say this moment where you have something so new and valuable that you wouldn’t wanna go back to a time before you had it, that’s a place where you have really significantly rethought parts of what you do and how you’re serving people. And it’s just so valuable to reach this place where it wasn’t for nothing to have to go through a major change.

Jason Feifer: It instead, it had this grand purpose to it, and that was to create value that you couldn’t have anticipated beforehand, and thinking… I’ll just sort of tell you… Obviously there’s quite a lot about this in the book, but I’ll just tell you one way of thinking about it, which brings us back to some of the fun history that we were talking about in our earlier conversation, which is that one of the things that I think that we need to do for ourselves, but then also for people who are listening to this who are in the position of being a change maker of themselves, they either are building something where they represent something, or they’re arguing for something, whatever the case is where you’re going out there and you’re trying to introduce change. I think that we always need to be mindful of is that people don’t like new things. You know what they like? They like better versions of old things. They like an improvement of something that they already understand and see how that fits into their world.

Jason Feifer: One of my favorite stories related to this is about the car. So the early car, early automobile, which was called the horseless carriage was very controversial. People called it the Devil’s wagon, they threw rocks at it, they yelled, “Get a horse,” when somebody would drive by. And when we tell the story now of how the car became this widely accepted form of transportation, we often tell the story of Henry Ford and the way in which he had revolutionized manufacturing. And though there’s a lot of truth to that, there’s a missing component there which Henry Ford was the beneficiary of, and that was that in the early days of the car, or the horseless carriage, the earliest car manufacturers talked about the car as a replacement to the horse, and people did not like that. And you can understand why, people like their horse. They’ve had horses in their family as far back as they know.

Jason Feifer: The horse was a member of the family, and now you’re gonna come along and you’re gonna tell us that this thing that I’ve been doing forever, I can now just stop doing, and instead I should take whatever the hell this thing is that you’re trying to sell me? No, that’s ridiculous, I hate that. So people were offended and they were not interested. And the car manufacturers realized they needed to shift the way that they were talking about this thing, to stop talking about it as a replacement to the horse and to start talking about it as a better horse. Because once you start meeting people where they are… Which, by the way, this is the reason why cars are named after horses, we have this tradition we still have today, you know, Mustang, Bronco, and words like horsepower became popularized. This is an effort to build what I call a bridge of familiarity, which is what we need to be doing, whether we are introducing change the world or whether we are trying to grapple with change ourselves. We cannot just expect people or expect ourselves, frankly, to just leap across a chasm. What we instead must do is we must build from the things that we already know.

Jason Feifer: What am I doing that I will be able to continue to do? What skills did I develop that I will have going forward? What do people need from me that I’m still able to provide, even as I’m offering this new thing? The more that we can re-frame for ourselves and for others new things as better versions of old things, the more the people will come along with us. And sort of final note on that is one of the greatest, most transformative innovations of all time, I don’t think that you could really argue with it, is electricity. And electricity was also weirdly, of everything that I’ve talked about today with you, electricity was like the least controversial thing. People were not freaked out about electricity.

Jason Feifer: Now, there’s this whole thing where there was the battle of the currents and Thomas Edison, but just like the very idea of electricity, people weren’t freaked out. And you know why? It’s because electricity, when it was introduced, had basically one purpose to people, and that was that it brought lighting into their home, and that was much safer than the gas lighting that was in their home because of course gas, if the light goes out but the gas keeps coming in, you’re going to die, and people are very aware of that. So electricity was introduced to the world basically as a form of safer lighting, it was a new thing that was really just a better version of an old thing, and therefore people welcomed it into their homes. And then once it was there, of course, we built the world.

Chelsea Follett: Although this book is definitely mostly centered around career and professional growth, you do talk about other forms of change, right? And toward the end, for example, you give the example of someone trying to make sense of the changing society around them, saying maybe the world you knew is becoming different, young people are doing things that don’t make sense, they’re playing video games, they’re using new technologies, and you are primed to panic. And you say to slow down and ask yourself, “Am I truly witnessing something new or am I just witnessing a new version of an old thing?” How can we react to this rapidly changing world around us while maintaining perspective and seizing those opportunities that might be present in the changing world?

Jason Feifer: I mean, look, it is… It’s a great question. It is not an easy thing to do. I think that everybody probably starts by thinking that they will be able to do it in their 20s as they are embracing the… Becoming… Sort of being shaped by the new things, and then once they hit their 40s and 50s and they start to say, “Wait a second, I don’t like this new stuff.” You know, the thing that I always do is that I always try to drill down to… When we’re looking at societal changes, I always try to drill down to what is the thing that’s consistent? Is there a consistent thing here?

Jason Feifer: Because ultimately what we wanna make sure is that we are carrying on with the core things that make us great. And so when I look at ways in which people are communicating online, which is obviously something that can scare a lot of people… You know, the thing that doesn’t concern me, the thing that makes me not concerned is, yes, obviously people can have individual bad experiences, without question. But also people had individual bad experiences before the internet too, and what are we ultimately wanting to make sure it happens? We wanna make sure that communities are built, that collaboration is made possible, that that there is a way in which people are collaborating and growing together and building new relationships. And I know that if you sit down with some tech pessimist, they’re gonna tell you that social media destroys all that, but I don’t know, guys, I look around and what I see is a world of people who are building and growing and navigating the challenges of their day in the same way that I navigated the challenges of mine. I’m a child of like the ’80s and ’90s.

Jason Feifer: And so far, of all the research that’s out there, nobody has ever been able to pinpoint a specific causal relationship between social media… There’s all sorts of ways in which you can look at people’s use of technology and say, “Oh no, this is terrible.” There’s also ways in which you can look at it and you can say, “You know what? What we are doing is we’re developing some bad habits or some people are developing some bad habits, but it’s within our control to be able to say, I can identify these bad habits and I can alter them myself.” The more in which we start to talk about addiction and how we are powerless against the big tech companies, the more what we’re really doing is we’re creating a learned helplessness where we’re saying, “We cannot help ourselves anymore, we are victims of change, we are victims of circumstance.” And just the history of innovation in the history of people to me, suggest something quite different, which is that we are not victims of change, what we instead are are the creators of change ourselves, and what we have is an opportunity at all times to build and to grow. And that doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges ahead.

Jason Feifer: I love the question, what… When change comes, I love this question, maybe this is what we’ll kind of… I’ll leave you on here, which is that, when change comes, we should not ask, “Is this perfect?” Because it’s not going to be. The perfect… Perfection just doesn’t exist. Simply doesn’t, never. Instead, the much more interesting question is, are our new problems better than our old problems? Because once you frame it like that, you can say, “Oh yes, there are still problems, it’s okay that there are problems, but have we solved past problems? Have we gotten ourselves to a place in which we have grown in some way and we are now able to build upon that? Yes? Then great. Then let’s start focusing on the new problems instead of lamenting something that we lost that frankly probably wasn’t that good to begin with.

Chelsea Follett: And you end the book with a note about endlessness, how there is no end point to change, the world is going to keep changing, the only question is how is it going to change and how are we going to react to it.

Jason Feifer: And frankly, how we’re gonna participate in it ourselves.

Chelsea Follett: Yes, and how we’re going to participate in it. And that’s a good note to end on I think. Thank you, Jason, so much for this conversation. I hope people will check out your book. Again, it’s Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change, Adapting Best and Future-Proofing Your Career, out in December.

Jason Feifer: Thank you so much. This was so fun.

Chelsea Follett is the managing editor of HumanProgress.org and a policy analyst in the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

Jason Feifer is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, a podcast host, book author, keynote speaker, startup advisor, and nonstop optimism machine.

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