Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Jason Feifer: I am fascinated by talking to people who make massive changes in their lives and business before they are forced to. Because they understand that by the time they’re forced to do it, they’re out of options.
Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional former cult member, investigative journalist, mafia enforcer, or gold smuggler. Any episode turns our guest’s wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
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Today, we’re talking about future-proofing your career. I’m really excited for this one. My friend, Jason Feifer, and I go way, way back. The book starts with the premise that your life as it exists now will not exist in a few years. And successful people and companies are — they’re good at withstanding change, not resisting it, but adapting to it. So this is a guide for people facing an uncertain future, which by the way, is all of us.
Jason is the editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine. So he has seen a lot of businesses and people in businesses survive, thrive, crash, and burn. And then, of course, through interviewing him much like myself, he has a chance to dig in with those responsible for those results or lack thereof. So he really comes at this from a pretty unique and knowledgeable angle in my opinion.
Now, we tend to not look at technology as a slow-moving, constantly changing series of small events, but we get distracted by what is the newest and the loudest. Remember, when people thought video games are ruining the youth and before that it was radio or pinball or television, whatever. Politicians love this because they can get clicks by playing to the moral panic. People thought comic books were going to be bad for society and it turned out, gee, when kids read a lot, they get better at reading. So if we panic and we react knee-jerk to change, then we’re not going to correctly identify the problem. And if we can’t do that, we obviously can’t create solutions either.
Again, this is a fun and wide-ranging conversation with a really smart friend of mine that I know you’re going to enjoy. So here we go with Jason Feifer.
I love looking back at history and seeing how seemingly unconnected events actually had a massive impact on one another or were causal in some way. And tell me about how the bubonic plague or the Black Death ends up changing the labor market of all things and how we are actually still, I guess you’d say feeling the effects of a plague that happened centuries ago.
Jason Feifer: I mean, feeling is one way to say it, benefiting from it is another. I was fascinated to learn this and I did at the very beginning of the pandemic because it was like March or April 2020. And I’m thinking to myself, we don’t know what’s coming but did anything good come out of the worst version of this that we can think of? Because if so, then there’s hope for whatever’s coming next.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: I call this guy, Andrew Rabin, medieval scholar at University of Louisville. I love that guy. I really suggest, maybe Jordan, you have one of these. I suggest having a favorite academic. Like somebody you can just call who’s going to respond. Like, “I got a weird question about something that happened 700 years ago, you got some time.” And so, I said to Andrew, “What good came out of the bubonic plague.” And he said, actually, a whole bunch of really fascinating stuff did. Then he told me this story.
So quick, for people who remember this from history class, the medieval economy was a lord and serf system. It means the lords owned the land. They also owned the serfs and the serfs work the land for free. We’re talking about slavery and the bubonic plague comes along at middle of the 1300s and it kills upwards of 60 percent of Europe, upwards of 60 percent of Europe.
Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
Jason Feifer: Gone. Try to process that it’s impossible, right? I mean, it just means like 60 percent of people you know, gone.
Jordan Harbinger: That’s crazy.
Jason Feifer: Rich, poor didn’t matter, you know, once the worst of it, or I don’t even know how to describe what the worst of it. But anyway, well, once something the lords say, “You know what? It’s time to get back to work.” And so they go to the serfs and they say, “Let’s get back to the land. You got to start making some money.” But here’s the thing, something has changed.
What has changed is that there are no longer enough serfs for all the lords because they all died, which means that you have lords who are going to serfs, like multiple lords going to serfs and saying, “Hey, come work for me.” “No, no, no, no, no, come work for me.” “No, no, I’ll give you this. Come work for me.” And the serfs realize something has changed. What has changed is that they have leverage and now they can start to demand compensation for their work. Or they can say, “You know what, screw it. I’m not interested in this anymore.” And they can move to the city and start the first merchant class.
And this is the birth really in Europe of the employment contract as we know it. The idea that labor has a value and that the people who do that work should be compensated for that value. I mean, basically Jordan, the reason why a lot of people are listening to us right now is because they would like to figure out a way to make more money in their own lives or something like that comes out of this moment.
Now, terrible things happened. We lost 60 percent of Europe as a result. We wouldn’t want to say we want to lose 60 percent of our people, but—
Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say, I think we’re on the same page here. We got to kill half the people on planet earth.
Jason Feifer: That’ll be better for us.
Jordan Harbinger: Right.
Jason Feifer: Little more than half in fact, so, right. But the thing is like the reason why I love this story and why I put it early in the book is because I want us to remember that we have no matter what came before, right? No matter how hard a moment of change is, we have an opportunity for what I like to call a Wouldn’t Go Back moment. 60 percent of Europe dying. Terrible. Nobody would opt for that, but it happened. There was no choice there. And so the best thing that we can do is look at it and say, “Well, what good can we make of this?” What can we get to where we say, “I have something new and valuable and I would not want to go back to a time before I had it”? That’s our only option.
Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So everybody’s talked about remote work was always there. Most didn’t take advantage of it. Companies thought it was impossible. Now, they know that not only is it possible, I guess there’s different schools of thought here, but oh, my workers are happier and better, or I can get leverage and acquire better talent if I offer remote work. Now, the commercial real estate market has to lower prices and that may be even toast in certain cities. I do wonder how we’ll see this play out in the next 50 years or longer though. Do you have any guesses?
Jason Feifer: My guess is that what you will see play out is a combination of the best of what came before and the beginnings of what we have now and where we’re going. People ask me about this a lot when we’re trying to think about the future of work and there’s really fascinating stuff going on right now. Like the four-day work week is a really interesting experiment.
Jordan Harbinger: Is it France, the UK doing that? Some European country is doing it.
Jason Feifer: Yeah, I think the UK is running an experiment right now. Iceland ran a national experiment and it went so well that a lot of companies there have transferred over. And a lot of this goes back to like the first time that a lot of people heard about the four-day work week was Japan. Microsoft, Japan ran this study where they went down to four days of work a week and productivity did not drop now just to be like really clear. We are not talking about four, 12-hour days of work, right? We’re talking about four normal days of work, literally just eliminating a day of work and productivity did not drop.
How did that happen? Well, it’s because you start to rethink the way that you work, the pace that you work, you eliminate meetings that are completely unnecessary. You find all these efficiencies and as a result, people are happier and they’re getting the same amount done. And so a lot of companies now, as people have rethought what they want from their jobs, what they are willing to sacrifice for their careers, they start to say, “You know, I’m looking for a different balance here.” And as a result, companies are starting to think, well, how can we shift the way in which we are operating so that we can create an environment where the best talent wants to be?
So we shift to, and a bunch of companies are doing this, this is not just experiment stuff. And it’s not just in Iceland. There are plenty of companies in America that are doing this.
Jordan Harbinger: I’m surprised Japan was one of the countries to take this. I feel like they would be the last people are like, “You know what? We need to work less. And while we’re at it, maybe we drink a little bit less too and go to bed at a reasonable time.”
Jason Feifer: Right. Because they have such a strong, like work culture that dominates their culture. But you know, Japanese love efficiency.
Jordan Harbinger: That’s true.
Jason Feifer: So this is super interesting. I called a bunch of companies that have been running four-day work weeks to ask how it’s been going. And the most memorable thing that anybody said was this woman who runs like issues like the head of people or whatever at a company called Buffer tech company. They’re about a year in now to the four-day work week experiment. And she said, people are, they’re really happy. They love it. She was talking to somebody recently who said that they would have to make an extra $100,000 at another job to make them go back to five days a week.
[00:08:49] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. That’s a lot, that’s a huge change.
[00:08:53] Jason Feifer: Huge change, right? Like if that’s how you value that time, that says a lot. But here’s so interesting. After about a year, she started to hear some complaints. And the complaint was people started to feel disconnected from their colleagues. Because, you know, when you shift to four days of work a week, you’re eliminating all those meetings. You’re eliminating like hanging out in Slack. You know, you’re eliminating all the kind of downtime that seemed like it was pointless, but actually was creating bonding and culture. And so when you eliminate that after a while, you start to feel disconnected from your colleagues.
So now, the people at Buffer are not saying, “Oh my god, this is a terrible disaster. And we have to go back to five a week because that’s not the right answer,” right? I mean, I think that whenever we face a problem, a question of trying to manage change, the thing that we should not ask is, is this perfect? Because that’s a useless question. Nothing’s ever perfect. Instead, the better question is, are our new problems better than our old problems?
And in this case, the answer is yes, because people are happy. Retention is very strong because people love the support that they’re getting, but they have this problem. This problem is that they’re feeling disconnected. So now they got to solve that. And so they’re experimenting with all these different ways. Can they build in these little micro bonding moments throughout the day or whatever?
And anyway, the reason why I tell you that is because I don’t think that the future of work looks like what we had before the pandemic, but I don’t think it also looks like whatever our current experiments are. Because our current experiments are really only going to drive us to learning more like Buffer is learning right now. So what will come in the future will be an integration of the best of the old, the best of the new, and best of what’s coming next.
Jordan Harbinger: Interesting. I like that. That was a little bit of an aside, but I was curious to your thoughts there because I know this is something that you’re always kind of, you’re always waiting in those waters for entrepreneur and for your own show.
The big takeaway here is that crisis is opportunity. Force change can produce good things, but we should maybe want to make those changes on our own terms. So instead of waiting for a massive pandemic to slay millions of us, it’s that changes the labor market, maybe we make the move beforehand.
I wonder. Does it count that our team has been working remote for like 15 years before? Because we were too cheap to buy office space. That seems less like seeing the future and more like a broken clock is still right two times a day.
Jason Feifer: Well, I think that what you’ll find is that there are even more innovations and efficiencies, things that you can find now that new tools are available for, you know, communication for operating work remotely. I mean, the thing is that teams that were doing this before the pandemic were doing it with what we now would consider to be pretty archaic tools.
Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
Jason Feifer: I mean, even just in the last few years, it’s been amazing, remarkable to see how many people, how many entrepreneurs looked around and said, “You know what? There are new needs. Instead of being very concerned about holding onto how to serve old needs, I’m going to start developing things based on what people want right now.” That’s where innovation comes from. And that’s what the most adaptable people do.
Jordan Harbinger: Another concept I really like to apply to my own life is that failures often look like wins, but you have to zoom out far enough on the timeline. For example, and you wrote about this in the book, Netflix tried to sell itself to Blockbuster for, was it $50 million.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: Which is hilarious.
Jason Feifer: $50 million.
Jordan Harbinger: Because that’s like a week of revenue or something at Netflix now, maybe not even that.
Jason Feifer: Right.
Jordan Harbinger: Now, it’s worth 200-plus billion dollars or at least, as of publishing the book. Who knows? The market’s crazy right now.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. Right. That may have been outdated by now.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Like don’t check your Netflix stock. Take my word for it for the sake of this conversation. But it probably seemed like such an epic failure at the time. You know, like, “Oh, Blockbuster, that was our big exit. What are we going to do now? I’ve got a warehouse full of DVDs and these little red envelopes. I’m such a loser.” I would imagine the conversations kind of went like that either to themselves or to their significant others.
Jason Feifer: The wonderful thing about that story is that Reed Hastings at the time in which he was trying to sell Blockbuster. He could have very easily gone home and said, “I have failed. I have failed at building a company that I can sell. And now it’s just downhill from here.” Instead, what he did was he clearly looked at this as an individual moment in time. Just one, one of what was going to be many. And when you are willing to and able to zoom out, and I know it’s hard. Believe me, I have many times, almost daily basis where something happens and it doesn’t go my way. And I feel like, damn it, that is the end of it all.
But if we are willing to say, you know, everything that happens is simply a point on a continuum. Well, then we can learn something from that point. We can say, you know, this moment that feels like failure is actually data. We can think of failure as data, and it starts to inform the next thing that we do. Have you heard this stat, which I really hate, which is that nine out of 10 businesses fail?
Jordan Harbinger: Within four years, right? Is that the thing? Nine out of 10 businesses fail within four years or most small businesses fail within four years. And that’s so discouraging if you’re thinking about starting a small business, especially if it’s your first time doing it. Because you’re like, “Geez, I’m not special enough to be one of the minority that makes it, why would I be that?” Right?
Jason Feifer: That’s right. It makes it seem like trying something new is not even worth it. Because if nine out of 10 businesses fail, and look, this is like, you don’t have to be thinking about starting a business in order to feel this, because if nine out of 10 businesses fail, then that feels like why on earth would I even try? Why would I try something new? But the thing is that statistic just isn’t even close to true.
If you look at the data, what you find is that about half of businesses, I think survive something like the first five years. I wish I had the data right in front of me, but I don’t remember it exactly. But anyway, when you look at, and the government research has done this, when you look at what actually happened to those businesses that closed, what you find is that a good bulk of them did not close because of some catastrophic failure. They closed because of some natural conclusion, either because the business had succeeded in doing whatever it was going to do, or the person decided to retire or they sold it or whatever, there was some natural reason in which it ended.
And the other ones, even if they did close because of what we might call a failure, what we don’t see in that data, is that the failure may have informed the next thing that they did. And that was the success.
Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
Jason Feifer: It’s not reasonable to say that just because something didn’t work, that the person who did it is a failure and will always be a failure because when I talk to — and Jordan, you do too. When we talk to people who have had massive successes, they have done that on top of a pile of failures.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Slack comes to mind. Wasn’t it like a video game company that—?
Jason Feifer: Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: No one cared about, basically for years, like a decade.
Jason Feifer: There’s like endless varieties of this in which the company that, you know, actually came out of some company that completely failed, and that’s wonderful.
Can I tell you a quick story? It’s like one of my most memorable—
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: —encounters with an entrepreneur. All right. So before kids, I liked to listen to podcasts in the shower. I don’t do this so much anymore.
Jordan Harbinger: What does that have to do with kids? I know there’s a tangent, but why?
Jason Feifer: Well, because one, the kids will often burst in and then they’ll need something. And then I won’t be able to focus. Two, because I don’t have as much time to shower as I used to.
Jordan Harbinger: Ah.
Jason Feifer: My showers are extremely fast right now. I can’t make it through a Jordan Harbinger episode. And I mean, I wasn’t taking hour-long podcast showers before.
Jordan Harbinger: That’s a pretty long hour of showering.
Jason Feifer: But yeah, you know, I usually would try to take a nice leisurely 10-minute shower. Now, it’s like four minutes, right? Like how fast can we get in and out of this thing? And then I got somebody screaming.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: And then I got to get somebody breakfast. Anyway, I was looking for a speaker. I wanted it to do two things. I have three things. I wanted it to be waterproof. I wanted it to be Bluetooth. I wanted it to be wireless because I wanted to be able to just kind of beam the show into a speaker in the shower and not have the speaker break.
Jordan Harbinger: Without running an extension cord into the place where you’re taking you’re bathing.
Jason Feifer: I’d like to survive my showers.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Anyway, I went out to Amazon and I couldn’t find anything from any brand that you’ve ever heard of that had these three things. There was only one speaker on Amazon that did this and it was a brand called Hipe. What the hell is Hipe? You ever heard of Hipe? No. Nobody’s ever heard of Hipe. And I look at the reviews and people say, “I’ve never heard of this company before, but the speaker worked as advertised. And if I had any questions, there was an email address that came on a piece of paper and I emailed it. And a guy named Sam responded.” And I was like, well, I’ve spent $70 on more questionable things. So I bought it and the speaker shows
up and it works as advertised. I had some question, I can’t remember, some connectivity issues. So I emailed that email address and sure enough, like a day later, this guy Sam responds. And Sam says to me, he’s like, “Thanks for writing. Here’s what China said—” and then like a block of kind of broken-English text that once I spent some time with it did answer my question, but now I’m thinking, okay, what is Hipe? Who is Sam? What is this? What did China say? What is he talking about?
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, he is a reseller or something, right?
Jason Feifer: Seemed, maybe, I don’t know, but I got very curious. So I started badgering Sam. I’m really, really good at badgering people. And I said, “Sam, I got to know what’s going on. What is this company? Who are you?” And then, I started googling around. I found that Hipe was connected to a company called C&A Marketing in New Jersey. I email Sam, I say, “How is Hipe connected to C&A Marketing?” He sends me back a smiley face. Now, like I got to know. And so I’m sending this guy multiple emails. Finally, he makes a time to talk. Then he takes it back. He puts me in touch with a publicist who puts me in touch with a marketing person who tells me that what I need to do is in like a week or two show up at this photography industry convention at the Javits Center in Manhattan, I live in New York, go to the Polaroid stand and ask for Chaim.
Jordan Harbinger: That’s where I took a bar exam. So I’m familiar with this like crazy, like old event area, event space.
Jason Feifer: It’s the least welcoming space in New York. And that’s really saying something.
Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
Jason Feifer: You know, you got to do that, right? So I showed up at the convention hall and I go to the Polaroid stand and I ask for Chaim.
Jordan Harbinger: Which Chaim? There’s 800 Chaims here. This is Manhattan.
Jason Feifer: That’s a good point. Well, fortunately, I find my Chaim.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: My Chaim is this guy with wispy red beard. And he sits down. He’s like talking in riddles and he’s like, “Every time that my wife or daughter come home with a product, I say, you shouldn’t have bought that because I make that.” And it’s like, what are you talking about?
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: And I could not, I just could not understand what he was saying. So finally, I say, can I just come to wherever you work and see what’s going on here? And he says, okay. So like a week or two later, I go out to New Jersey and I meet Chaim and I understand finally, what’s going on. So, Chaim at the time was running C&A Marketing. This is the whole reason I’m telling you this story is because this is about learning from failure. So Chaim started in the camera film industry, like, you know, making a camera film. And he saw that eventually there was going to be an end to that industry. So he got into digital cameras. And then he saw, you know, this is kind of a difficult industry. He got into camera accessories, and then he saw, well, this is a difficult industry. And he’s trying to figure out what to do, “How do I pivot? How do I make this work? I’m like in a bunch of failing industries right now.”
And then, he has his realization. His realization comes because of all his failures, which is that he has been making these products and selling them on Amazon. And he realizes that Amazon isn’t just a great place to sell products. Amazon is a free, massive R&D facility. You can put something on Amazon and instantly see how people react to it. And even better, you can go to other company’s products and go into their comments and see what people like and they don’t like, which means that you can go to, for example, a speaker product made by Bose and look down and see people saying, “You know, I really like this thing, but I wish that it was waterproof.”
Jordan Harbinger: Right. Okay. Yeah.
Jason Feifer: And then, so Chaim would say, “Oh, well, why don’t we just make a version of that waterproof? It’ll put it on and then we’ll see what happens.” So he assembles this team, he walks me into this room. Chaim is an Orthodox Jew. And he is—
Jordan Harbinger: You don’t say.
Jason Feifer: Yeah, yeah, in case, I wasn’t clear. Right. I walk into this room. It is just full of these Orthodox Jewish guys. He’s like hired his network. At the time, he said, he has one Italian guy. He lets him work from home.
Jordan Harbinger: That sounds a little bit like they just don’t want him there, but okay, fine.
Jason Feifer: I’m sure. I’m sure. This was pre-pandemic. I’m sure the guy was like, he felt very excited that he had a rare work-from-home job. Anyway, so these guys are all working from home and they all have these different areas that they focus on. And so Sam was working in the speakers in whatever department. And so Sam’s job is to identify these products, find a way in which somebody might want some upgraded or slightly different version of it. Go to China, have somebody make it, slap some random brand on it called Hipe, and then put it on Amazon and see what happens. If people like it, they make more of it. And if they don’t, then they kill it.
And this is how he’s built this business. And it is a massive, massive business. I can’t remember the size of it but it was growing at like 30 percent a year when I talked to him. And now—
Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
Jason Feifer: —years later, it is called C+A Global. He’s got offices around the world. He bought Ritz Camera. He bought SkyMall. Remember that thing? And you sit down in an airplane—
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that’s where you buy like inflatable hot tubs from your airplane.
Jason Feifer: That’s exactly right.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah.
Jason Feifer: Yeah, Chaim owns that now.
Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
Jason Feifer: All off of learning from these failures. And so the reason I love this story is because it should inform you that — look, any single time in which you’re doing something and it does not work out, you could look at it as this was a terrible failure. Or you could look at it as I have an advantage that other people don’t because I got to the front lines of where this challenge is. And therefore, I see this challenge in a way that other people don’t and I can build what I learned into whatever I do next. And that gives me an advantage over other people.
Jordan Harbinger: You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Jason Feifer. We’ll be right back.
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Jordan Harbinger: If you’re wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show — like I said, I’m friends with Jason. We go way back. He put me in the New York Times. I can’t complain about that. I’ve got a great network and I’m teaching you how to build your network for free. It’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done for my business and my personal life. For that matter, I met my wife that way. Most of us have. The course is free. It’s at jordanharbinger.com/course. This course will make you a better networker, a better connector, and more importantly, a better thinker. Again, it’s free at jordanharbinger.com/course, and most of the guests you hear on the show subscribe and contribute to that course. So come join us, you’ll be in smart company where you belong.
Now back to Jason Feifer.
Jason Feifer: I wish I knew this zoom out, used failure as data in this same way. I mean, I’d heard that kind of thing before, but it’s like in the moment, you’re like, “Whatever, this still sucks.” This is kind of what it was like for me, transitioning from my old business, my old podcast to my new show, it felt like such an epic kick in the nuts.
But once a few years had gone by, I realized that all the cliches that people had thrown at me in many ways were true. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of my business, because like all the previous knowledge that I had, and I know we’ll get to that in a little bit, but all the skills that I had, all of these relationships that I had actually made a lot more sense, but instead of slowly pivoting, which is what I thought I wanted to do, it was actually better to just rip the cord out of the wall and throw the machine out the window and rebuild it because it was such a mess that a new iteration was better from the ground up.
It’s like you don’t remodel a skyscraper that’s before World War II, to go back to your Manhattan analogy, like you don’t rebuild that thing and then slap an elevator on it. You just demolish it and build a new one. It’s got different materials. The elevators are in the middle. You could put central air in the thing. You don’t have window units everywhere. That’s what I needed to do with my business. But you kind of don’t know to do that if you don’t know about these concepts and about zooming out and about realizing that everything that you’ve done before is going to play a part in what you do in the future, because sometimes you can’t really see that.
With big changes, you wrote, that we go in stages. Stage one is usually panic. Tell me about margarine.
Jason Feifer: I didn’t expect that turn on the question.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Keeping on your toes.
Jason Feifer: I appreciate it. So, okay, yes, you’re right. So there are four stages to panic. Well, I assume to talk about though, but the first one is panic, which is what everybody feels, right? As soon as change happens, you feel absolute panic. And the reason you feel panic is pretty reasonable. It’s because you feel like the thing that you knew is gone. And then you start to extrapolate because we want to know what’s coming next. So we say, “Well, if I lost this thing, I experienced change is loss. Loss is so much easier to see than gain. If I experienced change and loss, now I know what I’ve lost and because I lost this thing, I’m going to lose that thing because I lost that thing. I’m not going to be as relevant anymore.” And now, I’ve got myself a kind of spiraling problem.
So this brings us to what you shouldn’t do at that moment, which is margarine. So thanks for bringing that up.
Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
[00:27:31] Jason Feifer: Okay. Here’s a fun fact about margarine. So the original margarine is not what you know of as margarine. The original margin was like a kind of, it was beef tallow. It was like a kind of weird concoction that came from beef and it spread like butter. And it came out of this challenge that the French emperor Napoleon III in the mid-1800s had made. What he wanted was a butter-like substance that could travel easily with his soldiers. And in 1869, this chemist in France came up with this thing that he called oleomargarine. And it did exactly that. It was basically like a cheap transportable source of protein for soldiers, which was really helpful. And then, it made its way across the Atlantic.
At the time, you know, this is the mid, late 1800s, most people in America, they couldn’t afford much nutrition. I mean, they were living on stale bread and anything with protein was very expensive and that included butter because butter, one, it was really expensive, but two, you couldn’t store it anywhere.
Jordan Harbinger: No refrigerators or anything.
Jason Feifer: No refrigerators. Right, so this is just a pre-refrigeration era. So margarine comes along and it is cheap and it stores easily. It has access to many people who cannot afford butter. It has access to some nutrients, you know, some fat and some protein that they can put on their stale bread. It’s very, very useful. And so margarine takes off and this puts the butter industry in just absolute panic, right? I found all these really funny newspaper articles. This one in 1874, it was like some declaration from the butter industry saying, that every measure must be taken to ensure “supremacy of the dairy in our agriculture.” And they start working with local lawmakers to pass these insane laws, that limit how people can access margarine. So first they tax the ever-loving hell out of margarine. There’s a congressional act in 1886 that does this, but then the big one states start passing these laws, mandating that margarine be dyed in unappealing colors, like pink margarine or black margarine.
Jordan Harbinger: Ooh. Yeah, that is gross. That is gross.
Jason Feifer: Who’s going to buy that? And the whole reason for this was just to make it seem unappealing because what butter wants to do here—
Jordan Harbinger: Is to compete unfairly.
Jason Feifer: —is to compete unfairly, right?
Jordan Harbinger: Right.
Jason Feifer: Right. Which you can find, it’s a tradition that is alive and well today.
Jordan Harbinger: Exactly.
Jason Feifer: Just look to the halls of Congress. So, what I think is important and the reason why I like the story is because it shows you how the butter industry in panicking did not even attempt to try to think about how to solve problems for people. They did not think about how this change could ultimately drive them to improve their product and the way in which they serve people and therefore expand the reach of their product. Instead, what they tried to do is they just tried to stop the change entirely, and that never works out for you.
So what happened as a result? Well, this crazy pink margarine thing ended up in the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said that you cannot force margarine to be dyed crazy colors. But what it did leave open was that margarine could be stopped from being dyed yellow. So margarine couldn’t sell itself yellow to compete with butter. So margarine companies started selling their margarine, pure white, and then they sold a little yellow capsule along with it, which people could mix into the margarine, and then it would look like butter. And it turns out kids really, really loved that. So they started stirring the yellow into the margarine and then a whole generation of people thought that butter was this thing that shows up white, that you pour yellow into. And for like 50-something years, margarine sales actually outpaced butter sales, and butter really, really struggled.
Jordan Harbinger: Like, oh, I want the kind that you mix yourself. I don’t want the kind that’s already yellow. Buy the other one.
Jason Feifer: Right.
Jordan Harbinger: Meanwhile, you’re choosing margarine over butter.
Jason Feifer: Exactly.
Jordan Harbinger: Oops.
Jason Feifer: And then butter became the subject of these health scares. Anyway, the whole point of it is like, if you look back on this now, you could have said, well, what could butter have done differently? Well, they could have used failure as data here. They could have seen, well, butter sales are going down and margarine sales are going up. Why? Because margarine is serving a need that we are not serving. So how could we do that better? Is there a way in which we can either reduce our manufacturing costs? Can we get in on the development of refrigeration because, boy, that would’ve been amazing? That was happening right around the same time. Big margarine could have easily gotten in bed with big refrigeration. There were all sorts of things that they could do and they didn’t. And instead, what they did is they panicked and they made a stupid decision because when you panicked, that’s what you do, you make stupid decisions. And as a result, they harmed themselves for about 50 years.
Jordan Harbinger: Big Dairy is trying to do the same thing with almond milk, oat milk, alternative milk like you can’t use the word milk. And so that’s going to end up with, I would imagine predictable backfire somehow. I don’t know how, but somehow it’s going to blow up in their face.
Jason Feifer: It absolutely will. It’s crazy how the same exact story is playing out right now.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: And instead of thinking, how can I be more innovative? How can I learn from the reason why people are leaving me? Instead, they just try to stop people from leaving them. It doesn’t work that way.
Jordan Harbinger: We saw that with Spotify, or not Spotify, Napster in music. I see it now. I’ve got little kids. We talk about this all the time, panic about kids and screens. And I also was/am worried about that. But then when I read your book and it’s like, well, yeah, they did that with the radio. And it’s like, they were worried about kids listening to the radio. How quaint that sounds these days? Forget about the Internet with access to 24/7 like hardcore pornography that we have now. Wow, the kids might listen to music a lot and of course, original radio, it’s all-live musicians playing in studio. So it’s don’t let your kids near that string quartet. Everyone knows after the violin concerto, the next step is intravenous heroin. Like what a weird thing to worry about. My kid does become a frigging zombie when he is watching something on the iPad. But the idea that the radio would corrupt children or that, and I remember Ryan Holiday saying something like the stoic or at least early philosophers, maybe in Greece were worried that reading was going to cause people to not be able to memorize everything anymore. So books are a terrible idea. Now, it’s like nobody alive is saying, books are bad for you, not one person.
Jason Feifer: That’s right. So, that is a controversial reading of, I think Aristotle. The point he was making was the difference between feeling like, you know something for sure. And that you just have a kind of thin understanding of it because you read it. I don’t know, whatever. I’m not a Greek historian, but—
Jordan Harbinger: He’s probably right about that, but I don’t think he’s like, by the way, so what I mean is no more books.
Jason Feifer: No, right.
Jordan Harbinger: It was more like, understand what you’re reading, I think was his point, right?
Jason Feifer: There was in the late 1800s and mid to late 1800s, actually a whole thing about how books were terrible. Novels were considered to be a terrible influence on, particularly, women and children. And there was like Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1818. He wrote that books are poison that infects the mind.
Jordan Harbinger: Mmm.
Jason Feifer: There were all these concerns that people were going to be addicted to reading. They were addicted to radio. There was a national moral crisis over teddy bears in 1907. There are all these things where new things come out and people start engaging with them and it changes the way in which we appear to be behaving. And therefore, we read it as some kind of foundational, very dangerous change to our lives. And it’s just never proven to be the case.
They’re like two stories that I want to tell you. I’ll see if I can remember to do both. One is on this point about like witnessing change in the way in which new technology can alter us. There’s this woman named Sherry Turkle.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
Jason Feifer: So Sherry Turkle writes books about how technology is going to inhibit our ability to have meaningful conversations with people and it’s tearing us apart. And I’m not a big fan of her work, just to be frank. A while ago, years and years ago, she wrote this piece for the New York Times that drove me insane in which she was explaining how having these phones in your pockets lead you to live what she called the documented life in which you’re no longer experiencing life but instead, rather what you’re doing is you’re simply going around documenting that life, which is, yeah, I guess an interesting observation, but I don’t think is very true once you start to think about why people are doing things.
So anyway, so she describes walking around LA with Aziz Ansari, the comedian.
Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
Jason Feifer: She writes that as she’s doing this, people start coming up to Aziz, they start demanding photographs with him. Very important, she uses the word demand in there. She says they don’t ask for an autograph. They demand a photo. So, you know, there’s a value judgment there and Aziz instead of just taking a photo with them tries to engage them in conversation. He asks them about their tastes in music or what they like about his performances or his sitcoms or whatever. And she describes his fans as being mollified but not happy. And then they walk away seeming a little unsatisfied. And to her, this is evidence of a plague, a change-driven, technology-driven plague in which, because people want the photo and because they are so used to now just documenting things, they don’t seem to have the ability to have a human-to-human interaction.
But I really challenge that. And the reason I do is because I think that Sherry and Aziz have not thought through what the interaction with Aziz was for, from the perspective of somebody who has come up to him. The person who has come up to Aziz — well, first of all, they don’t think that Aziz wants to spend a lot of time talking to them. And so if he does, they’re going to be probably nervous that what they’re going to say is not going to feel interesting to Aziz. And also, it’s pretty weird when a celebrity is like, “Oh, thanks for liking my work. Tell me very specifically what you like about my work.” That’s uncomfortable. I wouldn’t know how to answer that question.
Jordan Harbinger: I do that when people write to me and often they’re like, “Oh, well, now that you’re asking—” or some people are like, oh, if it happens in real time—
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: It’s funny because some people are like, “The latest one about this was great, but that there’s so many favorites,” and other people who are just lying to you because they want that selfie. They’re like, “Ooh, all of them are great.” Or they’re like, “Oh man, the one you did with Kobe Bryant four years ago. Oh, it was so good.” And it’s like, “Mmm, you literally only know that one thing that you saw on a homepage or something. Come on.”
Jason Feifer: My god, I am so glad I’m not a Jordan harbinger fan coming up to you, asking for a selfie that would’ve—
Jordan Harbinger: No, I love that I just don’t like when people lie about something and they’re like, “I want to pitch a guest to you. I’m a huge fan of your show.” And I’m like, “What’s your favorite episode?” “The latest one.” That’s lazy people write, the latest one. I’m like—
Jason Feifer: Right.
Jordan Harbinger: Dude, you didn’t mean try.
Jason Feifer: Well when people are pitching, I mean, you know, as the editor in chief of a magazine, I know very, very well that when people are pitching me and they say they love my work at the very beginning 99 percent at the time, that is definitely not true. They don’t know my work at all. They just want me to write about them.
Anyway, here’s the thing about this thing with Aziz. I think that Sherry has misunderstood the situation here. People who are coming up to him are very interested in personal connection. They’re just not interested in a personal connection with Aziz. They have a transactional relationship with Aziz. He makes something and they consume it. And they’re very happy with that relationship and they don’t know what else to do with that relationship. So when they go and they see him, what they don’t want is an hour-long conversation. What they do want is a photo of themselves with Aziz so that they can share it with their friends who they do have actual relationships with. There’s value to that. Don’t devalue that.
This is the thing that I think we really need to keep in mind whenever we see changes that are driven by new technologies or really anything else, can people have bad experiences? Yes, of course. Can people overdo it? Can they be on social media too much and to the detriment of other things in their life? Yes, of course, on an individual basis, absolutely. But let’s not say that just because something looks different, it is different. Let’s not say that just because it appears as if somebody is doing something that I find unfamiliar, therefore that person must be broken in some way. That’s some fundamental part of their humanness must not exist anymore. That just doesn’t track because we have gone through history where, like you said, people have been concerned about the radio being too addictive and novels being too addictive and teddy bears destroying girls. And over and over and over again, there’s endless examples of this.
Jordan Harbinger: Potatoes, right? Was it potatoes, one of the examples, which makes no sense to me at all?
Jason Feifer: Yes. There’s actually quite a lot of foods that people were extremely concerned about. Some of them actually there’s like good reason for that because tomatoes, for example, like you go back and I think people call them the devil’s apple, but there was good reason for that because the tomato that we know has like been cultivated over hundreds of years. Like back then, it was like small and bitter and you know, it was like a totally different fruit. But yes, like there are endless, endless versions of — the car, people called it, the devil wagon. People like to throw devil around a lot.
Jordan Harbinger: I read it in your book that people would see a car driving down the street and throw rocks at it and be like, “Get a horse.”
Jason Feifer: They would.
Jordan Harbinger: Which is hilarious because it sounds fake.
Jason Feifer: They would literally yell, get a horse at people when they drove down the street. Yes, it’s hilarious. Right? And there’s a good reason for that actually a good lesson that comes out of that story, which we can tell you, but like let’s not forget that our fundamental humanness can take different expressions in different generations, depending on what happens to be available to us.
I talked to this guy, Lee Rainie, he’s the head of the Pew Center for Internet research or something. I’m sure I have that a little bit wrong, but anyway, he made this really interesting point to me, which was, he said, “Look in the past, a sign of intelligence was the ability to quickly retain and recall information. Today, a sign of intelligence is the ability to quickly find and process information.” Is one better and one worse? No, they’re just different. And that’s okay. It’s okay for things to be different because we are adapting to our environments and to our new needs and not everything is always going to look the same.
Jordan Harbinger: It reminds me of when my teachers used to say, “You have to memorize this because you’re not going to walk around with a calculator in your pocket.” And I thought to myself, probably I won’t need to walk around with a calculator in my pocket because I’m going to have one of these computers doing whatever I’m doing in my job, because I love computers and I’m 13. Now, well, jokes on you, Mrs. Orva because every human that, you know, walks around with a calculator in their pocket and a video thing, an email, and everything else for better, for worse in their pocket. And if you don’t memorize your multiplication tables, it pretty much doesn’t matter. And oh, you need to know how to write things quickly by hand because — nope, the last time I wrote something by hand was probably like on a piece of wood that I was about to cut or something like that. I can’t even remember the last time I wrote something by hand that was longer than two words.
Jason Feifer: And that’s fine because the thing is you have tools that can do that, so you can learn other skills.
Jordan Harbinger: Right.
Jason Feifer: It’s not like you lost something that we all needed. You lost something that people needed at a particular time. And instead, you are devoting your brain space to developing other skills that are useful in your time. And that’s a good thing.
Jordan Harbinger: I got to tell you, man, I earned the ire of many of my mother’s friends on Facebook. This is a few years ago. Sorry, mom. Somebody had posted something like, “Kids can’t even write in cursive anymore. It’s ridiculous. And they do this and that, and they have to print and it’s like, it’s so pathetic. I used to be it.” And my mom liked it or shared it. And I went in the comments, of course, like a total a-hole son would do. And I go, “How many of you can type faster than a hundred words per minute? Every kid you’re complaining about can do at least that, every kid that you’re whining about who can’t write in cursive. Now, how often do you write in cursive at work versus how often do you use the computer? Y’all are sitting there using two fingers to type, and the kids are done with the first page, by the time, you’re done with the first paragraph or even the first couple of sentences. What’s more useful?” And it was just like meltdown, “Whose kid is this? Shut your mouth, your little twerp,” kind of replies. And I just thought like, this is what we’re looking at in real time is this failure to adapt, which is understandable. I’m going to be that way too, but to not see it and then complain about it is somehow just absolutely peak boomer in many ways or a peak old person in any generation, actually, I guess you’d say, right?
Jason Feifer: It’s peak every generation. So let me tell you, we were talking about music earlier. Let me tell you like the other music story that I want to tell you because I think it leads to some good advice for anybody who feels stuck in this kind of thing. It’s fun to rag on these folks, but like, it’s also important to realize that we will become these folks. And so let’s arm ourselves with some—
Jordan Harbinger: Let’s be aware of it and not, and go, oh, I’m the old one and they’re doing the right thing. And maybe I see where the puck is going. And then I’m the person who’s 70, you can actually type.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. Right. So turn to the century, the phonograph, brand new innovation, the very first record player, consider how completely insanely revolutionary this was, for all of human history, before the phonograph. If you wanted to listen to music, there was only one way to do it. And that was to be in front of a human being who was playing an instrument. There’s no other way. How are you going to listen to music? And then this machine comes along and can do it for you, can play music. Unbelievable. Consumers didn’t believe it at first. Like they literally, they had to be shown like, no, there is not a person behind the wall playing music. Like they had to be shown. And then once they believed it, they loved it. They brought it home. You know who hated this?
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I don’t know. Musicians?
Jason Feifer: Yeah. Musicians hated it.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Hated it because they saw themselves being replaced here. That, you know, they see this new technology doing the thing that they do and they see change and they equate change with loss and they say, “We got to stop this,” right? They pull a margarine. And the leader of the resistance was this guy named John Philip Sousa. John Philip Sousa, you may not know his name, but you know his music because it’s still around today. All the military marches, [Dah-dah-dah-dah] John Philip Sousa.
Jordan Harbinger: You know why we know who he is? Because we have recordings of the music.
Jason Feifer: Bingo! That’s exactly right. So John Philip Sousa, he at the time was the leader of the resistance against recorded music. He wrote this amazing piece, like Google it because it is hilarious. It’s called The Menace of Mechanical Music. It ran in Appleton’s Magazine in 1906 and it contains all of these wonderful arguments against recorded music. And my favorite goes like this. He says, “When you bring recorded music into the home, it will be the end of all forms of live performance in the home because why would anybody perform music in the home when now there’s a machine that can do it for them.” So now, because we’re going to extrapolate loss, remember I talked about that earlier, right? Like you see changes loss and you extrapolate the loss. So what’s next? Well, he says, “Because people are no longer performing music at home, mothers will no longer sing to their children.”
Jordan Harbinger: It’s quite the jump.
Jason Feifer: Yeah. Quite the jump. Why would they do that? When a machine could do it. Here’s another jump, “Because children grow up imitating their mothers, the children will grow up to imitate the machines, and thus, we’ll raise a generation of machine babies.” That was his argument, like a real thing that—
Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
Jason Feifer: —people took it seriously. I feel like it’s fun to like laugh at John Philip Sousa for this, but also—
Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
Jason Feifer: —I feel like what he’s doing is pretty relatable.
Jordan Harbinger: It is relatable. It’s very human.
Jason Feifer: It’s very human. You have something and it works for you. And then you see some change come along and you feel like this change is existential. It is going to outmode you. So he tried to stop it.
And it’s worth asking ourselves in this moment, three simple questions. Number one, what is this new thing that’s happening? Number two, what new habit or skill are we learning as a result? And then number three, how can that be put to good use? Because if you do that, it just helps you reframe any moment of change as let’s focus on the gain. Is there some kind of gain that we can extrapolate? Maybe it’s not as easy to see as the loss, but is it there and what would it look like?
Because if you ran that scenario with John Philip Sousa, what you would see is, well, okay, what new thing are people doing? Well, what they’re doing is they’re now listening to music on these machines whenever they want. What new habit or skill are we learning as a result? We’re learning that we have control or consumers have a lot more control over the music that they listen to. And therefore, also have access to a lot more music because before the only music that they could get was whoever happened to be able to travel to their town and perform for them. How could that be put to good use? Well, come on guys. Come on, John Philip Sousa. Like this means that you could record something yourself. And you could sell it and now people can listen to and enjoy your music. And you can monetize that in ways that are much more scalable than what you’re doing now. Because you’re coming from a world in which the only thing that you do is perform for people that you can get in front of. And that means that you have a limited number of people that you can get in front of. But if you can change that dynamic, then man, oh man, suddenly your economic ability skyrockets.
As it turns out, John Philip Sousa was protecting a system that limited his own economic ability. And the reason he was doing that was because he was panicking because of change. And once he figured it out, he changed his tune. That is not meant to be a pun, but there it is.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I see what you did there. You are a dad, indeed.
Jason Feifer: There it is. I’m nailing it. I got all the dad jokes. And he started to record himself and he started to perform on radio and he changed. And this is something that we all need to be mindful of. There is gain in change and we need to run ourselves through these things that can just help us focus on it.
Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Jason Feifer. We’ll be right back.
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Now for the rest of my conversation with Jason Feifer.
You’re not really just cherry-picking the examples here. Movie theaters were
like, VHS is going to ruin everything.
Jason Feifer: Yes.
Jordan Harbinger: Meanwhile, people just wanted to own huge collections of movies and those are movie buffs and they would still go see a re-release of a movie that they owned in a theater because it meant so much to them. It’s not like they hadn’t seen it since it was last in theaters. They probably watched it a hundred times on their VCR. So instead it becomes a new revenue source for the studios, streaming music and movies, Metallica, and everybody was panicking. “Oh god, they’re stealing from us.” And then, bands that you’d never heard of became super popular and famous, and existing bands that were already super popular and famous started to sell way more stuff, have way more huge audiences. Their shows started to sell out no matter what all the time. It made both industries better all the time.
And it just seems obvious, but I know we all do this, right? If something happened to podcasting and they’re like, “You got to do this in the metaverse.” I’ll be like, “This is going to ruin podcasting,” instead of being like, “Well, now I could do all this metaverse stuff with my podcast.” I would initially probably panic and look, well, hopefully, I’d be smart enough to look and see what other people are doing with it. But I think my initial thought would be, uh-oh, this is the beginning and the end. Because the future is coming for us, right? It’s not optional. You got to get there first. You got to adapt. You got to thrive. But at first, maybe you kind of, your instinct is to go, oh crap.
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: This sucks.
Jason Feifer: And so one of the things that you can do during those times is that you can really focus in on what is the thing about you that does not change.
When I was hearing you go through that example with the metaverse thing where like, I can see why you would panic about that, right? Because you have built a great business in a particular medium with a particular consumption habit, right? People are listening to you in a very specific way. When and if that changes, that’s going to feel really, really scary.
And so what you are going to need to do, and maybe you do some version of this already, but what you’re going to need to do is start to separate for yourself. The difference between what you do, what is the output of your work, and like, what is the core thing about you that has value, right? So some people just call it your why. There’s a difference between your what and your why. Because I think we all identify far too closely with the thing that we produce, with the way in which we.
When I was just starting out, I started out as a newspaper reporter and I’ll tell you, man, I identified as a newspaper reporter. Like people would, they’d come up to me at a party and they would say, “What do you do?” And I’d say, “I’m a newspaper reporter.” It was my identity. And then like a year or two in when I discovered that working in newspapers can suck.
Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
Jason Feifer: Very unstable industry. Hours are terrible. And I didn’t really want to be in newspapers anymore. But like one of the things that held me back was like, well, what am I, if I’m not working at a newspaper? Because I think of myself as a newspaper reporter. Eventually, I made my way to magazines. And then the magazines, I made the same mistake, I was like, I’m a magazine editor. And then, there were many times where I was like, maybe I shouldn’t be a magazine editor, but I don’t know what to do. And I think of myself as a magazine editor.
And anyway, then I started to talk to entrepreneurs and I discovered that they have this completely different way of talking about themselves and of understanding themselves because what entrepreneurs do is they define what they do. In this very specific way in which they have clarity on what can’t change.
I was talking to the CEO of a company called Foodstirs. They started by making baking mixes.
Jordan Harbinger: I’ve never heard of them, but it’s not my industry. So there’s maybe no surprise there.
Jason Feifer: You’ve heard of one of their co-founders, which is Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy.
Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah, sure have.
Jason Feifer: Yes, this would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Foodstirs, you can find them at Whole Foods and whatever. They make baking mixes, they started by making baking mixes. It was pretty successful. And then, they spent like a year or so planning for this major change in the business. COVID came along and it like completely disrupted it, whatever. The details don’t really matter. But anyway, I was talking to Greg CEO and I asked him, was it a big bummer to have to make this big change? Like you’ve been planning for this whole big rollout at this new definition of the brand. And he said to me, “You know, it’s not because you got to go back to like, why do you start a business to begin with? And our mission is to bring joy to people with upgraded sweet baked goods,” or something like that. And he just tossed it off.
But afterwards, I was like, man, that’s really powerful. Like what you have is an articulation of something that you do, that isn’t tied to the product that you make. “We bring joy to people with sweet baked goods. We bring joy to people.” Okay, you can do that. It doesn’t matter if your product category changes. It doesn’t matter if people don’t want baking mixes anymore, you can find some way to do it. I realized I need like a version of that for myself. So I went through this, I came up with this little exercise.
You want to run through it? Can I ask you some questions?
Jordan Harbinger: I kind of want to get through it because I love practicals, but also I’m like—
Jason Feifer: Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: Maybe I do it myself for my own thing.
Jason Feifer: All right. So here it is. We’re going to run the same scenario three times. Somebody comes up to you at a party and they ask what you do. What’s the first thing that you’re going to talk about? I’ll tell you what it is. You’re going to talk about your tasks. So I would’ve said, I’m a newspaper reporter, which means that I go out, I find interesting things and I write stories and I put them in the newspaper.
What would you say?
Jordan Harbinger: Well, yeah, if I say I’m a podcaster, that’s a great way to end the conversation generally. So, I usually would like to say something more grandiose, like broadcaster, because then at least they kind of think maybe you’re not just a loser who lives in your mom’s basement.
Jason Feifer: Or that you just want them to download your podcast.
Jordan Harbinger: Right.
Jason Feifer: Which is what I always feel like every time I tell somebody I have a podcast.
Jordan Harbinger: Right. We have eight listeners. Pretty soon though, nine, huh?
Jason Feifer: It’s going to be great.
Jordan Harbinger: Huh?
Jason Feifer: Don’t forget to review me on iTunes.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Jason Feifer: Okay. So now, then we’ve done that.
Jordan Harbinger: Right. Podcaster.
Jason Feifer: We’re going to do this again. Somebody comes up to you at party and they ask what you do. Can’t talk about your tasks. So anything that you would’ve thought to say previous time, put it on a table away from you. Can’t do it.
Jordan Harbinger: So I can’t say like, I interview people.
Jason Feifer: You’re going to talk about your skills.
Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I’m all ears.
Jason Feifer: I would’ve said I am very good at talking with people, finding useful information, and then processing that information in a way that’s useful for others. That’s what I would’ve said.
Jordan Harbinger: For my job?
Jason Feifer: No, that would’ve been what I said for my newspaper job, but maybe it’s true for you.
Jordan Harbinger: Oh, because I kind of feel like that’s very similar to what I do.
Jason Feifer: So you would say, if somebody said, what do you do? And you can’t talk about your tasks. You’d tell them what?
Jordan Harbinger: I make brilliant people’s wisdom available to others, something like that.
Jason Feifer: That’s great. I like that.
Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
Jason Feifer: So now we’re going to do it one more time. Somebody comes up to you at a party and they ask what you do. Can’t talk about your tasks. Can’t talk about your skills. At this point, what are you going to talk about? I’ll tell you.
Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh.
Jason Feifer: What you’re going to talk about is your core. The thing that is so deep inside of you, that it drove you to develop the skills that enable you to do the tasks. And my suggestion is that this be a very short sentence. A short sentence that doesn’t really have anything to do with anything that could change about your life. So I’ll give you my example, and you don’t have to have one right now because this takes time to think through. But the answer that I came to for myself is I tell stories in my own voice.
And the reason I love that phrase is because it has two components to it. I tell stories, not magazine stories, not newspaper stories, not podcast stories, not books, not standing on a stage. That liberates me from doing any one kind of thing. Because if after we are done talking, I check my email and Entrepreneur magazine has sent me a note saying, “We appreciate your service. We now hate you. And we would like you to go away.” I hope doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t take away my identity because my identity is I tell stories and I can do that in any way. And then in my own voice, I am setting the terms for my work. This is how I want to do it. I’m not telling somebody else’s stories, I’m not showing up and carrying the ball for somebody. I have reached a level of my career in which I tell stories in my own voice.
Now, that is a thing that does not change in a world of change. And when you have that, when you can define the thing about you, that will remain true, regardless of what changes in your life. At that point, you have a sense of stability. You understand what it is that you bring to other people and bring to the world. And therefore, you are less likely to cling deeply to everything that could change.
Jordan Harbinger: I love this because I resisted doing a live show from stage for years. And my network was like, “Come on, man.” And then Hyundai was gracious enough to be like, “We will give you a pile of cash that will make this worthwhile so that you’re not just taking out a bunch of risks, which is what it was like before. And, you know—
Jason Feifer: Piles of cash really help.
Jordan Harbinger: But they do. And I was, I told Ryan Holiday that he’d be a great fit for the show. And I knew he would show up because he’s my friend and wouldn’t bail at the last minute and leave me like chewing my nails off. And I did it and I went, wow, that was a lot of fun. All the stress was self-inflicted, every ounce of it. And I would love to do it again. And the reason is, to your point, I need to polish this, but the reason is because I am not a podcaster. I make space for other people to deliver wisdom to the audience. And that could be on a stage. It could be recorded environment. It could be on live radio.
I’m shocked that I didn’t realize this because I used to do live radio. And I used to do interviews that were in different formats in different ways. And yet, I can’t imagine not podcasting because that’s the way that I do things now, but it’s really obvious that what I do is not podcasting or what I can do is not just podcasting. That I just have to make that space and have that conversation. And it really doesn’t matter if the Internet is involved or SquadCast and pre-recorded this and that and the other thing, none of that is the core of what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.
Jason Feifer: I was talking to Malcolm Gladwell. Your story reminded me of this little anecdote. I was talking to Malcolm Gladwell.
Jordan Harbinger: It’s a great namedrop, by the way. Well done.
Jason Feifer: When you’ve got ’em, drop him, right?
Jordan Harbinger: Yep.
Jason Feifer: So I was talking about Gladwell and — now I’ve said it like four times, so I was talking about Gladwell and I was interviewing him for the magazine. I was very curious, like, how does he figure out what a Malcolm Gladwell project is?
Jordan Harbinger: Mm-hmm.
Jason Feifer: Because everything that he does feels is so distinctly him.
Jordan Harbinger: It does. Yeah.
Jason Feifer: And I say like, “Well, is there a filter that you use to understand what it is that you should do?” And he says, “You know, to the best of my ability, I try not to do that because,” and then this is what he said, and this is what I think you should keep in mind for those next opportunities and everybody else should keep in mind for theirs. “Self-conceptions are powerfully limiting.” As soon as he said it, I wrote it down. I stuck it on my wall.
Self-conceptions are powerfully limiting, which is like, if you have an idea of what you are, if you have a really strong self-conception, well, then you will turn down all other opportunities to explore. You will say I do this one thing.
Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
Jason Feifer: And the most dangerous thing that we can do if we are not, you know, 95 years old and have nothing else to accomplish, the most dangerous thing that we can do is define ourselves too narrowly. That’s what you had done for a moment. Like you broke out of it, but you were like, I’m a podcaster.
Jordan Harbinger: For sure.
Jason Feifer: I have a self-conception I’m a podcaster. And therefore sitting on a stage and talking to people live that doesn’t fit into my self-conception, that’s something else. But look how powerfully limiting that was because you did it and you discovered — oh my gosh, this fits into my self-conception because my self-conception isn’t I’m a podcaster. My self-conception is I’m a communicator. And that allows me to do all sorts of things. And now that you know, it sky’s the limit.
Jordan Harbinger: Sure. I mean, I look, it’s not like I’ve never done a speaking gig or trained in a workshop, but I looked at those as kind of different, almost like side hustles.
Jason Feifer: Mm-hmm.
Jordan Harbinger: Not as some natural, very natural extension of the core of what I do, and don’t get me wrong, I love podcasting and the community and all the things involved with it. But if it evaporated tomorrow, I wouldn’t be completely up sh*t creek without a paddle. I would just go back to whatever the new version of radio is because that’s why I’m in podcasting also, right? Radio wouldn’t put me on, so I put myself on, and then I ended up on the radio and I loved podcasting even more because I was my own boss and da, da, da, here we are.
To your point about identity, and you write about this in the book and I think this is so well said, change seems scary and all-encompassing. And if change happens to us, which it always does, we worry that we will be changed in an all-encompassing and permanent way. And if we change in an all-encompassing and permanent way, then who are we anymore?
I always bring back this sort of like traumatic business split, but when man, the loss of identity was probably one of the scariest parts of the whole transition because it was like, I am this podcaster that does this subject matter, and this is the show. And the name of the show is associated with me and I am the face of the brand. So who am I anymore now that that’s gone? Nobody, a big fat, nobody with nothing to show for himself. And I felt so strongly and so immediately, but if I’d had any semblance of all of this or realized that that’s what was happening without just 20/20 hindsight, making it really clear, I think the whole thing would’ve been a hell of a lot easier for me.
Well, I would realize the following, I can ask myself these questions and this is a great place to sort of wind things down. What is the first step if we face a big change and we find ourselves in that panic that I was in? One, what did I overcome? Two, what skillset did I have then that I still have now? That I didn’t even think to ask myself that. So, of course, I just thought I’m starting over, weh, what was me? And skills are not the actions you took. It’s not, I’m a dating show guy or a movie reviewer, the skill is actually what you could do that enabled you to do your job. So if you’re a movie reviewer, it’s not writing, but pattern matching or marketing or humor, or translating visual concepts into the written word, whatever it is. And then finally, what do I know now that I did not know then? And that was probably one of the largest things that I ignored because I knew how to build a freaking business and a show and talk to an audience and broadcast and edit an audio and get it into people’s hearts and minds and have them share it and have them be on my side and help my business.
Like I had all these things that I just went, I wrote them off and just focused on the fact that it took me 11 years, the first time to build it, and then, you know, cried for two weeks and didn’t sleep and then realized, wait a minute, it’s not possible for it to take nearly as long because I have these skills I didn’t have, and I know all these things, I didn’t. And for some reason, because I had lost my identity in my mind, and I felt like I couldn’t find it, I felt like the rest of it was impossible. And none of that was true.
Jason Feifer: I’m so glad that that’s where you brought us to because those three questions are so important whenever you’re facing these kinds of things because we tend to romanticize our past. We say that our success or the thing that we’re good at, or the thing that we’re comfortable with now was the product of some kind of circumstance. And that circumstance was fortunate for us and may not be able to be repeated. It’s like, it’s so crazy because we hear a lot about how you’re supposed to own your failures. Own your failures, I mean, we talked about earlier today, like failure can be data. Man, we got to own our success too. We got to look back and say, you know, I did something, it wasn’t luck. And the reason that I have, whatever I am comfortable with right now was because I navigated a whole bunch of things and they weren’t all easy and it took a long time, right?
I have my own version of the story that you just told them. And the first time I experienced it and I’ve experienced it many times, but the first one was I worked at Boston Magazine. It was my very first magazine job. I was like 27 or something. And then I got offered to work at Men’s Health, National Magazine, move to New York. The big time I was like, so excited about it. I was like 27, 28. Really, I paused. And the reason was because I had done so well.
Jordan Harbinger: Because you didn’t have a six-pack?
Jason Feifer: And I still don’t. I assure you.
Jordan Harbinger: You have to have one of those to work in Men’s Health, yeah, every guy in the cover.
Jason Feifer: The dirty secret, of course, is that like nobody at the magazine except for the fitness editor actually has a six-pack, but you know, they make a good magazine.
Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
Jason Feifer: So I was so concerned that I had done well at Boston Magazine. I had made a lot of friends. I wrote a lot of features. I did well, and I thought maybe this is circumstance. Maybe this is that I reached the right magazine at the right time. I made friends with the right people and I don’t know if I can repeat this. Can I go to another place? Can I start over and have the same kind of success? And it really helped to be able to go back. I mean, you go to those questions that you had asked for my book. You know, question number one, what did I overcome? Go back and think about all the really crappy stuff that was there along the way to whatever you’re you have now.
I mean, you forget it because of this crazy thing that happens at our brain called fading affect bias, where the emotions associated with bad memories fade a lot faster than the emotions associated with good memories. So it’s harder to recall in a visceral way, the bad things that happened. Trauma is a separate issue, but you know, like just sort of normal experience, and so you forget. You forget, but if you spend some time being like, what did I overcome? What were the bad things? Oh, well, there was that time where I botched a story so bad that the staff writer yelled at me and they didn’t talk at me for two weeks. There was this time where like, I couldn’t figure out how to edit a story and they literally had to take it away from me and give it to somebody else.
Like, this wasn’t just me like cake walking through. It was hard and I had to figure it. So once I know that I can say, well, question two, what skillset did I have then that I have now? I mean, you know, the answer for me, I think was like, I was a hard worker and I was able to learn. I’m personable. So, I was able to build good relationships. I still have these things. I’m a good pattern matcher. And you know, it’s like important to know what I’m good at. And then number three, like you asked, what do I know now that I did not know then? I know a lot more. I know about how to edit stories. I know how to establish myself inside a magazine. I know how to function inside of this kind of workplace.
I am, in fact, far more prepared for this next thing than I thought. And all it takes is going back to realizing that, like, I was actually the source of my own success and I say this not to like, praise me, but like, you should do this when you’re listening to yourself. Like you are the source of your own success. You just are, it wasn’t some weird coincidence. And because of that, when change comes, you have things to fall back on, things that you didn’t even know about. And those are the things that are going to carry you forward. The more that we can just see these as opportunities instead of as reset. The more that we can say, I am prepared for what comes next even if I don’t exactly know what it is.
Jordan Harbinger: I love that. It’s almost like this sort of dovetails with imposter syndrome and is the opposite of that self-serving bias that a lot of people have where they’re like every success I have is due to my own doing, but every failure I have is someone else’s fault. This is kind of like the inverse of that. And I notice a lot of people who have imposter syndrome are also high performers and a lot of high performers also have whatever the opposite of that self-serving bias is where they go, “Well, my success is due to luck, hard work a little bit, timing, and opportunity that fell into my lap, but all of my failures, okay, those are, I can own some of those.” So there’s a lot of like, not owning your successes.
And so I almost think that successful people have a tougher time with a lot of this change because they don’t necessarily see all of these positive things that they had. Like in my example, I didn’t see most of the positive things that I’d done as something that I could replicate. I looked at them as well. We started early and then we had all this time in the market and all this stuff BFE us on the topic was magic at the time. And I rode this wave of podcasting and dating stuff and whatever, but none of that turned out to really be the defining truth of what was going to make The Jordan Harbinger Show successful.
And here we are, which is kind of funny, but also like, man, I could have used a little heads up there, universe/wish I’d read your book. With respect to big changes you wrote, don’t wait for the moment of pain. Look for the moment of awareness. Sounds brilliant. What does it mean?
Jason Feifer: It’s so important because I think that what we focus on way too often is the thing that we feel like we’re losing or the thing that we feel like we’ve already done, or the thing that we feel like we’ve built. People go through changes in four phases. I’ve talked a bit about it here — panic, adaptation, new normal, wouldn’t go back. I think the hardest phase of it all weirdly isn’t panic.
The hardest phase of it all is wouldn’t go back. And the reason for that is because once we go through this whole thing and we get to a point where we’re now newly comfortable, better than we were before. We have built something great. We say, I have this thing. That’s so new and valuable that I wouldn’t want to go back to a time before I had it. The most terrible thing is going to happen, which is that the cycle is going to start all over again. And this thing that you’ve built that you are so happy with is going to have to change again.
And the most successful people that I meet have built that reality into the way that they operate. They may not know how it’s going to change but they know that it is going to change. I am fascinated by talking to people who make massive changes in their lives and business before they are forced to. Because they understand that by the time they’re forced to do it, they’re out of options. They can’t see what the right decision is or their options are limited.
The story always pops to mind of this guy. Sam has started Dogfish, the brewing company, and he made this beer called 60 Minute IPA. It’s a wonderful beer. People love it. They desire it. They’re calling him. Very quickly, this beer rockets up to become like 75 to 80 percent of all sales of Dogfish, where it’s on track to be, which means that it’s defining it’s a defining thing. And you could say, that’s what we’re out there to do. We’re out there to have success, right? But Sam knows. Sam has built this awareness into him that the opportunity is larger than any one moment. The opportunity is in the change. And what he knows is that when everybody is calling for this one beer, when everybody, all the restaurants, and all the bars, and everybody wants to order this one beer, he has got himself, a hit product that he can make a bunch of money on, but he’s got a problem. And the problem is the tastes change.
If you build that into your awareness, that something is going to change, well, then what are you going to do? Well, he knows that if everybody just encounters his beer, everybody just encounters Dogfish and says, “Oh, I know that one beer that they make.” Well, then that’s cool for a while until that beer stops being as popular or IPA’s stopped being as popular, and then he doesn’t have a hit product. Then he is at a hot brand. Then he’s an old brand. And so what Sam did was he limited his sales of his best-selling product. He capped sales at 50 percent. So again, this beer could have been 75, 80 percent of all sales of Dogfish, he capped it at 50 percent, which means that people are screaming at him on the streets in Delaware. They literally screaming at him on the streets in Delaware, because he’s got like bar and restaurant owners and people want to have this hot local beer and they are not carrying it. And it’s like, why aren’t you carrying it? And so then they go and they scream at Sam.
And I asked him like, did you ever consider that this was a bad idea? And he said, no, because I understood that this was the opportunity. It was an opportunity to introduce new styles of beer to people. It was an opportunity to say, “You know what? We don’t just make this one beer.” He would say, “Look, I’m really sorry. We make this fresh. We just don’t have it available right now,” which was like half a lie because he could have had it available. But anyway, like why not instead, “Try our say odd, why not instead carry our, whatever.” That is how Sam built a company that became known not as an IPA brand that became an old brand, but rather as an innovative brand and he sold that thing for 300 million.
And that is not what you do if you do not believe that change is coming and you do not build into the way that you think about the world. It is the opportunity, the change is the opportunity. You just have to see it that way.
Jordan Harbinger: Jason Feifer, thank you so much. You’re such a fun guy to talk to, man. I mean, not that that’s a surprise. We’ve been friends for a while, but you know, the show was fantastic, so I really appreciate you taking the time.
Jason Feifer: Oh, hey, man, you too. This is so fun. And you know, it’s funny. This is the first time we’ve ever officially talked. We’ve just like chatted on the phone. It’s like talking to you in a whole new way.
Jordan Harbinger: That’s true. We’ve never recorded it. If two podcasters have a conversation and it’s not recorded, did it really happen?
Jason Feifer: We finally have evidence, so I appreciate you, man.
Jordan Harbinger: I’ve got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here’s a trailer from my interview with Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali. She’s got a great story about how she ended up the only other boxer in her family and how she carries her father’s legacy. Whether you’re into sports or not, I think you’re really going to dig it.
Laila Ali: You have to have it in you to want to be a fighter. It’s not something that you just go, “Oh, I think I’ll just try boxing,” you know? Because as you’re going to get your ass beaten.
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
Laila Ali: If you don’t have it in you, when you get that opportunity, it was a brawl. I mean, it was bloody. It was like crazy. And I was like, “I want to do that.”
You would think anyone punching you would hurt, right?
Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Sure.
Laila Ali: But as fighters it’s like, oh, that person could punch that person can’t. Tap and you tap, tap, tap, and then every once in a while there’s bam. That hard. When you’re like, “Oh, okay. I felt that.” If you’re listening to your camp saying, she’s nothing and she this and she that, and then you have to get your ass in there and then you feel that punch like, “No, she can punch. No, she’s not just a pretty face.” You see me across that ring, looking at you. Like, you remember all that stuff you talk? Now, it’s about to happen, just me and you. Nobody else can get in there with you, you know? And it’s like, I’m going to remind you of all the things you said. They didn’t know that street side of me. Not everyone has that. You don’t have to.
Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
Laila Ali: But I do. Now you get to meet someone, just to see how they walk, see how they hold this stuff, and see if there’s any fear in their eyes.
Jordan Harbinger: What was your father’s reaction to you wanting to box?
Laila Ali: He didn’t like it.
Jordan Harbinger: No?
Laila Ali: No.
Jordan Harbinger: You guys were sparring before you even put the gloves on?
Laila Ali: Oh yeah. He supported me though. He came to a lot of my fights. He couldn’t be at all of them. I could always see that glare in his eyes of him being proud and just to come into that arena and having everyone chanting, “Ali, Ali.” You just see him light up to see me in that ring and him just remembering himself. Our boxing styles were similar, the way I’m shaped, my body shape. So just seeing all of that had to be a super crazy experience for him.
Jordan Harbinger: For more with Leila Ali, check out episode number 309 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
I promise you, Jason was going to be great, and I delivered on that, I hope. Really such a sharp dude.
Adapting a change means we know what is changing and what is not. So our job might change, but our skills and our identity do not. This info would all have been huge for me, by the way, upon my transition to a new business, The Jordan Harbinger Show for my old one. Like I said earlier, I really wish I had had Jason’s book at that time, which didn’t exist. So I can’t kick myself too much, but it really would’ve saved me a lot of stress and wondering, and the agony of uncertainty. And I talk about uncertainty in very early episodes of this Jordan Harbinger Show. I think it’s like episode four or something along those lines. I’m really going through it at the time. You can hear it in my voice.
When change happens and we panic, we feel like we are experiencing something that nobody else has and that our circumstances are unique. And I remember that feeling quite precisely, but it’s important to remember that somebody else has dealt with this before, even if you really think your circumstances are unique. Yes, maybe superficially they are, but somebody else has gone through this, managed it, survived it. Oh, man, it’s just, it would’ve been so nice to know that.
Further, we often wonder if our future can be as bright as our past. Again, something that it really rings true for me, that I really went through early on in the building of this show, this business. If you ask the news we watch and that we read, this is impossible, right? Of course, everything is getting worse. And it was all better before. This is called the declinism fallacy — the past was better, the future will be worse. It is a logical fallacy, for the reason, the idea, the very fact that it is not true. It is an illusion. So once we realize that that is not true, and we realize that now is a great time to be alive and that we actually control many elements of what our future will be, it is a gift. It is very empowering.
In the book, there’s a lot of practicals to deal with change. It’s a really good read for you, no matter where you are in your career. There’s a lot of stories. Jason writes like he speaks in many ways, so it’s actually kind of a fun read. Just like this conversation was a fun listen, well, I hope anyway. So a big thank you to Jason Feifer. Everything will be linked up in our show notes at jordanharbinger.com, book links, and all that. Books at jordanharbinger.com/books. Please use our website links if you buy books from the guests. It does help support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos up on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, discount codes, all from our sponsors here are at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this.
I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems, software, and tiny habits. Jason would highly recommend this as well. I didn’t harp on the networking stuff, because we talk about it all the time here on the show, but it is a part of a stable and successful career. The Six-Minute Networking course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. I’m teaching you how to dig that well before you get thirsty and build relationships before you need them. Most of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you’ll be in smart company where you belong.
This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. And if you know somebody who is maybe going through some uncertainty, trying to get ahead in their career, please do share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.
This episode is sponsored in part by The Happiness Lab podcast. Our minds lie to us all the time about what’ll make us happy. On The Happiness Lab podcast, Yale professor, Dr. Laurie Santos, who’s been a guest on this very show as well, explores evidence-based strategies to live with more joy. She and experts hit the gym to flex their friendship muscles, unravel the mystery of why fear and pain can feel good, and examine the “you only live once” philosophy, I guess the YOLO philosophy, and why it doesn’t work like you think. Along the way, she’s joined by guests like Grateful Dead drummer, Mickey Hart, and Star Trek, Wil Wheaton to bust the myths surrounding happiness. Listen to The Happiness Lab, wherever you get your podcasts.