MY CLUB • January 2021
What does it take to go down as one of history’s greatest thinkers? Vikas Shah, Silver Executive Club Member and serial entrepreneur, has spotted some trends after spending years interviewing the most remarkable figureheads of the 21st century. To celebrate the release of his new book, Thought Economics, Shah shares what he’s discovered…
One of the first observations I made about my interviewees was the diversity of their reading tastes. Lots of people think, “Well, if I want to be good at business, I should read business books.” But here’s the thing – the bookshelves of all the great entrepreneurs I’ve met are notable because of the absence of business books. In fact, one of the most important things seems to be that they’re reading content from a variety of interests: philosophy to music and art, culture and biographies. Lessons come from everywhere, so you need to read a bit about everything. Broaden your interests and diversify your literature. After all, you are the sum of the knowledge that you take in.
When I first started the project of interviewing all these high-profile names, I had this notional, unscientific idea that famous people would be… well, just not particularly nice. The reality is quite the opposite. Every person I’ve spoken to has been open, friendly, humble and attuned to what matters to them. We assume that you have to be ruthless if you want to get ahead, but these guys showed me that’s not the ideal route at all. It’s not about being cut-throat, it’s about having the confidence to stick to your values, having a red line that you just won’t cross. To some people, you might seem obtuse, but what you actually are is principled. You won’t always be right, but it is part of what makes people successful – having a set of values and being willing to defend them.
In my life, I’d grown up with this notion of success requiring a hyper-alpha state – of always being ‘on the grind’, of getting up at 4am, of endless hustle. And if you don’t do 100 hours a week? Well, then you’re a failure. In fact, the vast majority of people that I’ve interviewed, no matter their field, reject this. They take very good care of themselves. They sleep as much as they can, they eat well, they try and exercise, most of them will have a counsellor, therapist or strong support network. It feels counterintuitive, but it need not be. After all, how do you expect yourself to be on top of your game if your physical and mental health aren’t optimal?
Through Thought Economics, I’ve spoken to people across all sectors – the arts, music, entrepreneurship, diplomacy – and one of the things that I’m consistently impressed with is the calibre of the people around each individual. I’ve dealt with a lot of chiefs of staff, publicists and agents, and they’re all just as brilliant. I’ve heard many of these interviewees say that they’ve chosen to hire people who are better than them, because they know that’s precisely how they will progress. In business, I very often see people who are threatened by brilliance, and you end up with a structure where you have a boss that does everything rather than a team that has agency and can take any initiative. When you have lots of people who are brilliant at what they do, the better you’ll do. Evaluate who you are hiring and ask whether they are bringing you forward.
One of the common threads among the people I’ve interviewed is that they’ve all figured out reasonably early in life what really matters to them – their life’s purpose, essentially. If you want to do something great, you need to know what it is you believe in, that thing you get so passionate about that you’re not willing to let it go. I interviewed David Goggins, who started out as this chubby kid from a normal American town before becoming one of the world’s most accomplished ultrarunners and Navy SEALs. He realised early on that he had something to believe in and live for, and that took over everything. Every interviewee that I’ve spoken to has that passion so core to who they are. Question is, what’s yours?
Thought Economics: Conversations with the Remarkable People Shaping Our Century by Vikas Shah is published in hardback on 4 February 2021 by Michael O’Mara Books (UK) and IPG (USA)