I just finished Michael Lewis’ new book The Undoing Project – on the trailblazing Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and their life’s work. It’s certainly no Moneyball, or Shoe Dog, but it’s a good read.

And nestled in between the fascinating origins of behavioral economics and Big Data, I landed on a pretty simple yet powerful passage:

“Amos was not merely an optimist; Amos willed himself to be optimistic, because he had decided pessimism was stupid. When you are a pessimist and the bad thing happens, you live it twice, Amos liked to say. Once when you worry about it, and the second time when it happens.

At the beginning of a New Year, or new semester, or new job, it’s easier to be optimistic. Easier to make a resolution or two. Jot down a list of goals. But it’s tougher when you’re down…

In 2008, just days after SpaceX had suffered it’s third straight rocket launch failure, Elon Musk was interviewed by Wired’s Carl Hoffman. Musk was asked, “How do you maintain your optimism?” and he replied, “Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we’re going to make it happen.”

Here’s what I definitely don’t have – Musk’s brilliance or Tversky’s brilliance. There are very few that have walked this earth (or Mars, in Musk’s dreams) with their vision or intellectual prowess. But I can’t help but agreeing with Tversky that optimism can be willed. It’s not off limits. Not reserved for those with a certain IQ, who graduated from a certain school, possess a certain title, or sit in a certain office. Doesn’t cost a penny.

And maybe optimism is contagious, like a strong winter cold. It’s easy to be up when we’re feeling fit, well rested, at the start of the year, like a big smiley face on a sticky note. It’s much more difficult when we’re vulnerable, down, or sick. But those are the times when optimism is most important.

So if Tversky’s or Musk’s words aren’t quite infectious enough on their own, they are at least a platform from which to build. To build that will that Tversky possessed. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for others like them – looking to catch a bit of optimism, and will a bit of it too.

My good friend, a bamboo farmer in North Carolina, went on a morning run recently and by the time he got back, he realized he wanted to go to Taiwan. He flew out the next day. Asheville to O’Hare to Shanghai to Taoyuan International in Taipei. A 30 hour commute.

The bamboo industry, I’ve since learned, is booming in Taiwan, where the plant is an environmentally friendly alternative to products made from plastic or other materials. And while there has been much written about how a good run can clear the mind; even make you feel like a brand new person, this post isn’t about a runner’s high. It’s about a traveler’s high. Ironically, a traveler’s high inspired by a few runners.

I recently finished Shoe Dog, a memoir by the founder of NIKE, Phil Knight. He got his start as a member of the track team at the University of Oregon, but really began to mature as an entrepreneur after a trip around the world in 1962. The passion with which he writes about his international travels really stuck with me, moreso than the business lessons one can learn from Nike’s tremendous ascent.

I’ve been curious about world geography since I was a kid. My grandparents were born in Europe, my mother in the U.S., my father in the Middle East. I moved from Israel to the U.S. as a kid. I collect maps. A vivid memory of my childhood was sitting at the kitchen table with my brother and sister waiting for dinner to be served (my favorite was chicken schnitzel) and reading our world capitals placemats. My preferred MS-DOS computer game in the early ’90s was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? We started off each game as “gumshoes” (rookie detectives). The more experience we acquired, the more we advanced up the ladder from our gumshoe status to investigator, detective, or super sleuth.

And Shoe Dog reminded me about the power of the gumshoe. The power of the curious international explorer. One who sets out humbly to acquire new perspective, new knowledge.

Knight visited Asia frequently in Nike’s formative years, and every time he came back from a trip abroad, he brought with him some inspiration, knowledge, self-clarity. For Knight, the progress was both personal and professional.

In comparison with other developed nations, Americans don’t travel abroad that much. Part of it surely has to do with our woeful vacation policies, workaholic culture, and geography/expense.

We’re missing out on the humility of being the gumshoe.

On her first trip to Israel over a decade ago, my then girlfriend (and now wife) landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv after a 12 hour journey and joined the long passport control queue. When it was finally her turn to get her passport stamped, she was “welcomed” to the country by a blunt border agent who told her, “Your last name, ‘Musika,’ is quite beautiful. Your first name, Jennifer, not so much.” Welcome to Israel. Israelis love the hashtag #nofilter. They’re honest. Perhaps rude. But at least sincere. There is no better “welcome to Israel,” than that interaction. You can’t get that cultural context from your Duolingo mobile app.

Every day we are living our autobiography, whether we write it out like Phil Knight did or not. And we can’t fill our pages without curiosity and adventure. We can’t advance from gumshoe status without venturing into the real world and scuffing our sneakers a bit, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at first.

So, if you’re a manager, encourage your people to embrace their gumshoe status. Regardless of budget, there are always travel deals to be had. Bamboo factories in Taiwan to visit, surfing trips in Nicaragua to take, Shanghai hotels to experience, Moroccan leather handbags to acquire, and border agents in the Middle East to be rebuffed by.

We’ll come back a bit more seasoned, a bit more inspired, and a bit more humble. Gumshoe graduates.

For the last decade, I’ve spent about 90 minutes every weekend listening to BBC Radio Five Live’s World Football Phone-In podcast. There are very few habits in my life I’ve stuck to more consistently or thoroughly.

If we really are the ‘average’ of the five people we spend the most time with, than outside of my wife and colleagues, the weekly show’s presenter Dotun Adebayo is certainly making a case for his inclusion in my inner circle. I bring Dotun with me to the kitchen whilst doing the dishes, to the grocery store on my weekly shop, on planes, trains, and automobiles.

Of course, the show is partly about soccer players, coaches, and teams, but more interestingly – it is about the unique cultural, geographical, and political nuances of the world’s beautiful game. At once a European, South American, or African history lesson from sport’s perspective. It entertains, but more thoroughly, it educates.

So it was no surprise that the inspiration for this post came from a brief moment this morning when Dotun, joined by his partners Tim Vickery and Mina Rzouki, shared the saying, “Why use a gallon of words to express a spoonful of thoughts.”

It reminded me of a teachable moment in Ocean’s Eleven when Brad Pitt, mentoring Matt Damon, says, “Don’t use seven words when four will do.”

Advice that’s so straightforward yet so difficult to implement. The concise opening to a PowerPoint presentation, in-person meeting, or conference call is pretty rare. It takes preparation to find the right balance between being too brief and too long-winded.

But I think it’s a skill that can be honed. In the 1980s, my mom trained Israeli politicians, CEOs and academics in cross-cultural communications and public speaking. One of her tactics for executive groups was to ask each executive to take out their business card and write on the back of the card – in that small space – what their message was. What they wanted to get across to their audience in their presentation.

The lesson was that you needed to drill down your message to that fine point so you could fit it on the back of a business card. If you yourself don’t know what you want to get across, how will your audience ever understand it?

To some of us, like Dotun Adebayo of BBC’s World Football Phone-In, that ability with the English language comes naturally. Pithy is no problem.

For the rest of us, it’s a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

This post may have taken me ~ 400 words, a liter maybe, but at least it wasn’t a gallon. Perhaps in the future I’ll fit my thoughts into a teaspoon.

 Aerial view of Los Angeles via Jay Mantri

I hit the streets this past week. Caught the 134 to the 5 to the 110 and ended up in downtown LA. Took 45 minutes for the 15 miles, but it was worth it.

I missed my evening routine: walking my dog from 7:00pm – 7:30pm, but it was worth it. I missed dinner with my wife, 7:30pm – 8:00pm, but it was worth it. I missed the latest installment of ESPN’s stunning documentary O.J.: Made in America, but it was worth it.

It was worth it, because, after months of conference calls, emails, GoToMeeting calendar invites, and sitting behind my computer screen interacting with new business partners, we all met in person for the first time. IRL.

Sure, we spoke about work. Our partnership. Our strategy. Our tactics. We got things done. But more importantly, we realized we could trust each other. We enjoyed each other’s company. We put away our screens for a few hours and connected without the crutch of 4G or WiFi. We debated the greatest father-son duos in sports history: Griffey, Bonds, Manning, Hull, without using Google for “inspiration.” We found mutually shared connections, without using LinkedIn. Shared stories from our recent trips to Cuba or Israel, no TripAdvisor needed.

Technology seduces us to sit behind our screens, crane our necks down at our phones in our laps, and hope for the best. And we can often accomplish much through it’s awesome power. We can learn a lot. We can achieve success in work and life. But the screen experience can never compare to the real life experience. The webinar with a sales prospect almost never produces as much progress as the in-person pitch. A shared Chrome browser is fine, but a shared kale salad kafta kebab will almost always result in more business value in the long run.

The quick double tap on Instagram generating a “like” on your friend’s latest dog photo is not the same as a walk in the park with your labrador, Marley. It’s much easier to generate hearts on Instagram than it is to pick up shit with your hand inside a plastic bag, surely.

I love my screens – small, medium and large. Most of us do. But I believe that there is nothing better, nothing more powerful, than a human connection in real life that can help you get from Point A to Point B, specifically in business relationships.

And this past week, around a crowded dinner table, I had a nice subtle reminder, a nice whisper in the ear from an old friend (real life) that was still lingering in the background. I’m here. 

Now the challenge is to find a healthy balance.

One of the nicest guys in venture capital, Jonathon Triest, recently hired a new associate, Blake Robbins. It’s clear from Jonathon’s tweet above that Blake has already hit the ground running.

But let’s flashback about two years… Here’s the backstory to Blake landing his new gig. He reached out to Jonathon while an undergraduate at Michigan State, asking for an internship. He got the internship. Less than two years later, it turned into a full-time job.

For those of you who know my background, you’re thinking this is going to be another “power of experiential education,” sermon. Nope, though it could be. While data suggests that seven out of ten internships turn into a full-time job, Blake is where he is today through hustle. Chutzpah. Relentlessness.

It’s pretty simple, really. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. 

I wrote a blog post in 2014 on leveraging social media to get hired which Blake executed to perfection:

One of the benefits of social media is the access it has afforded those ‘on their way up’ to those with greater experience. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help… You may not receive a response a majority of the time, but when you do, it could lead to career guidance and growth.

Raising your hand is what separates the special ones from the normal ones. Blake may (or may not) be the most talented VC associate in all the land. But he hustled. He asked, he got.

And now, a month into his new role, he’s showing that same hustle and speed on the job as he did landing the job – 30 days later, his firm is already closing on a deal he sourced. Even if hustling doesn’t coarse through your veins like it does through Blake’s, asking is an important skill to practice and implement, specifically if you work in an entrepreneurial or startup role where bandwidth and other resources may be constrained.

Attending a SXSW panel in Austin where you really admire one of the speakers? Don’t just mention their advice on your Twitter account mid-panel to gain a few likes and retweets, queue up in a physical line at the end of their speech and introduce yourself. Authentically. Articulately. Humbly. Lunch at the food trucks can wait. Make that connection. Say hi, shake a hand. Offer something valuable. Get inspired further.

I’ve seen dozens of aspiring entrepreneurs who connected with legendary VC Fred Wilson through the comments section of his blog. They were authentic. They were articulate. They communicated well. They, like Blake, evidently had the talent.

Think outside the box, like Blake did. LA’s top VC, Mark Suster, recently responded to several entrepreneurs from Israel, Ghana, South Africa, and New Zealand on Snapchat. [Sidenote: It’s a blue ocean for Suster on Snapchat at the moment, there aren’t any other VCs that I am aware of that have the same love affair he does with the platform, and thus provide the same access that he has.]

And it’s not just the power of networking. We can ask more frequently in our personal lives as well. In line for an expensive root canal with your oral surgeon but don’t have great dental insurance? Ask for a discount – (almost) everything in life is negotiable. You just have to ask.

Of course, you will get turned down pretty frequently. Suster and Wilson are busy guys after all, and your oral surgeon has a family to feed. But what will surprise you is that your hit rate will be better than nil – which is what it would have been if you never asked at all.

The thing I love about entrepreneurship is that there is no shame in saying, “well that didn’t work out, let’s try something else.” The same is true when it comes to the ask.