The Josh Boone Show

#13: Sam McNerney – Free Will & Simulated Realities

December 08, 2021 Episode 13
The Josh Boone Show
#13: Sam McNerney – Free Will & Simulated Realities
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Today Josh speaks with Sam McNerney about the growing conspiratorial culture in the West, its further detachment from reality, free will, and the implications of us potentially living in a simulation.

Some of the other things we dive into are:

  • How marketers are like alchemists.
  • QAnon as a marketing campaign.
  • The root of cults and religion.
  • Mental illness and mental viruses.
  • The differences between marketing, storytelling, and being persuasive.
  • What is our relationship to brands?
  • The philosophical differences between chains and small businesses.
  • Existentialism, secularism, and simulated realities.
  • Mental health, religion, submission, and control.
  • The Matrix, free will, and purpose.
  • Does it matter if we live in a simulation?
  • And so much more.


Sam McNerney is an applied behavioral scientist, market researcher, and brand strategist based in Brooklyn, New York. He has worked with brands such as Walmart, Procter & Gamble, and CitiBank.

As a writer, he has interviewed business and academic leaders including Arianna Huffington, Andrew Yang, Jonathan Haidt, and Charles Murray – and his essays have been featured in publications like The Washington Post, Psychology Today, and Scientific American.

Now as an independent consumer insights specialist, he specializes in using surveys to help businesses answer questions about their customers that unlock the greatest value.

Connect with Sam – Website: SamMcNerney.com Twitter: @SamMcNerney

Music by Kirby Johnston – check out his band Aldaraia on Spotify

Josh Boone:

You know, I remember a time when conspiracy theories were kind of like a fringe thing. And it's always been a spectrum, yeah. But you know, you had on the more rational end, there were conspiracy, you know, very real conspiracies.

Like, you know:

Watergate, Operation Paperclip, MK Ultra, Gulf of Tonkin, Operation Midnight Climax, and just a fuck ton of others. But then on the other end, you've got the Dale Gribble's of the world. Like everything is a conspiracy, a hoax or a false flag operation. And it's all part of a plan that they, whoever or whatever they is, they're all orchestrating behind the scenes. You know, you know, people that live in a perpetual state of paranoia. But the Dale Gribble's of the world no longer just congregate on fringe communities in the basement of the internet. They've gone mainstream, baby. So what happens when you zoom out even further? And instead of just politics and elements of our culture being a conspiracy, the conspiracy is reality itself? And that is what we're going to be diving into today with my uh, philosophical partner in crime, Sam McNerney. And as always, I recommend checking out the first few episodes with Sam as we build on many of the themes today that we've discussed before. But ultimately this episode stands on its own if you just want to dive the fuck in. Some of the other topics that we touch on are how marketers are like Alchemist. Q Anon as a marketing campaign. The root of cults and religion. Mental illness and mental viruses. The differences between marketing storytelling and being persuasive. What is our relationship to brands? The philosophical differences between chains and small businesses. Existentialism, secularism, and simulated realities. Mental health, religion, submission, and control. The matrix, freewill and purpose. And does it even matter if we live in a simulation? And lots more. We go down a rabbit hole and get into the weeds a little bit on the marketing discussion about a quarter into this episode. I think super interesting, and it definitely colors a lot of what we cover later on. But we do circle back to the larger existential conversation about an hour and 10 minutes into the chat if that's just not your thing. But all that out of the way, I bring you the great and powerful Sam McNerney. The two things that come to mind just immediately is kind of simulation theory and conspiracy theories. I mentioned that one Reddit article where it was, I think it was on /r/conspiracy and it was this person who put this YouTube video, where there was some cheap Hollywood movie, where it was going into the afterlife and how people are like judged based on uh, it's like almost like everything's like a video game basically. And they're judged on how well they do and everything's simulated and it's kind of like reincarnation. It was just this whole thing where the afterlife is a simulation as well and whatever, and it's just a dumb fucking Hollywood movie, but this person who probably has schizophrenia or something, edited this video and every single like scene of the movie has this overlaid text, that's dissecting like how and why. This is all like a giant conspiracy and Hollywood subliminally, trying to tell us that this is a simulation and all this other crap. And I mean, they are just well out of their fucking mind. And what's interesting is some people on /r/conspiracy are just like, okay, dude, what the fuck are you smoking? But there's a lot of other people that are just like, "I've seen the same thing." I mean, it's like the person you'd see in Asheville, North Carolina or in Portland that's talking about fucking crystals and stuff and energy, it's like that times a thousand. Some of these people, are just full on cuckoo for cocoa puffs. I mean they're fucking out there, and there's an interesting subreddit that goes even further down the rabbit hole, called High Strangeness. And I discovered this right around the time when all the UFO stuff was coming out, when, you know, it was right around the time when the us government was starting to talk about possibilities of these UFO's that they were finding the Navy and the Coast Guard were finding and they couldn't really recognize it. So there were all these articles and then some people were posting about it on /r/conspiracy. And I was like, oh, okay, this is interesting. So I am, I'm a glutton for cryptozoology and weird pet conspiracy theories. And I just find them interesting. So I go on here, but there are people that take this shit so fucking seriously. And they are so far out the rabbit hole. It's just mind boggling. But they believe it's so much. And it's just fascinating. On YouTube, there's also this channel called Channel 5 Action News. And this guy just goes around the country to all these interesting conventions and rallies, and he acts like he's kind of on their side. Uh, He always dresses up and like, you know, thrift store suits that are like way oversized or if he's going to like a MAGA rally, like he'll dress up like an American flag shirt or whatever, he just kind of blends in. And these people are just fucking insane. Literally this woman was talking about how COVID is a "giant communist, Chinese conspiracy." Um, But the US government is like in bed with, and they're trying to do population control and, if you get the virus, there's like nanobots inside of it. And there's these things with tentacles in it that are going to kill you from the inside and all this crazy shit. And uh, I don't know, man. It's it's just interesting the intersection of those two things, because if I'm being honest, I increasingly feel like this may be a simulation. Uh, But I wouldn't necessarily say that I believe that as like some sort of like definitive thing, it's just a speculation. It would make sense to me if this was a simulation, but ultimately I'm agnostic and I have no fucking idea, but I feel like that is a buffer there, like a sane buffer that these people just don't fucking have. They believe it, like it's a religion and they're crazy about it. And everything that they see is like patterns and some sort of secret that, they're discovering and they're figuring out and only they can see. And it's just like, you said it before, as far as like politics and stuff like these mental viruses. And I definitely think that that's a mental, a mental virus. I don't know. What do you think about all that?

Sam McNerney:

So here's what I think we should talk about. And I think has a perfect parallel to, or a nice parallel to what you're talking about. Let's talk about marketing for a little bit, because it's something that I think is really interesting when you contrast it with more traditional economic thinking. As I think we've talked about before, there's kind of two ways to create value. One is the economic finance department way, which involves figuring out what people want and how much they're willing to pay for it. And then building a product or service that addresses that need and that willingness to pay. Then you figure out a way to get that product or service in the hands of people. And, you know, you could tell, you could tell a story of the last few hundred years that revolves around that exact kind of framework. Um, The marketing is kind of the opposite, which is that you take some, you take a product or service and then work backwards and you figure out how to get people to want it. And the real geniuses in this area are all the famous kind of mad men. People like David Ogilvy and um, more recently David Droga and you know, the list goes on and on there. The reason that I find these people really interesting, especially Ogilvy, is that they're almost like chemists. Like they're synthesizing demand. It almost feels like they're creating it, kind of out of thin air. So maybe it's better to say that they're alchemists. So Ogilvy has a good example here. And it kind of stems from him, his definition of positioning, which I like, which is "what does the product do and who is it for?" It's really simple. But as I've said, it's simple, like a thesis statement as simple like a thesis statement and your high school English essay where, you think, "oh, that's not too hard, and just write a sentence and make it clear." So the teacher will nod hishead and say, "okay, you know, I got it." And then you're sitting down and actually write the damn thing. And you find that it's really hard to put together that coherent thought and then mold it into a sentence that would make sense to a reader. Um, anyways, Ogilvy was really kind of a master at this. He could get you into the next paragraph and really get you to buy into this little world that he just created. So he gives the example of how he could have um, positioned Dove as a detergent bar for men with dirty hands, but instead, he called it a toilet soap for women with dry skin. So this is the same product. It's just like a bar of soap. But you put two different kind of thesis statements on top of it and suddenly it's as if they're two different things. And and by the way, Dove is an enormously successful brand over the last 60 or 70 years. And, don't take that for granted. There are hundreds of soap brands out there that emerge and die all the time and they're all trying to figure out their own positioning. There might be a soap pan that emphasizes that it's sustainable or that it doesn't have certain chemicals. There might be soap brands that are for specific parts of the body for specific rashes that make you feel a certain way. You can just go on and on. It really is endless which is what makes you know, the simple part of it deceiving. Anyways the kind of the point about marketing that I like is, you're not lying. You're not even bullshitting and you're not fabricating anything. And I think that's where marketing kind of gets a bad reputation is that, of course there are some people that do that. But the real skill is taking the truth and making it interesting. Ogilvy's got this great quote, "tell the truth, but make the truth fascinating." That's like a copywriting tip. He used to give people and I coincidentally came across two other quotes from interesting people that saying almost the same thing. One's from Dale Carnegie, who people might know, wrote the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People" which has sold over 30 million copies since being published in the 1930s. Um, that's a huge number. It's not the Bible or Harry Potter, but it's the next year down. That's just a massive amount of books. Most books sell less than a thousand copies. Something like 90% of books sell less than a thousand copies. And he's got this one chapter about making the truth interesting. And he's got this great quote, " the truth has to be made vivid interesting and dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it, television does it, and you will have to do, if you want attention." And then the second one comes from Alfred Hitchcock and this, I was also just coincidentally, I think this was from a podcast with Dan Carlin and Sam Harris, and Carlin quoted Hitchcock, who said, "drama is reality with the boring bits taken out." So now where this overlaps with what you just said, is that there are some consequences and a little bit of a dark side in making the truth fascinating. And those consequences are people that are susceptible to conspiracy theories, really going down a rabbit hole that ends in a pretty net negative situation. All you need is, a true piece of information framed in a way that makes it really appealing or fascinating. In other words you market it and then you set off the alarm bells in a mind that you might not want to set off alarm bells in, and next thing you know it's, it's a week later and it's 50 YouTube videos later and they've gone from essentially what a truth with good marketing to just existing in a landscape of, of really bad beliefs and, you know, you know, fine, whatever. But there's a big problem when there's a lot of those people and it's affecting other people that haven't done that, and it's kind of spreading like a virus. And that, that definitely worries me. And here is where we might talk about Edward Bernays a little bit because he straddled this line in a really interesting way. He's considered the father PR and really had a good, intuitive sense of how to make the truth. Interesting. Used it to put a good face on an average corporation, or maybe a questionable corporation. People like Frank Luntz point to him as the godfather of the whole industry, but there's downsides to what he did. Which is making it easy to gloss over some corporate misgivings. And it made it easy for people to say well, I'm buying what they're selling, and there's a little bit of an invisible handshake, as long as Amazon just keeps delivering that stuff to my door. Am I really going to care about those labor disputes? Not really. Cause this is a little bit of a win-win. So let me put that back at you. In the form of this question is what do you think about when you think about marketing, and is the so-called, alchemy part of it? Can that help us explain, what's going on in these subreddits and um, you know, maybe culture at large?

Josh Boone:

Yeah, just the other day I did a podcast with Seth Erickson, and his whole thing is basically storytelling. So marketing is storytelling and he, and I actually had a really interesting conversation about that. What is marketing? Is storytelling different from marketing? My thought process is that they're one in the same. Marketing is just, I think his view differs a little bit, but mine is essentially that marketing is inherently storytelling. If you think about the Edward Bernays, it is taking a product or good or service and aligning it to the desires, whether conscious or unconscious needs and desires of, the general public or the purchaser or the shopper or whatever, the end consumer. And to me, that is the kind of, I don't know the foundational layer. And then beyond that is, what is the story that is going to actually peak that interest in resonate? Most people when in marketing, they think about it wrong. They think about it as far as, what is the story of the brand? And nobody gives a fuck about the brand. People care about themselves. As you and I have talked extensively about brand positioning, is how do you communicate very clearly, what is the problem that you're solving? How is it going to help the person, and what is their hero's journey? And you need to be the guide on that hero's journey. So for me, marketing is essentially storytelling and I don't necessarily think that it is inherently good or evil. It is just simply a tool. Kind of like what we talked about in the first episode about Bernays is that I think Bernays was in the book, framing it as this good and positive thing, which you made a really good point about the fact that, he was using the book as a way to pitch his services. So, you know, there's some self-interest there, but I think as we've seen with the Frank Luntz of the world that, it can be used for very manipulative and nefarious means. I remember one time I went on a date with somebody and they're like "what do you do?" And I'm like, oh I, at the time, I'm like, I own a marketing agency, and she literally was about to get up and just leave. Like we we are having this great conversation, tremendous amount of chemistry. And then she just was like you're basically, it was like, "you're the devil", like "you're part of the problem." Like she took a very uh, and I fucking love him to death, but she took a very Bill Hicks kind of approach. Like marketers should all be shot, you know, that kind of thing. And I was just like, look, man marketing can be used for, Coca-Cola selling a bunch of shitty, soda water to a bunch of kids and some third world country that's going to kill them. Or it could be used for a nonprofit that's trying to save those kids and do good things. Marketing is agnostic, it's just a tool. And she actually, to her credit was like, "God, I think you're right." Like it actually completely changed her worldview just in that kind of flip. And I think that's the thing is that it's easy to look at the bad examples of marketing and say how nefarious and evil it is. But I think that we often overlook the good and I think it's just because the bad far outweighs in our mind, the good. I think it was actually a recent episode Sam Harris had that you and I were talking about over chat, and they were talking about the neuroscience of essentially all these psychological triggers when it comes to kind of propaganda that is hurting you, like, like basically, bad information is far more likely to stick than facts and rebuttals. So you have the backfire effect where when you are told something that is false and it's aligned with something that further proves your worldview, then you have a much harder time when it, when somebody actually comes back with real facts and saying, "Hey, actually that was false." That person actually is more inclined to further double down and believe the false, fake news,if you will, then to actually change and update their opinion. Because then the rebuttal actually becomes the conspiracy theory. "Oh, they're trying to cover this up." And essentially to me, that's the entire Q Anon movement. You know, it's a bunch of things that intuitively made sense with people that already were skeptical with the "They" that you've communicated in the past. The powers that be, the whatever. And the "They" is perhaps different for everybody. But overall it's, you know, the Clintons or it's the Illuminati, or it's Soros, it doesn't matter everyone has their own boogeyman. Maybe they think they're all working together. But when you're actually confronted with the reality of the situation, they think that whatever the reality is the conspiracy. And it makes them further go down that rabbit hole. So to me, if you link it all together, it's like that, QAnon had amazing marketing for the target audience it was going after, you know. Whether, whether that be just a troll on 8Chan that just started it all, or that be some sort of, some sort of operation with an actual incentive. It doesn't really matter. It resonated with people in a certain way. And you know, you've said it before, like they were buying what was being sold. So, marketing to me is agnostic. It's just a tool, it's just storytelling. And that's how all the cults and religions started. It was just storytelling. People needed an answer. They had a problem, which was why do we live? Why is the world how it is? How should we live our life? They needed a guide. They needed a blueprint and early religions, and even religions now give them that, and then who's the storyteller? There's always been a marketer. There's always been a storyteller, I think it's just ingrained in human nature.

Sam McNerney:

I want to distinguish between storytelling and marketing, and here's how I do it, because I think there is a pretty sizable difference between the two. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but you tell me. To me, marketing is almost, it's first step is actually deeply empathetic because your first move in marketing is to check your own ego and interests and figure out the customer's motives, intentions, figure out what they need. So it, it is in a weird way, a big trick to really kind of dial up the humanity. The copywriter Gary Halbert has this example of imagining a fancy dinner party in a lofty apartment in let's say the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A lot of rich people just schmoozing around and there's this one really beautiful woman and all night long, all these guys are making advances to her and she's, politely saying no. And then finally one guy who actually looks disgruntled, not that well dressed doesn't seem high status at all, whispers into her ear something, and she immediately leaves with him. And so there's questions like, "Jesus, what did he say?" Um, and he imagines him saying something like, "Hey, I have some of the best heroin in New York City, do you want to go do it with me and get high?" And his point, which is that he's the only guy, and this is a little bit of a dark example, with not benign consequences. Um, his point was that he's the only one that took the time to figure out her self-interest. The thing that really motivates her. Now you can replace heroin with something else to maybe make this a little less dark. Like, you know, opportunity to uh, donate to your favorite charity or meet your favorite author, or see a midnight screening of your favorite director's new movie, whatever it is. But the point is, in the best possible light, marketing is really a dialing up of one's humanity and empathy. Now there's a second step, which is the selling part, which is where, things get a little bit different versus some sort of nonprofit or charity or someone who really just only wants to do good, but at least that first step there's overlap there. Storytelling to me, the big difference there is, perhaps this is too literal, but a story has a beginning, middle, and end, and a protagonist. And a protagonist, you know how it is, encounter some sort of problem, finds a friend along the way. This is the hero's journey, but, there's a half a dozen other plot lines, looks like they're not gonna make it, and then they finally make it, and everyone lives happily ever after. So again, taken literally a storytelling involves a protagonist that is placed in a world, goes through some conflict and then the conflict is resolved. There's a beginning, a middle and an end. And I don't see marketing really doing that. I think there's elements of it. There's a little bit of world-building, uh, there's definitely character building. But there's not a beginning, middle, or an end. And I wouldn't say that there's obviously some sort of internal conflict that now there are overlaps.

Josh Boone:

Depends on what you're selling..

Sam McNerney:

Yeah, true, true. I mean, Leo Burnett, the famous uh, contemporary of Ogilvy said "every brand should have an inherent drama." And so he was deliberately creating some conflict intention, uh, in order to get your attention. And maybe get you to start thinking in a certain way. But it just, to me, that strikes me as a different kind of flavor of tension. And anyway, so then there's this last bit, which I think is in a totally different category, but again, some overlap. The last bit is, is what's happening in the world of conspiracy theories and cults. And, maybe being a little lazy, we'll just throw in religion. That is world building also, but it, it is not at all made clear that that world is separate from this one. In fact, the opposite happens, right? Where you're told this is actually the world that you're living in right now, and there are consequences to this world and you don't want to be a sucker. And if you believe these things, this will happen, vice versa. So I'm not quite sure what to call that third category, but I definitely wouldn't call it marketing, even though there's elements. I definitely wouldn't call it storytelling, even though there's elements. It's something else . That really, can really take hold on the mind. I'd almost call it a, a set of ideas. Um, not necessarily coherent, but a compelling set of ideas that really places people in the world so they start to behave and see it differently. It's not a fantasy, it's not imaginary. It doesn't take place in a galaxy far, far away. It involves making an empirical claims about the nature of reality.

Josh Boone:

Yeah. I mean, if I had to classify it as something, I'd probably just say alternative realities. Like it's a thing that influences everything. Like if you legitimately believe that the matrix is real, just using a base example, then that can completely change your entire perception of everything, because then you're like, "okay, none of this matters." So let's just say, for example, you accept that the matrix is real, like the Hollywood version of the matrix. You are not Neo, you are literally just one of the, you know, the NPCs, you know, non-playable characters. You are this completely constructed thing. So basically if you accept that reality, then there's a couple different ways that you can go from here. You can say, "okay none of this matters. So it's essentially a video game, so I can just do whatever the fuck I want." And you just basically treat your baseline reality, like a Grand Theft Auto game. And I'm sure that kind of thinking has probably led to a lot of really bad shit that we see in the news and whatever, but you never see, that somebody goes and guns a bunch of people down because they're like, "Hey, this isn't real", but you never see that, you never see the inner monologues. You just think that they are someone who just has anger problems and is mentally ill. And then both of those things are true, but there's that mental virus, that alternative reality that with them, but we never have any facts on that. We never see that, unless they left writing or some sort of blog or something. So that's one train. The other one is that perhaps you don't go the full Grand Theft Auto rampage kind of route, but you definitely think that there are signs. So maybe the matrix is conscious in some way, and it is actively manifesting itself around you and it is evolving and adapting. Very Silent Hill, like people familiar with Silent Hill, it's like that entire town is literally manifesting itself around your own personal trauma. It is customizing itself to you. And that could be one way that you look at it. There's other people perhaps is a little more subtle version of that, where they just see little glitches in the matrix and they think I have a feeling of dejavu" or "Hey, I thought I just saw that same car", you know, whatever. Like these little things that appear to be glitches in the matrix that, may or may not be anything at all, it might even be completely imagined, but you think that's further evidence. And then you've got the kind of video game thought process where, okay, now I'm being watched. And now this is kind of like that movie we were talking about earlier. We're now I'm being watched, I'm being judged. Um, I'll be honest. I, I had an acid trip once where I felt like there was some, almost like a claw machine was like picking me up. Like this dark hand was picking me up and it was showing me that this is all basically like a giant, uh, Grand Theft Auto map or something, and is essentially saying, "Hey, just to let you know, you wanted to go into this. Like you wanted to go into this simulation. So you could see if you could prevent, like, this bad thing from history from happening." You know? Cause everyone's like, "Hey, if I went back in time, I would have shot Hitler." Whereas I think the reality is is if you grew up in Germany, you probably would have been a Nazi. It's almost like this video game, like, could you go back in history and change things, and whatever that is, "you signed up for this just to let you know, this is a little reminder don't get distracted, you have a mission here, go do it." But this is also not real. And I came out of that acid trip, just being like, "huh, interesting", but I didn't actually believe it. I'm just like, I'm more so looking at myself, like this is a interesting that my brain decided to take me there. What does that say about myself? Cause I've had acid trips before where I didn't have anything like that. So why was this one so different? Um, you know, there are people that have those experiences and then they think that's cannon. They think that's real. So like, those are all just different examples of how, if you actually accepted that, something like the matrix is real, you could go down all these various rabbit holes and it can be very insidious as far as that alternative reality. And obviously the things like we were talking about earlier, like Q Anon is a larger example of that. I think that, to go back real quick on the storytelling. To me, I don't know, perhaps this is, like you said earlier, this is splitting hairs, but I think all products and everything has a story, but they're all individual. And you as a brand, a nonprofit, or a government or whatever it is you're representing. You can help influence the masses, by telling that story in a larger way, but everybody has their own individual stories. So it's something that's like really simple. As the other day, I was in the store with my fiance, Eva, and she has extremely sensitive skin where certain shampoos or body soaps or whatever can completely just give her rashes and really irritate her. So she just can't use anything with dyes or fragrances or whatever. She's tested a ton of them. And anything with dyes and fragrances just messes her skin up. So we're at at Target and we're looking at everything. They don't have the brand she usually gets, for whatever reason, maybe they stopped selling it or they're just out of stock. So now we're looking at, you know, you're talking about all the various types of soaps that there are literally that's the example. I mean, We're at an entire aisle with probably 50 different brands of soap and every single one of those brands has different varieties and everything else. And we're taking this time and looking at the back of the label of every single one of them, because some of them say like on the front, little, call-outs no parabens, like no fragrances, no whatever, but then you look on the back and it says fragrance or something like that. And it's like they marketed it falsely saying, this is a totally pure, no additional things added, but they're adding a fragrance. So what, how the story comes in is that, to a lot of people, they would think that the story starts when she's picking up that product, and she buys that product. But the story started well before that, the story has been going on for years, ever since she was a kid she's had really sensitive skin, it's really bothered her. It's caused her a great deal of stress. She's had to go to the dermatologist over it. It's caused her a lot of pain. She finally found a brand that works for her, but now she doesn't have access to that brand anymore. This is a fucking problem. So what does she do? She goes to the store and she's looking for this thing and she's checking every single bottle. Almost none of them fit what she needs. She needs something as pure as possible. And there was only two brands that actually had that, two specific types. One of them seemed like they were doing the eco-friendly thing and they were trying to be sustainable and they talk about how they were giving back. The other one didn't say any of that, but they basically seemed identical and Eva's like, okay, I'm going to get the one that has the social good on it. And she went home and she got it. She used it and it was great, no problems. Let's say there's another alternative, another alternative reality in which she bought that product, but it ended up being terrible. And somehow it still gave her a rash. She would go back to the store and she buy that other product. And now that other product she would feel even more committed to and even more invested in that brand even more because here is a brand that she just tried and was supposed to check all the boxes and was supposed to be something that she could use, but still even then it gave her problems. But this second brand truly is the only thing that she can use that helps her. Both of those are stories, both of those continue, and now she can live her life without pain, without all the other stuff. And she finally found the product that she's looking for, until maybe that product stops being there. And then she has to find another one or she's traveling. And there's something else like that story's over always evolving, that stories always happening. And you know, how you can best position yourself as a brand, no matter where somebody is on their customer journey, you know, a customer journey is, I think I've talked about it before with with Zaid in in the second episode of this podcast. Where a customer journey is just, you know, is somebody, a really simple example is somebody goes on your website and you want them to buy something, what is their journey? What pages they go to? What problems do you need to do? In this case, there's customer journeys happening all the time. Like even if the government wants to try and get people to fill out a census, there's a customer journey there. If people want, they want to try and promote people to vote more. There's always a customer journey. So how can you remove the friction in that customer journey and make it a better story and make it a happy story for somebody? And that to me is marketing.

Sam McNerney:

So, let me give you something that I think it was on LinkedIn, where I made this observation in response to somebody posting an article about how the head of brand people are going to make a comeback, as opposed to the head of growth people. And this is inspired in part by Rory Sutherlandat at Ogilvy, the agency who contrasts the tourists bar and the local bar. So imagine you're, you're at the local bar and you forget your wallet at home, and it's embarrassing. But the good news is that the bartender knows your name and knows your face and says, Hey, don't worry about it. You can get me next time. So sure enough, the next time you go, you bring a huge wad of extra cash and you tip the bar tenders. You say, "thank you," and you know, it's kind of a net positive on both ends. You, you could have blown off that bartender. You could've gotten out of town and moved or whatever, but you didn't take advantage of that situation. So that the bar, you know, learned something about you as a customer, and then vice versa, like you, you learn something about the bar when the bartender was willing to give you a break. Essentially to me, if we had to simplify it, the debate about, the head of growth versus head of brand debate comes down to is was the bartender rational in that situation? So I think that the head of brand people will say yes, of course. You want to, what he's doing is he's signaling his longterm commitment just like a wedding ring, now not quite as expensive, but there's an upfront cost involved that in, in, in this line of thinking has rewards in the long run. And Rory also gives the example of Five Guys, which if you've ever been there uh, your order, your burger, or your fries, and at the very end, right before you get this like amazing greasy brown bag of your fast food. They take a big scoop of extra fries and dump it in the bag cause the bottom of the bag of fries tastes so good. Another good example of kind of synthesizing value. They probably measured it out. They're probably not taking a loss on that. Anyways, the point is they're there, they're signaling their intentions about the long run. Hey, we're going to give you a little extra because we want to make you happy. And the reason we wanna make you happy is because we want to stay in business for a long time. Anyways, the head of growth people, if I had to defend them and they do have a good comeback to this, which is first of all, you don't know if that guy's going to come back to the bar. Second of all, we're a local bar and at any given moment as COVID sadly illustrated, we're a few months away from financial ruin. We're barely making ends meet. Trivia night is actually our most profitable tonight. If anything, we should double down on promotions and sales, like half off Mondays and yeah. You can think that, you know, this bar is going to be where everyone goes because they know your name and we're basically like Cheers. It's romantic and you can think all those things, but at the end of the day, the primary goal is to stay in business, it's to survive. So yeah, great. Let's build this brand, but in the meantime I need to make sure that I still have a job at the end of the month. Now. I think there's a third route, which is something like the national chain. And now you're in the territory of Applebee's and Buffalo Wild Wings, and even McDonald's. And the game that they're playing is really interesting to me because basically their value proposition is we're going to be just insanely consistent. You're not going to have a ton of fun, like a tourist bar. You're not going to get the neighborhood feel of the local bar, but you're never ever going to get ripped off because we have a national reputation to maintain. And you basically know exactly what you're going to get no matter where you are in the country. If you walk into one of our stores and there's just this like insane level. Certainty and consistency that they deliver on. Yeah, I have in mind here, the famous Ray Crock I think that's his last name, quote, the founder of McDonald's said something like, "people don't want the best burger in the world. They just want the burger that tastes the same as the last one." Now, the head of brand people I think are right in the long run. But the question is can you survive in the long run? And that's really hard. And you can see all the shining examples of Walmart, "Hey everyday low prices", Apple, and it's the brand that's built around being creative, Nike how it's really about representing eminent athletic output. So they've picked this kind of one value proposition and just poured money into it year after year. And now what I want to say here is I still don't think that's, I still don't think what they're doing is storytelling. I think what they're doing is better explained more in like evolutionary psychology terms, which is it's all about signaling long-term intent. So a customer's thinks I'm not going to get ripped off. I'm going to get a good product or service, and if it works, I'll go back again. And the gears that they're pulling, the gears of the brand are pulling just at least from my perspective as a reader and moviegoer. And also as a customer are just not the same as the kind of leavers that I feel being pulled when I read a book or watch a movie those just strike me as totally different experiences. So yeah I definitely grant you that in hindsight, that you can tell a story about, a shopping experience and that there's definitely elements of storytelling, create tension and thinking about how customers move through space or website, almost kind of like, you know, Frodo moving through Middle Earth, except maybe less dramatic, and don't have to worry about the night riders. But yeah, I still think that's what I call like storytelling in hindsight. And it just feels very different from the first person perspective. My point here is really kind of like let's not overlook Applebee's, or Olive Garden. Really easy to write off. But these guys are like sharks and jellyfish and cockroaches. Like they just survive and they don't change that much for a really long time. And I don't think their secret sauce is they tell a great story. It's just that they're really consistent by the way. I do want to pick up on one thing that you said earlier, which I found really interesting about Grand Theft Auto, but I'm happy to turn it back over to you if you want to keep going down the marketing alleyway, cause I'd absolutely be happy to, I'd love to.

Josh Boone:

I guess I'll just give a couple of points on the train that you're going down and then we can pivot over to Grand Theft Auto, cause that sounds interesting to me. Um, I, I don't know. I still see it as a story. It's okay, why does somebody go to Applebee's? Me, I would rather, I mean, honestly, being in hell, it sounds pretty interesting, but I would rather do so much than go to Applebee's, Applebee's is torture to me. I can't stand it. It is everything that I hate about uh, the bad side of American culture. It is this benignly evil thing in my eyes. But the thing is that I know that there are times and occasions where it makes sense, even for somebody like me. I remember my grandfather, one of his birthdays many years ago, we're like, "where do you want to go?" And he's like, ah, you know, Applebee's is fine. And we went there for his birthday because he's someone who's very old. He had a lot of health issues at the time and he just wanted something that was comfortable and it was safe. And around his house, there were so many different places that were so much better, but for him, I think that it would've made him a little anxious because it was a place that he didn't know. And we're going to invite some other extended parts of my family that are not as adventurous as I am. And I've kind of gotten my immediate family to be acclimated to more adventurous stuff, but, you know, for them, they wouldn't um, that makes sense. That is not a place that I would ever go myself. But I also, I remember Kanye West came to town to Dayton when Dave Chappelle did his big event here after the shooting that happened. And I went to it and Kanye was doing one of his, you know, church sessions down by the river where he like acts like a, wannabe pastor. And I didn't go to that. Cause I didn't want to indulge that, if Kanye was going to play a concert, I probably would've went, but I'm not going to go there and do his faux cult-like bullshit. And when he came here, he went to the Cheesecake Factory, and we were all locally. Like, dude, there's so many amazing restaurants around here and you went to the fucking Cheesecake Factory, but then you start thinking about it and you're like, you're Kanye West. You're someone who, you know I would say more people would want to probably be around that guy, then the president or something. Which I don't understand, but it is what it is. So he and his people probably have an arrangement with the franchise and the organization Cheesecake Factory, because they've done it enough times where they know that it's big enough, they know the security, they know that the organization will cater to his needs. Where if you talk about a local joint who they have no contacts with, they have no idea what's going to happen. Like, it was really interesting. There's a book In The Weeds by Tom Vitale, who is the producer and the executive director of Anthony Bourdain and they were, they were his, his show, No Reservations, Parts Unknown all that stuff. And he was talking about when he had Obama on, when they were doing the thing in Vietnam and how the behind the scenes logistics of making that work was insane. Just to have this tiny little hole in the wall, Vietnamese, noodle shop and make it safe for the president of United States to go there. It was fucking insane. Most places are not going to be able to accommodate that. So if we take a step back, we're like, okay, why does Kanye go to the cheesecake factory, even though it's fucking bland and a horrible place uh, for somebody like me, um, it, no offense to people like cheesecake factory, but I can't stand it. So you go there and you think about, okay, for somebody like him it's just logistics. It's the comfortability. Maybe he likes cheesecake factory. And also it's a bonus that they're a chain that most of the places in the country he's going to playing a show, probably have one of those. Uh, My grandfather, he likes. What is the story there? To me, these are all stories like Kanye west is going through his life and his is another day for him. He doesn't want to have fucking paparazzi showing up bothering him. He doesn't want to have to deal with all this crap. He just wants his life to be as tolerable as possible and eating a meal out somewhere for somebody like him is going to be a pain in the ass. Unless it's a place that can accommodate his ridiculous security and logistical needs. For my grandfather. It's the story of Hey, this is my birthday. And this might be one of the last birthdays that I have. I want to enjoy it with my family. And I don't want to stress about there being a meal that I don't like, or there being problems or the service is bad or whatever, for me thinking about where does my grandfather want to go? I'm like, do I really want to stress him out with perhaps, you know, one of his last birthdays and it was, do I want to stress him out with a place? And maybe he gets a meal. He doesn't enjoy it. I don't want to do that. You know? So, you know, It's like the local bar, there's a bar around here that I love. It's one of my favorite bars. Unfortunately, a lot of the local college kids have discovered it. And on certain nights of the week you go there. It's how it used to be, old dive bar, it's great. Other nights a week ago and it's like Chad Fest, there's just a billion fucking college kids and they're annoying as shit. They play annoying music. And, it's one of those things where it's just like, I don't want to fucking be around that shit. And it's not, it's not my place to be territorial about it because it's a fucking establishment that is there for the general public, but I often don't go there on any night that I think there's a possibility of those kinds of people showing up, because I just want to have a relaxing time, have a fucking drink, talk with my friend and not have all the fucking chaos. So I don't go there as much because I've had times when I want to meet up with a friend I haven't seen in a long time. Maybe they're going through a difficult time and I just want to sit there and have a conversation while there's like some old fucking blues or some classic rock playing and it's chill and everyone's being quiet and respectful. I don't want to go there with the limited time that I have with my friend and be stressed the fuck out with a bunch of people that are knocking into people and being annoying and shit. So that that bar is either a net positive or a net negative in the story of the experience that that is happening in my life at this time, and it is either an asset or it is a detriment to me and the story of being the protagonist of my own life. And there is this overarching story of the person and how does that product, that place or whatever, fall in line with that? Now that to me is that is an element of a story perhaps. I think that perhaps, your perspective and some of the other people that I know is that a story has to be entirely self-contained to me. I don't see it as a story having to be entirely self-contained. Um, and perhaps, storytelling is a element or a weapon of marketing. I don't know, but to me I kind of see them one in the same. I'm always thinking about what is the user experience and what is the customer journey? How are all of these people every day interacting with this product or service and how does it influence their life? What are all the pain points that they're dealing with? And I like hearing them as many of those perspectives as possible. So yeah, I dunno. I think about that a lot. Like even one place around here, it's a local, Mexican spot had the best fucking burrito I've ever had in my life. I traveled a good portion of the country. I would go to every single little Taqueria, fucking Mexican hole in the wall place, and I'd always try the burritos and the burritos was my gold standard. That is the litmus test, how good a places is, how good is their burrito? And I'd try other things after, you know, if it was good, but I always started with a burrito that was like the clean slate. And it's still the best burrito ever had lately. It's gone downhill. I think it's because of the pandemic with uh, Uber eats and everything. I think they have an increased amount of volume. And I just think they're trying to churn these things out and they don't spend as much time on them and the quality is not there and it breaks my fucking heart. And that influences so much, like whenever somebody would come into town, I would take them there. And they would be like, "oh my God, this is one of the best burritos I've ever had." And that helps influence the story of their experience of Dayton, Ohio, their trip, their whatever, that is a part of it. And it fits in with it. So to me, it's like, I, I, I just see all these layers that are all interacting at the same time and are all influencing each other, and everything is connected. And it's all like this giant stream. I don't necessarily see it as self-contained thing. A movie telling a story to me is different than a product or a service telling a story. They interact in different ways, but you could even say that the star wars, even outside of the two, two and a half hours that you spend with it is a larger story, how has star wars impacted your life? Like we are bringing it up right now. So to me, it's like, I don't see everything as disconnected, I guess. I think that if you were writing a textbook on marketing for a college, I understand why you would have these very simple distinctions. But to me I guess I just look at everything as is one holistic whole. And where does your product or service fit in with all of that? For all these individual people? I don't know, base.

Sam McNerney:

Let me make another distinction and then we can get to Grand Theft Auto. And by the way, I was I'm thinking about that famous Yogi Berra quote "oh, no one goes to that restaurant anymore. It's too popular" was and w w which is a point in the head of growth people's column because a local bar can't really be a local bar forever. It either dies or becomes too popular. And so again I laud and relate to the head of brand people. Cause I think they understand positioning and the importance of really knowing that thesis statement better. But risk being a little too abstract. So the distinction I wanted to make was between storytelling and being persuasive. I worked at a big creative agency publicists, as for four or five years, one of the accounts was red lobster, incidentally, and I got to work on it a little bit. Actually to your earlier point, one of their big challenges was to not come across too much as a special occasion type restaurant. Which obviously if you think of something as a special occasion, you inherently think of it as I'm not going to go there every night, that would ruin it. It's not a fancy steakhouse expensive, but it's above the middle. So kind of in a BMW range, if you had to map it onto car brands in terms of status. And anyways, it was during the time at publicist and working for clients like red lobster that I really started to hear this phrase story, you know, tell a story. And I mostly heard it as I was preparing for meetings internally and to clients. And in other words, a boss or colleague would say uh, as I was about to show them a few slides that revealed some insights that emerged from some survey based research what's your story here and really what they're not saying, tell me a story with a beginning, middle, and end. And all of that, what they're really saying is here's your opportunity to be persuasive on me. If you can convince me of the one thing that you're trying to get the client to believe then you might be able to actually accomplish that. So it was nearly synonymous with what's your point. And if you're reading in between the lines, I think you're also hearing the question, "hey, do you have one? Have you figured out your thesis statement?" Do you have an answer to the potential question, which actually people voice sometimes and think all the time, "what's the one thing I should take from this meeting?" And so again, this is internal within the agency world, what's your story really? It's just synonymous with, what's your point and have you put the time into having one? Because that's all that the client is going to care about or your colleague in the actual meeting. And then you can see how that kind of transfers over into LinkedIn. It's just better marketing, you don't want to say, "all great brands make a point." You want to say "all great brands tell a story." And you know, storytelling is like such a self-serving term for the ad world, I'll just speak on my industry or industry that's adjacent to what I do. It's it's like, oh, And of course they would use that term that, I they're ad people. They wouldn't say great brands are persuasive or great brands have a clear point. They'd say, great brands, tell a story. So it's a, both kind of a marketing term that naturally emerges from people who are marketers and a term used within the industry, really to push people to do everything they can to be persuasive, really to get someone to do something. Now this is not necessarily refuting what you just said about customer journeys and what brands are doing at large, but just reflecting on how that term was used at work and maybe that's why I'm thinking about it in these terms and why you might think I'm a little disillusioned and using the term too narrowly. Maybe I'm just, I've just heard it so much, or I just can't resist the urge and back up and be like, wait a minute, aren't stories those things with beginning middles and ends with protagonists and swords and shit, like why is everyone telling me to tell a story? Isn't what they really mean, "hey, be really persuasive and get the client to give you money." Because that is the goal.

Josh Boone:

Depends on that is your goal. Like for some people it's not. If you're using the bar analogy like, I, I largely agree with you, the local bar it dies or it's not the way that it used to be like, the cheers kind of thing. But there are differences. Like like in Asheville, North Carolina, there's a handful of bars where it's you have to be a local. Literally you have to have a North Carolina license ID, otherwise they just won't let you in. Um, I think if you're a local, you can bring one friend with you, that's it. There's a place locally here in Dayton, I'm a member of that you have to be a member to get into and it's invite only. You have to have at least two members that vet you and then you get in and they only have a couple hundred people that they allow and that's it. And then once they hit that number, that's it until somebody drops off or, whatever. So you can put governors on a place because those two places care about the experience they care about cultivating and experience more so than just money, because the, both of those bars are awesome and they definitely could make a tremendous more amount of money if they wanted to, but they don't because they want to cultivate an experience. I want to have a bar one day, that's how my bar will be. I will definitely, as long as it's profitable and it can be self-sustaining. I will prioritize the experience above all else, but that's just because I'm not looking at it as a business. I'm looking at it as a place that I would want to go, you know, and, and most businesses are not like that, but some are, you know, I feel like more local businesses are like that. Then, you know, a chain can't be that way. Uh, They can be to a point like, you know, the five guys example, Hey, we want to create a better experience. So we're going to have quality. And then we're going to give you a little bit extra and make you feel like you have a good time. So you can add elements of that. But I think that, it comes into, what are you prioritizing? What are you optimizing for? If you're a McDonald's, it's a bottom line for sure. I think that the growth marketer and the brand marketer are both correct, to your point, it's just time, differences, time horizons. And I think that they have to work collaboratively if you don't have a growth marketer and all you have is a brand marketer, unless you get really fucking lucky, you're probably not going to get the traction that you need to have the time horizon be long enough for you to actually appreciate the gains that you would get from the longterm brand work. You know, I I've seen this. There was a local restaurant. That was in my specific small town I grew up in, in Trotwood Ohio, which is a little suburb of Dayton. And it is it's gone through a really hard economic time. It used to be a nice middle-class little community. And then through some really bad bad decisions by the city, it went down pretty fast. And there was a little restaurant that was there and it was awesome. I mean, They were doing some really cool stuff. And I remember I went in there and I was like, dude, I'll help you, I want to help get the word out. Like this small little town, we need something like this here. I'm in marketing, I do this. I'll just help you out for free just because I want to see you go good. Cause I know he didn't have a lot of money and um, he's just like, honestly, no, it's fine. I don't need any help. He's like, "you know, if it's that good, word will spread and um, you know, it'll, it'll catch on." nine months later place went under and I'm like, dude, it's because nobody fucking knew it was there. And I'm just like, that's such a shame. And the thing is he's not a marketer, but he was thinking more in terms of the brand marketer, like creating a, not, not to say that brand marketer would be that shortsighted, but that he's thinking more about the long-term okay. If it's this thing I'm going to create the best customer experience possible. And if this is as good as it, I think it is it'll spread. The problem is that it didn't spread quick enough because the location was terrible for a place like that, but it could have worked, it could have been a destination spot, but you have to get the influencers that will convince enough people to come in. He didn't do any of that. So in that case, if you would have had a growth marketing mindset, gotten some initial traction and then transitioned more long-term to the branding, you could do that, but you have to get that traction to even just be able to survive before you can do that. And that's a big issue with startups that I work with is that they either don't focus on growth at all, or they don't focus on brand at all. They tend to do one or the other and the ones that are the most successful are able to synergistically, hate the fucking term, but holistically, I guess, uh, create the, the yeah. It's it together.

Sam McNerney:

I like, I'll give you the final word on this before we move on. But one last thing is just to comment on your ideal bar, I still think what you're doing there is picking a strategy to ensure longterm survival. At least I would just put it in those terms. I think you dress it up romantically, which is not to say it's invalid or there's nothing wrong with that. But and trust me, if I have the task of um, starting a bar, I would probably take that same route. The thought of successfully creating a national chain, it's just an absolute nightmare. So if anything, it just seems more doable, but I think that might be a good middle ground between the head of growth people and the head of brand people. Head of growth, people get to have their lunch and eat it too, because they are or sorry, let me start with a head of brand people. They get to check their boxes because it appears that they're really putting the company's reputation and priorities first before sales really before anything. As proven by the fact that, growth actually isn't the goal. The goal is to create this Cheers like atmosphere uh, and to never water it down. The head of sales people, I think they might see this as a really clever use of the scarcity bias. This is the McRib, you know, only available in November or the Shamrock shake only available during St Patrick's day. That the example from that I love to think about which I encountered maybe five or six years ago when I was first got into the agency world as a food truck guy. I think maybe I've mentioned this to you and right in Midtown Manhatten, uh, He only showed up on Tuesdays and one day I asked him, I was like, "why don't you come here more often? This is so good." He said, "I learned early on that if I stay in one place every day sales go down" w was really as an interesting example of where kind of the standard economic thinking might fall a little bit short. You know, You could see the McKinsey person too. If I can take a shot at McKinsey and it's billions of dollars of revenue, they would probably advise the ramping up of the food and a whole new pricing model and getting another food truck and all this stuff to, as he would say, kind of optimize their goals, which in this case would be money. His point is actually driving demand is really kind of the art of only giving people what they want and in very limited doses. So to me that's a, a very clever head of growth tactic. It's knowing how to use scarcity to, to get people to open up their wallets. Limited time only, call in the next 15 minutes. You can only come here if you have a driver's license from North Carolina or w whatever other examples of a bar might use, half off Tuesdays, if you want to get a little more gimmicky, but I liked the driver's license thing, because again, I think that splits the difference. It drives some urgency and drives a sale, but it all also at the same time sends a signal about the bars priorities. Anyways, I, like I said, I'm, if there's, if there's a last word in this, cul-de-sac feel, feel free.

Josh Boone:

Yeah. Um To me, I think it just comes down to, what are you optimizing for? You look at those different types of businesses. It's like, um, a startup, for example, we'll start with a regional, like a chain. So like a chain there's someone who is thinking very long-term and that the brand is going to be a much bigger part of it. If you're a Walmart, a McDonald's or you're a, Applebee's or whatever you're thinking long-term far more, and you're going to optimize for that. If you are a startup, for example, just depends. Is this is a startup where the founder is committed and saying, I'm I have no interest in selling, like a Jeff Bezos. Are you going to be a Jeff Bezos where you're like, I have no interest in selling this thing, I want to grow this. I want to become this major chain. Or is it more, I want to be the founder of this company and I want it to be really good. And I want to be able to exit in 5, 10 years and have this legacy. the majority of founders that I've known they have this idea where they just want to grow the thing four or five years and then exit. And the thing is, is that completely aligns with the VC interest. So venture capital, like a venture capital group is essentially going to say, okay, we're going to give you $2 million for your seed round. And then, see if you can survive and do well. And if you can hit these metrics, then you can raise another round. And you might go with the same VC firm. You might go with another, you want to get your series a round, which then maybe you'll get five, $10 million or whatever else you get a couple million dollars and you'll keep going up the ladder. The VC interest is that once it gets to year, 5, 6, 7, they're going to exit. And after the company has 100 X, they're going to pull out and they're going to be like, okay, we were profitable. We got our money. We're done. They don't really give a fuck for the most part. It would be best for them on their portfolio to say that we were the initial VC group that invested in Uber. You know, I'm sure all things equal, they would much rather have that on their portfolio. But ultimately they're doing it for the money, they don't really care. Unless they decide to keep some equity long-term. So the, the branding and the, the growth, what is your mix? And it comes down to the difference of priorities. Like a local spot could be, we just want to have this be cashflow. Like, They're just treating it like a business. Literally, they don't care about anything else. There's plenty of businesses around here that are like that. They're started up, the owner lets it run itself, and it's just bringing in a couple hundred thousand dollars a month and he's happy. They're happy, she's happy. It doesn't matter. Uh, Then you've got other things that are like, local restaurants that just want to do good food, make money and have good experiences. And then you've got much more boutique spots, like the bar that only wants locals where they are prioritizing the experience of the people that are there above all else. So it just comes down to like what are you optimizing for? And I think that kind of really depicts the amount of leverage that either one of those, the branding or the marketing or whatever, and even the story that you're telling. mean, I guess that's just my final thoughts

Sam McNerney:

One last plug is a New Yorker article by Atul Gawande, who's a physician. Uh, Hospital in Boston and it's about the Cheesecake Factory and how insanely efficient its kitchen is and what hospital administrators can learn from it. Uh, Namely these guys pump out like a entree, every 45 seconds. That's with like a 0.1% error rate. And he went in there. I was like, man hospitals can learn a lot from this. Um, Again maybe not so subtle defense cheesecake factory. Do you want me to um, tell you about the thing I liked about the grand theft auto?

Josh Boone:

Yeah.

Sam McNerney:

That you made this distinction, what was the acronym that you used for the players that aren't, that are in the back?

Josh Boone:

NPCs? non playable characters.

Sam McNerney:

Yeah, non-playable characters. I hadn't heard of that, but I kind of loved that cause you, you mapped out a few different consequences, and byproducts of living in a simulation or thinking that we live in a simulation. And one area, which I don't think you mentioned is depression and anxiety. And what I'm really nodding to is the move that the existentialists made in the late 19th century. By the way, there's a awesome uh, Lex Friedman podcast on existentialism with Sean Kelly.

Josh Boone:

Yeah, I just listened to that. It

Sam McNerney:

guy, uh, I've had a superficial knowledge of this stuff at best. You know, I took, took existentialism as a class way back when, you know, they talk for two or three hours about everything from Kierkegaard to David Foster Wallace and Moby Dick. And it's a really nice overview. But anyways, one of the themes that they talk about, which I think is if I'm remembering this correctly, is what happens when you remove organized religion and God from the equation. And what happens when you kill God, which means your famously did. And what was he doing there? And to just categorize this shift in more kind of practical everyday terms. I think the point that he was making is it's not that people just stopped believing in this stuff or that church attendance was going down, but that there was a pretty fundamental replacement of priorities. From, you know, Following the rules and staying in line with tradition and that the church being the main location and the town square and the status level of the priest. Those things are really shoved to the side in place of employment, salary, status. To tie this back to marketing, Listerine's first campaigns are at 1910, 1920s, I think. And they basically said, you have really bad breath and no one's speaking up. uh, Which is kind of a clever way to really boost oral hygiene. Uh, You pull on the social anxiety lever, not the, Hey, you don't have to go to the dentist lever, and then there's also a big shift in, to make this more Eurocentric, how a Christian would view a non-Christian. Namely not as an "other" that whose, murder would is perfectly and obviously justifiable cause they're an "other" but, but as a, you know, a member of humanity. This is early 20th century, you're talking league of nations. So, So there's a huge shift in terms of day-to-day priorities, how the other is viewed, the role of the priest and all of that. And again, the Sean and Lex cover this way better, but the, one of the consequences of this shift is, you know, potentially raising levels of anxiety and depression. Secularism I, and the enlightenment ideals I'll defend until the end, but in the spirit of critical thinking and following the evidence, there's certainly not without their downsides. And we really need to pay attention to them in order to, make the world a better place. So I like your distinction because it's just it's a big difference if you're the main player in that video game, versus the player in the background. Because I'm okay with being in a simulation if I'm the main protagonist, but I am not okay if I'm the guy in the background, just, programed to basically walk in circles until I'm interacted with. In other words, just completely programming my purpose towards some other person. The total removal of not just freewill but agency. And so I'm just curious if maybe this kind of roughly maps on to what the existentialists were talking about. Namely the shift from thinking that you're the protagonist to realizing that no, you're just doing loops in a world that doesn't really have a purpose for you, and there's basically nothing you can do about it. And, you know, they get into how, like Sartre and Camu responded to this and, you know, The role of free will and what responsibilities you do have and why individual choice becomes so much more important and how you can build your own essence from what you do in this life and all that. But here's what I put to you is it is the scary thing about a simulation. Not that we're living in one, but what type of actor we are within that simulation. Did we get cast in the lead role that matters or not? Cause that, that's the thing that would worry me. I mean, I would take the red pill if I was, given a leading role. The red pills the one that removes him from the matrix of if I remember, right?

Josh Boone:

Yeah. I mean, So you would only take the red pill if you were Neo,

Sam McNerney:

Yeah, of course.

Josh Boone:

But if you were some NPC, you're like, nah.

Sam McNerney:

Exactly, that's well put because you know, your Neo, I mean, he's this dedicated his whole life and then, he gets special attention. Morpheus is trying to find him. So it's like, of course you'd take it in that, but what if you're not him? Would you still do it? And Morpheus was just like handing these things out, like flyers on like, like, like the way that those flyers are handed out in the Las Vegas strip. It's like, "I don't know about this." So again, my question to you is I think that's maybe a decent way of characterizing what's happened in the last, say a few hundred years or so. And the, really the scary implication of a simulation that that's, that's what it would be for me.

Josh Boone:

Well, I have some distinctions there with the whole NPC and being the lead role. But let's start with the thing that you started with, which is the depression and anxiety, which I definitely understand. There's people that I've known in my life that were not very religious at all. They just didn't give a fuck about religion, but they dealt with a lot of addictions and they dealt with a lot of mental health issues. And then they found a religion, more often than not Christianity, but that's just the flavor that is the most popular here, and they got better. Every single time they had an addiction craving, they would, you know, say they would submit themselves. It's a very common phrase they would say. Which I gotta be honest with you. I, I'm not passing judgment. But for me personally is kind of a disgusting idea. Like to submit to anything or anybody, maybe it's because I'm Type A, maybe it's some sort of weird psychological issue that I have. But to bend the knee, if you will, to anybody or anything is about the last thing I will ever fucking do. Part of me would rather die, honestly. But this is a reoccurring theme. They will basically, submit and say, "Hey, I'm, I'm here. Tell me what to do." And it's the relinquishing of responsibility, and it's the relinquishing of control that alleviates a good amount of anxiety and depression for them, because they don't want to have free will in a way, in my opinion, they want to have a script, that they can color within the lines, they can color whatever the hell they want. They can color however they want. They can pick any color they want, but there are lines that they have to stick within it. As long as they stick within those, they're good. And they will get an A on that paper. And me, I don't give a fuck about lines. Like I don't care. I want to make the weirdest abstract thing ever. And I don't care if there's a grade at the end, because I look at life as "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", like the points don't matter, they're made up. It doesn't matter. So to me, all that is irrelevant and I think is missing the point of life personally, because they are putting governors on themselves to kind of constrict their experiences, but they might need that to be able to cope. And that's fine, for somebody like myself. You know, I always, always uh, related to Dr. House the show and it's because he's a militant atheist and his entire life he's just kind of questioning, you know, that's part of what is depression and anxiety is just coping, feeling like an alien among people. And what is the point of all this? He's constantly in pain. And the only reason he's really there, if I remember the show correctly, that the only reason he really continues living is that he's able to help people. And the only reason he cares about helping people is because some shaman when he was a kid was able to heal somebody and he's oh, that's power. Even if he wasn't a liked person, nobody gave a shit about that shaman until that dude broke his leg or whatever and then they went to the shaman and he healed this person. And he's like, so I can be an unlikable person, but at least I'll be respected, and at least I'll have a spot. You know, To him, if you're thinking about that hunter gatherer like tribe mentality, he knew he was never going to be a liked person, but his survival was guaranteed if he was useful. So I look at all these things and it's like him being a doctor, I think was his way of having control over his life and feeling like there's meaning. But even without having that larger layer, that larger existential layer of a God or creator or someone who is larger than him. He deals with this depression and this anxiety that cripples him. Some people they can alleviate that with, like the early examples of religion or whatever, get answers for me. I, that is never going to help me because I inherently am skeptical and don't believe in it. So to me, I feel like religion is a sort of a tribal and then later cultural and societal hack to make people be able to not question and not have to have like how much fucking bandwidth, if you are someone who is an atheist or agnostic, how much fucking bandwidth over the course of your life, do you just think about what the meaning of life is and why are we here? I mean, Literally that's almost all philosophy. People dedicate their entire lives to that, but if you're someone who's religious and you just accept this teaching, you kind of like, okay well, I got my answers. I don't, I don't, I don't even really need to know anymore. It's like the difference between someone who commits suicide and one person leaves a note and the other one, doesn't. The person that doesn't leave a note, you're always questioning what the fuck went through their head. Why did they do this? But if somebody leaves a suicide note, you at least have some resolution. You have some sort of indication of why they did it. You have some answers. And I would venture to say that having a suicide note probably would help a little bit. It's always going to hurt, but at least you have some answer. And I think that is the same larger thing that we're grappling with what is the point of all this? And if you have an answer, I feel like that saves a lot of bandwidth. Um, So that's the first thing. The second is the distinction with the NPC, freewill, and lead roll is, I don't actually think it matters, to be honest with you. If we're using this in terms of a video game, back in the day everything was like scripted because we didn't have a relatively complex algorithms for NPCs. Like we just didn't have that. So everything was scripted. But then as you went along pretty quickly video games had algorithms. And then over time you had games like spore and stuff like that, where things were just organically created and every single level and every single character uh, you know, you have these RPGs that famously are different every time you play them. because you have all of these non playable characters that are given a tremendous amount of variability in what they can do and how they can do it. And sometimes the character models themselves are actually different and the characters personalities are different, but they play a similar role. And so you can keep playing this game endlessly and never really get the same kind of result. So how is that different from baseline reality that we know it like literally, if you look at objective baseline reality, none of these alternative realities, but just the basic objective reality that as a society overall establish. The world is round, all this other crap and you just look at reality for what it is, how is it any fucking different? Every single one of us is born with a certain amount of skillsets or prerequisites. So for example, DNA, like you genetically are predispositioned to perhaps have dark hair. You know, we were talking about 23 and me before we started recording and it's like, you can look up your genetic makeup and you kind of know like, if you are a character in a video game, you have a certain amount of starting traits, and you have that by default. Then you are able to influence that by the influences that are around you, and then you organically become this person. I tend to believe that we don't actually have free will because you have no choice in your genetic makeup, where you're born ,or a large portion of what happens to you until you have some sort of agency. So you are basically at the whim of all these things. And then once you have that, you are basically a result of all of that, all of the neurotransmitters that are all firing and affecting you in all these different ways. So you, every single decision that you're making is based on these things that are largely out of your control. I think we've talked about once before I don't remember if it was on a recorded or not, but, we talked before about how there's this parasite that is spread through cat piss and kids will particularly in the south kids will walk around and they will from cats they will get this parasite. Which it's really interesting because the cats will get to mice and the mice will get this parasite, and it will actually make them attracted sexually attracted to the cats. And then they will actually go after the cats and the cats will eat them. And then the parasite will then populate and grow within the bladder of the cat and then humans get it. And it actually, I think they said like eight out of 10 people that get in motorcycle accidents, something like that have this parasite, because it makes you far more reckless and have a higher variability of the kind of decisions that you'll make. And a overwhelming amount of people that are in prison also have this parasite. So do those people actually have free will? Because this parasite is actually influencing their decision-making and they completely are unaware that this is happening. And we're increasingly finding evidence of of the severity of the influence of the gut-brain axis. How the the bacteria and the yeast and everything that you have in your intestines is actually changing your brain chemistry and giving people, anxiety and depression. So then they do a fecal transplant from somebody that has a healthy microbiome. It'll populate the person's micro gut biome, and then actually their anxiety and depression will lessen. Uh, Sometimes they'll just start losing weight after that happens, are you responsible? Like how does that anxiety and that depression that is out of your control affecting every single decision that you make? So my point is that, I don't think that we're any different than an NPC or this organically created thing, where we don't have free will. And I think that something like the video game analogy or a simulation or whatever, is just a fancy layer that people put on to try and make some sort of sense out of it. But whether it, we are in a video game or simulation, or whether we're not, it's exactly the same, it's the exact same thing. It's just, we're putting a different layer, a different perspective on it. So as far as like with the lead role or not, it doesn't really matter. In my opinion, it doesn't really matter.

Sam McNerney:

There's definitely, I mean, I definitely will grant you that with respect to free will, the distinction is without a difference, and we can just keep piling on the evidence here. The other train of thought that comes to mind is the Michael Sandel, I think he's philosophy professor at Harvard, probably a colleague of Sean Kelly. uh, His kind of argument against the meritocracy. And he raises these questions, like how much credit does LeBron James really deserve? Now the gut reaction is a ton cause he worked really hard. And that's putting it lightly. The guy dedicated his entire life to being the best possible version of himself. He's worked harder at his craft than nearly anybody else and the level of work all those other people have put towards their craft. But then you back up and you start with things like genetics and even the time in which he was born. If you roll the I, I dice a di with as many sides as there have been years with modern humans on earth. So let's just call that a 200,000 year sided die. What are the odds that the 20th century comes up or any period of time in which there's this thing called basketball, and that it's extremely lucrative. The odds are zero, so he got lucky on the chronological fronts, on the genetic front. And you could also uh, probably make me make some comments about where he was born on earth. So you lucked out on the chronological lottery, the genetic lottery. Oh, and by the way, you weren't born in Saudi Arabia or the Seychelles, you were born in Ohio. And guess what, here's the good news. Your public school is free and it has a basketball program. And so it's oh my God, like this guy just hit three jackpots in a row, and then you look at all of his hard work. Yeah, that matters, but man, like that is contingent on a series of insanely improbable events happening. So anyways, he has a good, um, some good commentary and thinking around, meritocracy and how we think about credit and individual work ethic and luck. Also a lot of good stuff on moral luck, how much credit do you deserve for being an outstanding person, given the culture that you were born into, et cetera, et cetera. And anyways, there's this nice overlap with what you're saying, which is that the case for free, we'll just gets weaker and weaker. And we haven't even brought up just, the physics 1 0 1, which is that it's really impossible. You really have to break basically every physical law in, in any textbook written since Newton in order to have, a plausible case for free will. So you'd have to wipe out like 400 years of science. So I definitely will grant you that it's a distinction without a difference. I think that if there is a distinction though it's in the category of belief and again, whether free will or not. I think that definitely matters. In other words, the story that you carry around about yourself matters, and I would rather carry around the story that I'm the protagonist then, some drone just doing loops until this whole thing is unplugged. Uh, And I will take, I will take the protagonist story in exchange for this whole thing running on some hard drive in God knows where, and any day of the week. And I think we've all kind of collectively taken that trade off. So the trade-off more explicitly is " "would you rather live in a world in which you know the nature of it, you know the origins of that universe, but you have a zero purpose, you're completely programmed into whatever you're doing uh, or, or would you rather not get the secrets of the universe, but have the belief that you know, the little flicker of consciousness that is active in your mind and will only be active for, you know, 80, 90 years is you and it's special, and you have a sense of agency. I would take that second option, like any day of the week and here, and maybe this is where I'm the least scientific version of myself or I'm foregoing the secrets of the universe in exchange for this intangible, probably irrational belief about myself. In other words, it's maybe a better model is like the background characters in The Truman Show, where yeah they have their loops and they have no inherent purpose other than to do the loop and to be in the background, but at the end of the day, they go back home, outside of The Truman Show into the so-called "real world." And you might say again, like maybe there's no real distinction between those two roles, their role as an actor and their role outside of the Truman show. But to me there is, which is this belief, like they, they have this strong conviction that one thing they do is real. And one thing they do isn't and they can make that distinction. So I think that's an important thing that we should all have and maybe again, to tie this back, there are consequences to not having that distinction. To kind of, you know, throwing up your arms and saying like, "Hey, uh, nothing really matters." you know, you don't want to go down that path too much because you kind of end up in the David Foster Wallace territory where you really put a lot of the burden on your kind of conscious mind to. Choose, w where to see meaning and how to be empathetic and how to interact with other people. And that's just a lot to do. That's just a lot to put on the individual.

Josh Boone:

I mean, How do you wrestle with that yourself? Like for me it's a constant questioning. I don't see anything in life as black and white, at all. Nothing, even something like the most horrible things imaginable. I still am always looking at the context of "why?" Why somebody's like, why is this happening or whatever. Like, I don't see a single thing as black and white. And so that means when you exist in a moral gray area, perpetually everything is a question and everything is something to ponder about and investigate. And obviously, I mean, speaking just for myself, I think over time you develop enough layers, where you can very quickly run that algorithm and come to those conclusions and it gets quicker and faster as you age. At least for me it has, and maybe that'll change at some point. Maybe I'll have some sort of defining shift in my perspective. Some people, for example, like I mentioned earlier, when they become religious, that completely changes their algorithm entirely. I don't foresee something like that happening for myself, but who knows? So, you know, Like with that you're still constantly running that algorithm. And I don't, I don't know, I wouldn't really want to exist in a world where everything was binary, which is why I find all this stuff happening in our political and societal landscape so confusing. I don't understand why people want to live in a world where things are very clearly defined because that removes so much meaning I feel. It's it's, I, It kind of goes back to the red lobster thing. If you go to red lobster for a special occasion, we don't want to go there every night of the week. You don't even want to go there once a week because it robs it at the point. So if everything's black and white: those people are bad, we're good, that's wrong, this is right. You're basically like in the fucking Truman show. You have all the answers, that defeats the entire purpose of life to me. My own personal understanding of it, in relation to it is that it's like jazz, man, you can just do whatever the fuck you want. It's the reason why I like podcasting, said it in like the first couple of episodes. Like you just get to do whatever you want. There's no rules. You and I could do whatever the fuck we want in this conversation right now and it could be a beautiful mess, and I love that. And we could do whatever we want in post if we wanted to. We could put music behind it, we could do crazy crap. We could do whatever the fuck you want. And that's what makes it meaningful. If everything was like the Moth Radio Hour or fucking whatever, it's like, I would, I would not listen to podcasts. That'd be boring as shit. It it's, It's odd. It reminds me of one of the conversations that you and I had about conservatism and how as a father now kind of grown to appreciate a little bit more consistency in your life, but it's like, I think there's people that are just predispositioned to wanting things, to be consistent and uniform. And there's other people that are like me that are in the complete opposite end of the spectrum and love the beautiful chaos and ambiguity of life. So I don't think there's one size fits all. I think it's just, again, it goes back to the video game, like prerequisites, like I have very different prerequisites than someone who, is militant about their beliefs and prioritizes consistency and conformity above all else.

Sam McNerney:

So my it's funny that you mentioned the fatherhood and conservatism, because my answer to your question about, Hey, okay, what are we gonna do about all? This is one answer is have kids. And if I had to put it in terms that you wouldn't like, cause they're a little black and white, it would be, it would be this trade off. It's, okay, you're going to get a lot of your free time, and you know, the fun that you derive from doing the things that you want and having a great social life. If if I can be a little dramatic here, you know, completely removed, but in exchange, you're going to get something. And what you're going to get in return is the feeling that you'll never ever have any sort of questions about what your purpose or meaning is, and you won't die alone. So would you take that trade? I, again, it's really between kind of first world pleasures, not necessarily sex drugs and rock and roll, but just the type of pleasures that someone in their twenties probably receives a few times a week and doesn't realize how good it is until they've taken the other side of this trade. Now on the other side, it's not fun. You don't , I mean, that that is a lot to give up, but just think about what you got in return. And I'll speak speaking for myself here. There's an upside into shifting in, into this world because you've shifted from a gray world to a black and white world a little bit, with respect to meaning and purpose. So you know, of course I agree with you when it comes to like art and, reading books and thinking about the nature of the universe. It's man, like how did all those people that lived under the Pope for all those centuries do it? When you can be accused of thought crime, you're not really going to let your mind wander and create something, whether it's a painting or a book that kind of emerges from, the reverie or wherever your mind goes. So, I'm with you on that one. I mean, I mean, decent argument to make that, you know, that kind of opening up of the mind and the grain of, I don't know, call it a culture and the rules is just played an absolutely essential role in the Renaissance. Um, But with respect to meaning and purpose, I don't know if I want that to be too gray and that's why I liked this trade. Because it's not that it's settled, what's my purpose or what's my meaning. It's just that it's irrelevant. There, there is no point in me asking those questions. It's a waste of time. Why is it a waste of time? Well, And this is where I said, it's funny that you mentioned the fatherhood conservative conservatism kind of shift, not politically, but more in terms of valuing routine and that sort of thing. You just don't have the luxury of thinking about those topics when, you know, you got to get them out the door, you got to get them fed, you got to get them to the pediatrician. You have to make sure in general, they're just doing well. You have to make sure that they're learning English in my case. You have to make sure that, you know, if you shift from them having a nanny to them being in daycare, that it's as seamless as possible. And so again I could just, there's quite a bit to think about, and this is just one, this is just one child. And so I'm not saying, oh, suddenly I found my purpose in life. Just saying it is very stupid to think about that question. It is completely irrelevant. I don't understand why someone would, unless they're like 25 and they have like a decent job and maybe they're in a relationship, maybe not, but it's, they're in a situation where unfortunately they have the luxury of all this of time and resources. So they're going to, as David Foster Wallace did, if, maybe this is unfair, like really overthink the grocery store experience. And, again, there's a, there's some downsides to the living in a gray world and I think that's one of them. So that's kind of my that's kind of the answer of what to do with all of this is really it's is um, you know, think about having kids. It's not gonna solve every problem, but it's going to render a lot of stuff, like completely pointless and irrelevant, and that has some upsides that are worth taking seriously.

Josh Boone:

So a counterpoint to that is having kids as a means of giving yourself purpose can also basically mean that you are just transferring that existential weight onto your kids. I've known a lot of people that have become parents and essentially they don't have a reason for living. So then they have a kid and. They put everything into that kid. And a lot of the time they are putting all their expectations and they're living through their child. And then you grow up with all that expectations. You know, I've known several people where, they're, they're pressed into, you know, it's the, the, the tired thing where, the kid is a pianist or a violinist, or they play basketball or whatever, and they're not even that passionate about it, but now the parents are like, " this is the right way, this is what you need to do." Or the more socially acceptable and seemingly benign, but just as dangerous like, you know, go to school and be a doctor, be a lawyer, be something that's, whatever. It's these are people that are basically putting their values onto their kids or they are putting their purpose into their kids. And they're not really living for themselves or their own life. So I'm not saying that's what you're doing. It seems like you have a very healthy perspective on it, but there's a lot of people that take that to perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum. That is just as, I would say, more destructive than the David Foster Wallace, because he's only affecting himself. Whereas in this circumstance of a unhealthy parent who is pretty much purely living for being a parent and nothing else. Now you're, you're infecting that kid and their experience. And I know a lot of people that even in their thirties and their forties and their fifties are still wrestling with the downstream effects of that. So that's one element, and I'm not saying that's what you were saying, but I think that's a hard line to walk and it's not as simple as just have kids. And again, not saying that's what you're saying. So that's one thing, the other element is, and, and, and, you know, I've talked to them extensively with Zaid uh, our mutual friend is, knowing what your, your own personal reason for living and knowing what you're optimizing for, I think is extremely important. If you want to optimize for having a kid and saying, "Hey, I want this kid to have the best life possible", in a healthy way. Not that you're doing the negative thing, but you're just saying, I want to try and create the best life possible for my kid. And then I want them to do whatever the fuck they want to do with their life. I think that's a very healthy perspective. That's not really mine. Maybe that will change over time as I get older, but that's not really been an instinct that I've ever had. And I see so many people, professionally and personally, they feel lost in life, and they feel like they don't know what they should be doing because they don't ask themselves "why am I living?" And what is the purpose of this? And I think that can be a fluid thing. It's always been fluid for me. My purpose has changed so many times, but I like the fluidity of it. If I had a set answer, I think I would just get bored. And that's not to say that that is inherent. I think you can be a parent and be content with that, and then being able to color within those lines and being perfectly content. Part of me envies that to a degree, but that's just never been me. So I think that there's another end of the spectrum, of like, just like how there's an unhealthy end of the being a parent and making that your entire life and purpose. I think there's also on the David Foster Wallace end I think there's a healthy perspective on that as well as that the not having a definitive governor in place, like having a kid and even with having a kid, I don't think it's mutually exclusive, but constantly questioning what your meaning for living is, I think can get you a better life. Because it can make you see that, Hey I'm not really living my life to the fullest. My, Uh, my enjoyment and my satisfaction are not what they could be. And I think people get into this fucking rut where life is good enough and they accept that. And I think that's sad because, I treat life like it is a video game and the essence that you can just do whatever the fuck you want. So if you can just do whatever the fuck you want, why live a boring life? Why live the unfulfilling life? I should say. You know? So I think that there is definitely a benefit within reason to having that fluidity and purpose and constantly questioning. I, I, at least once a year in December, most of the time, I like December because it's the holidays and everything shuts down in the business world. Like everyone's spending time with family. No, one's expecting you to be on call professionally. No one bothers you, if you have a job like you and I, like nobody, nobody expects you to get back to them on really the week of Christmas at all. And for me, I take two to four weeks off, usually that time, and I just kind of reflect. And it also happens to be the time that, Bowie died. But that's been very, very beneficial for me. I mean, almost every year since I started doing that, which was 2016 when Bowie died. I've every single year I've actually made pretty large changes after that period. And it's been very beneficial for me personally, for other people. It might not be, but it is for me.

Sam McNerney:

I am thinking about a, this passage from a Phillip K Dick book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer". I haven't read the book, but I read the passage and it goes something like this, you're sitting in bed and, in this case, the protagonist I think, is, is in bed. And he's wondering, did I leave the lights on the car in the garage? So he goes to the garage and he checks and the lights are off. So then he goes back to bed and then he's sitting in bed again and then thinking maybe there's something wrong with the wiring. And just in the moment that I was in the garage, the lights were off, but then they flickered back on again, I'm going to go back and check. So it goes back and checks and the lights are still off. So then he goes back to bed and really the passage is about how this is kind of like a radical imperialists perspective on the world. Which is to say he gets caught in this endless loop of not knowing. And there's really no scenario in which he can be satisfied that the lights in which he can know that the lights are off. And I think that there's a few different ways you can read this one, for our purposes is that it's a decent metaphor for, let's just, modern life to, to paint in broad strokes. And which is to say that you're caught checking. Maybe we can say in a literal sense, like checking your phone maybe or checking a feed. Uh, And it's just endless and you have to do it. And the byproduct is you have totally neglected trying to find some meaning or purpose, you know, actually doing something. And so I bring this up because, what do you do about this situation? I, there's a tech solution. Uh, you know, There's this app, there's a whole bunch of these. I think one is something called it's called, grow a tree. What you do is you plant a seed and the longer you don't check your phone, the more the tree grows. And at a certain point, if it grows enough, the company donates some money to plant trees. And now I'm pretty skeptical of, throwing a tech solution, a tech problem that seems like you're just kind of bribing people in a different way. Which kind of brings me to route number two, which would be, organized religion, but that's kind of hard to pull off and in the 21st century, and then route number three is kind of what you mentioned and were Zaid is really good. And that's, I'd phrase it this way, finding a vocation, you might call it a calling, but it's more than a job and it's even more than a career. And the person that I absolutely love here is this guy named Matthew B. Crawford. He has a PhD in political philosophy, but he spends most of his time fabricating motorcycles. He's a, a mechanic and he has a shop in Virginia, I think. And he's got a cool story. He got his PhD at university of Chicago, worked at a think tank out of college, realized that he spent most of his time. I think in his, in, in his words, "projecting the image of rationality without indulging in any real thinking", which I love that. Um, In other words, he was, you know, and you might say he was doing marketing uh, versus actually building something. And anyways, he then left that job and has since written a few books about really the benefits of, not just working with your hands because he's not pitting uh, you know, manual labor against white collar jobs. What he's challenging really is the idea of the knowledge worker and the assumption that, you know, if you find a job a lot of these questions will take care of themselves. And so he really leans into the value of doing something that you can see has a real effect in the world and the value of feedback. And there's, there's quite a lot of creativity involved in fixing something like a broken motorcycle engine. So namely you have to solve a problem. And it's not obvious what the uh, problem is, and it's not obvious what the solution is. But it's really rewarding because you're actually manipulating the world and seeing the consequences and really gaining a sense of mastery over, over whatever your domain is. He um, kind of plots out this type of thinking, which I hope I'm doing justice and three books shop classes. So class the the world beyond your head and his most recent one, which I'm blanking on the name, but it was really excellent. Anyways, the point is like a vocation is a way out of the endless loop and this is something I relate to quite a bit. And I also can't take credit for I don't know why I really like doing the type of work that I do. It's just there. But nonetheless I relate to it now. Here's the question I'll put back at you. And I think this is, this is the hardest route because if you don't have an obvious vocation what are you supposed to do? You can't will yourself into liking an activity. You can take the, I'm going to try a bunch of stuff and see what I like approach, which, could just be a huge waste of time. The most helpful thing I've done here. And this brings us back to Zaid is, getting to know people and working with people and having them help you figure out how to articulate the thing that you like, in other words, kind of get your own marketing right. Because there's a tremendous amount of value in. Just reframing your own narrative. It's like, oh, now I actually know what I'm doing. Now I know what's at stake and nothing really changed other than the rewiring of the story you were telling about yourself. But that, that requires like one-on-one consultation with someone who's really good at pulling out those types of, you know, helpful insights and asking great questions. It's not something that you can export a scale in the way that religion does. But anyways, that, as I said, vocation is the route I endorse. But to me, it's the hardest one because you have to get really lucky, both in discovering the thing that you really like and working with and finding people that bring that out of you.

Josh Boone:

Yeah, I, um, there's a lot of different trains there. So a common question that I've heard, particularly among younger people, I've actually heard this question pose quite a lot to Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary Vaynerchuk tends to really, at least recently really catered his messaging towards a younger audience. I think that's what he gets the most passion out of. I think a lot of people misunderstand Gary Vee. And if you look at it, in terms of him trying to be kind of a motivational figure for younger people, I think it makes a lot of sense, but Gary V often talks with younger kids and they'll ask him like, okay I'm not passionate about something, uh, How do I find that? And I forget how he articulates it, but my perspective on it is essentially, I don't really think it matters. I think you just need to try things. If you would have asked me about any of the stuff that I'm most passionate about when I first tried it, I couldn't imagine being as passionate about it as I am now. Like marketing, for example, marketing was a tool for me. I just stumbled into it. I basically got into graphic design when I was like 12 and just messed around with early Photoshop and crap like that. I got into web design and then I wanted to have a website to build and I'm like I don't know what to build a website for. So I'm going to do one for my dad's tree service is just a test, you know? and then I did it. Next thing I know I'm freelancing. Next thing I know I have an agency. Next thing I know I'm a consultant, and I'm a marketing professional. I'm a marketing expert. How the fuck did I happen? I actually wanted to be a filmmaker. Part of the reason why I kept doing marketing is because, I'm like, I don't want to be a starving artist. I don't want to, you know, have to go to, Hollywood and deal with all that crap because I talked to people that had done that and they seem miserable. I'm like I wanted to be an indie filmmaker. And if I can make money doing marketing and be financially independent in that way, and I can have my art and I can work on that on the side and finance it, and I can learn how to do my own marketing. I don't need a studio. I don't need to go the traditional route. That was my thought process. I ended up just going full blown into marketing. I never even, I messed with film a little bit in the essence that we did video work at my agency, but I never made a feature. I never did any of that stuff. And I'm okay with that. I got passionate about marketing, but it was only because I kept at it and I started finding how I could be creative within it and how it could be innovative within it. It's like you're either someone who's an artist or you're not. The craft doesn't fucking matter. It doesn't matter if you're a violinist, a cellist, a guitar player, a singer, a songwriter, a painter, you make fucking NFTs. Like it doesn't matter. Like you're an artist, and I'm someone who's creative in a lot of ways. Everything I do is a creative project. Like I make music, I write lyrics. I consider these podcasts to be very creative because I'm not only having these conversations, but I'm writing intros that are very long and then I'm producing them. Like even my website is a creative process. And those are all things that I don't think if you would've told me before I started doing it, I'd be passionate about. The podcasting is one thing that I, it just I'm naturally, it makes sense that I would be passionate about, but just about every other thing I mentioned are things that I wouldn't have thought I would have been passionate about. I think that you just have to try a lot of shit. And I think that a lot of people are very scared to try new things and they're scared to take chances and they don't actually try anything long enough to know the inner workings of it, to feel like they could master it or become innovative or see it as an art form. So that's one thing, as far as getting satisfaction from the vocation. I think that there's a healthy way of looking at it, which is what I hope that I'm embodying now, but for a long time, I embodied a very toxic version of it, but I wasn't aware of it. I think Anthony Bourdain is probably the best cautionary tale on that. He was an addict and he was using that that extreme and that addiction to accomplishing things or doing his art in the best way possible to the point of exhausting himself. And he was always running because he didn't want to have to sit with himself because he was uncomfortable with himself. And people that make their the entirety of their life around that. That was me up until, I don't know, the last year, really, if I'm being honest with myself. I was giving myself all of these carrots to keep myself distracted from the larger thing. And the most uncomfortable thing in the last year has just been, I have to sit with myself and I'm passionate about what I do, but it's not like the only reason that I live whereas before it kind of was. And one last point is you mentioned the lightswitch, you know, is the light on. And, as someone who has mild OCD, that has been my and occurrence that I've had a lot, I constantly will leave the house and be like, fuck that. I leave the stove on, oh, fuck. That. I locked the back door and it's become a joke with my fiance, and some of my friends, like I have to go double check everything. And why I bring that up is because I've had to, I've had to have kind of governors for that. And I've had to have safety checks where I'm like, okay, I'm going to point at this thing or I'm going to count, or I'm going to do these things. And then when I leave, I know that I did it, and that relieves a lot of anxiety. For me every year I sit down and I do that couple of weeks or that month where I question, "is what I'm doing with my life, still serving me? Am I optimizing for the right things?" If I did that every single day, if I did that every single week, I did every single month, I would be in decision paralysis and I'd be miserable when I would be in that David Foster Wallace it category. Instead, what I tell myself is that I'm not going to check in for at least six months. I've decided what I'm going to be doing. I'm probably not going to change it much over the next year. If I have a reason, six months from now, the check-in, I will, most of the time I don't. Unless there's a major life occurrence, something major happens. Okay. Think it's reasonable, anybody if they had a major life cards, you question things, but otherwise I just say, "Hey, for the next six to 12 months, I'm just going to stay this course. See where it goes." And I think that's an input governor. And I think that's the middle ground, man. I think, I think it just comes back to governors. You have to figure out governors and set that. Like Bourdain didn't give himself governors. He was constantly chasing the next thing, that dude was traveling like 250 to 300 days out of the year. If I were him, I would have said I'm only traveling a hundred days out of the year. And then I need to have periods of time every year where I'm just with my family or whatever if he would installed those governors, maybe he'd be alive, you know, maybe, but it was his inability to set those governors. And to me, that's that he's, that's the great cautionary tale. you

Sam McNerney:

Yeah, let me see if I can merge two streams here. And and maybe we can bring this into the end zone. The thing, thinking back to the head of growth and head of brand debate, you know, it's popular right now within the world of online retailers to apply a sabermetrics type, thinking to all those e-commerce metrics. By that, you know, the context here is in the early two thousands, the uh, Oakland athletics hired a bunch of stats majors and I think fired a bunch of old school Scouts and really treated building a baseball roster as trying to optimize runs per dollar spent. And at that point in baseball history, that, you know, there's just tons of stats that turned out to not really be that meaningful in terms of getting that runs per dollar spent ratio, optimized, things like batting average versus on base percentage things like batting average versus slugging percentage, which ways of single double, triple and home run. And then since then, there's just been a really remarkable explosion and in terms of introducing even more precision into this equation. For example, you know, weighing outs in terms of how difficult they are seems obvious in hindsight. But there's a big difference between an easy ground ball to the pitcher versus, you know, a liner in the gap that a really fast outfielder catches with after leaving his feet. And so that's just one example is really thinking about outs in terms of probability. You know, you know, What are the odds that any given outfielder would catch that ball versus what are the odds any given infielder would have fielded that grounder. And anyway, so you can see the parallels here with the e-commerce world. I mean, you know, this better than anyone, where the data that never really speaks for itself. There's some subjectivity involved in deciding what to measure in the first place. You and I have talked about weighing bounce rate. Now, did someone leave? Cause they didn't like the brand. Did someone leave because they were indifferent, or did someone leave but with a really great impression, but they just left? Same with abandoned cart, did someone abandon their cart because of the, a bad user interface or was just a Monday afternoon and they were uh, feeling adventurous and wanting to get to the very end of the purchase just to see what it would feel like but they never actually had an intention to buy the thing in the first place. They were just like killing time at the, or being like,

Josh Boone:

Getting your rocks off, like trying to fake buy something.

Sam McNerney:

I know, what else are you going to do when it's Monday afternoon? So now here's the counterpoint to all of this is that I'm not sure that the sabermetrics approach to e-commerce is the best comparison. I And it might seem like it, I mean, After all you're, you're trying to optimize the marketing dollars spent per sale. But I don't think that maps on to, salary per run. I think it's more if you're working in analytics for a baseball team, it's more like optimizing for ticket sales, with a catch and the catches, not everyone really cares about goals or runs. So you could optimize for goals, but that might alienate a huge part of your potential fans. Cause what the fans actually care about is like the style of play and the color of the uniforms and who's on your roster and yeah goals matter, like the fans want to watch something that's you know generally appealing and competent, but it's not actually that relevant. The fans also look at who the other fans are like, is the guy that likes this like me? In other words, it goes from a science problem to like a social science problem and it gets way more complex. It gets way harder. And now, so essentially you've moved from the head of growth people to head of brand people. Where you are drifting away from stuff that's easy to measure and important, no doubt. And moving towards stuff, that's harder to measure, but maybe more important in the long run. And that's why I'm thinking about this in response to what you were just talking about is at some point we all need to do that is to step back and think, wait, like is optimizing for runs the most important thing here? You know, What about ticket sales and what are the variables uh, that go into that equation? And so what else I liked about what you said is the role of taking time off and a chunk of time. So I, I wouldn't think about it in terms of how many days per year do you work versus not work? I would think about it in terms of if you dedicate 30 days of not work, I would group all those together in one chunk versus 30 individual days. Those are two different things. If I'm ever a CEO of a company. I like the idea of having like mandatory twice a week from 8:00 AM to noon, no one can book a meeting. So everyone is guaranteed like four chunks of uninterrupted time versus, meeting than 45 minutes of free time, another meeting, 30 minutes of free time. And there's a scenario or it's four hours of free time in both scenarios, but there's this something different about the uninterrupted chunk of time. It's just helps you think about if you're measuring the right thing or what your kind of goal is in the first place. So again it's, it's hard to get this right. And in a way it's almost a luxury because your first order of business is survival, both as a person and as a brand, but at the same time, you're not going to survive if you're only thinking about survival. Cause then you're just going to turn into the tourist bar in an era of TripAdvisor. So it's like, you're going to get, you're going to get found out. So you can't do that.

Josh Boone:

Uh, I think that's a good place to, to wrap up, man. Uh Don't. Don't become the tourist bar. Um, yeah, man. So you got a new fancy website up. I like it.

Sam McNerney:

Uh, Yeah, so I'm trying to, um, the whole website is built around this observation. It's just, if you Google it, you know how to write a great survey question, you're going to just get all these like mechanics use a one through five don't lead the participant. When do you use open text response and almost nothing on like the actual, real thinking, you know, how, how to ask a great question versus how to collect data in an accurate way, really different. Ones creative and it's not really rule-based. And the other one is like super analytical. And if anyone has experienced with market research, especially survey-based research, they know that that world is just ruled by the stats majors and the analytic people. And in my view, it's just desperate for a huge injection of thinking from the humanity. So it's really kind of Revolved around filling that gap and hopefully army and people with some fresh thinking with respect to how to actually ask the question. And this is a nice segue or parallel here to what we were just talking about it, which is, you think the saber metric guys are super scientific and objective, but they have to decide what to measure in the first place. And that's subjective. At one point in baseball, history, errors weren't measured and someone decided to measure those. So it's a, yeah, it's attempt to kind of balance that out a little bit. And yeah, people should check it out

Josh Boone:

Hell yeah, SamMcNerney.com have all the links in the show notes. And if you've got a business, you should talk to Sam. Always a pleasure my friend

Sam McNerney:

for sure, thanks Josh.

Intro
Interview
NPCs, The Matrix & Free Will