12. Partner With Rational Optimists

Don’t partner with cynics and pessimists. Their beliefs are self-fulfilling.

Don’t partner with pessimists

Nivi: Let’s do this last tweet. You said, “Don’t partner with cynics, and pessimists. Their beliefs are self-fulfilling.”

Naval: Yes. Essentially, to create things, you have to be a rational optimist. Rational in the sense that you have to see the world for what it really is. And yet you have to be optimistic about your own capabilities, and your capability to get things done.

We all know people who are consistently pessimistic, who will shoot down everything. Everyone in their life has the helpful critical guy, right? He thinks he’s being helpful, but he’s actually being critical, and he’s a downer on everything.

That person will not only never do anything great in their lives, they’ll prevent other people around them from doing something great. They think their job is to shoot holes in things. And it’s okay to shoot holes in things as long as you come up with a solution.

There’s also the classic military line, “Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” And these people want a fourth option, where they don’t want to lead, they don’t want to follow, but they don’t want to get out of the way. They want to tell you why the thing is not going to work.

And all the really successful people I know have a very strong action bias. They just do things. The easiest way to figure out if something is viable or not is by doing it. At least do the first step, and the second step, and the third, and then decide.

So, if you want to be successful in life, creating wealth, or having good relationships, or being fit, or even being happy, you need to have an action bias towards getting what you want.

Partner with rational optimists

And you have to be optimistic about it. Not irrationally. You know, there’s nothing worse than someone who is foolhardy and chasing something that’s not worth it.

That’s why I say rational optimist. But you have to be rational. Know all the pitfalls. Know the downsides, but still keep your chin up.

You’ve got one life on this planet. Why not try to build something big? This is the beauty of Elon Musk, and why I think he inspires so many people, it’s just because he takes on really, really big audacious tasks. And he provides an example for people to think big.

And it takes a lot of work to build even small things. I don’t think the corner grocery store owner is working any less hard than Elon Musk, or pouring any less sweat and toil into it. Maybe even more.

But for whatever reason, education, circumstance, they didn’t get the chance to think as big, so the outcome is not as big. So, it’s just better to think big. Obviously, rationally, within your means, stay optimistic.

The cynics and the pessimists, what they’re really saying, it’s unfortunate, but they’re basically saying, “I’ve given up. I don’t think I can do anything. And so the world to me just looks like a world where nobody can do anything. And so why should you go do something because if you fail, then I’m right, which is great. But if you succeed, then you just make me look bad.”

We’re descended from pessimists

Nivi: Yes, it’s probably better to be an irrational optimist, then it is to be a rational cynic.

Naval: There’s a completely rational frame on why you should be an optimist. Historically, if you go back 2,000 years, 5,000 years, 10,000 years, two people are wandering through a jungle, they hear a tiger. One’s an optimist, and says, “Oh, it’s not headed our way.” The other one says, “I’m a pessimist, I’m out of here.” And the pessimist runs and survives, and the optimist gets eaten.

So, we’re descended from pessimists. We’re genetically hardwired to be pessimists. But modern society is far, far safer. There are no tigers wandering around the street. It’s very unlikely that you will end up in total ruin, although you should avoid total ruin.

Much more likely that the upside is unlimited, and the downside is limited. So, adapting for modern society means overriding your pessimism, and taking slightly irrationally optimistic bets because the upside is unlimited if you start the next SpaceX, or Tesla, or Uber, you can make billions of dollars of value for society, and for yourself, and change the world.

And if you fail, what’s the big deal? You lost a few million dollars of investor money, and they’ve got plenty more, and that’s the bet they take on the chances that you will succeed.

It made sense to be pessimistic in the past. It makes sense to be optimistic today, especially if you’re educated and living in a First World country. Even a Third World country. I actually think the economic opportunities in Third World countries are much larger.

The one thing you have to avoid is the risk of ruin. Ruin means stay out of jail. So, don’t do anything that’s illegal. It’s never worth it to wear an orange jumpsuit. And stay out of total catastrophic loss. That could mean that you stay out of things that could be physically dangerous, hurt your body.

You have to watch your health. And stay out of things that can cause you to lose all of your capital, all of your savings. So, don’t gamble everything on one go. But take rationally optimistic bets with big upside.


Nivi: I think there’s people that will try and build up your ideas, and build on your ideas, no matter how far fetched they might seem. And then there are people who list all of the obvious exceptions, no matter how obvious they are.

And fortunately in the startup world, I don’t even really get exposed to the people that are giving you the obvious exceptions, and all the reasons it’s not going to work. I barely get exposed to that anymore.

Naval: That’s what Twitter is for. Scott Adams got so annoyed by this that he came up with a phrase, an acronym, which is “but of course there are obvious exceptions”, BOCTAOE. And he used to pin that acronym at the end of his articles for a while.

But Twitter is overrun with nitpickers. Whereas exactly as you were pointing out, Silicon Valley has learned that the upside is so great that you never look down on the kid who’s wearing a hoodie and has coffee on his shoes. And just looks like a slob because you don’t know if he’s going to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, or the next Reid Hoffman.

So, you’ve got to treat everybody with respect. You’ve got to look up to every possibility, and opportunity because the upside is so unlimited, and the downside is so limited in the modern world, especially with financial assets and instruments.

Chapter 13 >>