MALE SPEAKER: We’re in for real treat today, we’re here with Dr. Bernard Roth who also goes by Bernie So a little bit about Dr. Roth, he’s the Rodney H. Adams professor of engineering, and the academic director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the at Stanford University He graduated from the City College of New York with a degree in mechanical engineering He’s a native New Yorker, and he earned a master’s degree and a PhD In mechanical engineering from Columbia University In 2012, the Columbia University Engineering School Alumni Association awarded him the prestigious Egleston Medal for Distinguished Engineering Achievement And he lives in Stanford, California We have a pretty interactive presentation today, he’s got a mic for Q&A So it’ll be good hour Without further ado, Dr. Roth [APPLAUSE] BERNARD ROTH: Thank you for coming out here, I have Google stock so I won’t waste your time [LAUGHTER] This book that I wrote is an expression of stuff that’s been my life for a very, very long time When I first came out to the valley in 1962, it was a very different place Not only was there no Google, there were no start ups, essentially Hewlett Packard was the big place in town A lot of people would always– my students all would say that some day they’re going to start a company and all that, and there wasn’t venture money Most of them never did, and it reminded me of this story in “The Iceman Cometh” where these guys are sitting in the bar all day, and they never leave the bar, and they just talk about going out and crossing the street So I felt, really, that there was something missing in people’s education So I started a class, which eventually is called, “The Designer in Society.” The name doesn’t mean anything It’s just a name And the idea was, everyone got to do a term project which they chose, which was either get rid of a problem in your life or do something you’ve always want to do and you’ve never before And it could be things like jumping out of airplanes or whatever It doesn’t have to be anything academic, or engineering, or stuff like that And to fill the 10 weeks between that, I had to do a lot of stuff So I developed a lot of exercises and readings and things like that And it’s been going on since 1970, so that’s a long time Eventually, various circumstances of my life led to, “Well, I’m stuck here on my sabbatical, I might as well do something useful.” So I decided I write a book Now the last time I had that feeling was when I was young assistant professor on my first sabbatical in Holland, and I started to write a book And it turned out to be 525 pages of all equations It took me nine years One reviewer said it was the best book of the century Another said it’s the best kinematics book ever written And it sold 2,000 copies [LAUGHTER] This book took less than a year to write It’s been in process for three years It’s been out two days Amazon has run out of copies It went to the number one list in business and advice kind of things It’s in the top hundred The staff has chosen to read it So this is amazing No equations [LAUGHTER] So it’s like bracketing my life from serious scientist to fuzzy guy But the fuzzy guy stuff is useful It’s amazing– the story– they make me cry, a lot of these stories because it’s changed a lot of people’s lives And the funny thing is, I thought it was me and my magic in the classroom, my insightfulness and all that But people have been having galleys for a couple of months around, and I keep getting the same stories “Bernie, I picked up your book and I did this, and I did that” and all that, including the woman who used to work for the Washington Post, and now she works at the And she does our blog page and all that stuff And she was close to me from the beginning with the book And when she got to read the final copy, she said, “You know, I’m going to stop trying to do something, I’m going to write my own book.” And she’s getting up at 3:00 in the morning every morning writing a book So I want warn you, this can ruin your life [LAUGHTER] And the other insight I had coming in here, if these two guys called Larry and Serge had taken my course, this company would be three times bigger than it already is But somehow they escaped without seeing me there Anyhow, I want to talk to you, basically, about life, and problem solving, and things like that And if you read one of the reviews on Amazon, you can read his reviews

My buddy, Bob Sutton, who wrote a book, “Don’t Hire Assholes,” or something like that, he put up, “Well, Bernie thinks about the world different than everyone else, but it seems to be very successful So maybe you ought to try some of his ideas.” So I’m going to give you some ideas, which up until Tuesday were just Bernie’s bullshit, but now it’s written [LAUGHTER] So, this is real This is real, folks I’ve been getting away with it for all these years, but now I can give you book where it’s real I started this stuff– there’s a company IDEO, you may or may not know them, which are my students For years I would do my stuff and people would say, “Well how’s that?” I would say, “Well, that’s what they do at IDEO, so it’s got to be OK.” So I had someone to point to Now I don’t need to hide behind IDEO I can just point to by book OK, so what do we want to talk about? Well, what I want to talk about first is solving problems So the issue is, you’re all smart Like Larry Page said, you all deserve to be here, right? So you got past that hurdle, whoever reads that stuff And I deal at Stanford with a lot of smart people, and have a lot of smart friends, and I’m pretty smart myself So how come we all mess up, and we can’t solve problems? In our lives we have problems In our work we have problems How come we can’t just do what we want to do and it flows? Well, you know, it’s illogical Even if we grasp for something new, if you’re really smart you should be able to solve it So what is it that happens? So I’ve noticed– I have a life I’ve lived a long time And I’ve had a lot of problems I notice my family has a lot of problems My friends have problems We do a lot of work at the, a lot of problems around the world Before that, in the design group in ME we would do a lot of projects for companies How come people get stuck? And I said, this is very scientific, in my view 99.999% of the time, it’s because you’re working on the wrong problem It’s as simple as that And what you’ve done is you’ve taken an answer, and you assume that’s the question I’ll explain that more later And it’s not a good answer to what you want to work on So even if you solved it, it really would kind of a crummy kludge But once you find the right problem to work on, it’s generally easy sailing and sometimes it’s right in front of you So I’ll give you a simple example in my own life, and there’s two points to this The first point is, whatever I tell you right now is not like an inoculation for life You have to keep looking at this stuff, and it’s a little hard That’s the tricky part about it, just knowing about it is not enough You have to kind of check yourself all the time So go back some years, and I’m doing my guru number at KTH, which is the MIT of Sweden in Stockholm And things are going great, but at night, I’m losing sleep all night long because I’m near the retirement age In those days, there was a thing called, “retirement age.” And I’m deciding, should I retire or shouldn’t I retire? And I’m really losing sleep over that In the middle of one of my lectures I go, “hey, maybe I should apply some of the stuff to myself.” So that night I go home and I say– the trick is, the starkness is to ask yourself what it would for you if you solve your problem So I said to myself, “Well, what’s my problem?” My problem is deciding whether I should retire or not And I said, “Well, what would do for me if I solve the problem?” I could stop worrying about whether to retire or not Simple as that So, the problem is not the decision, the problem is to stop worrying So how do you stop worrying about whether to retire or not? It’s a no brainer You just stop worrying about it So I stopped And it’s been many, many years, and I never worried about again So it’s a kind of crummy example, but that’s the essence of it, that you have the wrong problem And often it’s a little subtle change in the thing, and you think you’re dealing with something which is life and death, and it’s not the right thing So that’s the model So let’s– can we write on this board? AUDIENCE: Yep BERNARD ROTH: Good Oh, and it has markers, fantastic OK, so let’s take an example so this becomes really concrete And then we’ll apply to your life So what I do with Stanford students is this one We’ll do it with you guys too So let’s say, oh, you’re having trouble deciding getting married So let’s say your problem is how to get married And you’ve tried everything Most people it’s not an issue

They get married or don’t get married, but they don’t worry about it But let’s say in your case you’re really concerned about this You’ve done everything You’ve joined many computer dating services In the old days you would go to every bar on the Camino, all of that kind of stuff And your friends are fixing you up, and nothing works Your parents are on your case And your older brother is waiting for you to get out of the way so he could get married to his true love, but he can’t get married because you haven’t gotten married, whatever it is, that whole drama So let’s say it just doesn’t work for you So, you’re stuck And my method says, probably you’re stuck because this is the wrong question And the way you find what the right question is, you say what would it do for me if I solve this What would it do for me if I got married? So somebody give me an answer, what would it do for you if you got married Someone AUDIENCE: Your parents will stop bugging you BERNARD ROTH: Say it again AUDIENCE: Your parents will stop bugging you BERNARD ROTH: OK great All right, great So how to get parents to stop bugging you OK, so that’s the problem So the question is, how do you get your parents to stop bugging you? Well, even if you got married they might not stop bugging you, because then they’re going to want grandchildren, blah, blah, blah So if they’re going to bug you, they’re going to keep bugging you So it wouldn’t even solve that problem, often And that’s the problem with this thing If it’s hard, it’s often because it won’t even solve the problem Because you’ll marry the wrong person, they’ll bug you about that Well you know, there’s a lot of ways they can bug you But the question is now, once you’ve got this, this is a bigger solution space because there are lots of ways to get your parents to stop bugging you including this, let’s say, or maybe not this Either way, it doesn’t matter So how could you get your parents to stop bugging you? You could move to the other end of the earth, right? You could do the send them on a trip around the world You could tell them how much you love them You could get your brother or sister to call them every day, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera If they’re divorced, you can get them each romantic relationships so they don’t worry about you so much There’s a million ways to do that, OK So that’s the idea, basically And if that didn’t work, why would you want your parents to stop bugging you? Play with me some more AUDIENCE: Why? BERNARD ROTH: What would it do for you if your parents stopped bugging you? AUDIENCE: I wouldn’t be as stressed BERNARD ROTH: Say that again AUDIENCE: I wouldn’t be as stressed BERNARD ROTH: OK, all right, so that’s great So how to be less stressed OK, so now that’s really interesting because, again, there will be lots of ways and they may have nothing to do with your parents They could bug you, it wouldn’t matter If I was enlightened– if I was an enlightened being it doesn’t matter what you say There’s no way you could bug me It has nothing to do with that, OK And certainly getting married might not make you less stressed at all It might make you more stressed So if your real problem was how to get less stressed, none of this will help you So that’s what the idea gets at– the idea is to find a problem which is the real problem So this is hypothetical and may or may not ring a bell with you The test for all this stuff is whether works in your own life So I want you to take a moment now and think of a real problem your life Now I don’t want like, “Peace in the world forever,” stuff like that I want something that’s part of your life It could be a work problem It could be a social problem But something, really, that you lose sleep over And just think of that, and just make a simple sentence If you have something to write on it’s good to do that, if you don’t, you can do it in your head I know you’re brilliant enough to hang onto it But I want to start at this level here with something that bugs you in your life that doesn’t work and you’d like to be rid of it OK, now this stuff really works I guarantee you it works, money back guarantee If you do it, it works If you don’t do it, it doesn’t work by definition So please give it a shot, no matter how reluctant you may think, or how happy you may think you are Think of something in your life that doesn’t work Just think of it as a simple sentence like how to, or some simple problem issue OK, so let’s play my game and that game would be, what would it do for you if that were gone in from your life? If you solve that issue, what would it do for you? Again, make it a simple sentence and make it into a problem So that’s the thing you really want to be going after, not the thing you started with So you’re converting it You’re re-framing the problem into something that, if you solve this problem, it would take care of it for you, and you are going to deal with that directly

Yes? AUDIENCE: Isn’t that way of thinking a little selfish, though? BERNARD ROTH: One more time AUDIENCE: Isn’t that way of thinking a little selfish? BERNARD ROTH: Selfish? AUDIENCE: Yes If your problem includes not only yourself, but people surrounding you– BERNARD ROTH: Yes AUDIENCE: –answering what would it do for you and answering, for example, how you can be less stressed about it doesn’t mean that it makes a difference in the people who you want to– BERNARD ROTH: Sure, OK I understand what you’re saying hypothetically, do you have a specific problem in mind? AUDIENCE: Yes, I’m Greek BERNARD ROTH: Greek, I know about Greeks, yes Some of my best friends are Greek AUDIENCE: Yes, so my problem right now would be, for example, how to make sure that my family and friends back home are good BERNARD ROTH: Good, OK, OK good Stop, stop, OK So my friend, Panos, just had his daughter marry a Greek guy which makes him very nervous And he said, in Greece what happened a week ago, he was the only bank in Greece operating I understand what you’re talking about, but the point simply is you’re holding what I’m saying incorrect If you’re really losing sleep about your parents and all that that’s fine What we do for you what are you losing sleep over it’s like how could your parents be– frame it What’s the problem? AUDIENCE: Yeah, how can I make sure that the situation is solved? Like, is there anything I can do as a person to help the situation? BERNARD ROTH: Yeah, I understand So your question is, “what can I do to help the situation in Greece?” Is that the idea? AUDIENCE: Yes BERNARD ROTH: OK, now the game is, what would it do for you if you could help the situation in Greece? AUDIENCE: Well, I guess everything goes back to stress, right? BERNARD ROTH: Now, look, the thing to understand is if you could help the situation in Greece, you would do it You are frustrated, you are– you know there’s a story I love is this one A drunk is working along and he hits a lamppost He walks along and he hits a lamppost He walks along and he hits a lamppost And finally says, “I give up, they’ve got me surrounded.” But if you’re not drunk, you see the lamppost and you walk around it And that’s the problem, you’re hitting a lamppost because the situation in Greece is terrible, and your relatives are in distress, and there’s nothing you can do about it Right? OK, so now, what are you going to do? AUDIENCE: Is there nothing you can do about it? BERNARD ROTH: I don’t know, so what are you going to do about it? AUDIENCE: That’s what I’m thinking BERNARD ROTH: OK, good How long have you been thinking about it? AUDIENCE: Months BERNARD ROTH: Months, and so the indication is, you can’t do much about it right now I’m not in any way trivializing it I’m not in any way trivializing your feelings And you could do that, but I’m saying for you, what is it doing for you to think about that Greek thing? AUDIENCE: I guess if I made a the situation a little bit different, even for one person that I know, even for one person that I don’t know, that would make me happier with my life BERNARD ROTH: Good, that’s great So why don’t you do one thing to make someone happy? Who’s stopping you? AUDIENCE: I’m doing for one person But then I’m thinking, how can I make people around me more considerate of the situation? If everybody around me donated a small amount– BERNARD ROTH: OK, so who’s stopping you from getting people to do that? AUDIENCE: I’m trying Facebook is helping BERNARD ROTH: OK, well am I stopping you from doing that? AUDIENCE: No but I’m asking, if I was wondering like, OK, the situation in Greece makes me stressed, how am I going to deal with my stress instead of dealing with the situation? BERNARD ROTH: You know what’s interesting, you think you’re helping the situation by being stressed You actually might help it by not being stressed I had a woman once in my workshop with a similar idea, her problem was she wanted to get her daughter into a good college and she was very stressed And her realization was that the issue was really her stress, not the daughter going to college Because once her daughter went into a good college, she’d find something else to be stressed about And her stress didn’t help the daughter get into a good college or not So she’s dealing with the wrong problem I’m not saying it’s an issue that doesn’t exist I’m not saying getting married is an issue that does not exist I’m just saying it’s the wrong problem for you at the moment, and you’re not handling it well because you’re a smart person You have Facebook, you have all these things, and somehow it’s not working for you, what you’re doing, or it is If it is, great, I’m not against it I’m happy for you I’m saying, you having something, hypothetically, that you’re losing sleep over, and you’ve been working on it, it doesn’t work And how come such a smart person like you can’t solve it? Well, it’s the wrong problem for you to work on It’s simply that it’s a hard problem, there’s a lot of people in the world trying to solve that problem So you’ve put yourself in a situation which is the wrong thing to be working on and you could make yourself over the issue, and it’s still not going to change it, do you understand?

So you have to be honest with yourself, and this is all hard to say, but you you’re lying to yourself in some way, and you’re lying to yourself because you have a certain self image either as a daughter, or the family member who’s concerned with these things But if you look at what you’re really doing, and what’s going on, it’s a thing for yourself Now it sounds selfish, but it’s not selfish So let’s just hang out for a few minutes because we’ll get to it in a minute and we’ll get to what I call “reasons are bullshit,” we’ll get to that in a second, OK Anyone else have any problems understanding this idea? Now believe me, it really works I do this every year in a class, I have this colleague who every year says, “this is amazing, Bernie.” It works every year I come and do it So why does he say every year this is amazing and he needs me to come into the room to do it? Because he just knows it intellectually and he hasn’t put into his life, and as I told you in my first anecdote of myself, who does this stuff all the time, still got caught not doing it So the thing about it, it’s not only good to know it intellectually, you have to apply it, and you have to realize that every time– if you’re stuck it’s a tool Believe me, it works, I guarantee it works I’ve done it with thousands of the people around the world It’s a simple idea, if you’re stuck, what would it do for you if you solved the problem, that re-frames the problem for you If you’re stuck again, go one more level Never go more than two levels above, because there you get to the ultimate question mark of life, and the guys in India who are blind from looking at the sun and all that kind of stuff You don’t want to be working at Google to go more than two levels And the trouble is, you lie to yourself, and it’s sort of in the realm of what she’s doing because she has a certain self image of herself as this is good person And a good person, of course, wants to do something in Greece and she’s not doing it so she’s frustrated But the thing is, she wants to make herself feel better, clearly, and that sounds selfish, but it’s not selfish And she could do better for the people there if she were more forthright with the thing So that’s one or hurdles with solving problems, once you get the right problem it works out fine, in general Sometimes, you sabotage yourself And you sabotage yourself with reasons And the problem is you don’t say, “I have an excuse.” You don’t say, “I have an excuse, Bernie.” You say, “the reason is this–” and the thing to understand is, in terms of personal behavior, all reasons are bullshit You have no idea why you’re doing stuff, you just do it and you make up a reason for it And that’s called being a reasonable person [LAUGHTER] If you don’t have a reason, you’re not a reasonable person, right? If you say, “Why did you come here to talk at Google?” If I say, “I don’t know,” this guy’s crazy But if I say I came because I was invited or I came because I want to spread my wisdom, it’s all reasonable, right? If I take this guy, he’s looking at his thing, I punch him in the nose, he says, “Why did you do that?” If I say, “I don’t know.” I’m not reasonable If you punch him in the nose and say, “You look like the guy who raped my neighbor.” Then it’s a good reason, right? So, it’s on that absurd level that we do our reasons, and there have been a lot of studies that show that people’s brains are such– the part of the brain that determines what you do usually fires before the part that figures out the reason for doing it So usually you do stuff and then you say, why? And my favorite example is, right now my mouth is a little dry Now if you say to me, “Why’s your mouth dry, Bernie?” I’d say, “well, I’m speaking a lot.” That’s logical, right? But I don’t tell you that I was out last night drinking, I don’t tell you I’m always dehydrated I don’t tell you a lot of things which don’t make me look as good as, “I’m speaking now.” So, in anything you do there’s a million reasons for it, and it’s a matter of the one that you pick out To say something is a reason for your behavior this a lie, and you need it to be reasonable So what I do is, if you ask me reason, I’ll tell you something, I’m not going to be a jerk about it But if I know when I say it that that reason is bullshit, then I’m going to say I’m not going to do that again, and I’ll do it again, but eventually I’ll stop doing it So you have to realize that, in fact, anything you call reason is not the reason for anything So I don’t want you to take my word for it, I want you to do a little experiment I want you to turn to a person next to you and so I want you to do a little exercise which goes like this So you’re going to work with me, you’re lucky And the way it goes is like this– I’ve done this workshop a million times with the people I work with at Stanford, my whole group in the design group before the So, in our meeting if some guy gets up–

we have one professor who’s always crabbing about stuff So he gets up and he says, “Well the reason I can’t do this is the Dean said–” Everyone goes “That’s a good reason.” With the emphasis on the O’s, which means it’s bullshit So in my parlance, “It’s a good reason” means it’s not a reason at all So if she’s my partner here, I say, “the reason why my mouth is dry is because I’m talking too much.” She says, “That’s a good reason.” Go ahead AUDIENCE: That’s a good reason BERNARD ROTH: OK, now I say, the reason I came here is because I was invited AUDIENCE: That’s a good reason BERNARD ROTH: OK, so everything I said is true, OK, it’s true, but it’s not the reason Because I could have been invited and not come, I could have come uninvited also There’s a lot of different things– [LAUGHTER] –so it’s kind of funny, you know what I mean? And why did I come? Did I come because I want you to think I’m a great man? Did I come because I want to sell books? There’s a million reasons in there, and I’m going to pick the one that’s going to make me look the coolest, that’s my self image I want you to experience that for yourself So what I’m going to ask you to do is turn to your partner and I’m going to first tell her a whole bunch of reasons, she’s going to tell me each one is a good reason, and then at some point I’ll say switch roles And then she’ll tell me her reasons, and I’ll say “That’s a good reason.” for each of them OK, you get the idea? And if you do that, you’re gonna get a reward from me All right, so please turn to a partner [INTERPOSING VOICES] And if you don’t have a partner, raise your hand AUDIENCE: A reason for what? BERNARD ROTH: What’s that? AUDIENCE: A reason for what? For why we’re here? BERNARD ROTH: For anything– (YELLING OVER CROWD) one minute, one minute, one minute, one minute, one minute, one minute He asked me a very [INAUDIBLE] question, a reason for what? Reasons for anything, but take real things in your life, OK Like whatever happens in your life, the reason I’m here, or the reason I’m going home tonight, or the reason I went to the movies yesterday Just real stuff in your life and just put a reason for your behavior So the reason is for your behavior, real things in your life, the behavior, OK? AUDIENCE: And can you say it’s a good reason or it’s a bad reason? BERNARD ROTH: No, always, “It’s a good reason.” They’re all bad What you don’t understand, she asked, can you say any reason– there is no good reason, this is a joke, always it’s a bad reason They’re bad in the sense that they’re not uniquely the reason for anything They’re a reason and the fact that you’re singling that out is the problem, OK [INTERPOSING VOICES] OK, thank you, thank you, thank you You get the idea So one of the ones she does did triggered something in me which I love very much I was at a PhD exam up at Stanford in the ed school and we’re about to start but there was a professor who was coming late, she happened to be a person from Berkeley And they said, “Oh she’s coming from Berkeley.” Like that’s OK to be late And she just triggered that, she said, “The reason I was late is I came from the other building.” That’s the bullshit I’m trying to get you to understand [LAUGHTER] We do that to ourselves all the time, it’s just an excuse, she didn’t leave in time, she didn’t leave in time, among other reasons And that’s what we do, so it’s so obvious when you see it And the problem is that I’ve just ruined your life because you’re always using bullshit reasons and all the people in your life are using bullshit reasons So the first thing I’ve got to do in order to make, at least, that you won’t get killed and lose your relationship, do not try this at home, please do not try this It’s OK to say, “hey we had this crazy professor today at work, and he said reasons are bullshit.” That’s OK, but what you can’t say is your reasons are bullshit I have never said that to my wife, I have never said that to my friends, I’ve never said it to my family, I never say it to the guys I bike with who are full of bullshit reasons for everything Do not do that, give them a copy of my book, that’s the way out of that That will do it, really Do not– just fix yourself But it’s so simple when you see that, when you see how we use reasons all the time, they’re just excuses, and once you get past that you’ll change your behavior if you want to Now it doesn’t happen, necessarily, the next time, but it will change And I’ve lived through that many times So the idea is, it’s a really good framework to have in the back of your mind that all reasons are bullshit And we need them socially, we have to be reasonable But we don’t need to keep repeating the same thing if we realize what I just is bullshit and I don’t want to do it again, I don’t want to come late again And then you will come late again, but eventually you’ll learn to leave 10 minutes earlier, If you want to And if you don’t you’ll have a good life without it, but that’s the point Yes, Let me get– I’ve been remiss in giving people

the mic I’m sorry AUDIENCE: That’s OK [INTERPOSING VOICES] So I totally agree– BERNARD ROTH: OK AUDIENCE: –but I wonder whether you think that for everything we do there’s a lot of reasons and there isn’t one predominant one, and just arbitrarily do something Or there’s some deep reason that we’re not aware of that’s somehow subconscious and is driving our behavior BERNARD ROTH: Well, my belief is that there are many reasons and there’s a veil– so the ultimate reason is some great ancestor had sex, if they didn’t, you wouldn’t be here So that’s the reason for everything, but that seems absurd But it goes that way, you know, there’s a whole hierarchy of reasons Some seem more relevant because they are more recent and all that However, what you choose to do is not necessarily related to what seems like the obvious reason right now So, our friend from Greece left, but there may be deep– I don’t know her well and stuff like, and I understand what she’s talking about, of course, it’s not unreasonable, but that reason for that behavior may go back to her childhood It may go back to what her mother did, or how her parents rated her It’s not as simple as you think is, we’re all very complex beings, we’re formed by heredity and environment, and the things we do, we just do and then we make things that make our self image seem OK But if we remove the things, you still have that behavior often, or not, I don’t know And who cares? I mean I don’t care It’s not my research, I don’t care about that What I care about is functioning and making myself a better functioning person and having a better life for myself and the people around you And I’m telling you if you get rid of reasons it will work much better A simple example in my life, I get from China, and India, and all over the world maybe three or four emails a week, “Professor, I’d like to come and do a PhD with you.” And I used to give all– I’m sorry, I don’t have enough money in my group, I’m going on sabbatical, and it’s all bullshit because if I want to take anybody there’s nothing that would stop me from taking someone So the bottom line is, I just don’t want to take that person, and I just say, “I’m sorry I can’t help you.” I get most back a, “thank you for answering my email, professor.” When I used to give reasons they’d go– if I say I don’t have enough money in my research group, “I have a rich uncle, he’ll do this–” and it goes on, and on, and on, and it’s totally dysfunctional I’m not going to take the person anyway So just trying to make them feel nice with the reasons actually makes it worse Often we give reasons to make it feel nicer for someone else, we’re really trying to make it easier for ourselves If you just say what you do without the excuses and the reasons, is fine “I came late, sorry.” Without why you– I don’t care why, you came late, that’s all It’s as simple as that I don’t need the bullshit reasons So really it’s a very simple thing, I have a chapter titled “reasons are bullshit.” Believe me, try it out, believe me, just try not to give reasons But again, don’t tell anyone else their reasons are bullshit And people are great teachers, you should learn from everyone in your environment If you see what they do, just don’t do the same thing yourself OK, so that’s kind of the next point I want to make, we’re getting close to time I’m going to do one more shtick, unless you have questions, we could do that first Anyone have some questions, or I’ll rant on a little bit more OK, so last thing that’s really important, so what we first talked about is essentially re-framing, to make sure you working on a problem that’s the right problem The next thing is not to let yourself off with excuses, to actually have the right thing that– just take responsibility for your behavior And if it’s not what you want, change it, it’s as simple as that And the next thing is, people confuse two states, which are very different states, as the same thing And that is this whole idea of trying and doing And there’s this big line that people always get from Star Wars, which I hate, “There’s no try, just do.” I hate to contradict, but there is try, and there is do And I understand the context they use it in, but they’re two different states and the problem is we confuse the idea between trying and doing And if you try and do something, it might happen, it might not happen It’s just that way and if there’s some obstacles, you’re just going to not do it If you’re doing something, then it doesn’t matter if there are obstacles or not, you’re gonna do it Whatever it takes, you’re gonna do it, it’s as simple as that My great story on that happened a few months ago, my wife and I were driving in San Fransisco and there’s a theater called the Roxy theater You probably all live in San Fransisco, right? So you all know the Roxy in the mission district And they had a huge line, bigger than ever,

and I noticed on the marquee that it was a movie about a band and the band was going to be there I said, “That’s going to be great, let’s go.” And my wife said, “No, no, I’m tired, let’s go home.” I said, “Come on, come on, let’s go.” She said, “OK, we’ll go.” I said, “Get out of the car, buy the tickets, I’ll go find a parking space.” So 10 minutes later, I come back and she’s standing in front the box office, not on line I say, “Well, why aren’t you on line?” and she said, “They’re sold out.” I said, “Well, so what, why didn’t you get some tickets.” She said, “They’re sold out.” I said, “Come on.” So I go, and of course five minutes later, I have two tickets and we go in, and she was right, it was a crummy show and we shouldn’t have gone But the point simply is, the she was trying, she really do want to go, but she was trying, and being sold out is the best excuse or reason in the world They’re sold out, what can I do? Now, give me a break, just because they’re sold out, if you really want to go to something you can go It’s just a matter of price, or whatever it takes, or luck But there’s certainly someone in this long line in San Francisco who is going to have an extra ticket, or sell me their ticket if I give them enough money, right? It’s not a problem to get into the Roxy theater which is crummy and smelly and all that stuff if you want, but it’s a great example She was trying, she really was, she was honestly willing to go She was giving it a try, but the minute she got an obstacle it was, “whew, OK, we’re done with that.” I was going to go no matter what, no matter what it took It turned out it was pretty easy, but I would have gone to a much higher level of doing if I wanted to because I was determined to do it Well that’s an example of what happens in our lives all the time If we get obstacles and we’re here, we’re like the drunk, they’ve got us surrounded, I can’t do anything And if you’re not drunk, it’s just simple walking around it and you do it I cannot tell you, there’s so many people who ‘ve taken our workshop, there was some guys from digital TV took an exec ed workshop I was running There’s a thing I do, an exercise, where you try and take a cup away from me, and if you try you don’t succeed and stuff like that So, they went back to digital TV and they had a project they wanted to do and the managers said no, we have no room, you guys can’t do it And they tell me they said, we huddled and we said, “Let’s take the cup away from Bernie.” And what they did is, they set up an office right in the hallway, and they started working, and eventually they got space and moved ahead with the project But it’s an example, a lot of people say no all the time I don’t know how it is at Google, here they probably say yes 10 times or something like that But whatever it is, you do the hurdles, and it’s a question of trying or doing, and they’re both OK That’s what I don’t like about “There’s no try, just do.” I think, if you were in the doing state, that’s true, but if you’re trying state, it’s OK And you could try and do stuff and if it works, it works if it doesn’t work, you don’t have to live your life at this great intensity that some people do So to summarise, if you get stuck, it’s important to realize if you’re working on the right problem And I gave you a very easy way re-frame the problem Then, if you’re going to execute, you’ve got to make sure you don’t let yourself off with bullshit reasons called excuses And just remembering all reasons are bullshit is true, and you don’t need a reason, you just do what you do And then the other thing is to make sure which state you’re in If you’re trying to do it, that’s fine, and if you’re doing it, it’s fine But they’re not the same state And you could switch one to the other If I have to kill you in order to do it, I might decide I don’t want to do it, I ought to decide I don’t want to do it It’s fine to switch, it’s just not fine to think you’re one when you’re in the other one, and the one that we mainly confuse is we think we’re doing when we we’re actually in the trying state So that’s kind of getting toward the end of my time, but we do have some time for questions, and rewards for people with questions So in my class I actually ask people, I not only ask, I force people to ask questions So as a shareholder in Google, I demand that you ask me a question AUDIENCE: You think you’re doing but you’re just trying, how do you– BERNARD ROTH: How do you know the difference? AUDIENCE: Is there a clear way to tell the difference? BERNARD ROTH: Well, I mean, usually the results will tell you So if you think you’re doing and suddenly you realize nothing’s happening, as an example, that woman if she’s been helping the people in Greece for six months and nothing’s happening, she’s trying So she has to stop Facebooking, or whatever, take her money and go there or whatever it is I don’t know But I’m just saying it’s clearly not working So that’s the easiest thing you do It’s just like my wife, we were not getting into the theater when the moment came, so she was trying And doing is you do it, you accomplish it,

so if it’s just not working, you’ll know And actually, the interesting thing is, to try takes force, to do is power, and it’s much better to be powerful in life than forceful in life And it actually takes less force to, often, than it does to try because it goes, it’s like there’s no question about it When someone tries to take this thing away from me, we struggle, we fight, but if they do it, it’s like an Aikido exercise I don’t have a chance, I’m just overwhelmed by the intention to do it So it takes an intention to do something and you have to give it some attention, and if you do that, you’re doing it, it’s as clear as that Otherwise just stay home, “Oh, I wish, I wish there was some way I could–” that’s trying Someone, yes, OK, let’s see if we can get to you next, OK But wait, I’ve got to give her a reward, I forgot my rewards, one minute, one minute So, people who ask questions– you sort of did before, so you get a reward, and you get a reward And this, you can put on your computer, it will spread such stuff and bullshit Here we go, there you go, you get this and then you ask Go ahead, and you’ll get one anyway, because you already earned one, go ahead AUDIENCE: So I think these three concepts are pretty deep, but the one where you talked about asking yourself the bullshit questions, do you do it only for the most important ones, or the ones that you are [INAUDIBLE] to, or you just make it a habit and paralyze yourself I’m just– BERNARD ROTH: I’m not understanding what you are asking AUDIENCE: So if I’m going to ask myself the questions of why am I doing it, why am I doing it, for every small thing which I do– BERNARD ROTH: No, no, no, no, no You’re not asking why you’re doing it, you’re asking yourself– if you’re in Google, here, you’ve done a lot of good things in your life You didn’t worry about getting dressed this morning, you got here, you didn’t worry about getting in the room, you got here We do a million things we never even think about But there are very few things that people like you and me lose sleep over, that’s what I’m talking about, not everything If it works, leave it alone, don’t mess with it Do not mess with anything that works in your life Please, OK? I don’t want everyone to say I ruined– leave it alone, you’re doing fine You’re doing fine in most of your life But we all have these little things, that’s what I’m saying, those little things are the ones if you do that and say “What will it do for me?” you’ll get an insight, it’ll open up the solution space, and often it will solve itself like my question about when I should retire or not It takes care of itself You earned this from before, but if you have another question you could– AUDIENCE: Thanks I had a question that is sort of about this, which was the implication of recognizing that everything’s a bullshit reason So I think I wasn’t sure whether you were trying to say that if somebody gives you no and some reasons you should realize that those are bullshit reasons Or whether when you’re trying to get somewhere, that your reasons are bullshit reasons and that rephrasing the question will help you, or both BERNARD ROTH: What I’m saying is that, the way you’re built, the way all of us are built is we don’t actually know This whole idea of there being a reason for a specific behavior is faulty There is not a reason for specific behavior since he and I could have the same behavior and have different reasons for exactly doing the same thing And in fact, there is a million reasons we’ve done it, we have a different history, and we can’t figure that all out, it’s complicated It goes way back to your childhood and maybe when you were in your cells, and maybe back to something some cells that came out of the Big Bang, who knows why, I don’t know why But it’s so complicated for your behavior, it’s not a simple thing of cause and effect And when you make the simple cause effect model, it’s great, it’s functional, it makes you a reasonable person, and it’s fine, keep it all the time, don’t mess with it However, there are times when it gets in your way, and you’re letting yourself off the hook You know, like she got here because she’s in a distant building I don’t care, it’s not that life and death, but it’s a good example of this thing She got here because she came late, and she’s late, that’s all She doesn’t know why she’s late It could be, whatever it is, I don’t know It could be her parents were always late, it could be she grew up in a culture where the lateness didn’t count I don’t know, I don’t know what it is, and it doesn’t matter All I’m saying is take responsibility for your behavior, and don’t let yourself off the hook with reasons because they’re just excuses And if you label them as excuses, you wouldn’t do it And you’re sugar coating it by saying it’s a reason, it’s not,

and you don’t know the reason, that’s what I’m saying AUDIENCE: I was just wondering if you’d thought, maybe, about the role of the poor and thinking trying versus doing? Is there any kind of differences in say, maybe a socioeconomically disadvantaged person couldn’t buy movie tickets to a sold out show? Is it just limited doing opportunities, or how do you do that? BERNARD ROTH: Well, everyone has different strategies So if I’m a rich guy I could buy, if I’m a poor guy i could steal, I don’t know, it’s whatever– I could beg or I could to give you a heart rendering story You know, “My brother’s in the theater and he’s sick and I have to, could I please have your ticket?” I don’t know, whatever it takes, that’s the whole point There’s no right answer to it, it’s just, whatever it takes I’m going to do it, I’m going to get it done And often you feel really proud of yourself, I feel really proud that I got those two tickets and I’m telling the whole world about it My wife hates when I tell the story, but it’s so clearly that thing And there’s no one answer, and money may not work in some cases, although it often does work pretty well But it doesn’t matter what the answer is, if you have a technical problem to solve, ammonium may not work with that thing But some different way of approaching it will, and whatever it is I once had this experience, I couldn’t solve a math problem, a very tough problem, and I was going to give a talk on it and I had given the inflated title where I could solve the general case I was, in my mind, getting ready for the talk the next day and I said, “the reason I can’t solve the general case is–” And as I started to give the reason, it was clear I could solve the general case But I had never let go of the reason, I realized it was a bullshit reason, so it even works and technical stuff You don’t know the reasons for stuff, you know what happens, that’s all you know And you don’t need to know the reasons, the reasons are nonsense, they’re not taking responsibility for what the situation is Just use it a little bit, you’ll see, it doesn’t matter if you believe me and it makes sense or doesn’t, just test it out The next time you’re about to give a reason, if you don’t have to, just stop Just say what’s going on and what you’re going to do Anyone else? Yes, how are you, the stickers are going So here’s this and here’s this AUDIENCE: I was just thinking that, potentially, reasons also show for great companies Like companies without bullshit reasons get things done, and do you think that’s true, or have you seen any examples of that? BERNARD ROTH: Of what? AUDIENCE: Good companies that don’t– that have given up reasons– BERNARD ROTH: The whole company? AUDIENCE: I don’t know BERNARD ROTH: It’s too general a question for me, I don’t know You know, you get it, actually, when people get caught with their fingers in the cookie jars Like, so when good companies do something bad, they’ll generally admit it and when bad companies do something bad, they generally give you all sorts of reasons for it I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s sort of my idea In fact, you get that all the time, even in politics Like Clinton and Nixon got into more trouble by saying they didn’t do it than if they said they did it You know, “I did it Something happened in the Oval Office, I did it.” Or, Nixon, “Yes, we had the burglars.” Just by not doing it and they give you all these reasons and stuff like that, it just becomes messy But maybe people are getting away with it all the time and we just don’t know about it OK, other questions? AUDIENCE: It seems like you could end up being in a doing state, but end up working on something that is genuinely impossible You’ve never run into that? BERNARD ROTH: You mean something impossible? AUDIENCE: Yeah– BERNARD ROTH: Yeah, sure, sure AUDIENCE: Like I’m gonna go to the sun [INAUDIBLE] BERNARD ROTH: Well, if you’re working on something that’s impossible, then you’re never going to solve it, right? Is that your definition of impossible? AUDIENCE: Yeah, I guess BERNARD ROTH: So the question is, “What would it do for you if you solved it?” AUDIENCE: Oh, so you’re back to the first– BERNARD ROTH: Well, the idea is, let’s say you’re working on something you don’t know is impossible Let’s say a simple case Let’s say it’s impossible for you to ever get married because you have bad breath, no one ever wants to marry you So no matter what you do, you’re never going to get married So the question is, “What’s it going to do for you if you go married?” So if it’s, “I’m going to get companionship,” well you can get a dog, the dog might not care about the bad breath Or if you hire someone, enough money, they don’t care about it, we know that So you’re working your way around it, that constraint is gone because somehow you thought you were going to get it out of getting married, but you can get companionship a lot of other ways

So that’s the idea AUDIENCE: I love that you talked about the delineation, the difference between trying and doing, and there are two real stages that exist And you also mentioned that most of the time we don’t know the reasons behind why we’re doing things So let’s say you’ve been on the journey for a while, you’ve been trying, and you’ve started to identify some of those reasons that are keeping you from your– like the four things we worry about doing And you’re starting to feel kind of bad about yourself, because you know the reasons, but you’re not making the changes to get where you want to go and be an achiever or a doer in these areas Can you comment at all on– what’s the breaking point, what’s the turning point, is it different for everybody? What’s the transition from trying to doing? What does it look like? BERNARD ROTH: So if you’re doing, no matter what comes at you, you’re going to handle it If you’re trying it may work, but if something comes at you to block you, you’re going to be deterred, you’re not going to do it So that’s the difference in the two states And you can see what’s happening, and it’s clearly you’re getting the result or you’re not getting results AUDIENCE: Right BERNARD ROTH: If you’re not getting the result and you want to move to the doing state, you have to say “There’s this chair in front of me, I have to walk around it.” And the chair may be a person or maybe the way you hold the world But the point simply is, that the reasons are just irrelevant, they’re not necessary, they’re not functional at all, and mainly they’re just a way of letting yourself off the hook and blinding you as to what the possibilities are AUDIENCE: I see I don’t know if you agree with this, but what you are saying at some level, it’s empowering that at some level it’s within us And doesn’t mean we need to blame ourselves, or be hard on ourselves overly, but you talk about this frame of mind where at some point, “You know what, no It isn’t my boss’s fault, or it isn’t the universe’s fault, or this person’s fault I just haven’t gotten to the point where I’ve made the connections and the decision.” BERNARD ROTH: Well what I call it, you have to have the intention to do it and give it the attention So it’s as simple as that A good example, I was supposed to go to a meeting, which I didn’t want to go to, in Texas, in Dallas I got to the airport in San Fransisco and the guards were good to me, the airports in Texas were closed because there was a snow storm So I called up and I say, “Really, I’m sorry I can’t go.” That’s good, I went home, I had a happy life If I really wanted to go to Texas, the fact that the airport was closed wouldn’t have stopped me AUDIENCE: I see BERNARD ROTH: It’s as simple as if my life depended upon getting to Texas, I would’ve gotten to Texas even though the airport was closed But they gave me a gift, they gave me an obstacle and I could just say “I had a good reason.” and they didn’t say it They didn’t get this whole idea that, “Yeah, so the airport’s closed, man, but when are you going to come here?” You know what I mean? If we were playing the game at a high level, “Yeah, well you were committed to going to the meeting, get here.” But they didn’t do that, so, whew MALE SPEAKER: Well, good stuff Thanks for being here, we’ve got a few books left in the back, the book is “The Achievement Habit.” Dr. Roth, thanks so much for being here [APPLAUSE]