Nick Ganju on The Majesty of Ping Pong, Poker, and How to Write Hit Songs (#45)


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“It turns out that writing Tetris on your calculator doesn’t actually win you the cheerleaders.”

-Nick Ganju 

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In this episode, I talk to my old friend Nick Ganju about ping pong, poker, hit songs, and tackling my most feared subject (oh, the suspense!).

Ep 45: Nick Ganju on The Majesty of Ping Pong, Poker, and How to Write Hit Songs

He makes complex subjects seem simple, which is a rare gift.  Nick is one of the few people I consistently ask for advice when trying to acquire tough skills.

Nick is the founder and CTO of ZocDoc, which allows you to find doctors and immediately book appointments online. As CTO, he is responsible for overseeing all software development. It’s a huge job for one of the fastest-growing startups in the US (6+ million monthly users, $95M+ in funding raised to date), and he’s repeatedly proven himself to be a master teacher.


You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

This podcast is brought to you by 99Designs, the world’s largest marketplace of graphic designers. Did you know I used 99Designs to rapid prototype the cover for The 4-Hour Body? Here are some of the impressive results.

This episode is also brought to you by ExOfficio, which I’ve personally used since 2005 or so. They make ultra-lightweight, quick drying, antimicrobial clothing for men and women. Here’s my own ultra-light packing list (scroll down for video), which went viral.

QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY:  Have you overcome subjects or skills you initially found super-intimidating? What was the key moment? Please share in the comments.

Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave a short review here. It keeps me going…

Scroll below for links and show notes…

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Selected Links from the Episode

Show Notes

  • ZocDoc stats [6:34]
  • Rewinding the clock, comfort with computer science and global thermo-nuclear war [10:44]
  • What makes the University of Illinois a top computer science school [14:04]
  • “Coachablity” of computer languages and thoughts for those starting in computer science [16:14]
  • How to make it easier to develop high-level math and computer science skills [21:44]
  • Resources and books for optimizing your math/emotional intelligence skills [28:44]
  • Setting objective goals and how Monsters Inc. can help [30:14]
  • How to encourage measurable goal selection and tracking within your team [38:14]
  • Excel spreadsheets? [44:14]
  • Nick Ganju’s favorite movie [53:14]
  • Skill acquisition and the glory of ping pong [55:29]
  • How to practice ping pong when no one is around, plus the most common mistakes [1:02:44]
  • The daily rituals of Nick Ganju [1:05:44]
  • What it means to rid yourself of cognitive biases [1:06:29]
  • Cognitive Biases and how to price anchor like a god [1:11:14]
  • The Bill Gates-like life plan [1:16:04]
  • Rapid Fire Questions: Punchable, frequent plays, and how to get people hooked on music. [1:17:39]
  • Advice for the 20-year old Nick Ganju, or anyone seeking to rapidly develop business skills [1:25:14]
  • Choosing your fist gig or your next gig -> How to get started [1:27:14]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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37 Replies to “Nick Ganju on The Majesty of Ping Pong, Poker, and How to Write Hit Songs (#45)”

  1. Whatever equipment or audio setup you were using for this episode sounded great. I could hear Nick very clearly when in previous episodes I’ve had some trouble with hearing and understanding your guests. Thanks for continuing to put these out!

      1. Not at all, man. Even from just a casual listen I get a lot out of these so I’m glad that you have so many interesting people to interact with.

      2. Hey Tim, I agree the audio is much improved, Could you at some point expand on what equipment you are using for your podcast, perhaps in a future blog post?

        Keep up the great work, you rock!


  2. These episodes are like brain massage… both stimulating and relaxing.

    Just 1:22:00 how choosing a second song with 75% already learnt with the 3 cords worth it.

    And the “in between sodes” n°44 is fantastic too. Thanks.

  3. I want to enjoy all of the podcasts but I’m profoundly deaf. Would it be possible to have transcripts for all of the episodes on Tim Ferriss’ show?

  4. Great show Tim.

    Question of the Day: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with motorcycles. I remember telling my mom growing up that I was going to have a motorcycle, and she would cry and tell me that was a terrible idea. She had two boyfriends die in motorcycle accidents (yea I guess my mom is unlucky).

    As a medical student and former EMT, I can say that she was probably right to be afraid. Motorcycles are dangerous, and if you’re not at least a little bit intimidated then you shouldn’t ride one.

    Long story short I took my learner’s class, got my wheels and was driving short commutes. But I was still nervous about getting on the highway. High speeds, lots of cars, and for some reason people don’t seem to register that bikers are there when they go to change lanes.

    Finally I decided to take the leap and ride home on the highway one day. I was sweating bullets at first, but then it became an incredible experience. There’s something so visceral and exhilarating about riding a bike. It took me back to being a kid riding a skateboard down a steep hill, I used to love the feeling of the wind rushing past.

    It wasn’t a life-changing accomplishment. I’ve been in cardiac arrest situations where I was much more afraid. But it was something that I had dreaded for a while. It was a hurdle that I knew I’d have to overcome to realize my full enjoyment of motorcycles.

    Keep up the good work Tim.

  5. To overcome debilitating shyness, I became a door-to-door salesman for 1 year. Changed my life. 5x increase in quality of life afterwards, at least.

    Tim, can you please interview Neal Stephenson or Derek Sivers?

    Neal: He doesn’t reveal anywhere how he works, but as everyone knows, the results are amazing.

    How he can create these fictional worlds is just unbelievable.

    You MUST pick his brains on how his day looks, inflection points on picking his profession, and so on.

    And Derek Sivers: Awesome human being. Chooses to give up his citizenship for the fun of it… I want to be more like that guy!

    1. Please link to Random Show episode as soon as it’s up.

      You’re a big inspiration, and even if all your impact doesn’t end up on google, I want to assure you that lives are being improved. Significantly.

      One example: I definitely credit four hour body to making me immune to ever going over 15% bf (sub. 12% most often), or ever having to worry about physical health.

      And my travels inspired by 4HWW have been some of the best experiences of my life.

  6. I charged through an impasse recently when I told a story in front of 200 people During a storytelling event. I’m a writer and had always wanted to add storytelling to what I do, yet I was afraid of public speaking. I arrived 45 minutes before the event. The place was empty; I walked around in the space to own it and feel comfortable being there. As the ace filled up it didn’t matter to me as I’d seen the room empty and felt safe. It’s hard to explain exactly ehy, but I now have little fear of telling stories in front of s large crowd.

  7. QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Have you overcome subjects or skills you initially found super-intimidating? What was the key moment?

    Answer: Madness

  8. Great episode again! The cognitive biases part of the interview was most interesting. Would be interesting to hear how our biases impact our decision making and even negotiation ability.

  9. Hey Tim,

    I’m hearing impaired so a transcript of these would be awesome. Otherwise I completely miss out.

    As for learning a skill – public speaking. I’ve been best man 4 times and the first time giving a best man speech was a disaster. Heavy breathing into the mic, just all around nervousness. I never wanted to go through that again.

    I joined Toastmasters and after a few meetings I just started to get it. Nothing hard about talking to many people – it’s basically the same thing as talking to one. Focusing on the message instead of worrying what people think. Now I don’t have any trouble at all.

    It’s actually fun if I have something to say.


  10. Great episode, very interesting topics. I’ll definiitely be checking out D Hubbard’s book “How to measure everything”.

    Question Tim; given all your travels do you have any non-US people you’d like to interview?

    As impressive as your guest list is, it is very US-centric. Might be interesting to have a diversity of viewpoints/ thinkers and pull in some Asian/ European/ African/ Middle Eastern guests?

    Nassim Taleb should definitely be a great one to interview, asides from his views on risk I’d like to hear about his views on other topics, he seems to be a real non-conformist thinker!

    Anyway great show! Every interview seems to contain some real nuggets! Keep it up!

  11. Talking about maths and teaching kids to understand the basics (around the 20 minute mark), it makes no sense to me that we teach complex formulas before we teach real-life maths skills like money management: income, taxation, debt & compound interest. They are not complex ideas, so why do we ignore them?

  12. Tim, a heartfelt thank you for the mind expanding work you do. The podcasts and your books are one of my most treasured tipping points in my personal development. As to a future topic, could you do an interview with a traditional artist rockstar for example, Michael Whelan, Donato Giancola or Todd Lockwood? It would amazing to see even a part of what it takes to be in the elite world of professional artists.

  13. Tim,

    Can you do an episode featuring Kelly Slater ? I think 12 times surfing world champion( he’s 42 and in great shape now) is well worth interviewing.

  14. Tim, are you aware that your guests keep saying “right?” at the end of every sentence? Also, I’m afraid you’re picking up that habit too. Saying “right?” at the end of every sentence is just as bad as starting a sentence with “umm”

    1. I think this is some sort of common verbal tick these days. It’s not just Tim’s show – I hear it in the news a great deal when people are interviewed and have wondered for at least a few months now when this verbal habit started. It seems more common among the under-40 crowd, and especially common among twentysomethings. I’m mostly ambivalent about it, but I’ve also worked in editing jobs for over a decade so when linguistic trends like that start, I’m always curious about their genesis.

  15. Hey Tim,

    It’s not in the show notes anywhere, but you briefly mentioned the book “Cryptonomicon”. It’s a massive book (about 1000 pages)! Do you recommend it?

  16. Excited to listen to this episode. I’m a couple episodes behind, but this is quickly becoming one of the most (actionable) information dense podcasts on self-improvement around.

  17. Hi Tim,

    Great stuff! I haven’t quite caught up to this episode yet (I jump around, currently listening to your conversation with Rolf Potts) but had a suggestion for a future guest: Dr John Medina (of Brain Rules).

    I was listening to your interview with Peter Diamandis a while back and thought there could be some good synergy between the goals Peter has for the future of education and the theories/experiments Dr. Medina proposes in his book on the reorganization of learning and education. Thoughts? Maybe we could get these two together!? Ha.

    Anyway, thanks for continuing to provide entertaining and informative podcasts! Definitely enjoy them.


  18. The Kevin Kelly podcast was also available as a transcript – which is how I ended up here on your blog (someone emailed it to me). I personally don’t care for podcasts – I can read the transcript much faster than the people speak and would rather be listening to music. Not everyone feels this way, as podcasts seem (inexplicably) more and more popular – but can you continue to make transcripts of all your podcasts available? Or if you already do, point me to the correct link?

  19. Another really inspiring and informative show. I agree that it takes very little to learn the basics of strumming some tunes on a guitar, especially with all the stuff on youtube, however, if you ever want to learn some very basic, and VERY practical aspects of music theory, then Music Principles For The Skeptical Guitarist, Vol. 1, by Bruce Emery, is a must-read. I have no financial interest, nor do I even know the author, but I love to recommend this book to anyone who has the slightest interest in learning music. I didn’t pick up guitar until my late twenties and of all the theory books I’ve read, it explains the basics of WHY music works in the most easily understood and entertaining manner I’ve ever encountered. Obviously it’s guitar-centric but the underlying lessons are fundamental across all Western music. I’ve actually loaned my copy to a banjo player and fiddle player who I’ve played with in the past and though both could barely play guitar, they said the book completely opened up the world of “why” they were doing things on their instruments better than anything they’d encountered. When I started playing mandolin about six years ago the theoretical foundation I had from Emery’s book made learning a second instrument infinitely easier. The other books in his series are far more guitar-centric, but that first Music Principles book…man…if you want to just see someone take a subject that is often made overly complicated and present it in a truly logical, fun, engaging, practical, and teachable manner, then I can’t recommend it enough.

  20. Bit late for a QOTD answer, but: juggling. It wasn’t super-intimidating but I never thought I’d get the hang of it, even after following the video from 4HC. Then I set a deadline and put £20 on it when I had hardly any money. Impressive what you can accomplish with Stakes. DS3 ftw

  21. Read the first chapter of Data Smart by John Foreman (Chief Data Scientist @ MailChimp) to concur all your excel insecurities. Please try and get him on the podcast.

  22. Tim,

    To answer your question about great online resources to learn guitar: Justin Sandercoe of has a comprehensive, free course available online. He’s a gifted teacher and describes concepts in ways that are easy for beginners to grasp. You can learn a ton from his free videos (seriously, there is a crazy amount of free content) and he has very high-quality print coursebooks/songbooks available too. Plus, he seems like an overall great dude with a passion for teaching. Check him out!

  23. Awesome Tim, love your podcast and am an avid listener. It’s my “instead of radio” listening on my way to and from work. I find it very inspiring and enlightening.

    I used to find web design incredibly intimidating – all of those codes and CSS and HTML and ugh it was just too much. But I couldn’t afford a web designer for my first blog so I just went in and copied what my originally designer did, on another website, refreshing the page after each change to see what it did to the webpage, and slowly started to put the puzzle pieces together in my head. It was painful but now I know the basics.

    If I may make a suggestion on who to interview for your podcast, I’d love to hear and interview between yourself and Scott Dinsmore (Live Your Legend).

    I actually found out about the 4 Hour Work Week from Scott’s website and the movement he’s created is absolutely amazing. Plus his topic overlaps very well with what you do within the 4 Hour Work Week and he focuses on finding work you love.

  24. TIM:

    I hated physics until I read “Feynman’s lectures on physics”.

    It’s amazing, and conveys a real sense of wonder and curiosity about nature, while teaching you mathematical and technical skills.

    Written in his own words and conversational tone, ofc.

    Just try the first one, just open it and you’ll find it pulling you along, like sitting in on one of his lectures.

    Favourite line from it:

    “If our small minds, for some convenience, divide knowledge of the world into parts – physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on – remember that nature does not!”

  25. Tim, Nick:

    Thank You.

    I enjoyed listening to this. A lot of the stuff is very encouraging. I´m a 38 year old german professional tranlator and pianist living in China since 5 years. I think of starting my own business, although I am a father to be in 6 months. One thing: If you guys think musical theory starts with the beatles, than you´ve missed out on some european 18th. century music. I hope this does not sound rude, but I´d like to encourage you to listen to some early Italian (Vivaldi) or German music. The most intense however is J.S.Bach. A lot of his music is playable on the guitar, and the math behind it is just as simple as 1+1=2. There is no general quality difference in classical or modern music, these are all missconceptions. But there are differences in complexity. e.g. The song structure of a Beatles song might be something like ABCBDB, (B=Chorus) while in a classical peace there are Themes, subthemes, certainly patterns that make the music stick to your ear. The problem with most of the modern music that is not freestyle and does not contain any impovised parts, that it is either repetitive (Love is the message and the message is love) or with steady electronic beats that come unnatural to the human ear D.

  26. Why is “How Not to be Wrong” not listed with the other books here? Just an oversight, or did you deem it unworthy for some reason?