Lessons from Geniuses, Billionaires, and Tinkerers (#173)

Chris Young

“The interesting jobs are the ones that you make up.” – Chris Young

Chris Young is an obsessive tinkerer, inventor, and innovator.

His areas of expertise range from extreme aviation (world-record goals) to mathematics and apocalyptic-scale BBQs. Above all, he is one of the clearest thinkers I know.

In this interview, we discuss a great many things, including his wild story and lessons learned from rainmakers like Bill Gates, Gabe Newell, Neal Stephenson, and many more. More topics we tackle:

  • How he managed to get jobs working for the best in the world…despite having no credentials.
  • Advice — and incredible questions — from self-made billionaires.
  • Why raw foodism isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
  • How geniuses show disappointment and ensure you correct yourself.
  • The “emoji egg” breakfast.
  • And much more…

If you only have 5 minutes, I highly recommend listening to Chris’s secret to working with hard-to-reach people.


#173: Lessons from Geniuses, Billionaires, and Tinkerers

Want to hear another podcast with a world-class chef and entrepreneur? — Listen to my conversation with Andrew Zimmern. In this episode, we discuss his meditation practice, morning routines, and creative process (stream below or right-click here to download):

Ep 40: Andrew Zimmern on Simple Cooking Tricks, Developing TV, and Addiction

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

    • Connect with Chris Young:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

Show Notes

  • Chris expresses surprise that I remember much about the last time we hung out in Seattle. [06:07]
  • Why are vegetables trying to kill you? [06:59]
  • Chris explains his interest in math and biochemistry. [10:43]
  • Chris’s first job out of college (and the Jedi mind trick that secured it). [13:09]
  • How Chris’s chosen profession plays perfectly into his anti-social behaviors. [18:45]
  • Chris explains the science behind the inverted rotisserie spit that was built for Neal Stephenson’s BBQ. [19:30]
  • Gabe Newell and The Tornado of Fire. [23:17]
  • Chris explains how he befriended Neal Stephenson while working for Nathan Myhrvold. [24:23]
  • Neal Stephenson’s Victorian exercise regimen. [26:38]
  • The journey between Chris’ first job and working for Heston Blumenthal. [27:40]
  • The symptoms of maxing out the learning curve. [29:35]
  • Permission to apprentice in a famous kitchen is often granted — if you know how to ask. [32:59]
  • Liquid nitrogen, fine dining, and the science of palate cleansing. [35:41]
  • The circumstances (and pressure) of sudden promotion. [39:35]
  • How to reverse engineer and solving problems. [42:03]
  • Has Chris always had OCD superpowers? [48:22]
  • How did Chris become interested in math? [49:41]
  • What books has Chris most gifted to others? [51:37]
  • What is competence porn? [54:52]
  • What’s Chris’s secret to getting hired by hard-to-reach people, and what lessons has he learned from them? [57:54]
  • “The interesting jobs are the ones that you make up.” [1:02:14]
  • The biggest lesson Chris learned from Heston Blumenthal. [1:06:45]
  • Chris reminiscences about one of his most cringeworthy mistakes under Blumenthal. [1:08:29]
  • How does one uphold high standards without driving support staff toward mutiny? [1:10:56]
  • The challenging questions Heston Blumenthal asks that provoke excellence. [1:16:12]
  • What is Chris’s company, how has it changed over time, and what novel decisions have pushed it forward? [1:20:33]
  • Who is Gabe Newell, and how has he influenced the trajectory of Chris and his company? [1:24:15]
  • What’s worth spending $100 million on in the kitchen space? [1:31:30]
  • Gabe Newell’s real superpower. [1:33:20]
  • Wisdom from Matt Mullenweg regarding people who steal intellectual property online. [1:34:13]
  • What Chris thinks doesn’t work well for a company that’s supposed to get the best, most innovative, and most interesting work out of people. [1:37:54]
  • Books and people who have influenced Chris’s business decisions. [1:41:45]
  • Why Chris is prone to changing his mind a lot. [1:42:41]
  • Chris and competitive gliding. [1:44:31]
  • Chris’s thoughts on sleep [1:50:08]
  • The value of less structure. [1:56:12]
  • Chris’ thoughts on batching activities. [1:58:36]
  • Chris and his creative process. [2:04:10]
  • When Chris thinks of the word “successful,” who comes to mind? [2:04:52]
  • Does Chris have any superstitions? [2:08:31]
  • Music Chris listens to when he writes. [2:10:42]
  • Chris’s editing process. [2:12:48]
  • Favorite documentaries and movies. [2:14:30]
  • What recent purchase of $100 or less had the most positive impact on Chris’s life? [2:16:60]
  • Morning rituals [2:21:31]
  • How The Fat Duck almost went bankrupt in spite of being so innovative and respected in the culinary community. [2:25:30]
  • What advice would Chris give his younger self? [2:30:14]
  • We discuss shifting focus from being “right” to being effective. [2:35:07]
  • What would Chris Young’s billboard say, and where would he put it? [2:37:15]
  • Last requests for the audience. [2:37:53]

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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55 Replies to “Lessons from Geniuses, Billionaires, and Tinkerers (#173)”

  1. Wow, Tim. AMAZING content here. So much covered in such a short(!) 2.5 hours.

    I love the part near the end where Chris describes his creative process (or lack thereof). Really thought-provoking for some, and comforting to others (like me) who don’t really understand what that process looks like for them.

    I think that’s one of the real secrets of success–the process of deciding what you want to do can take many forms. Once you understand that, you can research and find the best method. But that first spark comes in all kinds of ways.

    Definitely sharing this. Thanks again!

  2. Great podcast! Does anyone know the code for @chefsteps joule? The link doesn’t automatically give it to you.

  3. Hi Tim-

    I enjoy your podcast very much. I would love to hear you add the following type of question to your quests – what philanthropic areas excite them and why?



    1. The question I want to hear is: If you could go back in time, when would you go and who would you talk to, and why?

  4. I tried following the link above to order a Joule, but it does not give me the discounted price. I am only half way through the episode, so might be missing the special link / code or the link above is not working properly.

    Thanks for another interesting show.

  5. Tim,

    My wife and I listened to the Graveyard Book on our drive to Boston and back (from Pittsburgh). THANKS and WOW . . We really enjoyed it . . and, thought it cool that Neil Gamon is the narrator. You are right BEST fictional audio book we have heard!


    Dan and Marian

  6. Hi Tim,

    I’ve been listening to your podcast for a little while now and have been enjoying it. I’ve noticed that you don’t often talk to women. It would be great if you could do that more please, as it might help make everything a bit more relatable – I’m taking the lessons I can from all these guys but am finding it hard to connect with a lot of their expereinces.

    Thanks again,


    1. You should definitely try gliding. You’ll thank me later. It is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth. For me at least. But there is a lot to be said when it comes to harnessing free energy provided by our Sun and planet. I know Chris will break the 3009 km record.

      1. Crap.

        The above comment was supposed to be on Daniel Smith’s comment about 5 comments below. How it ended up here, I have no idea. HAAAAAAA! WTFO!

        Well, fuckballs, I guess I will say this since I’m here on Jess’ comment. You need to listen to Tim’s entire anthem of podcasts. Try Tara Brach or Maria Popova. Maybe it is not a 50/50 split between men and women, but there are definitely some kick ass women on this podcast. Don’t limit your view on this planet because of gender! or Race! or Religion! You are missing the forest for the tree. Detach and look at the BIG picture. Man. Woman. In the end we are all the same.

    2. Totally agree and more minorities and people of color, enjoy the content but would like more diversity. It would be an interesting mission to search out those movers & shakers that your main readership may not have heard about but are doing great things globally. There is a whole big world out there.

      Still love you though : )

  7. QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode?

    Definitely “HOLD THE STANDARD”

    And I guess the most important thing here is not to be an asshole to yourself and others – have individualized standards for people, enterprises.

    Everything can’t live up and shouldn’t really live up to the same standards. Each case should be considered individually. But also it’s important not to full yourself in favor of laziness.

    Again, easier said than done – like with anything in life 🙂

  8. dude, if you visit new york once in a while, you gotta meet and interview Steve Kapelonis at Eva’s restaurant on 8th street. You can go a deep and long way into healthy food and recipes, restaurant business, and into stories about huge lot of bodybuilders-powerlifters-etc from 70-s to nowadays. He knows it all. He’s got a book Pump energy food released.

    Great man with a lot of stories. Let me know, I will get you together.

  9. it just struck me but you look a lot like Boris Vian. A Russian poet we used to read in high school (French school)

    he wrote L’Ecume des jours and others

  10. Didn’t realise that builder’s tea was so local to the UK. Generally we’ll call it builder’s tea if you leave it to steep for a while so it’s really strong 🙂

    One of the best podcasts so far. Dude’s really insightful.

  11. Great episode! I truly hope to be able to experience this type of food sometime in my life. I really loved the concepts that were discussed about setting standards.

    “Hold The Standard….” still laughing about that one.

    Thanks again.

  12. Chris Young, thank you for coming on! I’m 30 and I’ve never heard anyone who thinks so similarly to me before. That was invaluable. Gliding’s on my short-list, and if you ever get interested in drones or fpv let me know.

    Tim, thanks for being consistently excellent.

    1. Daniel, please view my comment about 6 comments above with “Jess”. Not sure why my comment landed there but was intended for you regarding Gliding.



  13. Mr.Ferris,

    My ex-roomie sent me a link to your podcast. I am so grateful for it, as it was right on-time. Love the mindfulness of the questions and the candour of the responses. I am a Chef turned Ethnobotanist, carving out an unconventional path involving technology. The first hour and a half spoke to me in a way I could definitely relate. The last section answered questions I held to myself, while soothing the swirling anxieties and second guessing my actions. I don’t know anyone who is doing what I’d do – so I take inspiration from people who have also accomplished the profound and unusual. I’ve wondered if my lack of structure and unwillingness to conform to the “norm” was a harmful trait, despite the successes I’ve experienced. I’ve been operating on instinct to seek a balance between some structure to my day and doing what works for my personal productivity. Listening to this felt like a prescription to my mind and a cool breeze to my soul. I feel better. Thanks for posting.

    I’m now a subscriber. 🙂

    – Sunshine

    1. Very nice. Let this podcast and Tim be a launchpad toward your dreams. Keep moving forward, and help others along the way to see the light.

  14. 1:38:18 Homerun! Amazing and accurate assessment of harnessing the creative power in cutting edge organizations. I have observed all too often in my work that the entrenched management and leadership have been barriers to growth and change in fluid environments. Many corporations are top heavy with managers that don’t produce and slow the ability to adjust to volatile market conditions. Letting your people take ownership on how to get it done, they usually will. Thanks again Tim! Outshtanding! (sic)

  15. Doggonit that was a well put together show! Thank you Tim, Chris Young and the whole team behind this. Very impressed of your growth as an interviewer Tim.

    Was listening to this while in the forest picking (read munching on) blueberries of all things and couldn’t take notes so tomorrow it’ll be round through listening through this tomorrow 🙂

    We lead our lives with the question we ask ourselves and there are a ton of really good questions to implement in my mental patterns.

    For anyone who might find this beneficial, here’s an additional set of questions I run through my thinking and ask strategically from the Olympians I coach:

    1. Is there something you need/could do more?

    2. Is there something you could do less or not at all?

    3. Is there something you need to do differently?

    I think there’s an “Einstein” quote floating around and I’m paraphrasing “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Not sure if Einstein said that at all but I remember listening to Elon Musk and him talking about deterministic versus probabilistic (Einsteins quote) thinking.

    Sometimes you need to do more of what you are doing to reach the tipping point.

    Sometimes you need to eliminate something that’s holding you back from reaching your goals.

    And other times you need to change things up and do something different.

    Amazing work, amazing quest, great deal heard, implementation starts now. GO!

  16. Hi Tim! I am looking to find a developer for VR apps and programs to help my students with learning disabilities, anxiety, and communication disorders (especially autism). Thanks and keep up the inspiring and innovative work!

  17. Hi Tim, I liked how you asked about fiction books this time. I believe switching to fiction books(especially soon to be sci if films) has allowed to open my mind befo e reading an intense business book. Also, check out my Kickstarter called [Moderator: Kickstarter campaign mention deleted].

    1. Tim, this is the same commenter. I recently found someone who I find to be an everyday hero. He owns 7 tigers in Florida, and has seen first hand how those animals are going extinct, and creates a bond. It would be interesting to talk to him.

  18. As a pilot myself, Thank you Tim for bringing on another pilot such as Chris. Cross country Glider

    pilots are some of the best pilots on the planet. A lot of them have more skills than actual soaring birds, Hawks, Eagles. The focus he mentions, along with the meditation in flying, is the same feeling we fighter pilots get when flying past the Mach. He said it lightly, but when you can land a plane within seconds of a certain target, the precision required is that of a spinal surgeon. I very much appreciate his love of being a serious pilot.

  19. Hey Tim,

    I just had this thought while listening to this podcast. I love your rapid fire questions with your guests. I’d love to listen to a podcast of all of your guests’ responses to a single question.

    For example, “What would you put on a billboard?”

    And then just have one after the other what each of your guests have responded. It’d be interesting to have those in one place.

    Keep up the great work!

  20. Great show as always, Tim!

    I have a request though….

    Can you please, please, PLEASE interview Gabe Newell. I’ve always wanted to hear his and Vavle’s story told from his perspective. Valve’s Half-Life (late 90s PC game) propelled the FPS genre in terms story telling and has influenced all FPS games from that point on.

    Thanks for all your hard work.

  21. Niiiiiiice one!! Entertaining and inspiring, this was another goodie bag! Hold the standard! 🙂

  22. A friend that was a food scientist told me organic celery has the pesticides built in via bio engineering. Yum

  23. Just an amazing podcast. Never left a comment on anything before but just want you to know how much you nailed it with this one

  24. I appreciated how this guest wasn’t introduced at the beginning of the podcast with a list of accolades like every other guest. It made for a much more engaging interview. I felt like the interviewee was allowed to go where he wanted and was really free to tell his story. Not to say that in other interviews that the interviewee was bound to a specific structure, it’s just that this one had a different vibe to it without the intro.

    I’m not sure if that was done on purpose or not, but I loved it.

  25. Hi,

    You quote Bill Cosby on page 24. He has fallen off the wisdom pedestal for me.

    I was introduced to 4-Hr Workweek through a book group. Thank you!


  26. I couldn’t help but be curious about how Chris afforded to work for free at those restaurants for all those years.

  27. Hi Tim…..love the podcast and listen devoutly. No disrespect to either you or your guest but i take issue with the whole “vegetables are trying to kill you” theory. I think what Chris is referring to is the “hormetic” effect that eating raw vegetables can have- plant compounds that when consumed have a mild and temporary toxic effect on the body. This hormetic effect or hormesis and is a mild stressor (in the presence of certain plant toxins) that signals the body to release of a cascade of beneficial enzymes and anti inflammatory compounds as a defence. This is seen is something like Curcumin, which is insanely healthy for you but when ingested, the body does not like and tries to excrete, resulting in hormesis. So….eat your raw vegetables! Read more about this on my blog [Moderator: URL removed}

    Respectfully yours, Claudia

  28. I had no idea that I’ve been a fan of Chris’s for several years. Chefsteps is responsible for getting me into sous vide, an absolute game changer.

    One question: where in the hell did he find the ingredients to cook through the French Laundry cookbook?

  29. So much great stuff in this episode. But it’s very irritating that Samuel L. Jacksons dubbed voice is perceived as jarringly in “Pulp Fiction”. Nothing beats the original but the German voice fits perfect for native speakers. Fun fact: actor Helmut Krauss (Jacksons voice in “Pulp Fiction”) dubbed e.g. Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” and John Goodman in several movies.

  30. This episode taught me that the superstitious saying, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn” might apply to every single one of the few successful entrepreneurs we idolize. It was a great example of how living a rich, delicious life does not always involve immediate wealth. It taught me to pursue financially sustainability more than quick growth. It taught me to enjoy grinding out the early years of struggling towards recognition. It reminded me that living humbly below minimum wage is part of a fascinating journey, especially while maintaining the possibility for exponential growth. It taught me that pursuing gigantic, ambitious feats can overextend a business and put it jeopardy of bankruptcy. It motivated me to balance ambition with less ambitious financial safeguards, even for meager pay temporarily.

    Chris’ description of a standard of excellence reminded me of a line from my favorite book, “A Potter’s Book” by Bernard Leach, 1940. The first chapter is titled, “TOWARDS A STANDARD” and Leach’s ideas about what makes great pottery can be applied to many other areas of life. Here is just one of the many jewels written by Leach:

    “It is also important to remember that, although pottery is made to be used, this fact in no wise simplifies the problem of artistic expression; there can be no fullness or complete realization of utility without beauty, refinement and charm, for the simple reason that their absence must in the long run be intolerable to both maker and consumer. We desire not only food but also the enjoyment and zest of eating.”

  31. Not trying to be a prick but it didn’t start off strong with the whole oxalic acid bit. From my understanding, the effects in humans have largely been debunked http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17440529 . For those interested, Rhonda Patrick has a whole segment on it in the Joe Rogan Podcast (502) around the hour and half marker.

  32. Hey Tim.

    You should add 2:18, with the classroom questions into your notes. Its a great section to mark.

    Absolutely love this podcast. Someone who hated school is out cooking, flying in Europe, and would teach engineering

  33. Great podcast as usual. you are fortunate to be able to meet such interesting people and we are fortunate that you share it with us. Thanks Tim.

  34. Tim, many many people (starting from me) will be interested in your list of activities, things you did outside of work that you enjoyed most. could be in a period of time (given year, so far etc) or just a collection of things that you did in general that worth repeating or mind-blowing or just cool.

    As we go into freeing the time, it is cool to know what other people do outside their daily routines and work.

    (also you may include this in your bullet friday list).


  35. Hey Tim,

    I am Matthias, currently residing in Munich, and one of your more avid listeners this side of the Atlantic.

    I first heard of you circa 2012 and went straight to purchasing your three books; your reflections and actions have shaped my mind, body and actions ever since. I love everything related to change, growth and improvement, so it’s easy to see that your field of application speaks straight to my soul.

    I am currently studying Industrial Design with a focus on Transportation design, but in the last years I have come to realize that my true love is for ideas, abstracting and re-applying and conceptual thinking, no matter the topic. I am now looking for an internship, not directly in design, but somewhere in the sphere of demystifying creativity and innovation and treating it like the science that it is, Design Thinking probably comes closest to what I would call it.

    The obvious place for applying my time, skills and most importantly energy is Silicon Valley. Could you point out a few places that would appreciate such input, or could you yourself use a sidekick for half a year?

    My Dad is from the States, so I have dual citizenship and am ready to rumble.



    Oh yeah: Alles mit Maß und Ziel, auch die Maßlosigkeit 😉

    Oh yeah yeah: By the time you read this: happy birthday!

  36. Thank you. Very much enjoyed. Do encourage interview with Neal Stephenson if he is willing. Judging by his fiction, admittedly a questionable proxy but supported by anecdotes, he appears to be an archetypal nerd/badass of the type that might congrue with the aspirations of your listener base, or at least some subset thereof. Also, have you considered holding a conference for your listeners to network with each other? Might create interesting catalytic effects. Apologies if already suggested previously. Ps did enjoy Bourbon/Branch immensely. ありがたいと思う、ぬ!

  37. Favorite lesson was at the end. You guys were talking about “it takes the time it takes.” In sales I’m always fighting the feeling I should be more productive. The simplicity of the idea that you have to go through the process to get the nugget is critical for me to remember, or else I fall down the rabbit hole of frustration & negative thinking which is like drinking poison! And this is why I love your podcast. <3

  38. I think I know the connection between competitive gliding and being a chef – ability to stand the heat, working in confined spaces over long periods of time, short and long term decision making. Thanks for another great one!

  39. Tim,

    My wife and I are new listeners to your podcast and are positively LOVING it. We spent the better part of a 16hr road trip working our way through some recent episodes. Our favorite part is the discussion that naturally bubbles up between us as we process the ideas and concepts.

    I’m sure that you receive guest suggestions all the time, but here goes: We both thought you might enjoy a chat with composer, conductor, and speaker, Eric Whitacre. Check him out if you aren’t already familiar with the name. Could be a really interesting episode.



  40. My favourite lesson? I liked the part where pro gliders will use rookie gliders as canaries in the coal mines, as a way of finding thermals in the atmosphere. Using people as spies and as tools feels manipulative, which is disturbingly exciting to me