Tim O'Reilly – The Trend Spotter (#278)

Credits: Peter Adams / Faces of Open Source (http://facesofopensource.com/tim-oreilly/)

“Money is like gas during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations.” – Tim O’Reilly

Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) is one of the most fascinating polymaths I’ve ever encountered. Wired has called him “the trend spotter” in the world of tech and macrotrends.

Tim is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc. His original business plan was pretty simple: “interesting work for interesting people,” and that’s worked out pretty well. His company has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue doing everything from online learning, book publishing, running conferences, urging companies to create more value than they capture, and trying to change the world by spreading and amplifying the knowledge of innovators.

In ’93, Tim launched the first commercial website. In ’98, he organized the meeting where the term “open source software” was agreed upon and helped the business world understand its emerging importance. Tim has now turned his attention and is very focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its implications, the on-demand economy, and other technologies that are transforming the nature of work and the future shape of the business world.

His new book is WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us. Enjoy!

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

Tim O'Reilly - The Trend Spotter

Want to hear another conversation with a futurist? Listen to my interviews with Kevin Kelly. In this 3-part conversation, we discuss population implosions, The Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more. Listen to them here (stream below or right-click to download part 1 | part 2 | part 3):

Ep 25: Kevin Kelly - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World
Ep 26: Kevin Kelly (Part 2) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?
Ep 27: Kevin Kelly (Part 3) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?

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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 Tim O’Reilly:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn

Show Notes

  • How is Tim O’Reilly like the Cookie Monster? [08:24]
  • How I managed to get a Sesame Street staff jacket. [10:11]
  • Humorous stories about Tim’s mother and the petty criminal side of the family. [13:10]
  • What happens when formerly illegal businesses are decriminalized and the Catch-22 faced by potential entrepreneurs barred by prior convictions. [16:16]
  • What do Tim’s many siblings do? [22:46]
  • What advice would Tim give to a parent whose child is bright but disinterested in school? [27:32]
  • “First will what is necessary and then love what you will.” [31:17]
  • Why did Tim make the transition from studying classics to writing technical manuals? [33:46]
  • How Tim’s concept of perception was shaped by mentor George Simon and the ideas behind Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics. [39:18]
  • Is our consciousness evolving, or are we just getting further removed from reality? [50:35]
  • How did Tim come to write a book about Dune author Frank Herbert? [54:38]
  • Is the nuclear family a crime against humanity? [56:44]
  • Fiction books Tim would suggest for people who are usually non-fiction purists. [1:01:10]
  • Poetry recommendations and where to start. [1:05:25]
  • How did Dale Dougherty and Tim recognize the potential of advertising on the World Wide Web before everyone else? [1:08:54]
  • How bringing in a Sierra Club activist helped O’Reilly’s early Internet marketing efforts. [1:17:25]
  • Elaboration on the Hal Varian observation: if you want to understand the future, just look at what rich people do today. [1:20:22]
  • Why Tim believes we’ll never run out of jobs — provided we fix what he considers a broken economy. [1:24:39]
  • How might we appropriately change the way commodities are valued beyond supply and demand? [1:29:12]
  • Technology doesn’t want to eliminate jobs — it wants to solve problems. [1:33:52]
  • What’s the story behind O’Reilly’s “create more value than you capture” slogan? [1:35:59]
  • Tim’s take on Google’s “don’t be evil” slogan. [1:37:07]
  • Are the financial markets the first rogue AI?  [1:39:50]
  • Money as a tool, not the object; the danger society faces when the most rewarded provide the least value. [1:47:15]
  • Why does Tim read bestsellers from bygone eras? [1:57:13]
  • How has Tim coped with challenges to his normal optimism? [2:04:43]
  • Parting advice. [2:10:09]

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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30 Replies to “Tim O'Reilly – The Trend Spotter (#278)”

  1. With regard to O’Reilly’s recommendation of Samuel Delany’s “Empire Star”, I recommend reading Delany’s collection, “Distant Stars”, which contains several of his stories, including “Empire Star”, alongside original illustrations. “Empire Star” is a pretty complex (and excellent) story, and the illustrations helped me follow the thread of the plot through its various wormholes.

  2. Favorite quote.

    I will only let you touch me if your hands are so full of intention that every brush of your palms feels like you’re writing a novel on my skin.”

    — Azra.T “Braille”

  3. Hi Tim,

    I’d love to hear what’s your process in preparation for the outstanding interviews you do on the Tim Ferris show. I work in Radio and media content in the UK and my job is to coach presenters. Interviewing techniques is something that I coach less because of the type of the radio shows I produce. I remember reading at the age of 12 Larry King’s How To Talk To Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere and I was really excited to find out more about the details around interviewing Mikhail Gorbachev or Marlon Brando. I should probably read the book again, as I’m sure I’ll find it quite different now that I’m 33. If at some point you are up for doing an episode on your prep work before an Interview, I’d be really interested to listen to it. Hopefully and more of your followers. In case you do it here are few questions:

    How much and how do you prep for a certain interview? What do you read in advance and what is your main focus?

    Do you have a set of questions that you always ask during your interviews?

    Do you have someone who coaches you on interviewing techniques?

    I am a believer that in any interview the quality of the answers come from the quality of the questions. You’ve mastered that skill and I salute you. Is it your curiosity in life that helps define a better question and how did you train yourself to ask questions that always provoke the ‘That’s a very good question’ response?

    If you had to give one piece of advice to broadcasters when interviewing someone what would that advice be?

    Even if you don’t touch on it in your podcast I’d love it if you can write a quick article on it.

    Thanks for your time.


    Alex Vladev

  4. Thanks so much Tim and Tim for this great interview, and especially for elucidating the difference between those businesses and individuals that add value and those that just extract it.

  5. Hi Tim and Tim,

    One of the standout points of this episode for me was the list of fiction books you recommend to non-fiction purists. I will definitely work some of those into my reading list.

    I’m here to ask if you are planning to continue uploading podcast episodes to Spotify? It’s my preferred platform and I am hoping I can keep listening to your show there.

    Thanks for the neverending insights! Looking forward to future episodes.


  6. Tim-

    Another great podcast. I’ve been with you since the “beginning” (4HWW) and podcast ep 1. I’ve been reading KK since Out of Control, he’s had a huge influence on my thinking. Now I’m adding Tim O’Reilly – I was family with his guides but somehow missed out on his great brain. What a treat!

    I turn high performing vets on to your content all the time. Please wish them a happy Veteran’s Day!


  7. Tim and Team,

    I was wondering if the thesis that you wrote regarding japanese is available to be read as I took Japanese in high school and college and have not spoken it in awhile but am looking to get back into it and seemed like a very interesting topic that I would love to read about.

  8. Today’s 5-Bullet Friday was my favorite ever … just hit all notes. The music (traditional) knocked my socks off! Thank you for sharing your gifts!

  9. I’ve listened to probably 70% of the shows. I know for sure that this will be a set of show notes that I refer to again and again.

    As always, quality work Tim. Thank you.

  10. Good job the guest wasn’t “Just an author” otherwise the book list will have dropped blow the floor : ))))) Nice wandering chat

  11. Great Job Tim. What an amazing content you have on this website. Keep up the good work that you’re doing. I hope O’Rielly media keeps moving forward. All the best!

  12. Tim you mentioned that you would like to get better at simplifying things. I may have something for you that will grab your attention.

    I recommend that you look into Anna Wierzbicka’s Natural Semantic Metalanguage:



    each human language has about 65 words in common that are translatable to other languages but are cannot be defined in their own language by any other words. For example:

    people, live, die, say, think, good, bad, not, I, big, small…

    They are the smallest bits of language that you can use to define all other complex concepts. Of course those might be extremely long sentences so it’s not most useful to use it all times, but it can give you a good perspective on language simplicity.

    Wierzbicka and her team analyzed 30 languages from different language groups to come up with the 14 semantic “primes” which over time grew to 65.

    An example definition of Japanese word “amae” in NMS:

    someone X feels amae (towards Y) at this time:

    someone X thinks like this at this time (about someone Y):

    “this someone can do good things for me

    this someone wants to do good things for me

    when I am with this someone, nothing bad can happen to me

    I want to be with this someone”

    because of this, this someone feels something good at this time

    like someone can feel when they think like this

  13. Hey Tim,

    Went looking to buy a paperback copy of 4-Hour Body here in Canada and they start at $50. What’s up with that?


  14. Tim, I had to share an observation on your ever-refining interviewing style, that really impressed me in this episode in a few places. I noticed how you have started to just hear, absorb, allow silence after some of the excellent answers and comments. It felt powerful, the way in which you just allow silence to hang without any counter-comment or observation.

    And, why don’t we all try to do this a little more in conversation too.

    “People are stuck in language” was scribbled down, and it was fascinating to research into he segment on structural differentiation from the link.

    Thank you – a fine episode.

    – And, congratulations on the new house of which you mentioned

  15. I read your book on “The 4 hour body” and ” tripling testosterone” and was curious after hearing about cellphone and the damage they do, but what research do you have on Porn and Ed (porn induced erectile dysfunction)? Even if it has not happen to you have you heard of this or might know someone who can answer, I believe( embarrassing as it is) I may have this and was looking for your help. Thank Tim F. And have a good one!

  16. Hi Tim, would it be possible to add a list of all the books Tim O’Reilly recommended during the interview? They all sound really interesting. Thank you for the interesting and inspiring interview!


    Chantal from Switzerland

  17. Seeing change is a prelude to being changed – simple yet very powerful. This is but one of the key takeaways I got from the episode as I strive to transition from long time employment to having more time and financial freedom. Thanks so much guest Tim and host Tim – it was really worth spending a couple of hours listening the podcast.

  18. Tim this was a brilliant one and I did read his book which was wonderfully written. I would say it is one of the best books of the year. I especially like his suggestions at the end of the book where he says work on something that matters more than money, create more value than you capture and take the long view. These can apply to our personal life as well.

  19. I haven’t finished the episode yet, but in regards to the poetry recommendations I would like to add that Wilfred Owen, Sigfried Sassoon, and most other WWI poetry is really quite good.

    Others of note are Thomas Hardy, Ford Maddox Ford, and Gertrude Stein. Stein herself is also worth delving into for the sake of historical perspective. I believe she is the one that coined the term “the Lost Generation” in reference to Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, and the like while living in Paris.

  20. Whoa whoa whoa. I had to hit pause on this interview (not just because it was blasting in the kitchen and the kids, and dogs have to go to bed) for just very small point: talk of open source, and no mention of ESR (Eric S. Raymond) or Richard Stallman, the godfathers of open-source? And the countless others? Did he invent the internet too? I am very familiar with O’Reilly, I’ve been buying and loving his books (top quality, well written, the best in the industry) and am a Safari subscriber) and I understand his huge impact as far as tech books, and agree web 2.0 was his, but “the puzzle” just did not fall magically into place and voila, open source. I find his background in the Classics very interesting – that must hit a chord with Ferriss listeners, and is unusual in the tech industry, but the piece on open source struck me, as someone working in the industry since before Linux (call be an old curmudgeon) was a thing (we thought real OSes like SCO, BSD and AT&T were great, Linux (with goofy distros like Slackware – srsly) was cute and cool, but just a toy, like Minix) and O’Reilly’s books were / are a great help in understanding the chaos engineering, but this struck me as a bit like that guy from Thoughtworks who suddenly writes a lengthy tome on some subject like IoC (Inversion of Control), taking an idea from a now forgotten bunch (PicoContainer), and marching to the front of the parade and leading it like Bill Gates or something. Ok, so be it. And I will listen to the rest of what looks like another fascinating interview with a wealth of other sources and idea – I love the opening quote about money, “we aren’t taking tours of gas stations” – how many of the ultra-rich wrecking this country – & world, should take heed, so I look forward to the rest of the interview, but had to point out the many great shoulders O’Reilly stands on (ESR and Stallman are probably too far out to be on the Ferriss show, bit like having Bob Dylan in Sweden for the Nobel Peace prize, but noboby – Facebook, Amazon, scores of others, no one would be where we are today without these guys. Oh, and the books were a tremendous help too, probably the perl book by Larry Wall has to be one of the most famous, it is called “the bible” for nothing. Rock on, Tim and Tim.

  21. Tim,

    Thanks for adding more value than you extract from the world. Your weekly podcasts are fantastic and I am grateful to have found them for my morning commute. You provide perspective when we need it most. Thanks to all your guests as well, they are creating tons of value, keep doing what you do.



  22. Tim – long time fan, first time caller.

    (I’ve probably listened to 200+ of your podcasts during my commute)

    This one is my favorite. One of your best interviews. I’m a long time fan of O’reilly books, and had no idea he was so interesting as a person. As a pretty non-emotional guy, his passion and vision had me teary.

    Great episode, thanks for all that you do.

  23. I loved Tim’s comment that “Seeing change is a prelude to being change”. This has great application to both personal change (overcoming challenges) and also inhabiting an entrepreneurial mindset in business. Such an inspiring guy – thanks Tim (F) for another great podcast.

  24. Misleading title. We spent the first hour and change learning about this guy’s background but I struggled to find the value in what he had to say.

    I’m not sure where it went wrong. Perhaps the title. This was my first Time Ferris podcast and if the others are anywhere similar to this, it will be my last as well.

  25. This video breaks down the Mr. Rogers video incredibly well and is well worth the watch. The Youtube channel is also worth a subscribe. The content is few and far between but very high quality.

  26. Good content, great book recommendations! But, this was a tough listen. How many times can one person say “you know”? You know!

  27. Fppzzhhh – that is the sound of my mind being blown – boy am I glad that this podcast guest and his big ideas are on the side of good, not evil!