Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Eric Schmidt (@ericschmidt), Technical Advisor and Board Member to Alphabet Inc., where he advises its leaders on technology, business and policy issues. Eric joined Google in 2001 and helped grow the company from a Silicon Valley startup to a global leader in technology. He served as Google’s Chief Executive Officer from 2001-2011 and Executive Chairman 2011-2018, alongside founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
He is the co-author of The New Digital Age, How Google Works, and the new book, Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, which he co-authored with fellow Google leaders Jonathan Rosenberg (@jjrosenberg) and Alan Eagle (@aeaglejr).
Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Eric, welcome to the show.
Eric Schmidt: Thank you for having me.
Tim Ferriss: So if we flash forward, I’m sure we will jump around in a very nonlinear fashion. When I look at your undergrad experience, is it true that you started in architecture and then shifted to electrical engineering?
Eric Schmidt: That’s right. Software didn’t really exist at the time. Computer Science didn’t really exist as a field. I had been programming when I was in high school. It was a rare event at the time. When I meet some 15-year-old boy that has three computers and is a gamer, and sits at home with all sorts of screens all night, that was me back then, without the computers, without the gaming, without the screens.
So when I went to college, I actually applied as an architect because I had studied architecture in high school, and I liked it, but I wasn’t a very good architect. But I was quite a much better engineer. And when I got to freshman year, I was a good enough programmer that I skipped the freshman year programming. And that’s the hallmark of a flexible college program, is they organized around my ability. So I was what we now call an early developed nerd. Although the term wasn’t even used back then.
Tim Ferriss: What did you like about architecture? What drew you to architecture initially?
Eric Schmidt: I’ve always liked building things, and I’ve always liked structure, and I’ve always been pretty analytical. And what’s interesting about computer science is computer science is about scale and sort of scale of systems and organizing systems. It’s all the same stuff, right? So I found in architecture and where, again, I didn’t have the artistic sense, but I had this scale sense, it’s the same skill set.
Tim Ferriss: And we’re going to talk I suspect quite a bit about mentorship coaching, mentors, and coaches in this conversation. And I thought we could look at a few periods in your past to talk about influences, people you’ve learned from. And we can certainly jump all over the place if anyone comes to mind that I don’t prompt, but around 1983, and I’m skipping quite a bit, of course, you joined Sun Microsystems. What, for people who don’t know, what did Sun Microsystems do? And is there anyone who comes to mind as having taught you a lot while you were at Sun?
Eric Schmidt: So one of the things to think about when you look at your phone, or your Macintosh, or your PC, is that there were whole waves of predecessors of these things that were impossibly slower and impossibly more expensive. But had those things not occurred, we wouldn’t have gotten to where you are today. So each generation builds this product that’s impossibly difficult. So Sun managed to build what was impossible at the time, which was a one megahertz processor, a one megabyte memory, and a one megabit screen. Today your phone has a gigabit that is a thousand or more times more than that, and we sold products for $50,000 to engineering design systems, because they were busy doing technical things. And that’s how it started.
The workstation, as it was known, was actually based on something called an Alto that was invented at Xerox PARC, which I had worked with before. And the workstation that was invented at Xerox Alto PARC was also the predecessor of the Lisa, which was the predecessor of the Mac. So again, the provenance of these things are these very early research prototypes. There were a few hundred Altos built. You can see them in museums today. What I will tell you about them is they’re impossibly slow compared to what you have today. But they seemed enormously powerful at the time.
Tim Ferriss: How did you end up at Sun and did anyone in particular take you under their wing or impart lessons to you while you were there?
Eric Schmidt: So in my story, what happened was I was at Berkeley, and my best friend was a brilliant computer scientist named Bill Joy, who was the chief programmer of much of the technology of the time, he did much of the early internet programming. And when I was at Xerox, I worked with another brilliant computer scientist named Butler Lampson. So I had the best, best smartest mentors in the technical sense. So I had a choice of staying and doing research. But I really wanted to go into a company. My friend Bill had founded Sun Microsystems, which was this technical platform at the time. And I showed up and what happened was, there were a couple of — I knew nothing about business. I figured it was fun.
And there were some technical founders, they had brought in a professional CEO. It’s all very scrappy, and within a month of my starting there was a gentleman named Bernie Lacroute who was brought in. He was impossibly old at 39, compared to me in my 20s. And he knew everything, he’d been through everything. I was so impressed by — he knew how to build products, he understood politics inside of a company, he understood how to get things out the door, he had worked at Digital Equipment Corporation. So again, the management style of that generation imparted to the next generation. Digital Equipment Corporation was subsequently purchased by a series of other companies, including Hewlett-Packard. Sun was eventually purchased by Oracle, where you can buy their products today.
So again, that the technology is such that 30 years earlier, that knowledge base survives in the heads of the people who were there and in the legacy of the intellectual property that they invented. And I guess the same will be true 30 years from now for what we’re talking about.
Tim Ferriss: And you mentioned Bill Joy. I’m going to come back to Bill Joy a little bit later. But I’ve only had a few people on this podcast. The people who are on this podcast tend to be well-spoken. But I’ve only had a few on who seem to speak in nearly finished prose. And you seem to be on that short list. Have you always been as clear a communicator as you are? Or is that something that you developed or honed, and if so, how?
Eric Schmidt: I don’t know, to be honest. This is who I am. I think what happens is that I’m a very logical thinker and I’m a good explainer. So logical thinker, plus good explainer, is how it works. And I also try very hard to observe things around me and try to figure out how things work. And that’s been sort of my secret to having a little luck around me. But going back to mentors, so Bernie was an incredible force because he was also tough, and he was also clear and he was also precise, and he would get upset if we weren’t working hard enough on something, and he pushed us. And I learned something. I was a very polite, nice scientist coming out of academia. I learned that in business, you need to be pushed. You need somebody who says, “We’re going to go do this and we’re going to to push it very hard.” And he really trained me in the executive arts, if you will. I worked for him for a decade.
Tim Ferriss: I’d love to talk about those executive arts because in my experience, this isn’t uniform, of course, but some technologists view say, the sales side or the management side, with some degree of disdain. That’s not true across the board, but it’s a somewhat common sentiment. What were some of the executive arts or lessons that you learned at that time?
Eric Schmidt: It’s important to say right now that today we know much more about how to run successful tech companies than we did in the 1980s and ’90s. The formulas, the learning, the standards of excellence are far, far more honed over the last 20 years of executives working in each other’s companies and things like that. That’s part of why things happen so fast in our industry. But at the time, we didn’t really know how to professionally release software in this new space. We didn’t really have open source software established as a principle. We didn’t really know how to sell it.
We figured we would sell direct, but how do we do that? What kind of salesman did we hire? So in that period, it was much more raw than it sounds in hindsight. We honestly didn’t know. Do we hire a blue-suited salesman who looks good and talks a lot? Do we hire somebody who’s very technical? Because our customers were technical. How do we goal them? How do we listen to them? Those of us on the technical side found the salespeople very entertaining because all they did was talk and we would sit there and eventually I was so curious for this.
I asked one of the salespeople to actually come and present to the engineers: what do salespeople do? And what he did is he got up and he said, “Look, my job is to talk to people until they buy things.” And we all said, “Well, how do you actually do this?” He said, “That’s why I’m always on the phone. And I don’t want to have dinner with you; I want to have lunch with you because I want to have dinner with my family.” So we learned a lot about high-end sales cycles that have since become the norm and these big ticket items. What’s interesting is the industry has to some degree moved away from that, now that the industry is gone from more B to B to B to C — that is, consumer businesses. And a big change from that Sun period is now our industry is a consumer focused industry with many, many successful such companies.
Tim Ferriss: And you are a very good and clear explainer, and feel free to fact check me on this, but I believe you’ve taught at Stanford GSB, the Graduate School of Business, and did you teach with Peter Wendell? The Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital class?
Eric Schmidt: That’s correct. I’m also teaching a class on artificial intelligence applied to science at Caltech.
Tim Ferriss: Another fantastic institution. I’ve spent some time with Peter because I went to Princeton undergrad, and had a chance to hear him as a guest speaker, and then went to GSB to sit in on his class when he was teaching many, many years ago, back when I had more hair. And in that class, are there any particular resources or books that you like to point people to? For those who want to learn, like you said a lot of things have been codified in the last few decades.
Eric Schmidt: What’s interesting is a lot of the things that I’m talking about are still not written down from the engineering science perspective. How do you manage a large software project? I’m not aware of a defining book that describes that. There’s plenty of technical books about aspects of software, but the culture of software is still evolving. An example is that a recent change is essentially pair programming, where somebody writes code, another one checks it. There are languages, a recent language is called the Go language, which actually is designed around that principle, right? So we just presume that that’s how programming is done. These were all things that were not worked out at the time. Without plugging my own books too much, we teach how Google works.
In Peter Wendell and my class at Stanford, which is very, very highly ranked class — and I, having just done it — I still think that the basic lessons that we talk about in How Google Works, which are fundamentally that it’s the product, it’s the product, it’s the product; it’s recruiting, it’s recruiting, it’s recruiting, and transparency of how you operate are sort of the key lessons that we learned and they’re codified in that book.
Tim Ferriss: And I think we can segue towards Google because we’re going to spend quite a bit of time on it, and we may hit some of the intervening chapters along the way. You mentioned Bill Joy earlier, and as you mentioned, legendary for his prowess as a programmer, who also then spent some time as a venture capitalist. And when I look at — I think it was an interview or talk that you’ve given and this is actually on the Stanford GSB site — you mentioned that approach that he had — one of his one of his approaches — so he’d find an area of interest, look up research papers about it. He would figure out the two or three best authors, and then call them.
And by the way, these are people who no one ever calls, so they would call him right back, and then he would ask them, “What’s the most interesting thing in your field?” And I bring this up because I am segueing to another venture capitalist named John Doerr. But before we get into the role that John played, according to my reading, at least in your introduction to Google, who is John Doerr? What makes him special? You can answer that, of course, in any order.
Eric Schmidt: Well, John was this mythical figure that I met. When I first joined Sun, he seemed everywhere. And he was one of these prodigies at sales. He had worked at a company called Compaq, and he’d been so successful as a salesperson that he had joined Kleiner Perkins, which became the most successful venture firm in history, and was so for a long time. And he was on the board of Sun and Compaq and a number of other companies. And it was critical. What was interesting to me was I learned a lot from John because he had a pretty simple rule, which is that: what to venture capitalists do? They help the management team, they recruit management team, and they raise money.
So his job was once you had identified a company, you’d invest in it, you were all in on that company. And Kleiner Perkins at the time was the highest return, highest risk margin, highest lead paid partners of any of them. And interestingly Bernie, who was my mentor and coach if you will, went to Kleiner Perkins after he left Sun, and a number of other people, including Vinod Khosla, did as well.
So the world is much smaller than it seems, if you’re an outsider looking at our world, somehow you think it’s this vast world. But to me, it seems like about 100 people and they all know each other. They’ve all been on each other’s boards. They were all working together toward a common goal. I’ve since learned that this is how industries develop. So when you go back to the starting of the automobile industry, or the starting of any other industry, it was a small community and everyone benefited by working together even if they were competing. As an aside, when I first came to Google, I developed a habit of calling Terry Semel, who was the then-CEO of Yahoo — was our primary competitor — to congratulate him for every deal he got, and he developed the habit of calling me to congratulate me for my getting every deal.
And the reason, aside from being a good person — which he was — was we knew that if he got a customer to buy their product, we would shortly follow into that account. And he knew that if we got a customer using this, he knew that he would shortly follow into the account. So there’s a real camaraderie around sharing the building of these new network platforms, these new sort of forces of good, if you will, and they’re a relatively small group for much of their time.
Tim Ferriss: It also seems like, this is just one theory that I’ve come across when people are trying to explain why Silicon Valley happened where it did, that non-competes in California being difficult to enforce seem to have also played a role in a lot of that formation. That we don’t have to take too much time for that. But I thought that was — do you find that sort of a plausible contributing factor when you have, I’d say, this National Semiconductor and these other outlets?
Eric Schmidt: Yeah. So true. In 30 seconds, the history of The Valley was that it started with the Fairchild Corporation, in the late 1950s, and then as a group of eight left, they were called The Traitorous Eight. And they went to Intel and a number of other companies. And they were funded by this guy named Arthur Rock. And he was the only venture capitalist. I interviewed him for something else I was doing. He’s now elderly and retired, but incredibly impressive. And I said, “Well, what was venture like back then?” And he said, “Well, we were the only ones, so we would just wait until we decided.” “How long would you make people wait?” “Oh, six weeks, eight weeks, we were the only money in town.” And he had been clever enough to figure out the limited partner structure, which fueled this industry.
So you have Arthur Rock, and Intel, and then the beginnings of the semiconductor industry, and then the beginnings of Apple and Steve Jobs and, and all of these sorts of things that we know about. But it was very much at the time a valley that was full of technical people because of National Semiconductor, Lockheed, and things like that. But essentially engineers, and they had typically come out of Stanford. So Stanford’s contribution was significant. Once the business started going, the fact that there was not a non-compete meant that people all lived essentially with each other, right? They went to each other’s parties. They were in marriages, if you will. Everybody knew each other.
And from that strength, they lifted all of us. When I was young, and I joined Sun, I didn’t realize that there was a half generation above me that had built this edifice of venture funding corporations, tech startups, and so forth which funded during that period Microsoft, Apple, Google, Oracle and a few others.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s the — do you think Silicon Valley is a non-recurring phenomenon? Do you think that there are or will be areas that resemble Silicon Valley, in terms of positive characteristics for entrepreneurship?
Eric Schmidt: So this, of course, is a raging debate in the world. And the thing Silicon Valley has going for it are, at least historically, abundance of land, great opportunity, plenty of money, two tremendous technical universities in Berkeley and Stanford. This history of entrepreneurial nature of things, a sense of going higher than others. This is the moon shots versus roof shots. There are a set of people who also believe that the nature of California is part of it. There was a book written that some of this happens, this is before my time, because of the anti-war activities in the ’60s and LSD and so forth. And that the kind of crazy thinkers of the time — again, before me — ended up here. And that also helped program the area. So they would think broader or higher.
I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I will tell you that in order to replicate Silicon Valley, you’re going to need to have leading universities, lots of money, and time. We have evidence that Cambridge, Massachusetts has done this. If you look at biotech, they’ve clearly built a model very similar. We have evidence that New York is on its way. It looks like there’s enough money, enough people, enough universities there, obviously a great draw of the city. And we have evidence that Beijing has the same feeling. When you go to Beijing, you get that same feeling of crazy startups. So those are a few; Tel Aviv is another one. We need more competitors than the ones I just named. We need 20 competitors, 30 competitors, 40 competitors.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s been fascinating to visit — like you mentioned — Tel Aviv, Singapore, and many other cities that are trying to replicate, some certainly more successfully than others. But if we come back to Silicon Valley and we come back to John Doerr, like you said, he, for a long time, was this mythical being — I mean, he’s the best known of the best known venture capitalists. And when I moved to Silicon Valley in 2000, certainly that was the case. What role did he have in introducing you to Google?
Eric Schmidt: I had known John for a very, very long time because he was on the board of Sun when I was there for 14 years. And I happened to be at a fundraiser, a political fundraiser, at John Chambers’ house, who was the CEO of Cisco. And John came up to me, that is John Doerr came up to me, and says, “You should check out Google.” And I said, “It’s a search engine.” And he goes, “Yes. And they’re looking for a CEO.” And I said, “It won’t amount to much.” And he said, “Look, you really will enjoy it. You’ll enjoy meeting the founders.” I had briefly met Larry, who seemed very smart, but relatively quiet. And so he encouraged me to come and kicked it off. So I owe the fact that I’m at Google to John Doerr.
Tim Ferriss: And you go to meet Larry and Sergey, and I don’t have too many of the specifics but as I understand it, they had a bio of you or something like that up on a wall, a bunch of food, and then proceeded to have what type of conversation? Paint a picture.
Eric Schmidt: So what’s interesting is that somehow we arrange the time, I show up. And it’s an old building that I used to manage when I was at Sun. So that’s weird. So I’m walking into a building, which has now got this Google stuff in it. And it’s sort of haphazard, a typical sort of tilt up Silicon Valley. So I go up and they have a single office, which they share. They have a projector and they’re projecting my bio on the equivalent of Wikipedia up. Again, this is unusual, they had lots of food in front of them. And I thought, “Okay, interesting.” And they start to question me, and they’re very interested in what I’m doing at Novell, I was a CEO at the time. And they had decided that what I was doing at Novell made no sense at all. And they wanted to make sure that I knew this.
So this went on for an hour and a half and it was rough. I mean, they were very sharp. And I remember as I walked out of the building, thinking, “Boy, I haven’t had that good of an argument in years.” And that was what intrigued me. The story, by the way, is the thing we were talking about were technically called proxy caches. They accelerate the Internet, and they believed that the time that you didn’t need them, and I believed that you did. After we purchased YouTube, the way we handled the extraordinary growth of YouTube is we built proxy caches. So what I like to say is they were right and then I was right. So we both were right.
Tim Ferriss: Is a proxy cache, and I’m going to show how ignorant I am about technology, but similar to a content delivery network in any way?
Eric Schmidt: Yes, a CDN is made out of proxy caches.
Tim Ferriss: I see.
Eric Schmidt: The simplest example is a new movie comes out and everybody wants to watch it online. It makes no sense to send it all from the same place. It makes much more sense to keep local copies near you. So if you’re in Uzbekistan, it doesn’t have to go all the way to Atlanta, Georgia; there’s a copy locally. And the internet is good about making those transient copies transparent to you and keep them up to date. And that’s what that is about. And YouTube is now by far the largest such consumer of such things and made an enormous difference in terms of its bandwidth. I guess Netflix would use the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: What types of questions did they ask you? Or what made their questioning different from others? It was a stimulating debate. Well, what made it so?
Eric Schmidt: Because they’re brilliant. And because they are so technically current, they can ask the really hard questions. And this is something that very few founders can do. Bill Gates could do it, as an example. But most founders couldn’t. But they could. And that told me that the team that they had assembled could really address the hard questions. Their position was, their technical argument was that there is not an imbalance in bandwidth. And that was true at the time, although it was not true once video took off.
Tim Ferriss: And how did they assess you as a potential leader? Not just your technical capabilities.
Eric Schmidt: I’m not sure. They had interviewed for about 18 months before me and they liked to spend a lot of time with their people, their candidates. So they would go on vacation for the day or go skiing with a candidate or so forth to judge cultural fit. It became fairly quickly clear that I would be a good fit because although we were different in age, we had had the same faculty members 18 years apart. And we had a very similar technical background. They were infinitely smarter than I was, infinitely more current, but I had been like them 20 years earlier.
Tim Ferriss: And what did John see in you that he thought they needed?
Eric Schmidt: My understanding, again, you’ll have to ask John, my understanding is that the two venture capitalists, when they had invested, wanted to bring in somebody who had operating experience, this came to be termed “adult supervision.” And my understanding is part of the initial investment that Sequoia and Google made is, that’s what triggered their recruiting. When we finally came to a deal, which didn’t take very long because obviously I didn’t interview anywhere else — I loved these guys and I wanted to work with them — I remember one of them saying to me, “We don’t need you now, but we will need you in the future.” So understanding that my experience with growth companies was quite relevant. And so I said, the way we worked, which worked well, was they were the technical experts and what I set out to do was to build the company.
Tim Ferriss: And I want to definitely dig into that, because you’ve talked about scale and systems or systematizing as early as when we discussed architecture at the beginning of the conversation. And in a piece in Fortune magazine, this is from a while back, 2015. The quote that I have here, feel free to correct it, of course, is: “My role was to manage the chaos. You need to have someone to run fast and have a good product sense. That was Larry and Sergey. My job was to organize the world around them.” What were some of the systems or policies or rules, anything that you put in place to help manage the chaos?
Eric Schmidt: Well, when I arrived, the company was full of brilliant people, but it was sort of wandering around. They would have staff meetings that were very, very interesting, but not very structured. They lacked at the time somebody who’d run all their product strategy, general counsel, that sort of thing. So what I did is I put in place just a management structure, pretty straightforward. So we had a meeting on Mondays where we would run the company. We had a meeting on Wednesdays where we would do product strategy. And we had a meeting on Fridays, where we would look at customers. And this was organized so that the sales lead could leave town Monday night and return Thursday night to wherever he needed to go. We’ve changed that many times since. But simple ways of getting an activity organized was my initial task.
The other thing is that we had to build a corporation. And so we wanted to hire people who could sort of grow and build teams. We had three product managers who were Salar Kamangar, Susan Wojcicki, and Marissa Mayer. Marissa of course, ultimately became the CEO of Yahoo. Susan is the CEO of YouTube, and Salar invented the ad system. So these were people of enormous consequence. But at the time they were just individual contributors. So someone had to develop them. We hired this fellow Jonathan Rosenberg, who is the co-author on Trillion Dollar Coach.
Tim Ferriss: And this may not be something worth exploring, but it’s come up in my reading, so I thought it might be worth opening up. And maybe there’s something there. Could you describe or explain what the 70-20-10 model is? If that’s the right term to use.
Eric Schmidt: That’s correct. So this was Sergey’s idea. And the question was: how do we organize our resources in terms of core things, new things, and experimental things? So Sergey — and we had an offsite with the whole management team, I still remember. And Sergey got up on the board and he did some math. He’s a brilliant mathematician, and at the end of the math he said, “The right answer is 70-20-10. 70% on your core business, 20% on adjacent or nearby things, and 10% on wild bets.” And he said that, “All of these numbers are right, you need the 70% because you need the revenue, the revenue growth. You need the 20% because you need to extend your franchise, and you need the 10%, which is crucially important for the things that you will want to do five or 10 years from now.”
And so we would measure 70-20-10 and try to make sure that the urgent was not overwhelming the important. So there’s a good example of how it works. It was Sergey’s idea, it was Sergey’s math; I took it over in a sense of I think it made perfect sense. And we measured it and we ran the company that way. And the reason I highlight this is I believe that you can systematically manage innovation. You’ll never be able to pick which of the 50 ideas are going to be the next billion dollar corporation, it’s too hard. But you can manage it so that when you get these shots on goal, you identify them, you get a chance to fund them. You look at them. You can systematize innovation even if you can’t completely predict it.
Tim Ferriss: When Google starts to take off, you have a lot of brilliant people; you are starting to add structure. How did you at that time, of course later and certainly now you have many different systems in place, but in the very early days, how did you manage the what I would imagine to be a very large volume of inbound probably landing in your inbox at that time?
Eric Schmidt: I think that that’s what happens with a hyper growth company. Growing, doubling every year is pretty easy. It’s when you’re quadrupling every year — now that’s insane.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Eric Schmidt: And you begin to make mistakes. In particular, when people are trying to contact you, if you fail to actually deal with them, you can create an enemy or at least annoy them. So it’s sort of bad management. So things would slip through the cracks. One of the things to know is that when you’re in a high growth situation, you’ve got to focus on the right things. It’s very, very easy to get distracted, and in a high growth scenario, the most right thing is to make your product better. In other words, product, product, product. Because if you have a very strong product, it’s relatively easy to sell.
It’s relatively easy with a very strong product to make money from it. It’s relatively easy to recruit people to work on it. If you have a weak product, it’s very different. So Google famously was a product company, not anything else. And that was, again, because of the strengths of the founders with me helping them.
Tim Ferriss: And does that then help you for instance, if you’re getting — just making up a number, a hundred? It’s probably more like a thousand. Who knows? Emails a day to filter for product-related communication or prioritizing for internal team first than any external? I know this is a very ground-level question but I’m curious —
Eric Schmidt: I can tell you that as the CEO that my most important thing to do is to make the velocity of interactions faster. So the moment I get an email, I deal with it immediately, which is typically to send to somebody else to deal with it. So everything that lags through me, like molasses, it’s slowing the company down. So I am about spin rate, I’ll use an example. If you want to win the bike race, in the marathon bike race, the best way to do it is to establish a spin rate and hold that spin rate constant, just chug, chug, chug, chug, chug, chug at the same rate, and you eventually get there and you do really well. So my theory of management was just to run at the same high speed, seven days a week. And that meant that every email got forwarded, every issue was addressed, and so forth. And that sort of heads-down focus, I think, is a key in very high growth environments.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned earlier having — and we’re going to segue to someone you alluded to in just a moment, Trillion Dollar Coach — the one version of weekly meetings: you had Monday, running the company; Wednesday, product; I think it was Friday, customers. For yourself, did you also have — it might have been the same schedule, but I’m thinking of a conversation with Jack Dorsey where he described something similar, right? Instead of having five different pieces of the business being discussed every day, breaking it out so there are daily clear priorities, whether it’s the sort of administrative, organizational stuff, product, or otherwise for you to help the company maintain that spin rate, what did your weekly schedule look like? And that might be a bad question, but I just want to see if there’s anything there.
Eric Schmidt: Well, we initially did the Monday, Wednesday, Friday, but remember, at that time, we didn’t have to travel. The sales guy got to travel, but the rest of us didn’t. As the company grew, there was much more physical traveling. So we ultimately resolved to a Monday, Tuesday structure. Most corporations have a Monday or a Tuesday meeting. And then that allows for the rest of the week to people to travel. And Walmart, by the way, is the inverse. They have the week, the managers are expected to be out in the field. They fly back on Friday night. And then they meet on Saturday morning after doing corporate exercises. By exercises, I mean physical exercise. So these gathering traditions are very, very important. If I had my own way, the way I would run the companies, I would meet every day at 4:00. Because operationally, things happen every day and they can be quick.
What I’ve noticed in the political campaigns that I’ve observed is that they typically have a 9:00 a.m. daily meeting, which is kind of an update. And before 9:00 a.m., everyone kind of figures out what the crisis will be for the day, and off they go. If you look at the White House, the first thing that happens in most presidencies is that there’s the presidential daily brief, which is the issues going on in the world, which is typically a half an hour at 8:00 a.m. So for operational jobs, it looks to me like if you’re not meeting with your staff often in a week, you’re not running it tight enough.
Now this does not mean that I was telling them what to do. These were check-ins. These were issue, issue, issue. And because we were talking to each other all the time, we had context and then because that ends up causing you to think short-term, you then have to have a separate process to have an offsite meeting some kind of strategic discussion, some kind of ideation around what people would like as opposed to what they’re currently doing. You have to do both.
Tim Ferriss: And you would choose for the daily meetings, 4:00 p.m. instead of first thing in the morning, is that right?
Eric Schmidt: Yeah, but that’s just a personal preference. But I think it’s one of those things where if I were to start with a new firm today, the first thing I’d say is, “What is our idealized meeting frequency?” And I think if you ask people what would work for them, you would end up with a couple of meetings a week that would be organized around the life schedules and other personal commitments people have. And it would work. It gets harder — the fundamental problem you have in global companies is time zones, and how do you accommodate people who are on video conference in Europe and things like that?
Tim Ferriss: Could you please tell me who Bill Campbell is? Because I want us to make sure we segue there.
Eric Schmidt: So Jonathan, Alan, and I have written a book called Trillion Dollar Coach and Bill Campbell is, at least in our opinion, the most successful coach in world history. He was the primary coach for Google in its rise. He was also the primary coach for Apple in its rise along with a host of other companies. And that some of the companies that he has coached have now exceeded more than $2 trillion of value. So it gives you a sense of the value that he helped create. His background was that he was a football coach at Columbia. And we pointed out many times to Bill that he wasn’t particularly successful, although he tried very hard, maybe it’s because he was at Columbia, we don’t really know. But he was an extraordinary coach of humans.
And so in my first year at Google, John Doerr, who had placed me here at Google, said, “You need a coach.” And I said, “I don’t need a coach. I’m really good.” And he said after some back and forth he said, “Well, do tennis players have coaches?” And I said, “Yes.” And then he got me. I had to say, “Okay.” So we met and then the rest is history.
Tim Ferriss: He has just an incredible — and I do mean incredible in the literal sense — an incredible resume. As you said, he had this coaching career and then it seemingly segued into technology. And you go down the list and you have Bezos, Marissa Mayer, Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, yourself. What made him different? Why Bill?
Eric Schmidt: It’s important to explain why coaching matters. You hear all the day that “I need a mentor.” Well, by the way, you need a mentor and I need a mentor; mentors are great. That’s not what Bill was. Bill was a coach and more importantly, he was the best coach of teams ever. And why do you need a team? Because a company is not an individual, it’s a team of individuals who need coaching to achieve their objective. So all those skills that he built over those many years ultimately culminated into this enormous success that he had. Unfortunately he died about three years ago. But I think his legacy will live on forever in The Valley.
The thing that he did is he understood how to coach teams of people who were, themselves, competitive with each other. And I mention this because you would assume that, if you go to a company, as you get higher and higher, you’re dealing with very sophisticated, very educated, very experienced, seasoned professionals; they all know what to do. Well, in fact, not only do they not know what to do, but they’re all caught up in their own politics and their own egos, and they disagree with each other, and they want to make their mark, and they want credit, and so forth. And a coach sorts that out in the same sense that a coach of a football team or a basketball team does. It’s the same principle, but applied to business.
Tim Ferriss: And we were just talking about — I figured we can dive into many different aspects of his coaching. And we were talking about meetings not too long ago. Bill seems to have had very clear opinions on how to start and run a meeting. Do you recall how he did that? Or how we recommend that people do it?
Eric Schmidt: I do. And what’s funny about it is that he was such an integral coach, I can’t tell you what ideas were mine and what ideas were his. All I can say is that we, that is he and I, implemented these principles together, which is obviously a statement of how good a coach he really was. So for example, meetings tend to be unstructured. So his advice was: Make a list of things you want to talk about, and then start the meeting not with that list — unless you’re in crisis — but start with trip reports. Because people were traveling, people would spend five or 10 minutes. We would often use Google Maps and show, “I went from here to here to here.” But then that allowed people to conversationally explain what they were worried about, or what they had observed.
This worked incredibly well, because it humanized the organization. Another thing that Bill did is he made you feel that he loved you by listening to you as a person. And the thing I learned from Bill and I’m used to running fast, and I’m used to “Blah, blah, blah, is this good or bad? That’s fine. Goodbye,” right? That doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for junior employees, and it doesn’t work for senior employees. They’re human too. So if you’re going to manage people, or lead them, lead the whole person. “How are you? How is your family? How is your operation? What are you worried about? What are you better at life? What do you think about the political situation? What do you think about the Grand Prix and the race cars?” Whatever it takes to get people to be humanized turns out to be key and the difference between a coach and a manager, this is important, is a manager will say, “Tim, please do this.”
A coach will say, “Tim, what do you want to do?” And he’ll carefully guide you to what you want to be to what the collective good is. That function is critical. Imagine if we had that in our political system, right? Which we don’t today, Right? Imagine if we had it in most companies, all of these issues, everyone would be kind of marching in the same direction.
Tim Ferriss: So to talk about that — what you want to do — I’d love to look at a specific example which might be related, you can correct me if it’s not, but in 2001, Bill asked Sheryl Sandberg, who was then at Google, “What do you do here?” And he refused all the traditional answers until she understood the real answer he was looking for was not her responsibilities, but in what way she contributed value every day. Did he ask you that question or why was it important for him to ask that question either?
Eric Schmidt: One of those rules was to get past the slogans and with experienced executives, people who’ve been executives for a while, sort of 10 years of executives. Let’s say they’re in their mid to late 30s or 40s, they’ve done it for a while. They’re pretty executive at it, they get pretty good at giving you the marketing answers. “I’m trying to fulfill my life.”
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Eric Schmidt: “I want to make the world a better place.” And those marketing phrases, he thought were a waste of time. Not because you don’t use them to motivate people, but because they don’t give you precision as to what you should be doing. So every day you would get up and your job was to do something precisely that you wanted to do that would make the world a better place and serve the shareholders or your boss or what have it, whatever it is. And you need to be able to articulate that as a principle because if you could articulate it to Bill, you could articulate it to anybody. And he was very good at that. “What do you want to do?” and “What are you doing?”
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned political factors and differences of opinion. How did he handle making decisions or facilitating decisions when people were not meeting eye-to-eye? Let’s just say in a board meeting. He was on a lot of boards. So you have two people who fundamentally disagree or there’s sort of a loggerhead, what would Bill do? How would he handle that?
Eric Schmidt: Well, so the rule we had about meetings was that there was a decision maker in the room, but the decision maker in the room did not make the decision in the room until after other people had been heard. And so there was a protocol for that. So let’s say that I’m the decision maker and you and Maria are having a big argument. So what Bill would say, “Look guys, why don’t we come back with a joint proposal?” And then he would talk to the individuals and see if he could coach them to a common agreement. Even if he couldn’t get them to a common agreement, the fact that they had participated in the discussion had been heard and saw the decision being made, allowed them to overcome their embarrassment or envy or unhappiness that they had lost to go back and fight for a win.
Tim Ferriss: And when Google went public in 2004, Bill recommended that you step aside as chairman and remain CEO, but then he made sure you would get reinstated as chairman later. What was his thinking behind that? And how did he pitch that to you?
Eric Schmidt: There was a complicated discussion about independence involving dual class, sort of a technical matter. And they had come to this idea and I thought, “Well, I’ve done a good job, right? I took it personally. I took it wrong. It was my pride that got to me. And so he immediately recognized that this was a pride problem, right? So he said, “Look, I get it, I understand it.” I think this is best for the company and I, in the next year, I’ll work to make this reverse in the right way.” And his credibility with me by then — this is we started working three years earlier — was so high that I naturally said, “Okay.”
Now imagine if I’d done something stupid and allowed my pride to get ahead of me, right? So that’s the key thing he did, is he understood when people were hurt, their egos were hurt, or they felt that they had been dissed or not understood. And he could not not mollify them but understand them and get them to say, “There’s a bigger goal here.” He said, “Eric, there’s a bigger goal here than you.” And that worked right? And 18 years later, it still works.
Tim Ferriss: How did he first come into the picture? You said three years earlier. Do you remember your first meeting with Bill?
Eric Schmidt: I had met him when I was at Sun. And he, at the time worked at Intuit. The management at Sun was trying to hire him into Sun, but he said, “No.” And I remember people saying [about] him, “He’s the hardest working executive we’ve ever met.” And they described him as flying to Japan for a one-hour meeting, and then flying right back, which I thought was insane. That was his work ethic. I knew nothing else about his capabilities. So when John Doerr called me and said, “You need a coach.” I said, “Yeah, I’m a pretty smart guy.” And then he convinced me that I had to have a coach. But once I sat down with Bill, I knew I needed a coach. And the way I knew was that he had been working with another executive who worked for me, at the time inside of Google. And this other executive had a health problem, a very bad cancer problem. And he, Bill, did not tell me.
And I thought, “If Bill wouldn’t tell me that, then Bill must be able to keep confidences. He must be a person who is going to be on my team, keep secrets of the company, protect us, and so forth.” So it’s interesting when you meet somebody you kind of judge them of: Are they sincere? Are they serious? Are they professional? And Bill was that. And I should say that the first project we gave Bill was to get our product management functions going. I mentioned the three product management people, getting the structure, working with him to hire people, and it worked flawlessly.
Tim Ferriss: How long did it take to implement that first task? I’m just curious how he went about, once he had marching orders on something like that — or had this jointly decided with someone like yourself — on the marching orders?
Eric Schmidt: It wasn’t really marching order. It was sort of, we would have a chat. And he would say, “What do you think about this?” And I said, “That’s great. Why don’t you see if you can make something happen there?” And an example would be that one day we decided to get rid of all of the executives inside of engineering because we weren’t happy with their performance. This was called The Disorg. And one executive ended up with a hundred direct reports. So I told Bill, “Go work on that problem. Try to figure out how are we going to manage a hundred people?” Indeed, that worked flawlessly, right? It actually worked and productivity increased; it was right decision from our founders — once again, exactly correct. But that’s an example where we were responding to what the founders wanted. And we did so dramatically and quickly.
Tim Ferriss: How does one person manage 100? Or is the answer they don’t and there’s some alternate system at play? I can’t not ask! People will harass me if I don’t ask you.
Eric Schmidt: Now remember that I used the word manage, but what I really meant was lead, right? So the key thing to do was to get this one person, his name is Bill Coughran, by the way, who was incredibly talented at managing large groups. Get him to be able to do this. It’s the only time I know in history of a person successfully managing such a large, flat organization. And of course all of those people are now heads of major operations within Google. So again their development with Bill Coughran’s leadership really made a difference. But there were many, many other examples. Bill and I worked into a structure where I would meet with him once a week. And he had this habit. First place, Bill was a hugger and when I say a hugger, I mean he would hug people on the street, right?
So he would walk into an office, he would light up his smile, everyone would smile, everyone will get a hug and we would sit down. So in my case, I would go to his office, I would have to hug his secretary, he would have to hug me. He’d have to hug his secretary, and then I would sit down. And he would have written behind the whiteboard five words. And those were the things that would prompt the conversation. And I would ask him to just talk and he would, over many minutes, talk about what he had heard and what he saw. And then I would say, “Well, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we do that?” It worked incredibly effectively.
He worked on a similar basis with Steve Jobs. He worked with Steve every day until his death, including on his health and he would — with Steve, he would go for walks when Steve could walk. He visited him in the hospital, he would talk to him on the phone. His house was very near Steve Jobs’ house, so he would literally walk over and serve helping manage Apple in the same way.
Tim Ferriss: I am going to ask a question that involves Steve, but before I do that, what might there be on the board among those five words? What types of things?
Eric Schmidt: It would be the first name of an executive who was inevitably in trouble over something. There would be some theme like revenue. There would be some product that it was in trouble, that we were having issues with. There was some deal or a customer that he had heard about, he wanted to make sure I knew about. That kind of thing. But it’s literally one word.
Tim Ferriss: And how did he structure his thinking when he would — I mean you’re as you’ve mentioned and as is clear in this conversation very structured, highly analytical How would he structure that talking?
Eric Schmidt: Because he was fundamentally a coach humanist, he would talk about how the people felt and he would predict what they were going to do. So here’s an example. We would have an executive that we weren’t sure if they were doing a good job or not. Should we replace them? Should we put them in a different job? That kind of thing. That was where he was heavily involved. He was so good that I would have him do most of the compensation issues. If we had board meeting come up, he would call the board members before the board meeting to see if there were any concerns to ruffle any feathers, anticipate if there were some message that I wanted sent ahead of time. I guess, “Hey Bill, why don’t you guys let them know that I’m worried about something and maybe they’ll have some ideas?” So people could prepare.
So he’s the perfect partner to anticipate problems. So in the same sense that he was a coach of the team if you will, below me or with me, he was also a coach of the board. He played the same role on the Apple board and I know because I was on the Apple board for four years with him as the coach and board member.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m glad you brought that up because I’m looking at a piece from recode.net. Kara Swisher put this up and Kara, for those people who don’t know, she’s been on the podcast but is quite feared among some in tech circles because she has incredible sources and she’s very direct and very honest with her messaging, so it can cut people. But she put out a piece after Bill’s passing that is one of the warmest things, probably the warmest thing I’ve ever seen her put out. And in the piece she cites a passage from a Fortune magazine for 2014, which is when he stepped down from the Apple board.
And this is part of it and then I have a follow up question. “The highest-profile danger zone was his dual role on the Apple board and advising Schmidt and Google. ’Steve would say, “If you’re helping them you’re hurting me.” He would yell at me,’ recalls Campbell, whose normal banter typically needs to be sanitized for most publications. ’I’d say, “I can’t do HTML, come on. I’m just coaching them on how to run their company better.”’ He continued in both roles for years.” How does someone pull that off? I mean, that is just remarkable.
Eric Schmidt: The quote is correct and Kara is correct in that matter. Bill was not involved in the product decisions as much as he was in the coaching, and he was careful not to cross the boundaries. And he was also not on the Google board. He was only on the Apple board. So again, in hindsight, sort of hard to believe, but somehow we all trusted him on both sides. He eventually, I think got tired of the tension. But from my perspective, he was so honest and so direct that there was no question he could continue. You asked about how did he work with people? And I think that he did a couple things that were profound. His rule was, there would be no gap between statements and fact, that you had to be relentlessly honest and candid and direct. If there was any kind of eliding of the truth, he would know it and he would nail you. And he was, shall we say, very salty in his language.
That kept everybody kind of on and honest. And because of that you both trusted him. You knew that there wasn’t a sense unsaid. And he was also a very good listener. So he did what we call freeform listening. He would literally, he listened with full and undivided attention. He wasn’t doing his email and checking his iPhone and those sorts of things. You had his complete attention as a human being. And if you were rambling, he would let you ramble. And I can remember repeating myself seven or eight times. I said, “Have I just repeated myself?” And he said, “It’s okay.” He understood as a coach that I had to repeat it enough times to believe it.
Tim Ferriss: And how was he able to smell BS or stress test statements so that he could tell when people were bending the truth or omitting details?
Eric Schmidt: I think for one thing, he had this massive experience at doing this, and so you get really good at checking it. But remember, he also had many, many sources. So we would have executives, they would try to do an end-around run around Bill. And they would try to sort of go back on message, “This is what I did. And this is why I did it.” Bill would say, “I’m not sure; let’s go through that again.” And then if the person wouldn’t tell Bill the truth, he would cut them off and he was pretty ruthless. He would come in and say, “We can’t trust this person. We can’t trust this person. We need to get them out of here.” Or, “Move them out of that job.” Or whatever. He was very, very, very committed to the goals of the organization.
So think about a coach, using a football analogy. The goal is not to have the quarterback have the longest ball throw; the goal is to win the game. Now if, as a byproduct, the quarterback has this amazing achievement, that’s great, right? But the moment the quarterback gets confused, we’ve got a problem. So when you’re in the position of coach, it’s all about the team. It’s all about winning. In a business, it’s relatively straightforward. You have a set of shared goals, which are — we all agree to what the goals of the firm are. Bill was very, very good at keeping everybody on that message.
Tim Ferriss: I’m reading a quote here that I have in front of me, that was something that Bill apparently said to the CEO of Chegg, Dan Rosensweig, and here it goes. The last part relates to much of what you just said. “I don’t take cash, I don’t take stock, and I don’t take shit.” So I have two questions —
Eric Schmidt: By the way, that’s Bill.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I have two questions related to that, maybe more. The first is: how was he compensated?
Eric Schmidt: He refused compensation.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, this was all pro bono?
Eric Schmidt: Yeah. And let me tell you why, he explained that he had done really well in his previous job. And this was his give back to the industry, right? He wanted to do this. And he didn’t want to be confused by money. He wanted to work with the people on the principles that he cared about.
Tim Ferriss: Wild. So this was his giving back. I mean, decades of coaching.
Eric Schmidt: And he had made enough money. From his perspective, we did create a foundation for football players, which people donated to in his honor, which he was very happy about. But he’s a good example of one of these people who — he was very motivated about the happiness and success of people. He was happiest when we were winning and working as a team. That was his income. That was his success. And in his personal life, he coached many — he coached soccer, he worked with an awful lot of young football players. He was in his civic duty as principled as he was in his job coaching companies like Apple and Google.
Tim Ferriss: And now that we’re talking about it, it also strikes me that “I don’t take cash, I don’t take stock, and I don’t take shit” are somewhat interrelated in the sense that if you’re not incentivized to maximize your sort of economic return by biting your lip that could encourage you to be much more forthcoming about not taking shit. Are any other examples of sort of binary lines that he had, or things that he would not accept?
Eric Schmidt: Well, he had a sort of rule that you would work the people and then the problem. So if you think about it as a coach again, using football coach analogy, if you’ve got the wrong player in the wrong position, you need to work on that. So over and over again, “Is this the best person that we can get to work on this problem? Is there an alternative choice? What do we need to do get this person performing better in their job?” And then he would work on the problem. What happens in businesses, everybody wants to talk about the problem. He wanted to talk about the people and getting the right people in the right place.
Tim Ferriss: How did he fire people or encourage people to fire people? What was the approach?
Eric Schmidt: We would come to a decision pretty quickly, that it wasn’t going to work out. And then it sort of — because he had high credibility, he even had high credibility with people who were in the process of losing their jobs. And so he would go and say, “Look, this is not working out and I will help you in your next role.” And that made an enormous difference, which of course he did.
Tim Ferriss: Can you think of any particular — and if it’s possible to give any historical examples that’d be really, really helpful — any particular hard challenges that Bill helped you through? Are there any moments that you look back that were particularly stressful or agonizing or difficult, thorny, that he helped you through?
Eric Schmidt: Well, we mentioned this going public role for me. He was very helpful with the company going public, which is a big moment in a corporation’s history, helping us with the venture capitalists, thinking through what the functions were, because of course, he had done it many, many times. But I think there was no great event. It was one of those things where he became in the fabric. He was so important to us that he became — we started having him come to my staff meeting. Initially he had been an outside coach; he actually attended our staff meeting, where he typically didn’t say very much. He would make notes and then of course later would go and work on issues that seemed to come up. He was very helpful when there began to be tensions between Apple and Google. And because he knew both sides, he would sit there.
There were serious disputes between Steve and some of the Google executives over some of the issues in Android vs. iPhone, for example. And those disputes had to do with who could do what, and intellectual property, and those kinds of things. And he got people to talk to each other that wouldn’t have otherwise been able to speak. So there’s a case where having credibility with both groups was extremely helpful.
Tim Ferriss: You said getting people to talk with one another who might not otherwise chat with one another — one of the bullet point facts about Bill that I have in front of me is he taught Marissa Mayer, then-CEO of Yahoo, how to sit quiet during a meeting and let less senior people arrive at a decision. Are there any particular approaches or coaching recommendations that he’s made to you or that you’ve seen him make to other people more than once that fall into that same category of —
Eric Schmidt: Well, I’ll give you an example of that. I would get worked up over some issue and I would violate my own rules. So my own rules are to listen, reason and, then make a decision collectively. And if we can’t make it collectively, then I’ll force a decision. But every once while I’d be sufficiently worked up or upset that I would just blurt out the answer and he would inevitably say, “Come on, you know better than that.” And so that’s an example where a coach, because he’s seen me operating he says, “You crossed a line there.”
Tim Ferriss: What were some of his workplace or work day week rituals, if any come to mind.
Eric Schmidt: He would get up at 5:30 in the morning. He would be on the gym from 6:00 till 7:00. So he was an early riser. He coached soccer at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. So he would have to go and he had family commitments. So he would typically be in the office from say 8:00 till 2:00-ish and then he would go coach soccer. Of course we all worked much later than that, so we would call him. But he, for example, believed in doing one thing well, so when he was coaching, he wouldn’t answer the phone. Can you imagine that today, right? From Steve Jobs or me or whatever. And he wouldn’t respond to text because he thought that that was an interruption of what he was doing. So he was one of these principled people of, “This is what I’m working on. This deserves my full attention.” I’m worried that we’re losing that style, which I value a great deal.
Tim Ferriss: What do the first 60 to 90 minutes of your day look like? Out of curiosity. I mean you — what does your morning routine look like during the week?
Eric Schmidt: What I will tell you with — well, let me tell you how Bill and I worked it out. His structure of life was Monday through Friday, you’re just running around with your head cut off, as fast as you can, making things move. And his rule was that on Saturday mornings when you wake up, when it’s typically quiet, that’s the time to sit down and actually think about what happened in the week, go through everything, and get yourself organized. What’s your week like? What’s your month like? And take however long you take to think just in your own head. “Am I using my time the most effectively?” And so I’ve tried to do that every day in the sense that before anything else happens, once I’m awake and up and running. I try to say, “Is this the best use of my day? What am I missing? What do I need to get done? What did I forget to do yesterday?” That kind of thing.
Tim Ferriss: And do you have a sort of boot up sequence that is your default, most mornings? Do you wake up at the same time each morning? I know this seems pretty quotidian, but I’m curious if you have a set morning routine at this point.
Eric Schmidt: When I’m in one place for a while, yes, I typically get up and eat something, although not recently, I guess I’ve tried. I’m now trying intermittent fasting, see if that makes a difference. But in any case, the first thing most people that I know do is they’re online, right? So they’re checking the news. They’re seeing what happened. And the tech industry is so dynamic, stuff really does happen overnight. And you really do need to know what happened. One of the tricks is try to focus on your own news before you have global news. Because global news is so addictive. It’s like, “Oh my God, oh, this happened. Oh, whatever.” You can waste all your time. So try to focus on getting your own world in order. “What do I care about today? What do I want to work on? Am I happy with what I’m doing today?”
Tim Ferriss: If you were giving advice to someone looking for a coach, a business coach, how would you tell them to vet candidates or what to look for?
Eric Schmidt: Coaching is a special skill. It’s like writing. There are people who are great writers, there are people who are great coaches, and there’s more than one, right? So the first question is: Is this a person who lights up a room? Is this a person who has that natural charisma that people want to listen to? Is this this person who we can get to be part of our team? And then I think it’s a question of hopefully people will follow the recommendations in our book about how to actually do it. But coaching is a highly, highly personal thing, right? When you have a great coach, you will love your coach, you can go back to athletics. People talk about their coaches in reverential terms because they get them to perform so well.
Tim Ferriss: I want to ask, shift gears just a little bit, and ask you a few questions about — effectively rapid fire questions that I like to ask a lot of people who are on the podcast and we’ll wrap up in just a little bit. But before I get to those, what are you hoping that intermittent fasting will do? What benefits are you hoping to drive? And how do you do it?
Eric Schmidt: Well, so the answer is, so there’s there’s medical arguments — they’re not fact — that we evolved as hunter gatherers where we had relatively low amounts of food for long periods of time, so fasting was part of being a hunter-gatherer and that our bodies are in fact healthier and better when they eat — they’re not continuous grazing. And so there’s there’s a whole school of thought that says that the best thing to do is to not eat for like 16 hours and then eat a lunch or a dinner or just a dinner or things like that. And people report that their energy is equal or better, that they lose weight, that they feel better. The science is still not resolved on this, but it’s worth checking out.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for people interested or if — certainly it sounds like you’ve done your homework — Peter Attia, who’s an MD and Dominic D’Agostino, a handful of folks out there have some really good literature exploring the benefits of fasting, both intermittent as you’re describing, say 16 hours and then looking at more extended say three plus day fasts with data that they’re tracking with ketone monitors and glucometers and so on. So let’s just jump into a few of these rapid fire questions.
Eric Schmidt: Let me just add that one of the great scourges of our lives today is the amount of sugar that everybody’s eating and sugar in the form of carbohydrates, and so forth. So experimenting with these low carb diets and that sort of thing might be good for your longevity, and certainly of your short-term health.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. Lots to say there. But I’ll save my long-winded soapbox for another time. Do you have any books that you have gifted the most to other people? And certainly you have your own books, right? The New Digital Age, How Google Works, and now Trillion Dollar Coach. Outside of those books, are there any that you’ve gifted a lot to other people?
Eric Schmidt: I think the one that has had the biggest impact on me and the one that I’ve given the most number of people has been [The Better Angels of Our Nature]. And [The Better Angels of Our Nature] is a 700-page book on death. And it’s written by a brilliant Harvard professor who talks at great length about death rates and the human condition. And he spends a lot of time talking about what happened 200, 300, 400, 500 years ago. And when you finish the book, which takes a long time, you conclude that the world is in a much, much better place than it has been in the past, that a thousand years ago, the average man died in a war and the average woman died in pregnancy in their 20s, and that a child born today has a very high likelihood in almost all parts of the world to live to a natural old age. That’s an extraordinary statement. And that’s why the people who run around saying, “Oh, the world’s falling apart. We’ve never had it this bad.” That’s just not true. And the data says it’s not true.
Tim Ferriss: And that’s Steven Pinker for people who want to look that up. And it is a big book, 832 pages. Do you recommend it and gift that book because it delivers hope in a world where the news favors catastrophizing, or are there other reasons that you give it to people?
Eric Schmidt: This is my opinion now. I think what’s happened is we’re surrounded by information. The information that is emotional and negative occupies too much of our brands, that it crowds out optimism. We’ve seen an increase in depression, anxiety, and so forth which I think is to some degree connected to this fire hose of negative information. And a person who didn’t know would say, “Oh, it is the worst time in the world.” And I would say to them, if you think that, imagine you’re the father of an 18-year-old boy in 1943, who’s just been sent to the German front. Or worse, imagine that you’re father of an 18-year-old boy in Germany in 1943. So again, people lose perspective because of the immediacy effect. And also because there’s so much coming at us.
Tim Ferriss: I want to talk about — this may not be directly related, this could be an overstatement, but just depression, anxiety, darker, more difficult times, let’s just say, and understanding that on the macro level, I completely agree with you if you read this book. Certainly, if you look at the data, we are in a spectacular time. For yourself just to humanize you a little bit, for people who are listening, because we’ve talked about many of the successes, many of the companies who’ve been involved with — do you have any favorite failures? And by that I mean failures or really difficult times that set the stage for later successes possibly or taught you something that later ended up having tremendous value.
Eric Schmidt: For me the key moment in my professional career was the decision to go to Novell from Sun and then the decision to leave Novell. And when I was in Novell, which was a hardcore turnaround — a difficult business, lots of problems. That’s where a lot of the skills that I had not developed when I was at Sun were developed. You don’t really know how a good leader you are until you face a really hard challenge. But more importantly, John Doerr would never have recruited me to Google from Sun because it wouldn’t have been appropriate for a board member.
So the fact that I had gone to Novell gave me the training ground that, when I got to Google and there were things that I didn’t like, I would call it, I would say it, I would push it. Another thing that happened was, my hobby is airplane flying and I had been training in a small jet. And jet training, because it’s life and death, they really push you to make decisions and take command. And for me, the jet training — they actually at one point they had a co-pilot and they told the co-pilot to be incredibly unhelpful without telling me that in order to train me to take command in a difficult situation in the simulator.
So those all contributed to my development as a strong-willed leader. Whatever path you get there, you’ve got to be willing to take charge and you got to be willing to make decisions. What Bill would say is, “Somebody’s got to make the decision, have an appropriate process and make the decision and keep going.”
Tim Ferriss: How did you first notice that your co-pilot was being unhelpful and how did you respond to that?
Eric Schmidt: Well, I’m used to having good co-pilots and when they start giving you information that doesn’t make sense and now you’ve got your flying and your crisis and he’s giving you mal information, you get annoyed. And so for me it took a while to figure out that there was something wrong, because I’m so trusting. And one of the things that in this particular co-pilot scenario they taught me was, “You know what’s right; use every piece of your body, right? Your hands, your eyes, your thinking, your experience, to get yourself out of the situation. And if there’s something going wrong over here, then if it’s not life critical, deal with it later.”
And that prioritization really helped. So there were many examples in early Google where there were choices that we would have around how we set up our revenue systems or accounting or what we took to business or so forth. But I knew the answers because I’d been through this at Novell, and I understood that those decisions would be made in the most conservative way — conservative in the sense of least aggressive from an accounting perspective.
Tim Ferriss: You were discussing Bill earlier, or just I should say describing, and it seemed to me at least, if I’m reading between the lines, that he had an incredible intuitive sense as you mentioned, sort of a humanist bent that would lead him to focus on how other people were feeling and the people before the problem and so on. You have superpowers, it would seem, in the hyper analytical development of framework and systems and so on. Have you found, for instance, your exposure to the arts, which I know you have quite a lot of, has aided you in a business sense as well? Or are those sort of separate domains for you as the analytical, the primary driver in business? Is there a place for the more intuitive?
Eric Schmidt: As an aside, my Wikipedia page says that I’m a world’s art collector, and that’s false. And I left it in because I use it as an example to say that not everything you read on the internet is true.
Tim Ferriss: You do have involvement with art, though?
Eric Schmidt: Yes. But let me let me answer. I want to answer your question. I didn’t want to not tell the truth.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Eric Schmidt: So I think when you have a hyper analytical person, which I am, and many people in my industry are, you can be tone deaf, and anything that you can do to increase your understanding, if you’re like me, of how people are going to react to things, how people will perceive emotionally what you’re doing is helpful. When we started at Google, we would just throw things across, just throw things out. We didn’t worry about what impact they had. Maybe they worked, maybe they didn’t.
But we fairly quickly learned that we had to have a whole release process, which again, Bill and I put in place where we would judge for example, how will this be perceived? Should we run this test? Right? What is the moral framework of it? So businesses are more than just products. In fact, they’re about people and emotion and morality. And we had very good values from the founders in that regard. But operationally, it was important for me and everyone to remember that these things affect people’s lives. You have to really think about it.
Tim Ferriss: How would Bill or maybe how did he, I don’t know if he did, think about the word success or what that meant to him or what it should mean to other people? Do you have any window into that?
Eric Schmidt: Well, he lived his life the way I’m talking about him now. So he was a principled person of high integrity, he expected it from others, and he thought that a successful life was one well-lived that was consistent with those principles, and where you could have a purpose that you cared about. And his job as a coach was to get everyone to that, to feel that they had achieved that while collectively getting the team to have that feeling.
I will tell you that there’s nothing more fun than having a very fast-moving team where everyone’s rowing in the same direction, right? That feeling of power and that feeling of excitement and a feeling of energy. And somebody said, “Hey, I just have a new idea. Hey, can we do this? Hey, I want to make this phone call? Is that okay? Is that…” “Sure. Great, blah, blah, blah, blah blah.” Right? There’s nothing like that in my life before or after.
Tim Ferriss: This is sometimes a difficult rapid fire question. The answer doesn’t need to be rapid fire but the question I try to keep short, and if it doesn’t go anywhere, that’s totally fine too. The question is this: if you could put anything on a billboard metaphorically speaking, to reach billions of people non-commercial. A word, a question, a quote, or recommendation and image, anything? Does anything come to mind that you would want billions of people to notice and take stock of?
Eric Schmidt: I guess for me, it’s software and analytical thinking. I am a believer that the next 50 years, human society will have incredibly complicated human systems. So if you think about the things we deal with every day, the judicial system, the political system, the prison system, the traffic system, what have you, they were architected in a world where we didn’t have a lot of data, and we didn’t have a lot of software and we couldn’t really measure everything. And I think a lot of those systems are going to get very, very thoroughly designed. And if you’re going to design those systems, then design based on outcomes you care about. So in prison systems, are you caring more about punishment or recidivism, as an example.
In economic systems, do you care more about revenue growth or job growth? I would recommend the latter because jobs are an identity for everybody. So I would prefer an economic system which maximized job creation over total revenue. So the measurement systems and the analytics, so the sort of software and analytical systems that are buildable now should allow us to have the world we want, right? Do we care more about one group or another? Now our political systems, which will vary by country, need to allow us to make those decisions, but there is hope for people who are subject to punishments that don’t fit the crime, and economic penalties that don’t fit the work to get addressed through these programs systematically. We know, for example, that we can identify bias now in ways we couldn’t before.
So people who have bias used against them, people who’ve been prejudiced against, people who are the victims of these terrible things, we have a way now of both measuring it and, I think, eliminating it with good systems design. So I think for the next 50 years, the big narrative is going to be who’s designing these systems? How do they work? What are the values that are in them? How do we measure them? And much of the work that Google does and I do now is related to using artificial intelligence and machine learning to try to build these systems to be more effective against the goals that our country wants.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Excellent answer. I think this is a good place to start to wrap up. And this has been very fun for me. So thank you again for taking the time and I highly recommend people check out Trillion Dollar Coach, subtitle Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley, Bill Campbell, which Eric co-authored with Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle. Bill has been on my mind for so long, I mean for decades at this point and I have so much regret that I never had the opportunity to meet him in person and have waited for a book like this to come out. I mean it’s just incredible that it finally did and I’m thrilled that you all put this together and that people will have an opportunity to look over the shoulder of people like yourself and this who is who list of entrepreneurs as they were coached by this incredible human being, not just coach, not just business mind, but human being named Bill Campbell.
And people can find more, certainly feel free to add anything here but they can find more about it at trilliondollarcoach.com. They can wave Hello to you @EricSchmidt on Twitter. LinkedIn, they can find you quite easily. And also on Facebook, EricSchmidt76. And I will include links to everything we’ve discussed in the show notes. Eric, do you have any last words? Parting comments, recommendations for people, anything you would like to say before we wrap up?
Eric Schmidt: Well Tim, it’s been an incredible privilege to be on the show. When I think of the way you’ve communicated the ideas and the principles you’ve established, Bill would love you because of what you stand for.
What’s interesting about our book on Bill is that Jonathan and Alan and I started this book just as a thank you to somebody who had been our coach and mentor and had a huge impact. But what we discovered was that there was essentially no literature on how to coach teams in business. There were no facts, there were no analogies, there was no way of talking about. So what we discovered is that the principles that he taught us directly are the universal principles of managing teams, right? From football to business. And everyone needs a coach.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, this is very, very true. I didn’t actually get a coach in this capacity until maybe two years ago and certainly for people listening even if you have a small organization, even if you are your organization, as a single person and work with contractors for instance, having a coach even to simply hold you accountable and force you to clarify your thinking is so leveraged and valuable. I’m just thrilled that you guys have put this book out. So thank you again, I really appreciate you taking the time not only to put together the book, but also to share some of your lessons learned in this conversation.
Eric Schmidt: Okay, well, thank you very much, Tim.
Tim Ferriss: I appreciate it and everybody listening, you can find links to everything in the show notes as per usual at tim.blog/podcast and until next time, thank you for listening.
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