Podcast #16: Principles of Manifesting w Picasso, In & Out Burger, & the Baal Shem Tov
Manifesting starts with believing. Pablo Picasso’s mother said to him, “If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.” Instead, he became a painter, and eventually became “Picasso.” But he wasn’t anointed Picasso when he woke up one morning. He became Picasso after years of art school, brushes with severe poverty, decades of hard work, and a bunch of luck. He became Picasso because he believed he could become Picasso, despite those obstacles. He manifested his creativity because despite every challenge he encountered, he continued to believe in himself and his vision. This same principle applies to your journey.
You must believe.
Ninety-nine percent of the stories we tell ourselves are limiting. While they satisfy our sense of self-importance by explaining our past, they set limits on what we believe is possible for our future. These narratives define how we think about ourselves, which directly impacts what we’re capable of manifesting. But there’s good news: these stories are completely made up. You can change the story any time you like.
It’s generally accepted that action is what makes successful people different. What not everyone considers is that action is preceded by thought, and how successful people think is what truly differentiates them from everyone else. Successful people believe. They believe in themselves, they believe in their people, and, most importantly, they believe that no matter what happens, they’ll figure things out. As Steve Jobs said, “When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you.”
Stay Within Your Flow
It was the summer of 1947 when Harry Snyder, a World War II veteran, wandered into a Seattle restaurant and fell in love with his waitress, Esther. She’d recently graduated college with a degree in zoology but also had a strong affinity for the culinary arts. On Esther’s break, they sat together in a diner booth, shared a hamburger, and discovered they both wanted to move to California. Ten months later, married, they pooled their resources, relocated to L.A., and opened a little burger joint across the street from Harry’s childhood home. The fast-food business was taking off at the time—McDonald’s had arrived locally just a few years earlier—but the Snyders’ establishment stood out: utilizing a two-way intercom, it was the first “drive-thru” burger experience in California, aptly named In-N-Out.
Fast-forward seventy years. In-N-Out has grown to 300-plus locations and employs more than 18,000 people. While that’s significant growth, it’s paltry compared to the 36,000 McDonald’s locations and 420,000 employees, or Starbucks’ 240,000 locations and 280,000 employees. The reason behind this measured growth is that In-N-Out has consciously resisted franchising its operations or going public.
All In-N-Out restaurants are west of the Mississippi River, no more than a day’s drive from their regional distribution centers. This makes it possible for the company to control the quality of their product by serving only fresh, unfrozen burgers and buns. It also allows them to control the quality of the experience, with rigorous training and people standards. Furthermore, the selective nature of their locations has led people to put an even greater emotional value on their delicious burgers. For years, customers have been begging In-N-Out to expand beyond its comfort zone, to cash in and follow society’s belief that bigger is always better. But instead, the company’s founding family has exhibited uncompromising discipline, remaining true to their core values and focusing on quality over quantity. This commitment to staying within their
flow—concentrating their energy on a singular pursuit—has created a business that feeds itself through fierce customer loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing. In-N-Out is a great product that sells itself.
We all receive a daily barrage of messages trying to influence our actions and distract us from what’s most important to us. But if we hope to manifest our creative potential, it’s critical that we tune out these messages and stay within our flow. Anything that distracts us from getting closer to our true purpose diminishes the likelihood that we’ll reach the pinnacle of achievement we seek. Or to quote Harry Snyder: “Keep it real simple. Do one thing and do it the best you can.”
Three centuries ago, the Baal Shem Tov, a rabbi and mystic, was in need of some assistance. A widow in his village was destitute, living in a one-room home with three children, unable to afford heat or food for her family. Desperate to get the woman some help, he went to see a wealthy friend. When he arrived at the man’s doorstep, he knocked politely and said he needed to speak with him. Immediately, the friend invited the Baal Shem Tov to come in. He politely declined. “No, please, while it is so kind of you to invite me in, I must speak with you outside.” The man was surprised, but held the Baal Shem Tov in high regard, so he immediately joined him outside in the cold and snow. After a few minutes of small talk, the man was shivering, barely able to feel his hands. Only then did the Baal Shem Tov ask him to help the woman and her family. The man listened intently to the request and quickly agreed to assist. The Baal Shem Tov thanked his friend for his generosity, and the man quickly ran inside to the warmth of his home. Before the Baal Shem Tov departed, though, the man reopened the door and said, “Can I ask you one question? Why did you make me come outside?” The Baal Shem Tov replied, “Empathy.” Empathy—our ability to understand and feel the experience of another—is often overlooked as a soft skill, a touchy-feely emotional construct that exists in the world of human resources, philosophy, or psychology, not the boardroom. But empathy is actually one of the most vital skills you can acquire. Your ability to empathize could very well be the difference between your success and failure.
Let me explain.
Think of yourself as Amazon during the dawn of e-commerce. You’re trying to determine how and why people will shop online as opposed to at brick-and-mortar retailers, but you haven’t yet figured it out. You have resources and you’re great executors, but neither matter unless you create the right product and solve the right problem.
As you move forward and try to predict the future of commerce, what’s the most important exercise for you to perform? How can you determine what the customer wants before they know themselves?
The Amazon team took on the perspective of the consumer; they felt what the consumer was feeling. By experiencing the problem from the vantage of the people dealing with it, they invented the most effective solution. For example, one-click purchases are the result of the company’s obsession with a frictionless user experience. Why did they become obsessed? They experienced friction when trying to make purchases and empathized, realizing if they could make the friction for online purchases less than the friction for brick-and-mortar purchases, they would gain a sustainable competitive advantage. So that’s exactly what they did.
When you find your one thing to do well, empathy is one of your most important tools. Empathy makes you understand. And understanding reveals your path.
The story behind Spanx is no different. Founder Sara Blakely didn’t just have an epiphany one day and start making incredibly successful undergarments. Her empathy gave her a unique perspective and advantage, preceding her invention. Sara was selling fax machines door-to-door and was forced to wear panty hose in the hot Florida weather. While she disliked wearing them, she liked the way their control top made her body appear firmer. She realized the hosiery industry was overseen solely by men, who weren’t users of the products and therefore had limited empathy for the female consumer. On the contrary, Sara had substantial empathy. This led her to understand their needs more deeply, giving her a significant advantage when she decided to design her own product.
To effectively serve the needs of another, you must understand their needs. The deeper you’re able to understand and connect, the more empathy you have for their problem, the more profound your impact will be.
The Experts Are Wrong
Innovation is the act of applying your creativity to discover new and often better methods of solving problems. The innovator manifests an idea into a good or service to create greater value.
Innovators create new things. They manifest what hadn’t previously existed.
Experts are individuals or groups who have comprehensive and authoritative knowledge in a particular subject. Experts have acquired their knowledge through study and practice, usually over a long period of time.
Experts reinforce the past, the tried and true.
It’s generally accepted that the opinions of experts are valuable and correct. After all, they’ve spent lots of time studying and experiencing history.
The problem is, the future always looks different from the past. Venture capitalist Naval Ravikant explains this phenomenon quite well:
“Before Netscape came along back in the mid-nineties it was believed that there wasn’t much money to be made in Internet or Internet-type products. Before Microsoft came along it was believed that the money was in hardware not in software. Before Apple and a few other computer companies came along, it was believed that the money was in mainframes and enterprise, not in consumer. Before Uber came along it was believed that the money was in all-virtual and software and not in handling real-world things like taxi dispatchers and dealing with unions and those types of things. The conventional wisdom is always wrong.”
The practice of innovating—creating new things—is future-focused. To innovate, create, or disrupt, you must, by definition, do something different. This inherently requires that you contradict the consensus opinion. And since all projects, practices, and processes are constantly evolving, all the assessments by experts—the people forming the consensus view—will eventually be outdated.
Evolution Not Revolution
Now we’re going to add a twist to this idea of innovation. And we’re going to do so by revisiting our trusty friend the hamburger. If you take some time to count all the burger restaurants, it will blow your mind. Along with In-N-Out and McDonald’s, Burger King has over 15,000 locations. Wendy’s has over 5,000. And even with the 56,000-plus restaurants between these four brands, there was enough demand in the market for Shake Shack. They’ve opened 136 locations since 2004.
And it doesn’t stop there.
There is BurgerFi, Burger Joint, Smashburger, J. G. Melon, Five Guys, Fatburger, Johnny Rockets, P. J. Clarke’s, Umami Burger, White Castle, Bill’s, and many, many, many more. And it’s not as if you can’t get a good burger in most restaurants serving standard American fare.
How does this make sense?
Don’t people crave something different, something new?
Isn’t variety the spice of life?
It turns out that isn’t entirely true. An overwhelming majority of successful businesses in general, and restaurants specifically, serve and sell items that are familiar. For the most part, in fact, the point of innovation or differentiation lies in the creative execution of a familiar form, not in the creation of an entirely new form.
For instance, the Cronut. Dominique Ansel didn’t create something new; he combined two familiar forms in a new way. He did the same thing with milk and cookies, transforming the familiar chocolate chip cookie into a cup and then filling it with flavored milk. Ansel successfully expressed his personal creative vision through a familiar form.
The same could be said of boutique hotels, Airbnb, Uber, Instagram, and many of the most innovative companies in the world. They are all branded reinterpretations or use-changes applied to familiar forms. We rarely experience complete disruptions, such as the communication revolution brought about by social media, or the industrial revolution ushered in by the factory system and later the assembly line.
Humans are more comfortable with evolution than revolution. We crave the familiar. We want to be comfortable, we want to understand, we embrace nostalgia, and we’re always trying to find our way back to our home, to the familiar.
While I believe deeply that to achieve your success, you must create something that’s unique, different, and special, something that reflects your true self, for it to resonate with your audience and gain traction, the form and presentation must be familiar.
Innovation = Familiar Form + Improved Usage Model