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Life lessons learned from KungFu Panda and a Mathematical Physicist

This weekend I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Eric Weinstein. It’s a really interesting conversation and one of the best parts is when Eric describes how he was in tears after watching KungFu Panda with his kids.

This isn’t a guy that you would expect to be in tears over a kids movie. Eric Weinstein is the Managing Director of Thiel Capital, has a Ph.D in Mathematical Physics from Harvard, and a research fellowship at the Mathematical Institute of Oxford University.

He probably walked into the movie and chalked this one up to one of those things he did to get brownie points with his wife and kids. He then describes how he found himself weeping at the end of the movie. He jokingly says that he doesn’t think anyone was ok with it and it was a little weird. Grown man weeping in a kids movie, yup definitely going on the weird list mister Weinstein.

 So why do grown men weep in kids movies?

Why would a man, who has a Ph.D in mathematical physics start weeping in a movie? Eric describes how he felt this was the only film he had ever seen, that defines his quest.

“Why can’t self teachers leave pupils?”

Einstein didn’t leave any Einstein’s, Winston Churchill didn’t leave any Winston Churchill’s. If there was some way for Newton to leave another Newton, dependably, just think of how different the world would be?

He then poses the question: “How would an innovator leave a successor if it was his time to go?”

This got me thinking, it’s a pretty big question and a really exciting one to think about. How different would the world be if we could teach people to think like the great minds of our time?

What’s the real problem here?

The problem here is to teach people to think differently than the rest of the world. The real innovators of our time see problems differently and don’t just assume things to be like they are. They ask the question “But why does it work this way?”. It’s not a skill that can be taught in few classes or a quick how to guide.

So how do you teach people to think this way? How do you teach people to not think the same way as the rest of the world?

Eric elludes to the answer in his question. We need to teach people how to become “self teachers”.

I think Einstein probably said it best:

Eric Weinstein, KungFu Panda

Going back to KungFu Panda, Eric describes this perfectly in his answer to a Quora post. When the kingdom is threatened, the Furious Five, the best trained KungFu masters, are powerless exactly because of their training. Their moves are predictable and their techniques are not effective. They are over-trained. It takes a self trained Panda to defeat the bad guys.

Exactly like this, in life, it very often takes the self taught to actually “save the kingdom”. The guys with the Harvard Business degrees and the perfect scores have been taught how to think, too well.

You need a Panda who has been taught by a tortoise (Grand Master Oogway) and a small red panda (Master Shifu) to save the day. People like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Einstein all figured this out and were actually college dropouts.

 It’s that simple: Drop out of college, start a company, and become a billionaire, right? Wrong.

It’s not about dropping out of college, it’s about figuring out what you are really passionate about, that the current system probably can’t teach you. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell describes how Bill Gates used to sneak out of his house to go an program on a computer terminal at the University of Washington. He wasn’t doing this because anyone told him to do it or taught him to do it. He was doing it because he enjoyed it and it was cool to him. Bet you all the other kids didn’t think it was cool, but look at him now. He found what he was really passionate about and spent 10,000 hours perfecting his craft to become a self taught master.

But only the Bill Gates of the world can do that

Personally, I think anyone can find something they are really passionate about.  For some, it might be theoretical physics, how to talk to people, how to teach kids, the list is endless…… We all have something that we really enjoy and that doesn’t feel like work. Something where spending 10,000 hours perfecting it, wouldn’t feel like 10,000 hours.

Most people are just never taught to look for that something.

Eric Weinstein, KungFu Panda

We live in a time that has been made for the self taught master. You have the internet at your finger tips with an endless amount of information about whatever topic it is that you enjoy. If you can’t find anything on the internet you have people from right around the world only one click away, one Skype call away. You can find people with the same interest from all around the world. You don’t have to do it alone anymore.

That’s a privilege no one in history has ever had.

Yeah but it’s too late for me

This is an excuse I kept on telling myself. I’ve already gone to college and got a degree. I’ve already got a job and responsibilities man. I can’t start something brand new now…..

The beauty of it is that you can. If you have a job and responsibilities, that’s great. You have a safety net. You’re not out there walking on the wire of life alone. You have something to fall back on, a support structure. There are lots of successful people who only started out a lot later in life. Jan Koum, who founded Whatsapp, only incorporated Whatsapp Inc. on his 33rd birthday. The first model T Ford was produced when Henry Ford was 45 years of age. Jeff Bezos quit his lucrative Wall Street job and started Amazon out of his Garage at the age of 30. The list goes on……

The trick here is to actually have the commitments and focus to decide to spend some time on that one thing you really love. It’s not going to come by itself. You are going to have to make a conscious effort to put in those hours and get to the “10,000” to get to mastery. You’ll have to say no to a few parties, maybe wake up early a few times and not watch all the new series everyone else is talking about. But its totally worth it.

Final thought

You already know what it is that you really love doing and if you don’t, that’s even more exciting because you get to figure it out. Go out there and be a kid for a change (even if just for 1 hour per day). Explore and read, teach yourself the skills that you want to learn. Focus your art and help other people. Even if you don’t become the next Bill Gates, you will have a lot of fun trying.

Become the next Dragon Warrior.