1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Living an essential life requires that we grapple with trade-offs and decisions constantly, but building systems based on our values will help us achieve residual results and reach our full potential.  

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • We all have a system for accomplishing what we want to accomplish in our lives. Some of our systems are working well, and others are not as efficient. Evaluate the system you currently have in one area of your life. Identify one way you could tweak that system to get it to run more effortlessly, making it easier to achieve your goals.

1 Question to Ask

  •  How can I detect my essential mission by identifying what my essential mission is not?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • The essential nature of relationships (2:56)
  • How to balance essential relationships with other essential tasks (8:35)
  • Detecting our essential purpose (13:28)
  • Doing the essential in difficult circumstances (21:10)
  • The power of residual results (32:31)
  • Building a better system: Getting residual results without compromising your values (39:33)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

This is part two of an interview with Mo Gawdat, or it sort of is that because it turned out to be a little different than we expected. What we were going to do was an interview swap, so I go on his podcast, and then he comes on this podcast, and we started with the conversation on his podcast. But the moment we began it just took on a life of its own, and that’s because there’s something about him, something about Mo from the very first moment that feels timeless, safe. He’s a deep and serious listener, and what followed was special, both for him and for me. So, instead of forcing then a second interview, I asked him, with his permission, we’re going to take that first conversation and divide it into two episodes. You’ll get to hear both parts on this podcast. This is episode one.

But who is Mo Gawdat? His is a career that seamlessly bridges technology and human well-being. Mo is the former chief business officer at Google X, which means that he’s been on the forefront of cutting-edge technological advancements. However, it’s his journey in the pursuit of happiness that truly defines him. So he has the exceptional intellect and business acumen that you can imagine, but his personal mission, sparked by immense personal tragedy, illuminates his even truer essence. 

This journey culminated in his international best-selling book Solve for Happy, where he lays out a compelling framework for achieving and sustaining happiness. His approach is both scientific and deeply humane. It resonates with a global audience, making him a sought-after speaker and thought leader.

Mo’s ability to synthesize complex concepts into actionable and life-changing strategies is superb. He’s not just a tech guru. He is a mentor and a guide. His initiatives include One Billion Happy and his popular podcast. These are beacons, if I can put it that way, that help millions of people now who are seeking greater fulfillment and joy. But beyond all of that, Mo Gawdat is already, for me, a friend. So join me now in part two of this conversation with Mo Gawdat.


Mo Gawdat:

One of the most interesting debates I always have, Greg, is that sometimes we identify a problem and we try to solve it by solving the wrong problem. That idea of when a couple is dependent and they become needy and jealous, and when a child is dependent on the parent and the parent will think that 15 years from now, this child is never going to be able to do anything on their own, and so on.

The answer is no, reject dependence, while the actual problem has nothing to do with dependence. The actual problem is if there’s too much of something, it’s because of a symptom or a cause that’s not in the core of the relationship. The core of the relationship of a child and a mother is dependence. This is how it’s supposed to be, right? This is our nature, really, and for you to say it so bravely just begs the question. Is your definition of Essentialism, then, that this is all about human relationships? That none of the jobs that we chase, none of the money, none of the things that we buy, not even the experiences and the trips that you can post on Instagram, that what this is really all about, the most essential, the 1000X, if you compare across categories is human connection?


Greg McKeown:

Yeah, it is, but that’s an evolution. I mean, it is inherent in Essentialism. I mean, when you actually, if somebody reads the whole book and they were looking for that, they would find that at any time that I’m giving an illustration of trade-off, that is how I would express their trade-off. I felt I, not fell short. I deliberately chose not to get too specific as to what I thought was essential because I thought, look, that’s sort of in the eye of the reader to grapple with. But in the preceding years or the years since writing Essentialism, the research and writing I’m doing now is explicitly on this. It is well; let me summarize it this way. Like, let’s say, we live in the loneliest time in recorded history, which is true. Right, the data isn’t really ambiguous about this, and it’s getting worse, right? We’ve digitized the world on a promise that you can digitize everything that matters, and it still works. Right, it’s like the line from the social network where the character playing Zuckerberg is saying, “Look at this, my goodness, I’m a social outcast at Harvard, I’m not socially savvy with people, but, my goodness, if I digitize it all, then I can still be popular and cool and connect with everybody.” 

We even use that language; we adopted the language of connection. “Hey, let’s connect online,” as if it’s the same thing we know. 

I mean, it’s not. Not only is it not the same thing, and that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for digital connection. I’m not a Luddite about this. The idea that it can replace that. It’s equal in quality to the relationship in our home. I mean, I just had on the podcast, I just had the president of Microsoft, Brad Smith, just on the podcast just recently. He wrote a book called Tools and Weapons, and he’s sort of saying, “Look, technology can be a tool or a weapon.” Right? And at least he admits it because my experience in Silicon Valley for the last 15 years is that it’s really rare that someone will because everyone’s drinking the Kool-Aid of whatever company they’re a part of. It’s like they only ever expressed the asymmetric bet. This is all going to be upside. You know, it’s true for Google, it’s true at Facebook, it’s true at Apple, and I’ve worked with all of these companies many times, and it’s not like I think they don’t do good. But the idea that there’s no downside is so preposterous. And he said it this way. He said, for like a hundred years, he said we have made it easier to connect with people who live a long way from us at the expense of connecting people who live closest to us, and the idea that that trade-off is happening is self-evident once you hear someone express it.

And so when I just think about this, it’s a non-neutral environment that we’re living in, and I have come again to hate my phone. Like, I really just hate it. I hate having it with me. I don’t want it, and it’s so complex because there are so many forms of utility that are embedded in it and good things, and I use it for good things too. But I just awakened to how seriously it disrupts a chance of that safe attachment, emotional connection, and deeply rewarding relationships. It is, I think, actually anti-that aspiration, and so, in order to try to increase the probability that I have that in my own home, I literally am putting my phone away far more and for hours at a time and just leave it, and it’s just going to be. We’ve got to get to a life where those non-neutral actors play a very small role because they’re not incentivized to help me achieve that goal at all. They’re incentivized to have me consumed at the other end of the important spectrum.


Mo Gawdat:

100%. So what does this mean to purpose in life? That goes beyond human connection, like listening to you teach me the exponential nature of relationships. It’s a no-brainer that in my mind, I’d probably put my daughter and Hannah, and I put my mother, and I put my close friends, and so on. I’ll put those in the 1000X, and I’ll put you in the 500X because I really need to talk to you more. 


Greg McKeown:

I love it, Mo. I love it. That’s so kind.


Mo Gawdat:

But the question is this, the question is, if you want to simplify the mathematics, that simply means I shouldn’t be doing anything else. Honestly, I shouldn’t be writing more books; I shouldn’t be recording this podcast; I shouldn’t be working on anything related to artificial intelligence because, honestly, if it comes to my selfish joy, if you want, I know my 1000X. So, how do you strike a balance between that? I mean, where does the line reside? Where you know? Is it primacy and recency? Is it, you know? Is it I fulfill this first and then use the leftover time I allocate to something else? Is it a ratio? What do you do?


Greg McKeown:

Well, I’m grappling with it. That’s the truth. I’m in the wrestle and I think that’s not a bad posture in life is to be wrestling with it rather than just going along with whatever is the default norm of our times. I don’t think it’s a healthy choice to be in the “I just do what everybody does,” especially now, because I think that there are so many toxic forces that either take for granted, “Oh yes, family and 1000X.” They don’t say 1000X, “but family, oh, that will always be there.”

And it’s like no, that you’re teaching constantly that that doesn’t matter, that self-actualization is the top of the hierarchy, that it’s just about you achieving what you want in life and that that’s the way to both be happy and also to make the best contribution. It’s like this is. We’re being taught this constantly and it is literally making people miserable. 


Mo Gawdat:

I heard someone go ahead. 


Greg McKeown:

No, please, Mo, I didn’t mean to.


Mo Gawdat:

I was saying miserable while you were saying it, too.


Greg McKeown:

Yeah, yeah, because somebody said this recently to me, and I’ve started doing research to sort of, in a sense, back it up because I want the academic research behind it. But they said psychologists have found that there’s no difference between misery and thinking about yourself, and so they were suggesting that it literally loads on the same statistical axis. In other words, that the relationship is identical as literally, the more you think about yourself, not reflecting about how you’re doing in life, but just being self-oriented, selfish, self-centered, and narcissistic, eventually like that this equals misery, and they’re just the same thing. And we have now data.

I just was listening to an interview with an author. I can’t remember the name of the author, but he’s gone back, and they finally have enough data to show that, starting in 2012, which is really sort of where social media and smartphones collided in a sort of new way. I mean, of course, when the iPhone first came out, there was no social media attached to it, there was no apps attached to it, so what it was designed to do is, of course, very, very different than what it’s become. But in 2012, they can show that, from that point, the suffering, particularly in adolescent girls, the depression. All of this is directly proportional. And, of course, all this social media. We talk about it being like. I mean, who designed it, my goodness? And what was the criteria? And what did they believe about the world? And forget the incentives which, of course, are really, to like, really unhelpful. You know, we just want more people to click and be addicted more time, you know, be hooked. I mean, all of that doesn’t help. But I think even that understanding of the human condition is so questionable, and so then it has literally just led to this suffering in the world. 

Look, it seems to me that the number of people in the world who are getting the balance wrong in favor of too much family and too much close connection with them and not enough time for other things. So what’s the? What’s the ratio? Do I actually know anybody myself who I think is too invested in the key relationship in their life and not interested enough in the people outside of them? I can I don’t know if I can name anybody, so that’s worth considering. Right, like, are we solving? Do we even need to try and solve that problem, or it could get too far in that way? 

I think it’s more like this. I mean, I believe each of us has a mission in life not to select, not even to design, but to detect. I think that’s right, it’s there, and it has to be just, it has to be, you know, like, like, like the marble thing, like cutting away, and then the masterpieces there, like it’s there, and we have to start saying no to the things that we go, “Well, it’s not that. It’s not that. It’s not this, not the other.” And then, and then our real mission unfolds.

And do I think that that includes more than the 1000X relationships? Yes, I personally do. I feel a great mission to be able to reach out and impact people beyond that immediate core. I think the answer is yes. For start, mathematically, if you could impact a million X’s, then that, of course, adds up to a lot of importance, and they themselves are part of their own families, and they have responsibilities there. So, if I can help people to be able to invest in what matters in their own world, that makes a big contribution.

Nevertheless, if I get to the point, if I ever get to the point me, I’m just talking about me, nobody else. If I got to the point where I succeeded with millions and millions of people out there, billions even, and I fail with Anna and with my children. No, that is a that for me is obviously, you know, like a bill of goods I’ve been sold, a bill of goods I have, I’ve made a fool’s bargain, and so, and so I think it’s, it’s how it is, about priority. So, the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular, it was one thing, it was the priorest thing, it was the first thing. That stayed singular, according to Drucker, for 500 years. So half a millennia later, somebody says, oh, we got so many things that are so important, I think we should just have some priority.


Mo Gawdat:

Let’s just confuse everyone. 


Greg McKeown:

Honestly, though, and I don’t even know what the word means now, because how can you have very, very many very first, before all of the things, things right, like? The whole point of why the word is so useful is that it helps you to what’s the priority, and so the priority for me in 2024 is to work in a disciplined way to build routines, rituals, and systems to make sure that my wife and I feel deeply connected, safely attached, and from there, of course, our children from that relationship, because that’s the. You know, that’s the most important single thing that we can do to help them also feel safely attached to us, and that’s the priority for me for this year. And does that mean we won’t have this podcast competition? No, when you get the priority right, when you get the perspective right, things fall into their proper place, and you know at the margin what we’ll do. So that, so that if there comes a point where I go, ok, my wife really needs me, or even my child really needs me, and I have this, this commitment on the calendar, I can get rid of the commitment. I can say no. If somebody comes up, if I’ve designed my life right. When somebody just got a very, very attractive offer to do a keynote on a certain date in the, you know, a few weeks from now, we already have a family vacation planned on that week; the answer is an easy no. It’s an easy no because it’s something already built there so that you’re protecting those relationships in the future so that you’re not just reactively making the decision along the way. That’s what I’m trying to design. If I can design the system right, then there’s still a tremendous opportunity to make a difference to other people outside of the 1000X relationships. 

You know, you, in a sense you move into a sort of mentoring role where you say, well, listen, this is what I’m learning. I’ve got all these things wrong. These are the things that seem to work. Let me share so you can learn on the cheap and design and detect a life that also really matters. So that’s kind of how I’m thinking about it.


Mo Gawdat:

What would you say to those who are at a different stage in life or at a different, you know, level of privilege, if you want? I mean, at the end of the day, you know, think of someone who really has to work two jobs right, or, you know, three jobs. Think of someone, a single mother, who you know has to really take care of her children and has no time to go out dating or finding another you know person in her life. And you know, think there are so many who don’t have the choice to focus on what matters. What would your advice be, as they’re caught up in just keeping up with life?


Greg McKeown:

The first thing I want to say is just like, I just feel a lot of compassion sort of welling up in me as you ask me that question, you know, because it’s really true, right? Like, I mean, if you go back into the 1820s, which I know is a weird place for me to suddenly go in the conversation, but if you go back to the 1820s, we romanticize that period of time and some of that does seem like it was. The system built was more essentialist, right? You lived at home generally, you worked in nature generally, and there was no electricity, so when you got home in the evening, you would spend time with each other. The level of distraction was almost zero compared to now. I mean, there’s something beautiful about that, some of those things, but life was so hard, so desperately hard for almost everybody just to survive. That part doesn’t come through when we look back with our current privileged success, and I mean, broadly speaking, the success of the whole world now, in comparison to that. They had no choices at all, and we are inundated with choices for the most part, for most people. 

Now, so life has been surviving was everything before. We are in a new era, but there are so many people who struggle to get the food on the table, to pay for a roof over their heads this week. So many people living paycheck to paycheck. 

I once coached somebody who was terrified of losing a job all the time, and she was really competent, and so I was surprised by it and was like, okay, well, unpack it with me for a bit. Why the fear? You’ve kept the job already for years; you’re competent in it, you are devoted to it. And she said, “Look,” what came out. She said, “My parents aren’t living. I have no siblings; I’m not married; I have no children; I have no extended family. I really don’t have much of a community.” There was no church. She wasn’t going to a church. She wasn’t going to any religious community. She said, “I’m living paycheck to paycheck. If I lose my job, I’m like two weeks from being homeless at any one time, and there’s nobody there for me.” That’s how she fell. Okay, so that’s who you’re talking about, right, or at least somebody. It’s many people like her.


Mo Gawdat:

In those situations, I feel that what’s essential becomes very different.


Greg McKeown:

Yeah, I mean, maybe. So there was a study that was done in urban cities, and it was of single mothers, and it was asking them what their life was before they had a child, and afterward. What they found was that, like universally across the research, is that they just described that their lives suddenly became full of meaning. Their suffering went down, and their sense of belonging increased, like actually even what we would describe and for good reason to be a really difficult circumstance to be a single mother in an urban area. What sounds tougher than that, and yet the meaning sort of made this significant shift, in that it was like suddenly not having to think about self all the time, and the exhaustion of that and to be able to devote to somebody else itself was tremendously helpful. And so I think that what’s different isn’t what is important. I think what’s different is how that gets manifested Right.

So, like, when my children are young, Anna and I are spending all this time, I mean Anna more than me, but like, we’re definitely team players working together too. You know you are feeding each child, actually feeding them. You know, putting the food in their mouth. You are like the activity is different. I don’t have to do that for any of my children now. So the activity has changed, but not what’s not who’s important hasn’t changed, just behavior earlier on in my career right? It’s a tougher set of trade-offs because you’ve got to just work, or you know you’re working 40 hours a week, and I’m not in control of my own schedule. So that definitely was a tougher time, but not who’s most important, it’s just, well, in order to serve my family, this is the work that I’m doing, and so I think that’s the shift.

And I didn’t write Essentialism or Effortless because I think the world, like you, don’t write a book like let me just talk about Effortless for just a one second to make the point. You don’t write a book called Effortless because you think life is effortless. You write it because you acknowledge that everybody, almost all the time, is suffering. And is there a way of thinking or operating in the world that will be a little less hard, that it doesn’t have to be hard all the time? Yeah, so really, I feel like I have primarily written these books for the person who feels most disempowered, the person who feels most desperate that they feel or they don’t have the choices, they feel like they have to do everything. They’re doing that they don’t have, as I say, a sense of choice. This is who I wrote it for. It’s not like those people are the afterthought to me.


Mo Gawdat:

Yeah, I mean in a very interesting way, I think. I think the you know. So, of course, because of what I do, I get a lot of people. You know, I’m so honored that they trust me with their stories and their struggles and their suffering. And you know, it’s quite interesting because you said two things that I, you know, I normally say not so eloquently, but you know it’s either meaning or suffering, I think is very important to understand, right, you being, you know, a single mother, or you being the provider, or you being chosen to go through a certain struggle, is actually, in a way, of course, suffering, but in another way, it’s a privilege, because it’s either developing you, training you, making you a better person or because it’s about someone else that you care about. So you know. So there is definitely meaning in that.

I think that the way we frame it in our minds makes a very big difference because if you frame it as you know, “I’m stuck with those kids. You know, I’m struggling all the time. This is so difficult.” It’s very different than, “I love those kids. I want them to be happy. I want to give them part of my life,” you know, and they’re worse, that part of my life. 

The other, which you know, which I always think about all the time and advise people all the time, is the idea that the next moment is what matters, right? And it’s lovely that you started our conversation by saying everyone is suffering, right? I’m supposed to be a happiness expert, and you know, I tell people and this year is about my book Unstressable and how to be Unstressed, and so on and so forth. And you know, I started the year on the first workday of the year. I get 14 WhatsApp conversations at 6 am in the morning, booking my schedule all the way to March 18th, right, every single minute of every single day, you know. And it’s quite interesting because you know I have other priorities, like you, and in life, I want to get closer, you know, to Hannah. I want to spend more time with Aya, and so on and so forth, and it’s, you know, it’s the next moment that matters because I have to tell you, that day I was almost getting into like desperation, like “What is this?” you know? But yes, I sit back, and I look at it, and I say, “Okay, it’s not going to be easy to fix January, but we can now look at February and, you know, make sure that March is amazing,” right? And I think nobody is helpless. You know, I think if you sit down and find your priorities around the next moment and do it right, it starts to be better. It may not solve the challenge altogether, but it starts to be better.

And you know, interestingly, one of the things that I really struggled with is because I love Slow Mo. I love this podcast so much. It’s one of my biggest contributions, and, at the same time, you know, it is one of my biggest joys to have conversations like this. But it is quite time-consuming, especially with my travel schedule. It starts to interrupt. Either it interrupts a very tiring trip or, if I’m not traveling, it interrupts my creative flow. So, you know, if I decide that I want to write tonight, I can’t because I have to prepare for our conversation and so on and so forth.

And I’ll tell you what my finding was because I have to say I went through all of the 18 full-time jobs I did in 2023, and I took away around nine of them, basically saying, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, it’s not the most effective, it’s not the 1,000,” basically, you know 1000X impact or importance to me. And when it came to the podcast, I have to say I was, like you know, weekly is a routine I can’t keep. Maybe I should make it once a month, or maybe I should stop altogether. You know there are now 280 episodes, everything’s wonderful, and so on. And then suddenly it hit me that no, that’s not the answer. The answer is I find joy in it. I might as well make it essential by growing its impact, which is something I normally don’t do, right, I normally don’t tell people, by the way, subscribe. By the way, please tell people about it. By the way. You know, I actually almost dismissively, at the end of every episode, say, “Hey, by the way, just do whatever people do on social media just to help me grow this thing.”

Now, this year, I’m actually planning to be very specific about it, to tell my listeners and my followers to grow it so that at least every unit of effort I put in it becomes, you know, rewarding enough for it to be essential. You know what I mean. And it’s not like you know. It’s not that it’s doing bad. It’s in the top half percent of the global podcast. You know, it’s usually in the top five of well-being. But we can reach more; we can do better. You know what I mean. I think all of this is to just say misery is not going to help with anything. You know there is meaning in the suffering that we go through, and the next moment is what matters. So you might as well make the next moment work for you to find meaning, or to make what you’re doing essential, or to break out of what is giving you suffering.


Greg McKeown:

Well, you’re giving an alternative thing here because, okay, so I think the most, I think the most important idea in Effortless is the final third of the book, and what it’s about is the difference between linear results and residual results. Okay, so what’s the difference? You can identify something. Okay, I want the podcast to be. I’ve chosen to do a podcast. All right, the strategic choice is made. I feel I should continue to do it. So when I come to that moment of decision, should I cut it off, eliminate it? Know, something in me feels it matters in its own right, and I need a voice in the world, and I should continue doing it. I mean, I’ve literally had the process of thinking you’re describing myself right because it’s non-trivial.


Mo Gawdat:

It is right.


Greg McKeown:

And breaking through in the podcasting world is not directly. You know that there’s no, you can’t have like a viral moment in podcasting, right? It’s not like you have a viral moment. So it’s a slow burn process and, in fact, like the most important podcasting strategy is to continue, because you know, there’s just people do get eliminated along the way, and so actually it’s quite a winning strategy just to keep going. 

Okay, but the idea, the difference between linear results and residual results, is it’s like a 10x strategy because if you just keep on doing the same thing each day, right, a linear result is one in which you put effort in today and get a result today, and effort tomorrow and result tomorrow. And really, actually, it’s quite profound as you start thinking about it because you say, “Well, a lot of people you know are living in a way that they can’t get ahead because of this.” 

Okay, so let’s connect the dots between your podcasting aspiration and response to that challenge and your question a moment ago about, well, what about somebody who’s in a kind of desperate situation? What do they do? So, there’s an actual example of this in the book, and it illustrates the difference.

So Jessica Jackely, who’s a friend of mine, went years ago with a team of people that went to Africa, and they were there to try and make a difference. So they have an aspiration and they keep meeting these. We would call them entrepreneurs right in the West particularly, but at first, they don’t really look like an entrepreneurs. You know they’re selling food on the side of the road right so, but that, of course, is entrepreneurship. But they get to know one woman in particular, and they just met Muhammad Yunus and went to a training by him, so they were excited about the idea of the Grameen Bank and microloans. And so at first, when they meet her, they start asking her about well, how does your business work, and so on. And she has to sell food today. She has to physically be there in order for, by the end of the day, for her children to eat, maybe her. So right, that’s exactly the kind of extremity that you’re describing when you say, okay, well, does it change prioritization? Does that change somehow if you’re in that kind of extreme situation? And so every day she’s stuck in a residual result. She can’t get out of it.

They said, “Well, what would you do if you could take some time off? How would you work on your business, not just in your business, so to speak?” 

And she said, “Well, listen, I would go and renegotiate my contracts with the people that actually give me the produce. I’d go to the original source and cut out the middleman. That would increase my profit not enormously, but enough that that would enable me to then start to get ahead every day instead of just always being in maintenance.” 

And so they saw how much would that cost, and they work it all out and it’s a $500 thing, and they’re about to just give a $500. But then the Muhammad Yunus thing comes in, and they say, “Okay, well, maybe we can give you this as a loan, and that way 10 entrepreneurs can be helped?” Right, because after you pay that back, we’ll find someone else and someone else and someone else. And they did that with her. And that’s exactly how she got ahead. Somebody helped her to build a systemic solution so that the results that she’s getting are now easier than they were before.

So making something a little easier can have really profound effects, especially if you build a system that produces results because then you’re free to work on something else, a higher level activity. 

Okay, so that’s how that story could end, but there’s more to it because that’s when they suddenly said, “Well, if we do it once, what if we, instead of just doing one loan, we could build like a little platform, a website where other people could also provide loans, and we could then expand this way beyond our own income amounts.” 

And this is how Kiva.org was born. So I think there are like $1.4 billion of loans now with a 97% repayment. So it’s like a completely transformative model, and that’s blessed a lot of lives, and it’s a system solution, right? Like now, there are residual results operating at many levels. It’s residual results for the individual because they can get ahead. It’s residual results because it’s a loan, so you help many people. It’s residual because it’s a platform that’s been created so millions of people can give and millions of people receive. That’s amazing. That’s the power of residual results over linear.

So it’s not just how much effort you put in, it’s not just, it’s not just the ROI return on investment, it’s the return on effort. We want a high return on effort so that you can break through. Now, we’re coming all the way back to your podcast. You want to break through to the next level of contribution, but without burning out, without burning out your relationships, your 1000X relationships. The system matters. Can you build a better podcasting system than the one you’ve had before? The question I would put to you, the thought experiment, is how can I get 10X results in the podcast by putting in the same amount of effort that I put in last year, or even a little less? How can I build a system that does that? And so you invest all the energy.



I’ll tell you the answer. The answer is very straightforward. But it’s not my value set, right? So think about it this way: Having a wonderful conversation with an amazing guest is the same amount of effort every time. You can’t reduce that, right? It’s three or four hours of my time to prep a little, to get to know the guest, and to do the recording. I have to upload stuff and so on and so forth, especially when I’m traveling. Right? There is no change in that. There is no change in the investment that I have in the editing Vlad, my engineer, Tudor, my producer, and so on and so forth.

The most interesting side of this is I could turn this whole thing into incredible clickbait on the internet. I could market it just like capitalism. But that’s not my value set, I mean. Another alternative, interestingly, is to monetize this podcast, right? So if I monetize this podcast, probably make a million dollars a year, and then I can invest a lot of money in that, in a big team and a big fancy studio and so on.

But the trick for me is that I stand for something, right? I stand for, I don’t want to be part of that system. I want to be contributing from myself, with my listeners, to other listeners. In my mind, believe it or not, my genius at the beginning of the year was like, “No, I love Slo Mo.” Well, as a matter of fact, I’m probably going to start another one that’s in Arabic, right? But I’m going to actually start telling our listeners very openly to help me grow this thing right. Don’t let me go to the capitalist models. Rate it properly, and tell people about it. If you enjoy it, get others to listen to it because I think this is what it’s all about. The easiest way is to fall into the trap of doing things that you don’t stand for because, honestly, you know, sometimes you feel a little jealous. I feel that a little bit when I’m on social media, for example. You know, my podcast conversations get listened to 10 million times, my books get sold almost a million times, and yet my followers are 142,000, right? And you start to go like, “OK, so should I shake my hips a little?” Because if I shake my hips a little, I’ll get another 140,000 for my hips, right? And the truth is not to get another 140. The truth is to be true to your values, right?


Greg McKeown:

So here’s my hypothesis for you, and it’s a hypothesis because I don’t know, but I’m sort of in a similar enough question myself. It’s a hypothesis for me, too, which is how do you build a system? Because what you have is how I read it, you have pieces of a system. Well, it is a system. Every system is a system, right? You can have an engine, the engine of my car, just because a piece isn’t. If a piece gets taken out, it’s still a system. Now, it’s just a system that doesn’t work optimally. And so what I think is that you have a system, I have a system, right? 

Every thought leader has some kind of system, and, of course, you want the whole system to be operating on the values that you hold. You don’t want a system that violates the values because then it’s some other person’s system, and it can be self-defeating because it takes away from what you care about. Fine, using within those values, within that set of values, can you build a system that works in a more integrated way, so that there’s a dynamic equilibrium between the pieces?

In my own work, I feel like I have done I don’t know. I give myself a B or something For the effort I have put into building the system, right? So writing a book okay, that’s one thing. Are you writing another book? Okay, so you have the books flowing like you do, so you’ve got that working, okay? You’ve got a podcast it’s flowing. You have some social media, okay, it’s flowing.

How do you get it all to work together? It’s not a selfish intent. It’s not some mercurial, capitalist selfish. That doesn’t have to be right. It can still be a capitalist solution that has a set of values attached to it. Of course, those things can be done together, but how can you do it so that the whole system works better? And that to me, is the residual result I’m talking about is like okay, yes, asking people, everyone listening to this, people listening to this, don’t understand. They don’t understand unless they have themselves a podcast, how much of a difference it makes to Moe if you go and actually write a five-star review. You don’t understand and you don’t understand how darn well hard it is to get people to do that. They can love the experience, and they just don’t know that, this proportionate value, that that review counts. So, of course, you ought to go and do that right now. If you thought this conversation was out. Of course, you have to go and tell not just one person. You have to tell 10 people. You have to do that if you think the content is worth sharing or just useful in the world. You have to do that because that network effect is the only way it builds. So that’s your part. I’m speaking to you directly. Who’s listening to this? 

Now, back to you, Mo. How can you use this year, and probably the year after that, to build a system that’s the best possible Mo system so that everything integrates? That, to me, is the real breakthrough difference. That’s certainly what I’ve been working on and conscious of recently, and that gets me excited because every time I invest a dollar of time or money like a unit, the overall world sees a set of systems on the system, on the system rather than in the system. I don’t get an immediate reward, but, man, I know that something just improved for my 2025 self, like my 2025 self, is gonna thank me. My children are gonna thank me. So it’s like, how do I build the system to work together as perfectly as possible, including the social media, connecting it in an integrated way? I think that’s an exciting game and I think that’s the difference between the one the linear system.


Mo Gawdat:

It’s so spot on when you really think about it. I mean, we’re really thinking exactly about the same things, right? Because the reality is, of course, I can maximize so many of the efforts, like you, each of my efforts. Call them products if you want. Like books is a layer, you know. Podcasts are a layer, Online is a layer, and so on and so forth. You know my membership and online content and so on, but you develop them separately, and you know, in a very interesting way, because of the nature of who I am and having so much compassion in me, to share a few things that would hopefully reduce a little bit of suffering. I sort of resent the years where I was in the corporate world, where I had to sit down and you know, and build systems to do business. Really right, I’m telling myself no, a better use of your time is to finish this book about love and romance. So many people need it, or two, right? And it’s so interesting. I’m sure you’ll go through the same thing and then, but I will tell you openly from today’s conversation, I think, from an Essentialist point of view, I think what’s essential for me this year, on top of what you rightly said, is the 1000X. I think what’s essential is to get more mileage from the effort, not more dollars, don’t care, but more mileage.


Greg McKeown:

I know what you mean. You want to impact, yeah. You want contribution. Of course, you do. 


Mo Gawdat:

Yeah, and I think you very nicely put it because I think one of my biggest assets, believe it or not, is not my books; it’s my followers, right? It’s people who believe in the work that I do and who don’t actually realize that if I, you know if they take two minutes of their time to write a review or to share something with someone, that that thing would actually be as much contribution as all of the four hours I put to record the episode. Right? Because at the end of the day, you know, as the whole mission of One Billion Happy was built, it was, if everyone tells two people and each of them tells two people, then very quickly exponential functions will lead us to a billion happy. So it’s interesting.


Greg McKeown:

What you need is for each person to tell five people. You just need to change that. Every time you share the idea, you go every 


Mo Gawdat:

Everyone tell 20 people. Don’t be too nice, Mo, don’t be too nice.


Greg McKeown:

No, well, what you just said, more mileage, that’s the idea of the return on effort and the difference between linear this one per day; it feels so fair, you put in effort once, you get results once and residual. The difference is so great. But it’s not easy for us to think in residual ways. We sort of go to sleep each night. We wake up in the morning, we’re reborn again, and it’s like I feel like sometimes I wake up, I have to realign everything again. It’s like okay now, like what am I trying to do in my life and who am I and where are we? It’s like the eponymous.


Mo Gawdat:

Did we talk about that yesterday? No, we need to talk about it again, Right?


Greg McKeown:

Right, right, and there’s something about that, but something about the human condition underestimates the power of something that recurs continually. So we know this in terms of okay if I’m addicted to social media, then I go to social media, even if I’m only gonna have half an hour down on all my social media. Yes, well, over a lifetime, it’s a massive commitment to this thing. And so we underestimate the power of this, of a residual system, and that’s why we’re underinvest in building residual systems is because we think, well, it’s just easier for me just to do this thing myself right now. For example, you just said okay, so I’m gonna suggest to you to record a very specific thing that goes on the end of every single note, at the very beginning of every single interview from now on.

You record it once you’re really thoughtful about it, what the incentive is to the person listening to write that review you’re gonna share with people. You think about that very distinctly one time. You design it one time, and it becomes an absolute default at the beginning. You’ve created it every single time. You never think about it again. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. So you design it very well once. You don’t even have to repeat it after that; it’s already on repeat. I think tremendous power in that kind of leverage. Well, we’ve covered a lot here. 


Mo Gawdat:

We did. This was amazing. I am. I’m very grateful. I really have learned so much. It’s so timely and interesting how the universe, god, whatever you believe, sends.


Greg McKeown:

Yes, my people.


Mo Gawdat:

You know, sends you the information you need when you really put it out there and say I need it. So, yes, this is the year of less. This is the year of focusing on the 1000X. This is the year of mileage. This is the year of essentialism. I love your work. I think you’re amazing. I really am very grateful for what you shared today and so openly. I hope Ava and every one of those that you consider a 1000X will always be happy. I really you’ve touched me so deeply and really, I’m sure, touched so many of our listeners today. Thank you so much, Greg. It was really wonderful. 


Greg McKeown:

Thank you, Mo.

Well, there you have it, part two, with Mo Gawdat. I love Mo. I just feel such a connection with him, and I’m so happy now to be able to call him a friend. I look forward to continuing that friendship with him. And while we’re thinking about continuing, I ask you the same question what is something you can do right now to continue this conversation? Who can you share it with? Who can you discuss the ideas with? What is something that stood out for you? What can you do immediately I mean in the next few minutes, to take a micro-step in applying the conversation you have just heard? Thank you, really, thank you for listening and I’ll see you next time.