In “The Third Door”, Alex Banayan interviews the world’s most successful people to find out how they succeeded in their careers.
From hacking The Price is Right he funded his quest to interview Bill Gates, Tony Hsieh, Steve Wozniak, Oprah, Lady Gaga and Tim Ferris, the author of The Four Hour Work Week, and many others.
Whether you are a university student, an entrepreneur, or someone who is trying to jumpstart their career, there are many lessons you could take away from this book.
What is The Third Door?
To reach your goal, there are always three ways, just like entering a nightclub:
- The First door: The main entrance, where most of the people queue to enter and wait, hoping to get in.
- The Second door: VIP entrance, easy if you are a billionaire or celebrity
- The Third door: ditch the line, bang on the door a hundred times, crack open the window and eventually get in.
The most successful people in the world went through the Third Door.
Like how Bill Gates sold his first software without knowing how to code initially. Or how Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school, but became the youngest director in Hollywood history. They all took the Third Door.
Here are my key takeaways from “The Third Door”, along with key insights from various people I follow:
Find an Inside Man
“The most important step, I realized, was finding that “Inside Man”—someone inside the organization willing to put his or her reputation on the line to bring you in.”
Build your connections and find a way to get your foot in the door. Not just aimlessly adding people on LinkedIn to increase to 500+ connections. Have conversations with people in your industry, or the industry you are keen to enter. Quality over quantity.
Be genuinely curious about people. Find out about their interests and what motivates them. Build a genuine, trusting relationship with others. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” for some practical advice and implement those tips in your life.
Tim Ferriss’ Strategy
How do you effectively network with others, if you have no prior experience in the field? Tim Ferriss shared the concept of “Borrowed Credibility”.
Borrowed Credibility: Tim Ferriss was more than a college grad, he was an event producer at Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. By associating himself with well-known organisations, it makes it more natural and easier for him to connect with high profile people in the industry.
Build your credibility by associating yourself with reputable organisations. For instance, through internships, competitions, outreach programs and voluntary work. This makes it easier for you to reach out of them and find an inside man.
When you are connecting with others, and asking for help, it is important to not beat around the bush. Be specific with your questions.
Follow Tim Ferriss’ email template:
“Dear So-and-So, I know you’re really busy and that you get a lot of emails, so this will only take sixty seconds to read. [Here is where you say who you are: add one or two lines that establish your credibility.] [Here is where you ask your very specific question.] I totally understand if you’re too busy to respond, but even a one- or two-line reply would really make my day. All the best, Tim.”
Make sure that your questions could be answered in 4 lines or less, successful people are very busy.
You can’t Out-Amazon Amazon – Be Yourself
As Alex went on interviews after interviews, he realised that it was impossible to copy and paste their success strategies. Everyone is bounded by their own unique circumstances and strengths.
Case Study: Walmart vs Amazon
Around the early 2000s, Amazon’s growth was eating into Walmart’s revenue, Walmart’s executives panicked. They started to fire people, and invested more money in building their website, in the hope of replicating Amazon’s e-commerce success.
But copying Amazon’s strategy did not work. A new Walmart executive saw what was going on, and she hung a banner across the office “You Can’t Out-Amazon Amazon”. Walmart developed its own strategy and soon its market share skyrocketed.
Moral of the story is: Instead of copying the playbook of others, you have to be yourself. There is only one of you, understand your strengths and weaknesses and play your own game. Find your Unfair Advantage.
“There is no secret. There is no trick to being yourself.” – Larry King
Leverage on the Internet to Scale Your Niche
Naval also shared that you should be uniquely yourself. Especially in the Internet age, because you have the advantage of a huge audience. You need to find your niche and scale.
“The Internet allows you to scale any niche obsession.” – Naval Ravikant
Normally this advice would be useless pre-internet. Post-internet you can turn that into a career.
Escape competition by being uniquely yourself. No one can compete with you on being you.
Reframe Your Problem to Create a Different Solution
Have you been trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal in your life, but nothing seems to work, no matter how much effort you put in?
Similarly, Alex felt like he was almost at his wits end in his attempt to interview Warren Buffett. He sought some advice from Dean Kamen, a renowned engineer and innovator who holds more than 1,000 patents on revolutionary inventions. Kamen shared with Alex the analogy of “kissing frogs”, which he uses to motivate his engineers.
In the venture capitalist world, the term “frog-kissing” is familiar.
Think of a pond full of frogs, with each frog representing a different way to solve your problem. Kamen tells his engineers that if they keep kissing frogs, eventually one will turn into a prince.
Kiss as many frogs as possible, even if it leaves a nasty taste in your mouth (i.e. failure and rejection). Keep kissing and you’ll find the prince. Be persistent, it’s a game of probability.
But… When do You know it’s Time to Stop?
- Is what you are doing actually impossible?
That is, does it violate any fundamental principle? In terms of Laws of Physics, etc.
“It’s better to prove it can’t be done than to exhaust the infinite number of ways to fail.”
“If you can convince yourself that a problem can’t be solved, you can quit without feeling like a coward.”
Most of the time, what we want to achieve is possible and does not contradict such laws. Next, ask yourself:
2. Am I being Strategic?
Don’t kiss every possible frog. Figure out how many kinds of frogs there are and see if you can kiss one of each kind.
“Restating the boundaries is sometimes what gives you the insight to create an innovative solution.“
For Alex, his goal was to get to interview Buffett. So he reframed the problem as “What if I just wanted Buffett to answer a few of my questions—no matter how or where he answered them?”. And he found his solution, to ask Buffett questions during the Q&A segment of Berkshire’s AGM.
Case study: Warren Buffett’s Early Years as a Stockbroker
Warren Buffett also used this reframing strategy to solve his problems when he was working as a stockbroker after his undergrad. He was constantly rejected from meetings with business people when he called them to sell them stocks. But when he started telling them he could help them save on their taxes, people flooded in.
“Although people won’t meet with you for the reason you want, that doesn’t mean they won’t meet at all. Just find another angle. Figure out what they need and use that as your way in.”
Take a step back. Reframe the question in a new way, and it leads to a different kind of solution.
Having The Mindset of Possibility
You create your reality. You’ve spent a lifetime creating your present reality largely based on your limiting beliefs. “I’m not X enough. This is not possible for me, I can only dream…”
Our limiting beliefs does not only come from self-doubt. To a large extent, our choices are also influenced by the people around us.
We often make decisions based on what our parents, our friends, or society tell us to do. But these people are not responsible for our choices. We should be accountable for our own decisions. Have personal sovereignty.
“Everyone has the power to make the little choices that can alter their lives forever.”
Don’t be limited by the beliefs of others and yourself. Have a growth mindset. Read the “The Art of Possibility” and reprogram your mind about possibilities.
Mentors and Peers
Alex went through his entire quest alongside with his mentors and peers. Without them, it would not have made his journey possible.
Successful people have many things in common. Two common factors are having good mentors and peers.
Find a mentor. No matter what you are trying to achieve, there are 7 million people in this world, and there are plenty of people who have done similar things you are trying to do.
- Help you navigate the path
- Open your eyes to what is possible
- Open doors, and
- Give you advice on how to avoid landmines
Most importantly, take action on the advice given. Invest in long-term relationships. Network with the intention to provide value, not with the intention to seek favours. Make it a two-way reciprocal relationship.
Great mentors are those who do not give you a road map. They might not necessarily give you the answer directly. But they walk you through their thought process of how they would make a decision if they were in your position. “I don’t have enough information to give you an answer. But If I were you, I would…”
While asking for advice is important, it is just as important to ask questions about what NOT to do.
Some questions you should ask your mentors include:
- “What advice should you ignore?”
- “What is the worst advice that you hear repeated often in your industry?”
- “What is the conventional wisdom you hear often repeated in your industry?”
Look for mentors who don’t give you the answers directly. But they give you a better way of finding that answer. Read the Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss.
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
Surround yourself with peers who will elevate your standards. You learn and make mistakes, and grow through life together.
The strength of a relationship is measured by the ability to have tough conversations. Appreciate friends who are honest with you about your weaknesses. Those who do not sugarcoat their words. And even if it gets uncomfortable sharing, they are willing to be frank and put the friendship on the line to tell you about your weaknesses and discuss how to work on them. At the same time, you must be open to negative feedback and seek self-improvement.
To achieve success, it starts with having a mindset of possibility. Focus on building a mindset of growth. Be uniquely yourself, find your niche and use the power of the Internet to scale it. Invest in long-term, genuine relationships with both your mentors and peers.
In the end, it is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. Be courageous, and act on decisions to live the life you want.
“Everyone has the power to make little choices that can alter their lives forever. You can either choose to give in to inertia and continue waiting in line for the first door, or you can choose to jump out of line, run down the alley, and take the third door. We all have that choice.”
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