“If there’s a single formative lesson that you learn spending time in the outdoors, it is that there are so many huge, giant forces that are out of your control.”–Joshua Cooper Ramo
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Joshua Cooper Ramo (@jramo) is the co-CEO of Kissinger Associates, a geopolitical consultancy and author of the new book “The Seventh Sense,” about the importance of recognizing and using new global networks effectively. He has also been a pilot and a competitive aerobatic flyer. Commander Mark Divine and Joshua discuss the importance of nature and networks to an understanding of the modern world. The conversation veers from politics to spirituality. Learn how to use your Unbeatable Mind to understand our complicated world.
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks. Welcome back. This is mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks again for joining me. As you know, I don’t take it for granted because there are ten billion and 1 things vying for your attention. So the fact that you’re listening to these words is really very, very cool.
You know I often talk about some of the things that are going on, but I always forget to remind or tell you that one of the coolest things we have going on has actually been going on for about 5 years. And that is the Unbeatable Mind training program. And my team said, “Hey, can you at least mention that once on your podcast?” And I said, “Yeah. Why not?” I don’t know why I haven’t.
And we have a free trial. So the first whole month you can get for free. If you wanted to download everything and never come back, you could. But my sense is that if you’re not engaged in Unbeatable Mind, then you’re going to want to be.
So go to unbeatablemind.com/freetrial. And check it out. So Unbeatable Mind Academy is our online, integrated training where we develop the 5 mountains of physical, mental, emotional, intuitional and spiritual capacities. And endeavor to get to what I call a fifth plateau of consciousness. And you’re going to have to figure out what that is by going and checking it out.
At any rate, so unbeatablemind.com/freetrial.
Now my guest today, I met through his recent book called “Seventh Sense,” which I gotta tell you, was just a real timely eye-opener. Fantastic read. We’re going to talk about that.
And it’s Joshua Cooper Ramo. Joshua is kind of an iconoclastic guy. He’s the co-CEO of Kissinger Associates, which is Henry Kissinger’s organization. Kinda anxious to hear what they do. He’s an author of another really good book called, “The Age of the Unthinkable.” He’s a former youngest editor–foreign editor–for Time magazine. And what’s cool for me and Unbeatable Mind peeps, is that he’s also kind of an adventurer as an avid pilot and used to be a competitive acrobatic pilot.
So he splits his time between New York and Beijing, and I think today we’re speaking to you from New York. Is that right, Joshua?
Joshua Cooper Ramo: That is correct. I’m in New York City today.
Mark: Awesome. Well thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it. I like to–as I mentioned before we started–just have a fun conversation. But it’s always interesting for the listeners to kind of know the character of the individual that we’re talking to. You wouldn’t be on this call if we didn’t have some really extremely interesting background and a deep character. And so what were some of your early influences in life that kind of set you on the path that you’re on today?
Joshua: I think it’s very interesting. And first of all, let me say, it’s a pleasure to be with you and really appreciate the time. And hope this is of use to your listeners. I mean, just in following your work, it’s interesting to see that there’s an audience of people out there in the world who are asking themselves constantly, “How do I improve myself? How do I sharpen my tools to get to where I want to go?”
Mark: It’s gratifying, isn’t it?
Joshua: It is. And I think a lot of us are asking those questions. And I think they’re important questions right now, because we talk about this a little bit, but the world around us is changing in such astonishing and potentially dangerous ways that the question of “what can I do to make the world a better place? And how do I prepare myself for that journey?” I think is one that a lot of us are going to have to be asking ourselves. So I think that this is not the 1990s where everything was fine. The cold war was over and we could mostly just focus on getting 6 pack abs. This is about preparing yourself for a very different kind of journey. So I very much appreciate what you’re doing. It’s been helpful to me and you know, it’s great to have a chance to be a part of this.
In terms of early influences, you know, it’s interesting the way you talk about the 5 mountains. I mean, I think for me… I grew up in New Mexico, and I spent a lot of time in the mountains. I was not somebody who was particularly interested in school. I was interested in books and reading and camping and being outdoors. And I think a lot of the… if there’s a single formative lesson that you learn spending time in the outdoors–in addition to be prepared, have the right stuff, get your skills together–it is that there are so many huge giant forces that are out of your control that can determine success or failure or experience in any given moment.
And I think in particular… I don’t know if you’ve spent any time in New Mexico, but it’s an incredibly beautiful state with an incredible diversity of terrain. Everything from the deserts in the south to the southern part of the Rockies in the north. And these big, giant skies where every day you just see… in the summer, for instance, these massive thunderheads building up. And it’s a humbling place to grow up. It makes you realize the smallness of the individual against that larger background.
So I think the thing about operating in the outdoors is it does give you a kind of confidence that I think translates into a lot of different areas of your life. And people sometimes mistake that, and they go “Confidence. Great, you know how to start a fire in a snowstorm.”
But I really don’t think it’s that. I think it’s not a tactical confidence so much as a sense of where we all fit in the world. In that everything we do has to be in accordance with nature.
And you can approach that any number of ways. You can approach that through Taoism, you can approach it through Christianity, you can approach it through just your basic instincts toward life. But I think that kind of internal alignment–no matter what you want to do in the world–that sense of kind of harmony from inside to outside is something that becomes very apparent when you’re spending time in the outdoors.
You know, some of the times you miserable, and you’re slogging, and you’re freezing. I mean, it’s not just about having a happy-go-lucky experience. But you are working your way toward these moments of total alignment between yourself and the environment.
And I… that sounds like we’re talking about camping or being outdoors, but the reality is for me what that really is about is that’s true for the political, economic and social environment that you’re in as it is for the natural environment.
Mark: Yeah. You know, that 100% resonates with me. In fact, I’m working on a new book as well now, and the first chapter I call awakening. And I talk about an experience… I grew up in the Adirondack Mountains, which is very different than New Mexico, but also incredibly beautiful in its own way.
And I talk about an experience I had one day. Alone, just kind of like cruising up a mountain. And getting to that utter place of exhaustion and just freedom. And then having a radical awakening moment on top of that mountain. I think the first time that I had a… like a shift in perspective where I saw my life as a story instead of my life, you know?
And so I experienced my consciousness separate… The things that I experienced later through my Zen practice and yoga and everything were very similar to that. But it was nature that caused this alignment. This rupture in the time-space continuum, if you will. (laughing) Fascinating. Unbelievable. Changed my life and set me on a new trajectory.
So I 100% get what you’re saying. Like, nature is the force to be reckoned with. All the time, in the ocean. Like what an incredible teacher the ocean and the mountain is.
But then that kind of integration experience if you spend a lot of time helps you appreciate that everything is in some sort of interconnected balance. Like you said, whether that is an economic system, or a political system or a global network system, right? There’s some sort of balance there, but it’s always striving. It’s hard to put your finger on, right? Cause it’s a chaotic balance.
Joshua: And nature can’t be replaced. I think probably like you, I’ve been in the most powerful rooms in the world. I’ve been in all these places–the White House, the Kremlin, the Jung Men Hai in Beijing. I mean, all these places. And these are really the constructs of man. And they have a certain energy about them, but there is nothing more powerful and nothing that’s a better teacher than the experience of nature. Cause that’s really why we’re all here. We’re all a product of that.
Mark: 1 of the things–and I’d like to have you comment on this–one of the challenges I see is that modern man either has forgotten that or thinks that they’ve grown beyond that, and they’re in control now. Like, that nature is not important. And these people who inhabit the halls of the White House and the Kremlin and wherever… Wall Street–are kind of Gods, right? And I don’t think that’s accurate. I think that when people try to be Gods, they get smacked down.
Joshua: Yeah, there’s much bigger forces and I think you’ve gotta be very modest about these things. There’s a famous line of Otto Von Bismarck who was one of the great statesman of the 19th century. He says “The life of even the greatest statesman, all you can do is hope to hear the footsteps of God and grab onto his coattails as he passes by.”
It’s that use of the larger forces–the historical forces–that are churning around you that really determine success.
And that’s what I was trying to get at in the book. And the way I think about the world. Which is all of us can go about our lives, and as I was saying earlier–we’re not in this 1990s happy, easy globalization period. I mean anyone who reads history is aware of things. There are, from time to time, these cataclysmic shifts in the international system, that bring tremendous tragedy and disorder and struggles and challenges and demand for the kind of services that you rendered as a Navy SEAL. And demand for great diplomacy. And all these other sorts of things.
And I think we are at one of those moments. And in order to understand that, you really have to have this sense, “What are the larger forces at work here? What is churning away?” And you know and own that inside yourself which is this idea I call “seventh sense.” You can call it whatever you want. It’s just understanding why the world feels so chaotic right now. I think that then empowers you to then go use all these skills you find in other ways.
Mark: Yeah, exactly. I wanna come back to that whole topic in a little bit. But I think that once we go down that rabbit hole, we’re never coming out. And we’ll never come back to this… the risk taker in you that got into competitive acrobatic piloting. That sounds fascinating and, you know, scary a little bit. Even for me as a Navy SEAL.
I did 1 barrel roll in a… oh, gosh. What was it? I forget the name of the plane. My friend Brandon Webb had it. And it was wickedly cool. Scared the shit out of me.
Joshua: Well that’s probably cause you weren’t flying. You had somebody else handling the controls?
Mark: No! He gave it to me! I did a full-on loop-the-loop. But I tell you what, man…
Joshua: God bless ya.
Mark: I know. It was fascinating, but… so how did that come about? How did you get into that and then go from there to being a journalist.
Joshua: You know, I always had wanted to fly. I think, again, New Mexico… you’re looking at the skies all day. And it’s impossible not to think, “I wanna get up there and be in those big fluffy clouds.”
So as soon as I left home and had a job where I could afford to pay for flying lessons, I immediately started flying. And once you start flying, if you’re a particular kind of personality, you want to see if the plane can go upside down or what else it can do. And so, you know, I sort of was on that path pretty quickly. And it’s a wonderful… there are these moments where it’s just you and the airplane and you gotta decide what you’re going to do. So it’s a tremendous kind of personal adventure and experience to be on.
And then the competitive element was great. It’s always great to have a chance to sort of match your skills against other people and sort of push yourself as far as you can.
Mark: Yeah, what does the competition look like if you’re an acrobatic pilot?
Joshua: The competitions look like there’s basically… it’s not dissimilar from, you know, gymnastics in the sense the there is some part of it that is set routine. You fly a particular way, and fly a particular pattern that’s scored by judges on the ground. And then there’s a period that’s sort of a little bit of a free-style period.
But the essence of it really comes down to the practice. Its how do you refine the skills over and over and over again? And what’s particularly interesting about it… the book I wrote about my aerobatic experience is called “No Visible Horizon.” Which is a flying term. Some days you can see perfectly well outside and some days there’s no horizon. And what’s amazing is that in order to fly acrobatics well, you’ve gotta have a sense of up and down and where the horizon is. But there are guys who have such a finely balanced internal compass and sense of up and down, that they can fly on a day with “no visible horizon” just as well as they can on a day where everything is clear outside. Cause they’ve refined their flying skills to such a degree that inside themselves they know where they are. And that’s particularly important when you get to very higher level… higher level challenges in aerobatics. Where you often have the maneuvers where the plane is moving so quickly… Or, for instance, if you’re pointing straight up and you have to roll the plane 360 degrees and stop every… make an 8 point roll, so make 8 stops around that thing. You can’t really look outside to check where you’re going. If you look outside you’re going to become disoriented. And so it’s entirely based on this complete internal alignment and that’s an extraordinary… almost sort of Zen-like accomplishment of having that. You’re flying the plane but the reality is you’re just sort of there moving everything with your mind.
Mark: Yeah, I totally get that. In fact, I was thinking while you were describing that, of the Zen master or the martial arts master who challenges his students to fight him with a blindfold on. And he can sense where…
Joshua: Yeah. Do you know the book “Zen and the Art of Archery?”
Joshua: Yeah. I mean that wonderful scene where they guy just puts one arrow after another right in the center of the target. Splitting the other arrows. Boy, that’s just such a wonderful way to go through every challenge that you have in your life. With this total internal sense of direction.
Mark: Right. No kidding. Now what drew you to the Far East from New Mexico? Cause what I got from your book, “Seventh Sense,” you spent a lot of time there and you lived there for a number of years.
Joshua: Yeah. I think I was initially drawn to the philosophy of the east, sort of like you. And my first exposure to it was through Buddhism, and Zen in particular, which I began studying when I was a teenager.
But then, you know, as my life progressed I became a journalist. I was foreign editor of Time magazine, which kind of let me travel all over the world. And as soon as I sort of got to Asia, I just was aware that I was in the presence of a whole set of idea and a whole way of looking at the world that was very different than anything I’d ever experience.
So when I left journalism… decided to have a little bit more of a commercial life and go into business, I knew I wanted to move to Asia. And particularly, I had a feeling that China was going to be a very important place to be, and so I moved to China, learned the language.
But before I moved there, somebody said to me, as important as being bilingual is being bicultural. And that was just spectacular advice. Because all my friends are Chinese. I’ve had maybe 5 dinners in the 12 years I lived full-time in Beijing with foreigners and really tried to get as deep as I could into the culture. And, you know, I’m a very different guy than the guy who moved to China. The experience really changed me. And it continues to change me. It’s just a completely different way of looking at the world.
Mark: Yeah. That’s interesting. I want to explore that a little bit. Cause as a SEAL, you know, we would do language training, but we also understood that the language didn’t teach us about the people. And so we needed to kind of immerse ourselves in the culture so we can understand… again, I think this is just what you were alluding to… not from an external perspective, but literally, put yourself into the mind of that individual, that culture. So did you actually learn…? Describe what it’s like to learn how to think like a Chinese citizen or man. And then what did that teach you? How do you see the world differently than say I do, because you think Chinese?
Joshua: Yeah, I think first of all, at the end of the day, you’ve gotta be very modest about it. I still am a westerner, and there’s still many days where things happen where I’m like, “Whoah. Where did that come from?”
But there’s a lot of differences in sort of the way of looking about or thinking about why things happen, why things are kind of true or not true.
One of the things that I spent a fair amount of time doing, for instance, is… in having negotiations with Chinese on various issues. And you just find that the approach is very different. It’s not about, “Let’s work our way through the details, and then we’ll get to some conclusion.”
It’s actually, “Let’s start with the end in mind. Let’s see if we can get alignment about where we’re going. And then, after that, we can work out the details.” And that reflects a culture that much more has a collective instinct to it than this individualistic “you vs. me” instinct.
And the idea is if we can agree, in advance, where we wanna go, that then puts us on the same side of the table for the negotiation. As opposed to kind of fighting our way through it point by point.
So, I mean, that’s a difference. There’s any number of differences just in terms of, for instance, how do you think about explaining things to people. Chinese tend to have a much more kind of a broader view of the world, where they’re drawing together a lot of pieces of the puzzle and kind of having a moment where things start to make sense, as opposed to walking through everything logically.
The word “Loji” for logic is something that came into the language relatively late. So often that’s oftentimes kind of baffling to westerners. But it doesn’t mean… I would say the two things about China that are most surprising to westerners are giving directions to a taxi driver and ordering dinner.
It’s not that you can’t say to the taxi driver “Go to that corner and make a left.” It’s just that the process of explaining to them. You’ll say, “Go to the corner.” And he’ll say, “Oh, that corner up there?” And you’ll say, “Make a left.” And he’ll say, “After 300 feet I’ll make a left?” You just keep going back and forth.
But then finally once the guy understands where you’re going, he completely understands it in a deep way. It’s like he’s building this kind of collage of information and then the whole thing fits together in a complete picture.
Mark: Interesting. And what is there…
Joshua: And there’s just an endless number of these things. That’s why it’s kind of gripping to be over there. Could talk about China all day.
Mark: Yeah, I bet… One more though. Cause this particularly interests me… How cultures deal with the concept of time. Now I know that at a systemic level, they’ve got 100 year plans and their concept of time is much broader than ours. And so how did you experience that? Did that change your mind in any way?
Joshua: Well, you experience that all the time. I think it gets back to a very core difference about thinking about the world and the individual.
It’s interesting in China… As you may know, in China when you’re meeting people or people are introducing themselves, Chinese family names are the first part of somebody’s name. So like “Mao Zedong” family was the Mao family. And the first name is “Zedong.” And the fact that the family name comes first… So it’d be like “Divine Mark.” It says what’s most important about you is where you come from. What family you’re a part of.
And you, the individual, are kind of secondary importance compared to that. And so that immediately puts the individual in kind of the context of a much longer history. That it’s not simply about yourself. It is about this larger… particularly the family unit in China, tends to be so important. And so that reframing of things really impacts this vision of time. When it’s not just about you and you’re own life. It’s about your ancestors, about your children and their children. That changes the nature of any calculation that you’re going to make. So that’s a very important distinction.
That’s actually if you look in Chinese history… one of the problems in Chinese governance going back thousands of years is how do you have accountability for the Emperor. There’s no election, there’s no parliament that can get rid of the guy.
And so in China, for a long time, they always had this system known as the “court historian system.” And the one person the emperor was not supposed to mess around with was the guy who sat in every meeting taking notes. If you’ve ever been in meetings with Chinese, you’ll notice that they’re often meticulous note-takers. And everybody at the meeting will be writing things down. And that’s a cultural thing about kind of recording things.
And the idea of this court historian was that that person–because every word that the emperor was saying, every decision was being recorded for posterity–it created a kind of accountability for future generations. An accountability that you might have if you had a congress. But they didn’t have a congress.
But knowing that your actions would be judged and considered by future generations is an extremely important and very different sort of instinct.
And it’s very relevant for super-contemporary political issues. Questions of Taiwan. So that the Chinese leaders know that if they’re the ones who lose Taiwan, they will be cursed for thousands of years. It’s not a simple, transactional trade-off. So these things run a lot deeper and that conception of time is very different. And the nature of how things get done and what they will say in the process of Chinese negotiations is often you will have these experiences… Nothing happens for 11 months. It seems like you’re making no progress. And then in the 12th month, everything happens at once. Once you have reached that conceptual line, things can move very, very quickly. But it’s very different than the western kind of step-by-step, we’re going to get there kind of approach.
So these are examples of just sort of differences. The other thing I’d say about, by the way, is almost everything you can say about China, the opposite is also true in some cases. And so one of the real tensions about Chinese society at the moment is when you’re doing business there, or operating there, you’ll find that there’s an awful lot of short-term… the people are traders, they’re not strategic about what they’re doing with their business. They’re just trying to grab the opportunity that occurs in front of them right now.
So you can understand that every Chinese person you run into on the street that’s running a chemicals business or pharmaceutical business–they’re not thinking about how is this going to play out over thousands of years. The nature of kind of economic development for the last 30 years has rewarded the people that grabbed the short-term opportunity and made the most of it.
So one of the other things about China is that ability to hold contradictions in your head without going bananas.
Mark: That is really interesting.
Taoism and Networks[25:13]
Mark: Now, you met a Taoist master over there, am I right?
Joshua: Yes. Yeah, Taoist and Confucian, I mean, a figure… Buddhist… really kind of held all of those traditions.
Mark: Right. And he was the kind of guy who trained individuals but also held court with some of the country’s leaders. Is that right?
Joshua: Yeah, that’s right. I think one of the things people don’t appreciate about the depth of Chinese spirituality is that it does touch very much on even the most intently, publicly communist figures that are out there. They are Chinese as much as they are reflections of any Western political sensibility. And Nao Hoi Chinh, who was the master I was fortunate enough to get to know towards the end of his life, was somebody who really embodied many of the deepest and oldest ideas of Chinese culture.
So you can imagine if you’re a sophisticated Chinese leader, you understand your ruling the Chinese people. So even if you have the idea of Marx and Engels in your mind, it’s important to kind of get all the nectar you can from those very old and refined ideas.
Mark: That’s fascinating. I mean, I can just… even though I really love the idea of Trump going and meditating and consulting a Taoist master, it’s just hard to imagine it ever happening. (laughing)
Joshua: (laughing) Hard to imagine. Yes. Hard to imagine him sliding into a deep meditative state.
Mark: Yeah. Be great for the country though.
So let’s use that in meeting with… and I won’t be able to pronounce his name, but the Taoist master… your master. And some of the things that he taught you and said to you as a springboard to kind of get into this notion of network power and what you wrote about in the “Seventh Sense.” To me, that’s the most important thing for us to talk about–for the listeners to hear. Is what’s going on, and how this master could foresee it because of the way his brain worked, and his training and whatnot.
Joshua: I think not merely foresee it, but also I just made the point earlier about the folks who are attracted to the new world. How do you train yourself to deal with that? Or prepare for that? How do you have that internal sense where you can sort of make sense of what’s going on?
I think the line… so Master Nanh, in addition to being a student of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism–also was a deep student of history, which is the only way to understand those 3 kind of great Chinese philosophical traditions. And there was one thing he said to me once that very much stayed in my mind. That I put into the book. Again, the goal of the book really is to help people sort of make sense of all the chaos in the world today. Because I think there is kind of a single route to it.
And what Master Nanh said to me, is he said, “Look, the 19th century was this moment when all these people were packed into cities and people were not really prepared for it. The cities weren’t really prepared for it. And that led to these horrible outbreaks of pneumonia, disease and all these problems of poorly prepared urban areas.”
“In the 20th century we surrounded ourselves with all these artificial things. So that… the dominant disease of the 19th century were all these epidemics and plagues and flues. In the 20th century we surrounded ourselves with plastics and all these other sorts of things. So the diseases that came out of that were diseases like cancer, where parts of our body were turned against themselves.”
“In the 21st century, however, people’s minds are going to be connected to a world of constant information, and they’re not prepared for that. And the disease of the 21st century,” he said, “is going to be spiritual madness.”
And that idea that the human mind is simply not prepared by evolution or by experience for a world where we are constantly connected to forces that we can’t see and often can’t understand, is a really deep and powerful idea. It is upsetting in many ways. But it is also kind of a key to thinking about the future and just understanding that every single day now we are more and more connected to things that have an impact on our lives. That we maybe don’t understand, or we maybe can’t control.
And some of that is just technology connection, the Internet and these kinds of things. But what I really mean by that is being part of financial networks, and data networks and trade networks and all these connecting systems that have a different kind of power logic than industrial systems had. That’s apparent in everything from robots replacing jobs, to the kind of stuff you can do on your smart phone.
And understanding what that means and why those systems behave the way they do is really important. And the argument I make in the book is that what we’re facing now… and you can sort of think of the whole course of history. If you go back all the way in human history, there was sort of this period before the enlightenment and the industrial revolution where many institutions–whether they were kings or popes or alchemists–that were not based on anything that we would consider “modern.”
And the enlightenment and the industrial revolution really starting with Luther and running all the way through 4 or 5 centuries. Demolished almost every institution that was built on that framework. The kings were torn apart; the myths were replaced by science. And I think the shift we’re undergoing now as a result of constant connectivity is every bit as big.
And so if you look around the world today, what you see is that almost every institution that we grew up with and respected, whether that’s the press or the congress or science or business. The media. They’re all under attack, right? We’ve never seen a period where the legitimacy of all those institutions at the same time is as low as it has ever been. And the reason for that is they’re just built for a different era. For a different logic of power. An industrial logic of power.
But at the same time, as you look around the world, there are clearly people who have sort of figured this new world out. They’re the guys who started Uber, looked at cars… and you and I might have looked at a car and just thought “That’s a car.”And they understood how that was changed as a result of connectivity.
The guys in ISIS understand the way in which terrorism has changed as a result of connectivity. And so what I try to do in the book is just sort of step-by-step walk through, “What is it these people see? What is it the people who are being successful now see and understand that the rest of us don’t understand? And how can we learn that?”
Zen, VUCA and Business[30:56]
Mark: That’s terrific. So what I love about the intersection here between what I’m doing and what you are working on in your writing is that, I’ve been trying to train people from… Let me say it another way. As a Navy SEAL we trained for the VUCA environment. And VUCA is an acronym that’s been around for years in the military, but it’s starting to be more well-known in the business world. It’s volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
And that’s what we’re describing now business looking a lot like a very complicated battlefield where you had to look for patterns and kind of flows. And like you said, network power versus the old days where we’d go blow up the radar tower. Which was a fixed thing. A lot easier than what we’ve been dealing with ISIS in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And so what I knew as a SEAL and have learned through my own martial arts and actually yoga and SEALfit training is that you can train to expand your awareness and to be able to focus better and to be able to radar lock on the patterns instead of the fixed things. But it takes a little bit of effort and you’ve got to know the tools. And those tools look a lot like the tools of the Zen master even though we use the more modern language and also we leverage some of the techno things. I just did an hour and a half low before this thing. What an incredibly great tool, right? To be able to do sensory deprivation. Stuff like that.
Joshua: that’s fantastic well I mean I think it gets back to sort of where we started the conversation. Thinking about nature.One point I make in the book what is the difference between a complex system and a complicated system.
So world we came from was complicated. There were a lot of interacting parts but you kind of knew the planes went here the trains went here.
By complicated we mean something like jet engines. Millions of parts but you can build them over and over again. They’re very predictable.
Mark: Put them back together again.
Joshua: Exactly. Put them back together again.
Complex systems are very different they are the result of the interaction of millions, or tens of millions, or hundreds of millions of uncountable pieces that begin to press and pull on each other in ways that can’t be predicted or modeled in advance. And chaos science teaches a lot of that’s but if you look at financial markets, if you look at what’s happening in terms of national security, we live in a world now where small forces anywhere in the system can have a huge impact and that’s because it’s a complex system.
It used to be if you wanted to cause a major national security disaster, you need big Army to do that and now it’s possible just with a few lines of code. To disrupt the cyber-security of any nation.
So that requires a tremendous shift in our thinking, and I think we haven’t really made in any of the essential areas of economics or finance or foreign policy yet.
Mark: No, not even close. I mean, it’s just interesting… I mean were still linear and fixed and stuck with the bureaucratic institutions that are unable to think this way.
I was down in Congress just last week and I was giving a talk on my book “The Way of the SEAL.” And then I got paraded around Congress and it was all good intentions, but I felt like kind of a pet. I mean I’m paraded around Congress handing people my books. (laughter) and everybody’s running like their hair on fire from one committee meeting down to make of votes, to go shake someone’s hand… And I was thinking to myself, my God, these guys need meditation block of time where they can all just stop and think about what the hell they’re doing. And get a little bit of a bigger picture, you know what I mean?
Joshua: And I would say… Oh, go ahead…
Mark: I was going to say we just keep trying the same things and expecting different results which is the definition of insanity.
Joshua: No, it is. And I think it’s increasingly clear… We talk about why these institutions are less legitimate and respected than they’ve ever been. It’s cause they’re not doing their jobs. I mean, every problem the inter-take to deal with they actually make worse. You know, the most expensive war on terrorism in human history seems to be producing more terrorists. The most aggressive economic policy in human history is destroying the middle-class. I mean, it’s just blindingly obvious that there is not an understanding of the forces at play here.
By the way, history teaches us… We’ve seen this before. It’s exactly what happened in the industrial revolution. You have a lot of people who thought it was a great idea to have one prince with a number of serfs working for him for no money. And that didn’t work out well in the end.
So the sooner we can adjust to that… and I think what’s unfortunate is the more you try to understand this world, the more you understand the incredible possibility that’s buried inside these systems. Once you understand them… once you apply this seventh sense… a lot of problems we face now we could just solve, but we just operate….
One of the things, like, is said and I pointed out in the book is I sort of feel like the world right now… power’s in the hands of 2 groups of people. One is these sort of older, frankly mostly white, white-haired men in Washington, D.C. who do not understand anything about networks or how these connected systems work at all.
And power is also in the hands of a group of technical, technological folks on the West coast for the most part. Friend of mine that works for… runs one of these big tech companies said to me, “The problem with our company is the most important people here are all under 25 years old. We don’t really understand what it is they’re doing.”
So you’ve got this younger group that understands networks, but understand nothing about politics, economics and the social impact of what they’re doing. And the rest of us are just kind of stuck in the middle getting pulled apart by them.
And that really is the core political challenge of the next period, which is how can we get ourselves into the position where we understand enough that we can begin to claw back some of the power from folks who don’t really understand what’s at work in a way that we can kind of defend liberties and ideas and the things we care about.
I think that’s an imminently achievable goal. I’m not actually worried about it. I’m actually very optimistic the United States ability to do that.
Mark: Yeah, I agree. Well, we’ve already seen how power… how social networks let’s say. Talk about network power–has put power back in the hands of individuals. When you look at Egypt and some of the power plays that are happening.
Even like right now what’s going on in Russia. I mean, a lot of that is being pushed by social media and Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter. But I think that most people, at least here in the west, have given up their autonomy to government for so long that now they don’t think they can do anything. They expect the man in the white tower to solve their problems.
So maybe it really is a generational thing. It does tick the 25 year-old…
Joshua: Well, not only giving up their autonomy, but also increasingly given up their data and their privacy… If you think about the most subtle political act most of us have engaged in the last 4 or 5 years, it’s putting all of our information in the cloud. And we do that with a reason, right? Which it’s better, it’s more secure, it’s actually better for us. It’s more efficient. It makes economic sense.
But there’s a lot of core questions about what does that mean? How do you regulate the people who are now responsible for that data? How are they using it that we haven’t yet come to terms with?
And that’s fine. But the technology’s gotten a little bit ahead, I think, of our thinking about what our rights and obligations are.
Mark: One of your peers, Thomas Friedman, just wrote a book called “Thank You for Being Late.” Have you read that yet?
Joshua: I haven’t. I heard Tom talking about it somewhere, so I got a sense of it.
Mark: There were some overlaps. I had a sense that he had read your book and there was a lot of like, little synchronicities. But one of the big points he made was that… the Internet was a big change, right? And he kind of wrote about that in his “World is Flat” thing.
But he said that since 2007 when the cloud was kind of quasi-invented, that’s when the real interesting things started to happen. Just kind of reinforce what you said.
Now because we have this kind of like unbelievable ability to save all information in this networked ethosphere… Which is different than saying that your able to have point-to-point communication which was what the original Internet was, right?
And so now you have AI that’s self-learning. And you have all this information out there. Like you said, there’s no privacy. It’s really a changed world and most people don’t see it. We’re all being cooked like a frog, you know? (laughing) Slowly heating up.
Joshua: Right. Right. And the fact is as you look around the world today, the fact that everything from ISIS to the Trump election to Air BnB to financial volatility. The destruction of the middle-class. It’s all the same thing.
Mark: It’s all the same thing. Exactly.
Joshua: It is all the power… the way in which networks are re-ordering political power, economic power, security power. And I agree with you, we haven’t come to terms with it yet. Mark: It’s just like… it shows up as a pimple over here, and a wart over there. (Laughing) And as a rash over there. But it’s all the same thing. That is fascinating. Really interesting.
Joshua: And I think it gets to one of the other points that I was just going to make. One of the other things that’s very interesting, is that in the military in the last 20 years they now talk about this idea of the “Strategic Corporal.” Which is that even the lowest level soldier has got to have an understanding of the strategic environment in which they operate.
So I think that’s one of the points. If you trained folks to build the resilience of those 5 mountains. To build your physical strength, your mental strength. Sharpen your intuition.
You’ve also gotta have that strategic view of here’s what’s going on and why. Cause otherwise you’re going to fight the wrong war.
Mark: That’s right. In fact, you just alluded to… one of the reasons I started SEALfit was to train Navy SEAL candidates to be what I call world-centric warriors. So to go out and to actually be able to make good decisions that are for the benefit of humanity. And not just play Whack-a-Mole, because you came from Texas and you hate ISIS, which is a fairly linear thought, right?
And I don’t know if it’s having an effect.
Motivation and Finding Our Why[41:46]
Joshua: But let me ask you a question about that if you don’t mind. Because I’m very curious about that from your perspective. How do you think about the problem of motivation? Because there is, you know, you talk a lot about kinda “get through the suck,” and all these other things. We all know there have to be some… and I think for a lot of people it is, “I came from Texas and I hate ISIS. Let’s go.”
And that’s going to push them through. And you’ve tried to study what it is that gets people motivated. I mean, in my world I’ve noticed unfortunately sometimes a lot of people… anger pushes people constantly.
What do you find is kind of the most reliable ambition fuel?
Mark: I honestly thinks this takes us right back to how we started this conversation. What I teach and what my experience is a deep sense of belonging and knowing where you belong in the world.
And what I mean by that is what we call a personal ethos. So, you know, to know why you’re on this planet, and what you’re going to do about it. So not just to take… let’s say my family back home was deeply right-wing religious and everyone in the family joined the military. We went off and we fought America’s enemies.
That is someone else’s story. That doesn’t have to be my story. And so… and this is where Zen and meditation and contemplation and self-awareness/self-study–which is such a big part of the eastern traditions–is incredibly valuable because you can dip in… You can touch your deep inner sense… whatever you want to call it… your soul. And you can get that information.
My experience with that was I was heading down the business path cause my family was a business family. Had a hundred year old business in upstate New York that made shit, you know what I mean? And frankly, they’re probably not going to be around much longer, unless they can figure out a… get robotics in there themselves.
And so I went down to New York. I went to NYU. I think you were an NYU grad, yourself, right?
Joshua: Yup, yup.
Mark: Yeah, so I got my MBA at NYU, and I got my CPA and I was just charging along. And then it was a kite show, grandmaster Nakamura who got me to sit down on the meditation bench. And then it was Dido up at the Zen mountain monastery. These are Japanese Zen traditions that got me to spend days on end meditating with the monks.
And through that process… it took several years. I woke up, essentially to the fact that I was meant to be a warrior. I was meant to lead people on the field of battle. And that showed up to me as a Navy SEAL. So I went from being a CPA to a Navy SEAL over the course of 2 years.
But that’s what I’m talking about. When I went into the SEAL teams, I had this deep sense of belonging. “This is where I need to be.” Not because I wanted to go kill our enemies, but because I needed to go lead our troops.
Joshua: Did you have a sense that you were trying to… I mean, when you hit those hard moments were you trying to prove something to yourself? Were you trying to live up to… what’s that thing that kicks you through that?
Mark: The internal motivation for me–although I think a lot of that happens. One of our courses is 50 hours of non-stop physical and mental training. And it’s modeled after the Hell week, which is actually like 140 hours. And what we ask people at the very start of that is, “Tell us why you’re here? What is your ‘why’?”
And we can tell–the SEAL instructors and I can tell–when the student’s “why” is locked and aligned with a deeper ethos. Or if they’re just there to prove how tough they are. To prove something to their daddy or mommy or something like that.
So it’s gotta be deeply connected to I think, literally, that if it’s true that we have a Dharma–a soul’s purpose–that’s what I’m talking about. Getting clear what that is, and then living that out. And that’s the best motivation in the world.
Joshua: That’s what I find. And it is an eternally renewing source of motivation. Having said that–I’ll be honest with you… I just go through life, I’m consistently amazed by how far anger and greed and hatred drive people. It doesn’t produce the quality of life that you or I would like…
Mark: (laughing) It still gets some results for sure.
Joshua: Yeah, whether or not people are capable of sitting and lying in a field and enjoying the passage of clouds overhead. But, wow! It is a… when you’re up against that…
Mark: yeah, but that’s one of the reasons why we’ve got such a mess, is because everyone’s driving for that self-interest. And they’re not thinking. You know, we don’t have any collective thinking like the Chinese did, the way you described it. You know, everyone… it’s been very individualistic. And I believe in a staged development of consciousness. Either culturally or individually. And you go through self, then ethnographic, and then world-centric.
Joshua: That’s a great way to think about it.
Mark: And so if you can push yourself into the world-centric realm, it doesn’t mean you still don’t love your country. It just means you also recognize that we live in this kind of inter-latticed whole, and decisions that we make are going to have an effect at the global level.
Joshua: Right. Right. And we are not there… unfortunately, we’re making a political statement and we’re sort of at the opposite end of that. But I love the way you talk about it, which is to think about it as a cultural evolution, just like there’s personal evolutions.
Mark: Yeah. And it’s possible that when I talk to my friends, we think, “Hey, what’s going on is necessary, because we gotta break the institutions in order to create the fertile ground. It’s like tilling the field, you gotta create the fertile ground for the next stage to kind of evolve or grow out of that.
But like you said earlier, it’s going create this dangerous period in history. We’re heading into one of the most dangerous periods of history that we’ve experienced probably ever because of the destructive effect of deforestation, and desertification and nuclear weapons. And who know what’s going to happen with nanotechnology…
Joshua: Fill in the blanks…
Mark: Yeah, fill in the blanks. Exactly. (laughing) Wow. We’re so positive.
Realistic and Positive[47:45]
Joshua: No, actually. But I am taking some positive at the end of this. Because I think your point is this a process that is moving somewhere. We’re not stuck in this state and… Then I think, the question we all have to ask ourselves is what are our obligations. We came of age in a period where we enjoyed 20, 25 years of peace and prosperity. I mean, it’s an extraordinary human accomplishment. And we’ve gotta try to pass on to the next generation a period of prosperity and peace. Because history tells you those things don’t usually last very long.
Mark: Yeah, no. And you think about humanity, right? Everyone in the tribe used to have, like, a meaningful role and was instrumental in protecting the tribe, protecting the environment, making sure that things kept cooking along.
And then of course, as we got more complicated and started to group together in larger and larger patterns, then that all went away. And so I think that part of this is for us to recognize that every individual a) has a voice, b) has a choice to do something and c) now’s the time to choose, to express your voice. To get off your butt and do something.
Because you’re not powerless, essentially. You have more power than you’ve ever had, but you feel almost powerless, but you have more power than you’ve ever had, with the technology. So now is time for people to come together and to push back against…
In a way, that’s why Trump got elected and that’s why UK’s leaving the EU.
But we can also now pull together and really push for some positive change and awareness development.
Joshua: Well I think this idea that we’ve kinda shifted in politics from the traditional “left-right” divide to this “open-closed” debate. Which is do you wanna be open to the world or closed? Do you wanna be connected or not connected?
It’s also true for each of us as an individual. And I think that the reality is that we all are what we are connected to. Even though that seems like a big statement of “let’s all get connected to the whole world,” what it really begins with is yourself. One of Master Nanh’s favorite quotes is from the beginning Da Shui which is the great Confucian classic. Where it says that, “The emperor who wishes to run the world effectively, must run his kingdom effectively. He who wishes to run his kingdom effectively must manage his family effectively. He who would manage his family effectively, must manage himself effectively.” But if he manages himself effectively, then he can manage his family effectively. And then he can manage the kingdom effectively.
So it’s kind of these cascading levels of management. We are talking about a massive world where huge, unpredictable things are going to happen. But the ability to do that really comes back to whether you call it the 5 mountains or Zen training or whatever it is… that mastery of yourself. And I think that is what we can control. Can we go on that journey?
I’m still interested in your question, which is “how do you stick it out through that journey?” Cause I think we all get to these moments where you just say, “Okay. I’ve had enough.”
Mark: Yeah. Well for… I’ll leave you… we can kind of… we’ve been going for a while, but I’ll leave you with something that Nakamura used to say. “One day, one lifetime.”
That has provided extreme motivation for me, because I realize that alls I’ve got to do is knock the ball out of the park today. So in order to do that, I’ve got to master myself, and then I serve others. But not the other way around. I don’t go serve others and then try to master myself, cause it never happens, you know what I mean?
So what I mean by that, is my morning ritual, my meditation and breathwork, my workout. My visualization. I win in my mind. That’s our… that’s one of the Unbeatable Mind things… win in your mind before you step foot on the battlefield.
And then you go out, and you kick ass and take names. But in service. But you only worry about today.
You’ve got a vision for the future. You’ve got your plans and goals and everything. But those are all set. You park them and then you just execute, execute, execute.
So just like a Navy SEAL going on a mission. You know what you’re mission is. You visualize it. You know you’re going to win somehow. You don’t really care how as long as it’s honorable.
Joshua: Yup. You figure it out.
Mark: You figure it out along the way. And then you focus on one task at a time, know what I mean?
So that’s been really, really helpful for me is just chunk it down to just one day and then when it gets really hard, it’s one hour or one evolution. In our Kokoro camp, some of these people, you know, they literally have to go one step at a time to get through the sticking points.
Joshua: One rep. That’s great.
Mark: One rep at a time. Exactly.
Yeah, interesting. So there’s so much to learn by studying the eastern masters and I think that the reality is that it’s the merging of east and west that really, really is the most powerful way to train your whole mind/system. And to start to feel complete and to be able to tap into that ethos we talked about, right?
Joshua: Yeah. It’s not an accident, right? I mean, there’s a Yin and there’s a Yang. There’s always a balance between different ways of thinking about things. And they’re not opposites. They fill each other.
So what do you do these days still for your own training and development and self-mastery?
Joshua: Well, in fact… and I gotta run here in a second cause I’m just getting on a plane back out to New Mexico. So that’s one of the things that I do is go to the mountains. And yeah, I just find that is an infinitely renewing source of energy.
And then I think it is a matter of trying to get into the position where you are drawing as much energy from these changes as you can. To fight the kind of fights you need to fight.
Joshua: And this is again why I was sort of asking you a little bit about how do you…? When you’ve got that dharmic sense of where you’re going, but you have a world that is filled with people who are motivated by hate and fear and greed. Understanding that the future is not determined but that we each have an obligation to get out there and fight for the ideas. I think that’s where I spend a lot of my time these days.
I think we are at a very difficult point. I have very strong views about what we ought to be doing from a foreign policy perspective, and from an economic and political perspective to get to where I think we need to go.
Although I think it is also emergent. Most of the questions we don’t even know how to ask nor know the answer to. But I think we’re starting to see them, so it’s an extraordinary time to be alive. Just the opportunity to be engaged in these questions is deeply humbling, but you see a lot of the people who have their hands on the levers of power right now, I think either don’t understand what we face, or they are not so well intentioned. Or a little bit of both.
Mark: Right. Well that power will network away from them. It’ll flow to other directions.
Joshua: It will. Hopefully not too violently. That’s what you worry about.
Mark: Exactly. Right.
Awesome. Well thanks so much for your time, Joshua. What an incredible honor it’s been.
Joshua: Totally, Mark. Really glad to be connected.
Mark: Likewise. And enjoy your time up in the mountains, and hope to meet you some time in person.
Joshua: Easy to do. Thanks my friend. Take care.
Mark: Hooyah. Bye now.
All right, that was Joshua Cooper Ramo. Wow! What an interesting conversation. I feel like I was being interviewed for a little bit on that one. But as you can see from the theme of some of the peeps that we’ve been talking to here on the Unbeatable Mind podcast, we’re getting into some pretty deep issues around how to organize yourself to deal with the world that we’re in. And also some ideas about how we can all band together to be part of the solution. But I think ultimately, the more and more I talk to thought leaders like Joshua, the more I realize that Unbeatable Mind and what we’re doing with SEALFIT with our physical/mental training. And our Kokoro yoga program. They’re all extraordinarily powerful integrations of the Yin and the Yang, east and west, north and south even. And it works. And so if you’re not doing it, you need to get on board with a personal practice, where you can begin to change your brain and activate your whole mind. And expand your consciousness to 5th plateau where you can take perspectives on the perspectives of the perspectives. And see these networks and see what’s flowing in the world. And get away from the fixed, linear mindset of the past and let’s be part of the solution.
All right. ‘Nuff said on all that.
Train hard, stay focused, develop that unbeatable mind and thank you for your support. You guys rock.