Lessons from Nick Kokonas

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lessonsfrom / Monday

Welcome to Week 5 of A Summer of Learning! I’m really excited to share some really cool ideas this week.


We start off with a Chicagoan – Nick Kokonas, the brains between the famed, 3-Michelin Star restaurant Alinea. I recently listened to his podcast with Noah Kagan on Noah Kagan Presents. Despite being almost a year old, the episode and Nick present some timeless principles:

Develop a taste for what good is

It’s easy to feel satisfied in life if you don’t know what else is out there. Kokonas talks about in the context of food – if you’ve only eaten Chipotle (sorry Chipotle fans!) your whole life, you wouldn’t know if there is anything better than that. For you, that’s the pinnacle of culinary experience.

I like this principle because it goes beyond food. Ira Glass, the host of another famous podcast This American Life, talked about a “Taste Gap”:

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

But this ‘taste’ can only be developed through different experiences – travelling, reading, learning from your surroundings, learning from person sitting next to you in Starbucks. This taste is the first step on the path to creating something great.

Hire smart people and let them be smart

This is an idea that is so powerful that I wish that I could put it on every billboard ever. In my life, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by many best-in-class people in the world. These are my teachers, mentors, and often my peers.

Yet, whenever I’m on a team, there is almost always conflict because of micromanagement. I mean it is so tempting – you want the fonts just so! I’ve been guilty of doing this very thing. Attention to detail is one thing, being an asshole about it is another.

When you get the best people on your team, you need to delegate trust. It’s important because it’s the only way to scale yourself. I’m going to write about this more in the coming weeks.

Take the long view of people

Kokonas talks about how we usually when we meet someone, we idealize them. We see them as one thing (often determined by the context in which we first met them).

Then we started to see the flaws. Given a lot of time spent together, there are very few people who you thing more highly of than when you first met them. If you find one of these people, hold on on them!

This cuts both ways and I came across a similar idea some time ago.

One of my all time favorite blog posts is by Ben Casnocha, a former Chief of Staff to Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn called 10,000 hours with Reid Hoffman. One of the things it talks about is how Reid takes a long view of people – it’s not just one interaction or action, it’s a complete spectrum of data points. This allows Reid to root for people’s better angels.

So in general, it’s better to be patient and not hasten our judgements about people.

Thanks for reading the first post of Week 5. There are a lot of things happening on my end this week. Nonetheless, the posts will be punctual. Hopefully you have a great week. See you tomorrow. 

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