Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO of Social Capital, joined us to chat about what it means to play an infinite game, anchored on a just cause, a learning mindset, with intellectual flexibility, and the ability to truly invest long-term.
Here’s a pared-down version of our salon. You can watch the full conversation here.
On beginning the inward journey
A year ago, Chamath texted me this hand-written note. What compelled him to write that?
“Those were moments where I started to see the bigger picture. There was a lot of work that I would have to do to be as good as I thought I could be and wanted to be in the things that I cared about.
“The realization was that there is an inner journey and an inner struggle to eliminate the things that a lot of us do which slows us down. It has taken me forty years to learn this: how to not be my own worst enemy and to prevent self-sabotage.
“In investing, it manifests in ways that are not so obvious. They’re extremely subtle, but they are deeply pernicious—how you manage risk, how you hold a position, how you double down, how you avoid bad decisions in moments of real volatility.
“These are all hard things that are impacted by one’s ego, which is meaningfully impacted by how one grew up. This handwritten note was a mnemonic way to remind myself daily that when I sit down at this desk, it’s time to get to work. This is the framework that I have to use to try to be better.”
On becoming aware of the ego
All of Buddhist knowledge is about dethroning the ego. But first, we must become aware of it. Chamath notes he became aware of the negative influences of the ego five or six years ago.
“If I had discovered it in my twenties, I would be a markedly different person. It takes decades to process one’s baggage and a lot of it happens very late in life.
“The good thing was, I had always been relatively open. My life has been well documented, so I could go back and see videos of myself, hear what I had said, and read what I had written. What I saw was an insecure person who was hurt, wasn’t necessarily doing a great job, but was trying to learn and throwing a lot of stuff out there.
“That’s when I put two and two together. If I’m going to be an incredible investor, a great entrepreneur, a great friend, or a great dad, then I must focus on myself. Ultimately, I have the responsibility of knowing who I am as a person so that I can approach others with the best of who I am, without bringing my own biases and judgments to them.
“Most human relationships are littered with that, and it slows a lot of people down from their best decisions. When it manifests at work, you can make some terrible decisions. You can also not make very important right decisions. If I wanted to have longevity and a continuous pattern of growth, then at some point I would have to first focus and be very selfish.
“I had to find what happiness meant for me, both in a personal and professional context, and then prioritize that at the sake of everything else.
“It is counterintuitive because culturally the word ‘selfish’ has a very negative connotation. But there’s nothing inherently bad about that idea, it’s just the focus on oneself. We don’t teach that in school; we don’t teach mental health; we don’t teach self-care.