#199 – Joshua Fields Millburn On Writing & Thinking/
- October 19, 2018
The Daily Talk Show — Friday October 19 (Ep 199) – Josh Janssen & Tommy Jackett
Joshua Fields Millburn is one half of The Minimalists — a blog, which he started with his best mate Ryan Nicodemus back in 2010 to share their new perspectives through the lens of minimalism.
They went on to create a popular Netflix documentary on the topic, toured extensively around the US and regularly inspire and educate through their books and their podcast, The Minimalists.
On today’s episode of The Daily Talk Show from The Minimalists’ studio in Hollywood, we chat about working in a partnership, how writing helps thinking, asking ‘would you be willing to?’, focusing on the craft and ditching the phone to better explore the world around you.
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Wait a minute
worth recording with Josh Janssen and Tommy jacket. This is la talk show in Los Angeles with my friend Joshua fields Milburn. Hey guy, man.
Hey, thanks for thanks for while we're here in my studio. How's it going? Thanks for having me board. Well, thanks for coming to our studio here. minimalist studio.
Josh. This is the first time me meeting you you meeting me? But I love it that your studio is very in line with what you do and what your whole brand is about
aggressively. Simple hundred percent.
podcast aggressively simple. The minimalists? Yeah for if people are recognising the voice. They can't say the hair. man that
was one I didn't bring your your cameras with you
know, we will get a pic but I get a comment a lot about my hair. And it's I can't tell if it's like people having a dig at me. But I walk into like, bro, yeah, you're three feet tall. I look at that quaff,
and I walked in
my class got nothing on that.
Yeah, I'm 6265 with hair.
And so we are you were just saying before we press the record button that this the studio space that we're in has a bit of podcasting history.
Yeah, we're we're really fortunate find the space we we moved to Los Angeles about a year ago because this is where people go to tell storeys, and we're working our second documentary, we've got just a bunch of projects. Plus, there's a lot of people that either live here or come through here. Well, I mean, I ran into you on the street. And we haven't seen each other since early this year, back in March, when when you we did some video work together out in Australia. And and I'm just walking down the street all of a sudden, I'm I'm brain like freezes because I saw both of you. Yeah. And I'm like, wait a minute that this can't be right. And I thought there was something going on with with my with my head. But anyway, like, we moved to Los Angeles a year ago, because there are people that are coming through here are live here. And we found a particular community here of creative people who are interesting, who are doing fascinating things who are sort of bucking the status quo. And we wanted to build a podcast studio here. And so we started looking and we were looking for office space. And it's not cheap to live in Los Angeles is also not cheap to have office space in Los Angeles. But then we stumbled across this this we work as First we work in Southern California, there are 18 of them now. And it's here in Hollywood. And because it's in Hollywood, they built these rooms that are like production studios. It's different from any other we work you would go to. And it was the day the they the podcast called How Stuff Works was what used to be recorded in this in this studio along with all the I think it's I think the name of their here's some irony for you. The name of their podcast network or their podcast network was stuff incorporated in the minimalists move in here, and we just remodel the room put up your sound panels and painted and brought in our own furniture we tried to make it look like our aesthetic. It's It's simple. And but it's also functional. And we want it to be beautiful. Like the bones are the beauty of the place. I don't need to have a bunch of bookshelf with random books that I haven't read or anything like that. I wanted it to be simple. And so here we are a year later. We were doing the podcast now for about about three years. And I feel like we haven't hit a stride yet. But it feels good to keep doing it.
Well. That's good effort. Most people are pulling the pin quite early. Yeah, we've experienced quite a few different studios. We're at Seth Golden's studio is like, well, it's a complete opposite of this.
Like, the cut off car is tough guy. It's it's a it almost feels like you're in the room of an inventor
is where you are. I mean, he's a he's a genius. There's, I think I once called him the the best living blogger. But that would mean that there's a dead blogger that's better than him. And I don't think that's the case. I mean, he's so prolific. And then every day he puts out something meaningful that people find immense value in I think I subscribed to two blogs, and his is one of them.
So tell me about his face. Well, one thing that I can remember was just a random chicken, a squeaky chicken that was just lying down. And I said when I got there I said he said would you like a cup of tea? And I said yeah, great. I'd love one and on the cap was just a number like 250 I think so what's the significance of the number and what did he say?
So he's got I think he loves prime numbers I think so he's got he's got like a prime number generator. This is good. gone completely over our heads. Yeah.
What do you need a prime number generator.
I think I do that. It felt like we were in Willy Wonka's you know, Willy Wonka and I was Augustus Gloop. Like I was very excited by all the knickknacks and things like this.
Yeah, I mean,
that's quite the awesome, obscure reference from the late 70s certainly weren't born yet. So it's great that in fact, my my daughter's five and literally the only movie she's ever seen is Willy Wonka. The new one, the old one. The the old one is too scary. Yeah. And she's terrified of it. She won't watch frozen because it's too scary for her. And she's like, for whatever reason, she just thinks movies are scary, but
she walked down Hollywood Boulevard.
Just scary for you. There was two Spider Man, spider man's walking side by side. And I totally freaked her out. Like she could not figure out how that's possible. Yeah, anyway, Seth Godin, I have a friend who, who I will I won't mention the friend he was at a party at which Seth Godin was at and you can tell Seth is the the consummate creator because in this party where everyone's mingle and he was off in the corner writing a blog post laptop out and just sort of typing away writing a blog post is probably a decade ago or or close to it. And yeah, I mean, he puts out a blog post every day but he for everyone he puts out he writes three so think about the the sort of output there thousand blog posts a year kind of thing.
He was saying he comes up with ideas in the shower and then forgets by the time he gets out. And so it has to be a numbers game. Yeah, you know, putting everything down and having lots
a lot of people might know you Josh from the documentary minimalism the rich for a long time on on Netflix, I don't know if it was was skewed our way. But we saw the poster is, you know, one of the top documentaries. Yeah, we
got we got really fortunate with that thing.
Yeah. And so a lot of people will know you from that. But you have a rich history in blog it like yeah, the blogging is almost where it started for you.
Yeah. And it's still our biggest audience. Surprisingly, I've become more vehicle agnostic over the years, like, I'm no longer for the longest time. I'm 37. Now, but throughout my 20s, I wanted to just write fiction, I wanted to be an author and write books. And that's all I wanted to write, just write novels. And then it was when my 30s came around, and I realised I needed to make some changes in my life. That's when I discovered minimalism, you know, my mom died, my marriage ended, and I started making some changes in my life. And sort of my best friend Ryan, who runs the minimalist with me. And we just started writing some stuff, put it up online. And in fact, we didn't even know it was called blog at the time. We call it a website. We didn't know they were called blog posts, we call them essays. And because that's what I was used to reading The New Yorker, you read some essays, or and, or the Atlantic or wherever, and I was used to reading essays. So we put up a website, I thought a blog was like we're at three year old women catalogue pictures of their cats. And that does happen. Yeah,
it's an app called Pinterest.
Those are the really popular blogs.
And so we it was just a way for me to start sharing my writing your via nonfiction. And so it all started eight years ago with with the minimalists. com. The reason Ryan and I are the minimalists is because the domain was available for less than 10 bucks. Right demand.
Yeah, it's not so many things based on a domain name.
I know, right? And it just sort of cascaded from there from from we wrote the blog for about a year and people kept asking us like, well, you're the minimalist. What are you going to write a book about minimalism? So we wrote a book called minimalism, and we put it out there on the world. And we went out on our first book tour with that and eventually put out our second book, we started a podcast, we started doing more tours. But it all started with with that blog, and the rising tide lifts all boats. So when, when the documentary came out on Netflix, back in 2016, all of a sudden, brought more people to the blog, more people to the podcast, the podcast, we actually started so we can start talking about the documentary and inform people about this documentary, but in a weird way, the documentary brought people to the podcast and our biggest audience is actually in Australia as as you you saw crowds in Sydney and Melbourne. Yeah, had a massive crowd in Oakland as well. Yeah, yeah. And what was fascinating about about that is, I think what you all have realised is that the American dream has permeated your borders, and you're like, wait a minute, we don't want it. We don't want part of this, right. Like, we there's nothing wrong consumption, but the consumer culture is problematic. And when we want to do nothing, but pursue our every day ephemeral pleasures, and forsake the things that are most important, our values, our relationships, our health, our creativity, then we start to suffer, we start to we stop living in a in a meaningful way.
With You said you, you weren't kind of agnostic to one type, or you're not now, right, we're thinking writing is something that is the passion. I've had the same with making videos, but, you know, do you think you need that sort of drive for one thing to start with to then realise that now there's other areas that can contribute to that? And do you need the others? Okay, and can you be just all in on one thing, I think you kind of have to be all in on one thing,
Ryan and I work we work on one major project a year. So we're working on our second documentary right now. And everything else we do feeds that, that project. The nice thing since since 2010, when we started the middle was I can sort of go back and chart every year, we've had one major thing that we've worked on, and I've gotten really good at saying no to pretty much everything else. In fact, when Josh asked me to do this, I'm like, I usually say no to this, but I really like yeah, so I've done I think this is the fourth interview that I've done all year.
And and and the reason the reason that I say no to most things like I'm not in a mode where that makes sense. Right now I'll say yes to interviews, we, in 2014, we did 100 City book tour, hundred and 19 events, and why did over 400 interviews that year was for a second book, everything that remains. And so it really made it made sense to do that then, but you go all the way and I get really obsessive about a a project. So whether it's blogging, and yeah, for that, that first year it was all in is building that foundation. And after that, it was like the book after that it was doing this immense tour. And then we wrote our second book, we moved to a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Middle nowhere Montana for forums. Sounds like so much fun. Yeah, it's so it was sort of like the Boston Globe said it was like Henry David Thoreau, but with Wi Fi. That will, that is a translate as well, I've realised in the US and Australia, a lot of people don't don't know who throw is, for some reason, but it's just a very American thing. You know, he's sort of lived in the woods. But he didn't completely remove himself from society either, like I saw it access to grocery stores by to drive a couple hours to make it to make it happen. But yeah, I tend to go pretty deep on a project. So I think if you were to put it on like a pie chart, or some sort of graph, it would look like I don't actually do much, because I don't have a very
busy life. So you get a central focus. And the other things sort of feed that and make sense based on that central was in that focus point?
Yeah, I think it used to be the opposite, though, I got a very busy life. And in fact, isn't that like, it becomes a status symbol, like I can't, I'm very busy. And really, what I was saying I realised is it can't My life is out of control. Someone else is dictating my schedule my to do list. And we do that now I whether it's Twitter and wanting to respond, you know, I don't have any social media apps on my phone. And it's not because I think social media is inherently evil. It's because I don't trust myself with having Instagram on my phone, because well, the the the inventor of Instagram, called it visual crack. And it kind of is that we get lost in the scrolling. And, and there, there are teams of engineers. Now I didn't start out this way. But there are teams of engineers who are paid six figure salaries to keep your eyeballs on their product or service for as long as possible. And so I was very busy. But I wasn't focused on doing anything meaningful, do what Cal Newport would call the deep work I, I just wasn't focused on on the deep work and, and once I started removing some of those distractions, I became less busy, but I came became more more focus.
Tommy and I were talking before this chat about the fact that the way I feel about you is you talk a lot about minimalism, but you have such a good business and sort of creative mind. And people can go and check out the minimalists on through iTunes and listen to the podcast would be great to get the perspective of some of these other elements. Like for instance, Tommy and I have just started a business together. This is you know, a partnership having a crack at the partnership thing. Sure. Good domain. We got basically why
is it's a play on it, though, because we are a nimble team. Right. And we want to make big impact. Not the size of the business.
Yes. So yeah, big media company. com is our website. We've registered the company and all that sort of thing. And obviously that's that's the fun bit. That's the glossy bit.
What have you made this work now?
What has been the learning for you going from, say, corporate america and selling phones and doing all that sort of thing to being in a partnership with a friend? Fine. Right? Yeah.
So I at the sort of pinnacle of my corporate suffering, I was director of operations for 150 retail stores. So I learned a lot through through that whole process. But I also learned a lot about what not to do, because, in fact, it got to a point where I was doing a job that no longer aligned with my values no longer align with the person I wanted to become. And so one of the things I've learned now is, in fact, you were at our event in in an Auckland with Eric servers, and his big thing is, there's no yes, it's either Hell yeah, or no, absolutely. And it's one of the things and in fact, it was that I thought about that when you asked me to do this, is this the hell? Yeah. So if for me, it was like, Yeah, like, I really want to reconnect. I really like Josh. And and this would be a great opportunity to have a conversation, by the way. It's weird. Now how with podcast, one of the ways that you get to have conversations with people is if you turn some microphones on, Ryan, and I talk more on microphone, I feel like that off Mike, I don't think that's actually true. But it's becoming closer and closer to that, where we'll sit across from each other for an hour or two a week and just have these conversations and answer questions. And and if it ever becomes, I don't know, if I want to do this. If it feels like a suffering, or feels like, well, this is no longer aligned with what I want to do. It doesn't mean that that's a failure necessarily. It just means that hey, going forward, the past doesn't have to equal the future. You can graduate from certain things as well, and sort of move on, as opposed to thinking that this is going to last forever, long enough timeline, everything's ephemeral.
And within within a partnership context, how do you get to a double hell yes, with everything, or is there? Sometimes it? Is it okay to have one? Hell yes. And the other one is a maybe No,
no, I mean, in fact, that has to be it, we say no to a lot more because of that, because one of us will come in with the Hell yeah, and the other ones like, and will provide some perspective. But we also whenever we challenge each other, it's always in a way that is loving and supportive. Right, and I don't ever argue will disagree. I can tell you're too dynamic, you probably do argue a little
bit each other.
But what I also love is coming off the back end of it is we like a good relationship. My wife and I, we argue, as most couples, you know, they have disagreements or whatever, be sure that we love each other. And we know that we love each other and at the universe will living together and we have a baby together. We love each other. So we get through it. And it it's almost cathartic on the other side, because you take you take from it, the things that will allow you to grow. And I love that my relationship with you, Josh, is that
Yeah, as well as my wife, it definitely feels like we like we are opposites in a lot of in a lot of ways.
That's good, right. Ryan and I are like exact opposites. Yeah.
In fact, if you look at like a Myers Briggs test, we are literally exact opposites. He is an extreme extrovert. I am an extreme introvert. For every one hour I spend around people I, I spend eight or nine hours by myself. Yeah. And, and my life is now designed that way. And it's difficult to for some people to grasp, but it allows our relationship, it that allows our relationship for the time that we are together to be better, I can be the best version of myself because of that. Whereas if Ryan and I were around each other 12 hours a day, it would just be like, Oh, we wouldn't be happy with each other. Yeah. He is very spontaneous in the moment kind of guy. I'm a planner, I plan things out way in advance, right? I'm a thinker. He's a feeler people often describe us as the head in the heart of the minimalists. And that, that sort of dual perspective, it provides us that it provides a different perspective. So we're not just regurgitating each other's information. Yeah.
And do you find that you take on those different roles? So one of the things that Tommy and I are looking at is like, well, what are we best to do? Like, what is Tommy strengths versus my strengths so that we don't have overlap? Have you come up with prioritisation mechanisms?
Yeah, yeah, it's it's often more through trial and error. But but more. It's more or less via curiosity, like, what are you curious about? And it's probably gonna be different from what Tommy is curious about. And you follow that curiosity? Because we're often we're often sold this bill of goods like, you see it on like these accessory posters and stuff where people say, follow your passion. And I think that's total bullshit advice, right? Because it presupposes you were born to do something. Yeah. But the truth is, like, maybe follow your curiosity is better advice, because you have to cultivate a passion requires a lot of drudgery, a lot of hard work, a lot of dredging through the drudgery. And so for me and Ryan, it's like, oh, you're curious about that? Why don't you pursue that thread? I'm curious about this, I'll pursue this. And then we'll come back together and bounce some ideas off of each other. Quite often, with many of the things that we write, I'm the architect of a lot of it. But Ryan is sort of the idea guy, where he'll he and I will have will hash out this conversation. He'll Hand me this really ugly chunk of gold. And I will flash it into one of those beautiful bricks that they they keep them the Federal Reserve. Yeah.
Is the the writing part. How is that informed? The filmmaking and the podcasting? Do you when you are podcasting? Are you thinking the same way that you are when you are writing an essay?
Writing is thinking for me, and in many ways, right? So So I write sometimes to figure out what I think. And and that helps me in any of those other domains, especially on the podcast, like, knowing what I think about a particular question. I, you you mentioned earlier, like Ryan and I are known for talking about minimalism. And that's true. But minimalism is really the Trojan horse that gets us in the door to talk about whatever we want to talk about. Yeah, so we might do a podcast about leadership, we might do a podcast about debt, we might do a podcast about what to advertisements for whatever it might be. And, and really, it's via the lens of minimalism, but that's the 20% that allows us to talk about the 80% of everything else. Because ultimately, minimalism is if you're redefine, it's just about intentional living, right. And so, so that's those sort of broader concentric circle around minimalism and allows us to talk about so much more than just like, cleaning out your closet. Like we'll talk about that occasionally. But it's not that's not that interesting.
And what's Ron's approach to that?
Yeah, I think I think with was Ryan, what he does, he's the he's the bigger picture guy and the details guy. And so when you talk about accident, each other, Ryan will have sort of these these grandiose ideas that I will help him dial in, or I will be extremely, extremely neurotic. And he'll help me look at the big picture in a way that I you know, I'm so stuck in the forest. I don't even notice there are trees here until he drags me out of the forest. Is
there a process of you getting pissed off about that, like him dragging you out? Is it always Yeah, I get pissed off every time.
I wish, I wish that was the case. And thankfully, we're both really understanding of each other. And he understands my personality enough to know when something frustrates me. And he knows how to through many years of trial and error, Ryan, I have known each other for almost 30 years now since we were fat, little fifth graders. And And so through many years of trial and error, he knows how to bring an idea to me, and I know how to fine tune an idea in a way that is not insulting to him. But it's bringing the best of both of our worlds together.
What does that look like? What is what is that that conversation like? Well, what can we learn from that experience in collaborating with others? You know, you've got a great team, like, you know, Jess, and Sean, how is that informed those conversations,
I think quite often it has to do with not placing blame on the other person. So instead of saying, you, you, you, if there were ever critiquing or criticising or providing feedback, it's either the collective we Yeah, even though it's gnosis with my daughter, it's not like what are you doing? Stop doing that, it's, hey, that's not how we behave in this household. And, and I think that's true with our team, you know, we have about 10 people on on the team total, if you count me and Ryan, and and whenever we are providing feedback to each other. It's not you, you, you, it's, hey, here's what I would find beneficial. And then there are five words that totally changed my life. And the way that I approach conflict. And those five words are, would you be willing to, as opposed to saying, hey, I need you to do this. And this could even be for a simple business transaction. Yeah, you're gonna fly back to Australia, they screw up your tickets. And you What are you gonna do? We're gonna go the counter and say, Hey, fuck this, you're gonna fix this right now? You piece of shit. Are you likely to get much let's tell me why
I dropped that
you're not you're not likely to to provoke them want to help you in that instance, I actually had this happen recently, Ryan and I were going down to South Paulo, Brazil to give a talk last month, and they screwed up our flight. So I'm like I have having the last minute we show up. And it's like the wrong flight. The wrong seats were not together like all this, these problems. And she's like, she's pawning us off to the next division, next person, one point to try to give us a phone number to call even though we're right there at the air airlines counter. And I eventually just looked at her I said, okay, but would you be willing to help us? And she looked at me, she and she tried to go through her her spiel again of like, well, it's gonna have to be at this counter. I said, Look, I understand that. But would you be willing to help us?
Something a little bit scary when you do it?
What do you need help with?
because, really, it's an empowering question is what I'm saying there is, hey, look, I know, I'm empowering you, I know that you are able to do this. I know you're competent enough. I know you you have the power. I know you have the knowledge in order to take care of this, just with those five words, would you be willing to? And and when I ask it that way? I'm giving you two options, either. Yes. I'm empowered. Yes, I will help you. Or what's the alternative is in cog in the machine? Yeah, right. where they're going to say No, fuck you. I don't like you. Yeah. And it's the same with our team. If Ryan comes to me and I and says, Would you be willing to help me out with this one? I'm gonna say, No, screw you every like, Fuck,
I know that trick. Right frequency
shift like you bringing in different energy to the table. Yeah, you being more clear and thoughtful, I guess.
And you're making a request as opposed to a demand. But even with request, you have to be you have to be careful, you don't. Because if you're constantly just asking, asking, asking you become a parasite, if you just taking taking taking for relationship and not providing anything in the middle of every relationship, there's like this invisible us box, and you give whatever you can give to that. But you also get what you need from it, right? And you're just giving and giving and giving, not getting from it, you're going to feel used. But if you're just taking and taking and taking, then you're a parasite and no one feels good about working with a parasite. And so what I found is we've curated relationships that are based on shared values. And I think that's really important know what your values are, everyone on our team knows what our values are, what the minimalists are trying to accomplish, what we're, we're trying to create something meaningful for the world, but they also know what my values are, and I know what their values are. And and knowing that we're working on the same page, doesn't mean we're going to always be the same. We have radically different beliefs, Ryan and I have different religious beliefs. We have different political beliefs. We voted for two different people in the last election, which in the states freaks people out. And, and so what what I've learned is that even though we're radically different people, those those beliefs, just different paths that get us toward those same values. So know what your values are, you can both find different paths to get there.
I've always found the biggest change in my life has been when I've gone too far. One way, like even thinking about this, I remember exchange with someone at a hotel, where I went back in apologise because I was I was at a line. So I've almost like, I know, I've pushed it over the line. And I think about the minimalism movement and my thoughts towards that when I first saw the Docker and loved it, but hadn't thought about adopting it to my life. And then I have a kid. Yeah. And then I realised Holy shit. I need more space, or I need to get rid of shit. Right. And I've always tried to I spoke to Josh about this finally had to reconcile having a child and, and adapting the minimalism principles. It's hard. You haven't seen how many socks My son has? Because we needed to have a lot of self. And so you're a father. How do you how do you reconcile that.
But it's it is more difficult with a fan. When I first discovered minimalism was 28. My marriage just ended, I just moved out on my own. I was like, the the bachelor living in Dayton, Ohio. And I saw the corporate job and like, so I had a radically different life from what I have right now, it was about a decade ago, and my life look different. But minimalism was still applicable to me then. But what I learned over the years is that as you bring other people into the fold with a wife, and, and a kid, what you realise is, yeah, it's more difficult. But it's also more important, because it's no longer just for me, yeah, before it was just like, I'm doing this for me. And that makes sense. I think you do have to start with yourself, that's really important. And it's not about imposing your values on someone else. It's about showing other people the benefits of simplifying and the question I often start with is how might your life be better with less? And that question helps people identify what the values that that what the things that they value are through this process. For some people, it's like, yeah, just feel better with a cleaner closet or whatever. Other people might say, you know what, like, I've been so focused on acquiring all these stupid trinkets, I'm spending 10s of thousands of dollars. With money I don't have, by the way, cuz I'll put on credit cards, money, I don't have to buy things I don't need to impress people I don't even like. And when you frame it like that, you start to realise like, wow, I can regain control of my finances, or I can regain control of my time, I can regain control of my attention. One of the benefits for you and by the way, the benefits for my 37 year old self are different from the benefits from a 28 year old self so they're obviously different. For my five year old daughter the benefits for her she can hardly pronounce minimalism.
To be cute that whatever she said
was she so the beginning of our podcast, we have a little like drop, we do on on our YouTube channel, where she says the minimalists when she says it wrong. So like, the logo goes across, and she says the minimalists. And yeah, so she doesn't understand what it means intellectually, but she understands, viscerally what it is because every month we go donate some old toys if she wants to bring new toys in her life. And the thing that that I've taught her and that I've taught myself really, is that minimalism isn't about deprivation, you can temporarily deprive yourself, and that's fine learning what may or may not add value, getting rid of, you know, the extra gear, the extra equipment, I'm sure you know, this is a filmmaker like, you can have all the best gear in the world, but we fetishize the equipment in a way, right? I think of recording studios, or in a fairly simple studio looks nice. But like, we can do everything we need to do in here for our podcast, just as well as if we had had, you know, the big, hundred 28 channel console that Dr. Dre spins a million dollars on? It looks really cool. It looks like you're getting ready to fly a spaceship. But what does that what does that going to do for me nothing right? Now he may need it. But fetish size the those things, what I've realised is that you can get by with very little you can remove those things temporarily. And then bring the things back in that you figure out will add value with Allah, my five year old daughter, it's not like she doesn't have any toys, she has an appropriate amount of toys for her. And so we have a bin of toys and, and those toys augment her experience of life, they they do help make life better and more meaningful, and then ultimately happiness as a, as a byproduct of a meaningful life. But if I bought her 10 huge bins of toys, is she going to be 10 times happier? No, she'll probably be 10 times more overwhelmed, and it's actually going to chip away. At her
contentment, I was just thinking about 10 things of toys in my house, I couldn't stand that.
It's funny, you're talking about that, that idea of the mixing console and what so I think I remember both Tommy and I've worked in radio in Australia, they talk about the focusing on what comes out of the speakers, specifically in the context of as digital was getting bigger and people getting distracted with doing other bits of content. It always came back to, to that it's like what is what does it sound like through the speakers? What are people hearing and,
and even then you can you can sacrifice some quality for of, of sound. I mean, I think you know our podcast sounds really good now but it didn't always we used to meet an echo a conference room and, and it was more about creating something meaningful, given the resources we had cut off. And our affinity for perfectionism is so high that we just don't do anything. And many of my biggest regrets in life or that I didn't start something sooner. We started the minimalists calm eight years ago, I wish seven years ago, we would have started the podcast instead of less than three years ago, because I've gotten a lot better at that over the course of three years and figuring out a particular aesthetic that you develop over time. But we waited because it was like, wow, I gotta have the right. Podcast Producer, we need to have the right equipment. And what's research microphones again, and
I'm taking out at the mic stands. I looked at these at a racing conference. Yeah,
they're nice fan. I mean, good. But But we we got by with the little the cheap road ones for a long time. And they worked just as well. They didn't look as good on camera. So we got these actually, they didn't work just as well. These do actually work slightly better. But it's a marginal improvement. So yeah, you can you can, once you have built a foundation, we were talking about that earlier, building a foundation you build on top of the foundation, you can make incremental improvements over time. But it really starts with like, Okay, how do I get this out? There was said going with just talking about how do I ship this? So not not not that is perfect, but given the resources I have, and one of those is going to be time. Then equipment. So money, energy skill set? What are the resources I have, given the resources I have? What's the best I can do? And I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and say, Oh, this isn't perfect. Nothing that we do is perfect. But this is the best I could have done given those resources I have
Why? What do you think the biggest barrier for people to not be shipping things?
Well, it's weird. So I teach a writing class online. And one of my biggest challenges is teaching students. And I got this from David Foster Wallace, teaching students that they are simultaneously more interesting and less interesting than they think they are. And what I mean by that is like, you are the person inside your head, right? And so when you are inside your head, everything to you're at the grocery store, all of a sudden, you really want to buy these tangerines, they're really interesting to you, for whatever reason. But they're actually not that that experience of you shopping for tangerines is likely so banal. It doesn't, it's not going to serve the greater good in a way. So I think right now, when people are afraid of shipping, so to speak, afraid of publishing their work afraid for getting their voice out there in the world, it's because they haven't figured out the difference between what will serve the greater good, and what is just sort of vapid content generation. In fact, that's, that's the word we avoid. At the minimalists, we do not use the word content. And if we're ever creating content, then that's a problem for me, I'm I'm much more interested in meaningful creations than just generating more content. And so what I want to do is create something meaningful that other people are going to find value. And ultimately, what I've learned is that if you help people solve problems that you are, you're adding value to their lives, then that's what they're going to show up for. That's how they're going to support you. Yeah, 98% 99% of what we do is, is free, whether it's a podcast, which we don't do any ads on, or what website or whatever we're doing is mostly free. But then we do put something out in the world like, Hey, would you be willing to support us? We have a book out here we have, you know, we put a documentary out, would you be willing to support us in that way? And, and people often do,
do you think people try and get that support too early? Before they
do? Many people have reached out to me, hey, how do I want a Patreon page. And I always, I always say, I think it's a terrible idea to start a Patreon page
to make $5 a month.
Right, but in in the resources going into it. And then also it shows up, and there's nothing wrong with failing, but it shows up as a failure early on, that people aren't going to be willing to back later because they said oh, you already tried that and it didn't work. And now you're doing the same thing again later. I'll give you I'll give you some context all podcast gets up to 3 million downloads a month, that's on a outstanding month. And I think we have 1600 Patreon supporters. So you do the math there it's it's it's staggering how few people are going to even though we provide immense value to those 1600 people who support it, we do a bonus podcast every week. And we we do a you know ask the minimalist anything once a month, we do a live stream for them. We do all these these additional things that provide value to the audience. Most people they find that the the free version of whatever they've been acculturated to expect free. And so we tend to make money on our creations and other ways, ways that we're proud of still, like writing books.
In a lot of ways you are at the forefront of all of this, this type of stuff. I saw that you spend some time with Dave Ramsey who Yeah, in Australia. He's not on the stream right now. But in the US he's massive,
right. second or third largest radio show in the country. And yeah, 14 million listeners per week. So
all about you.
I've been getting into all this stuff now the beans and rice and yeah, that's, that's for sure. What have you. What did you learn from spending time with sort of more traditional media guy?
Yeah, well, he's weird, weird in a way because he is in traditional media. But I was I was talking to him before we went on his radio show. And we did a tour with his whole team. We brought out Chris Hogan, who is like, America's premier voice on retirement, basically. And he has a book called retire inspired. He all his next book coming out in January is called everyday millionaires.
How does a guy become that like the like, because I guess he's never he's retired young
has he, you know, he mean, he's, he's in his, I don't how old he is. He's, he's, he's older than I am. But he sort of ambiguously young. And but he's like, also he has the voice of God. I don't know if you if you let's go back and listen, that pie what there was a YouTube comment,
said, This guy sounds like he has four testicles.
And that's Chris. I mean, he, he sounds
talking about you.
Certainly was Chris. He sounds like I mean, man. But you had done some serious modulation on on his voice. But anyway, he's retirement guy. We went out with Anthony O'Neill, who really helps kids get through college without any debt, which is a huge, huge problem in the United States. And and then we went with Rachel Cruz, who is Dave Ramsey's daughter, and we did a tour salad with her. But then we, we were chatting with Dave beforehand. And the thing I told him was like, Hey, we're just, we're trying to be a very small version of what you're doing. We went out there, he has a campus. I mean, you go to his campus, and we're in a little one room studio here, right? He has 749 employees. And his radio show was on for three hours day, every day, but their YouTube channel, he I think he puts three clips on their YouTube channel every day. He has an app that costs multi millions of dollars to develop. It's called every dollar. They teach something called Financial Peace University. They have their curriculum, I think in over 50% of high schools now, try to teach kids how to better manage their money, which I wish I would have had, that would have found a whole lot more value in that. And so he, he actually is very, he's independent, even though he's most known from being on. He's on 680 radio stations across America, I think. But he owns all of his own stuff. He owns the building, he owns the studio. There's a book shop there on their campus. There's a coffee shop there. And so in many ways, I will Ryan, I've done everything we've done, we've done independently. And and so we start our own publishing company in 2012. We have organised all of our own tours, we have a really good team. And I learned a whole lot from someone like Dave, who uses those vehicles of the traditional broadcast spectrum, but he owns it all and he's still independent.
What's the goal for you guys to ever create a movement? What does it come from? Just doing the work?
No, I mean, I my objective when I left the corporate world, so I when I simplify, I'm still in the corporate world. And then I went to realise like, oh, man, this is not aligned with the person I want to be. I was two blocks from a coffee shop, the My favourite coffee shop in Ohio called cold press. So if you ever in Dayton, Ohio, check it out, voted the best coffee shop in Ohio. And they are they're really the ones who made me fall in love with coffee, but my objective was to work there. enough to pay for my little $500 a month apartment. So I downsized everything, living in this $500 a month apartment and write fiction full time, that's all I wanted to do. That was my objective. And maybe eventually I'd make enough money from writing these fiction books that I could just make a living off of writing. And then this whole minimalism thing was a really beautiful accident. We started the minimalists. And, and you know, this from from our talk, but like 52 people showed up the first month. And that was amazing to me, because now 52 people were reading my writing, like holy shit, because throughout my 20s, the only people who read my stuff, or people who told me no, my agents and publishers were like, now this isn't good enough, which announced to me at the time, it actually wasn't very good. But that 52 turn turned into that movement, it turned into 5000. And, and then 500,000. And, and and now it's about 4 million at the blog and over 20 million people a year that we touch through the the different mediums,
so we're always trying to gamify it and people are looking for the hand book of how to do it. And yeah, do you think about it in that respect ever just going what were the elements for me? And I'm, I couldn't imagine you selling the a book of how to how to make a move. It's not doesn't seem like you're your type of thing.
It kind of reminds me that you all are from from the sort of mega church capital, right? Hell song. Oh, yeah. And, like, you see, like, I have a lot of friends in that world. Like, in fact, the the the Ramsey folks are all very Christian folks. And the the, there's there's a fascinating sort of sub movement in that movement, where like, it's like, guides on how to create a movement basically. Right? And it's, it's, it's like this strange thing, because that was never the objective with us. In fact, I look at numbers once a year. So the reason I can tell you what these these numbers are, they're actually they actually look at them twice this year. And there's a weird reason for that.
But it's only less you Google Analytics login and factor. Okay, any case, yeah.
I just don't look at it. Because I don't want the I don't want the metrics to dictate creativity. Because then I realised what'll happen is like all that episode performed really well, what's the secret sauce so that I can get more clicks or views? That's all we do. In fact, what we're constantly asking each other every week, we have a staff meeting. And we're just I always add, in fact, the staff meeting begins and I say, Hey, this is your weekly reminder that everything we do in the staff meeting is not productive. This in an office meeting is not productive. What is productive is hopefully we get something out of here, we create something meaningful for our readership for our listenership for our audience. So the question we're always asking is, how do we add value to the audience? How do we improve the reader experience on our website? I just had a, a phone call right before you got here with our web developer, and we're just, we're we're constantly making these little tweaks and never has anything to do with numbers it has to how can we make this more more beautiful, more so more elegant? How can we help people better, right? And we don't have a sidebar website. We don't have any advertisements. We don't cram graphics or anything on there. And that's it's very intentional. And so whatever we're trying to do, I don't want the numbers to dictate it. Once a year, we have a publicist, we have a booking agent. And we have a literary agent who asked about these numbers. And so I have to go like digging and look, look this stuff up. And I will present that to them whenever they ask for it. But otherwise, I try to avoid it altogether, because I think that stuff's toxic.
Yeah. Is was that from the very beginning? Oh, hell no, I first
you like, someone retweeted my tweet. Like, one of my, you know, 78 followers retweeted this, how awesome is that? But I realised that's that those that sort of empty calories, man, like you can indulge it, like, if I give you a piece of candy, and you eat it like, that's fine. But if your primary diet consists of refined sugar,
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, we don't have really in Australia, so I have not at the level. Yes, I've probably ever done it.
And so you end up but it's as your primary intake get sick. Yeah. And I think creatively you get sick when, when we're, I use those vehicles like social media, and you met Jess, Jess as our social media manager. And every everything we put on social media, every word that is written on social media is either mine or Ryan's where it's like, we all we create everything. But she's a curator, she curates our social media for us. And she does so in a way she actually she's worked at several museum like like art galleries. And so she's a literal curator. She's just figured out a way to do that in the social media world, because it's so noisy, and I don't want to add to the noise. I want to be able to whisper and have the people who want to get close enough be able to hear it.
Well, I'm a filmmaker as well, you know, I guess that's out there these episodes, but also keeping you context more than
you Josh, you know.
Breaking News, we did this podcast. So there I was like, hey, did I announces the podcast, I'm not going to buy a Tesla. And he didn't say it that way. But our filmmaker Jordan, who I wish was here, you can meet him. He's a great guy. He he put like one of the news, breaking news. Breaking News, Ryan is not going to buy a Tesla. Yeah.
She's a breaking news, Mama, guys, I am a filmmaker. But Josh, and I've talked about, you know, getting into the craft and the nitty gritty of it, versus having to chase the work and land the jobs that pay the bills and how it's like, would be great to just a what would be the situation if we weren't looking at that. And I get the same thoughts around feeling around, not looking at the numbers and focusing on the craft. But then I think you know, you were doing it at one point and we are amongst it, at what point a pullback
Yeah, immediately. I mean, I'd if I could go back and just shake my
30 year old self who was like obsessed with analytics, I would say, Hey, man, like, this isn't producing something meaningful. In fact, a lot of the stuff you're producing right now you're gonna have to rewrite it several years from now because you're, you're doing it wrong. And and just focus on the craft. And if I could go back and talk to my 30 year old self, that that's exactly what I would do. In fact, in 2015, that's what we did. We, we, we went and rewrote every essay that was on our website, and there was hundreds of them. We hired a full time editor to do this actually.
Care, I guess you don't give a shit?
No, I honestly, I didn't know what SEO was until a few years and someone brought it up at a conference. And I'm like, Look, I hear you keep saying this term. But can you explain that because I really didn't know man, like, I couldn't spell HTML barely. Like, we figured out the one of the main reasons our site is so simple, is we figured out how to calculate together a website and I had no experience whatsoever. I've designed one thing in my life. And it's the minimalist logo. And I'm retired from design now.
silhouettes. Yeah. When I think of minimalism, minimalist,
What's the everyone's writing now, in a sense of, if you're doing an Instagram post, you're writing a bit of, you know, texts for that. It's, it's in our culture to be emailing to be slacking by design, we are communicating more in the written form there. As a writer, what is your advice to people to move the needle in how they write and to create better writing?
There's a difference between communicative communication and expressive communication. I'll try to illustrate it with an example. If you get a calculus textbook, it is strictly communicative, it communicates the information to you, right, here's here are the equations. But you're never going to go to the beach with that calculus textbook. And like, the relaxing day, let me let me figure out what the quadratic formula is right? Like, this sounds terrible, because it is just communicated. It doesn't express anything doesn't make you feel feel anything other than boredom. And and even then it's it doesn't do a good job of you and communicating that. And so the other side is expressive communication. The the most Stark example is sort of the to Redick mad person on the subway, right? Like, if you go on the subway, and you see someone in the car, like just sort of blurting out words, it sounds like New York, where we just were Yeah, yeah. So So you were in New York. And so you see, you see this regularly? Now, the weird thing about about that is its its expressive. But it doesn't require an audience whatsoever. Right. Like you were realise that that person who's on that, that that train is. And I think I got this from David Foster Wallace, like, I, that expression is, you don't have to be there for that at all. Yeah. But it's interesting. Yeah, he sort of stopped to look at it. But what if you can merge the two? And I'm talking, even in a simple text message. What if you can communicate what you want to communicate, but you can do so in a way that's beautiful and compelling. And if you can do that, on the grand the grand scale, the on the book level, that's the outer layer, concentric circle, you should be able to do it in a in a single text message as well.
I feel like whenever I'm writing to you, I, I pick up on my right, because you're rushing is so beautiful. I realised how many exclamation marks I use. I'm always I'm always yelling. What does it take for you to do it when we use in a exclamation mark? When I'm in a text when I'm exclaiming something?
I mean, generally, I'll use it ellipses. If If I knew that if there's, if it makes sense to like, Hey, I'm omitting a certain amount of information here. So I can make this more brief, then I'll use it. But yeah, we overuse, although I mean, I'm not a strict prescription is as prescriptive as either like, I don't think that language is always changing. And text messaging is changing that language. In fact, you could argue that your generation is the most literate generation in all of history. Because the generation that came before me the sort of, I guess, we will call baby boomers, right? If I'm, if I'm Gen X, and y'all are millennials, the baby boomers, and the generation before them, the last time they wrote a paragraph is when they were 18 years old. Yeah. And then they may have stopped. There are some people who did the last paragraph they wrote is in their teenage years. And now we're communicating all day, every day via the written word. And it's morphing in a way. And I'm resisting the the fast change. But I also understand when people when people communicate that way, it's it's different.
Yeah, talking about the fast change. Being in Los Angeles, what's what have you learned about yourself? What have you learned about the world, being in such a unique city and Tommy and I are constantly going to these places like New York and LA and thinking, we have a crack here? And you know, you're having a crack, you've had a crack, you're doing it? Sure. what's the what's the learning?
Well, you tell me when when you if you think about moving to a place like the How is this place? Would this place be different for you from, say, moving to Sydney, which is the city of Europe, you're more familiar with in here, but you, you don't live there,
it's a scale thing. I think that what we notice, it's like what you're talking about with brain is walking on the street, and we bump into you as we're walking along. The the calibre of people in regards to entertainment seems to be here. And what we're what we try and, you know, discuss and think about is, can we actually get there from every six months visiting and doing these experiences, and then going back home and taking that inspiration? Sure.
I've always thought travelling I, I approach it with this openness that I don't necessarily have at home, or choose to have at home, because essentially, I'm just choosing to have it when I go away. And today, we're even just talking about what if we sort of take that approach of saying, you know, America is this land of opportunity, which we do we see how many, and it's, we say, based on the scalar people here,
the exchange, it
is an exchange, and what if we just take that and decide to do it at home?
Yeah, it's funny, you can become a tourist in your own town. I'm from Dayton, Ohio, which is the birthplace of aviation, also the overdose capital of America. And it's fascinating. It was basically the Silicon Valley of the of the early 1900s. But then, you know, a lot of problems hit hit town, the latter part of the 20th century. And and they're working on on fixing a lot of those problems. Now, there's a lot of hope there. But there were certainly certainly been a lot of despair the last few decades. But I look at a place like that, and I grew up there, but the Air Force Museum is there and like people come from all over the world to go this Air Force Museum. And the first time I went there as an adult was after I'd moved away from Dayton. Well, wait a minute, like, there are all these places in your own city that I guarantee you've never been to. Once a week, I actually every other week, back tonight, my wife, we will go out and explore a new neighbourhood in in Los Angeles. Just yesterday, no two days ago. We're doing this thing called screen The Saturdays right now. So literally, it's just an experiment, temporary deprivation, right? Getting rid of our phones for the entire day affect all screens on Saturday. And literally, no GPS, no Uber or Lyft. No music, so we drove to the CD store. I shit you not one of the best music stores and in the country is right down the street from here Amoeba music. And like it's a weird experience. Because I don't When's the last time you went to see the sort of ice
don't even know where you'd go?
Yeah, I didn't either. And then I realised like, I'm he was right down there. So we drove over there. And they had parking for free, which was strange. And like, I went up in, like, I bought a David grey CD for $1. And I realised I'm going to return it because like, I'm not going to need it, I have it on my phone most of the time. But like, I essentially got to rent the CD for $1. And I'll just bring it back to them and sell it back to him for a quarter or whatever. And then we just want to explore our neighbours about the Boyle Heights and, and we went downtown and like we just go explore a little neighbourhood without without the GPS
because that's the time. I don't know if you all even remember this. There were times we had to learn a city by
by just driving around and getting lost. And that was now it's following a blue dot and Absolutely. And then you don't know you don't get familiar with everything that's outside of the highway, you don't get lost appropriately and, and my mom was dying. She lives down in St. Petersburg, Florida. That's why we own a coffee shop down there. Now I really fell in love with the community. It was it was a tale in of the sort of this was 2008. So the iPhone was around, but it wasn't ubiquitous maps on your phone were ubiquitous. Yes, you saw the print out directions from MapQuest. And so I learned the city of St. Petersburg, just by getting lost and driving around the city is the perfect city to to figure this out, because the streets are numbered correctly. And so you can if you're on 79th, and six you can is a perfect grid. And so I learned the city and I fell in love with that city. And I realised like, whenever I go to new city, I don't really know how to get around the city. That stupid device in my pocket tells me how to get around. And so even now, I've been in Los Angeles, and I can get to a few places. But it's harder because I'm so reliant on the technology. So one day every other week, we just hide the phone at the house and go out and explore and strangely feels dangerous because you don't have your phone with you, which is so fucking silly.
It's all right. I definitely noticed that when Brian our travelling Joshua fields Milburn might, I had the privilege of seeing you behind the scenes in Australia and New Zealand and saying that hundreds of people that were lining up to it wasn't even to absorb what you had to say. But many people would just wanting to say the impact that you and Ryan have had on their lives through teaching minimalism, and it's an honour that you've given us the time today. grateful. Thanks for Allison. Thanks. Have a good one.