Confession: I have a fucking weird hobby.
I take a bath once a month.
No, I mean, that’s not the strange thing, because the other days I take a shower. But when I take a bath, I sit in the water for at least an hour, and I always do the same thing:
I watch, re-watch and binge-watch Messi videos on YouTube.
My friends are bathing with their wives — I’m bathing with Messi.
I fucking love greatness. And this little man is THE GREATNESS itself.
In 2014, he reached the final of the World Cup.
… and lost it.
Despite the fact that he shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than most players shoot inside it.
Despite the fact that players cannot take the ball away from him.
Despite the fact that he is more accurate passer than any other forwards in the world.
Despite the fact that he helps his teammates more than any other forwards.
… and despite the fact that he doesn’t expect this from his teammates in return — he does it all on his own.
And I haven’t even mentioned that he shoots more accurately with his weaker leg than others with their stronger leg. Or that this weaker leg even outperforms his own stronger leg. So he doesn’t actually have a weaker leg.
“By now I’ve studied nearly every aspect of Messi’s game, down to a touch-by-touch level:— Benjamin Morris
—his shooting and scoring production;
—where he shoots from;
—how often he sets up his own shots;
—what kind of kicks he uses to make those shots;
—his ability to take on defenders;
—how accurate his passes are;
—the kind of passes he makes;
—how often he creates scoring chances;
—how often those chances lead to goals;
—even how his defensive playmaking compares to other high-volume shooters.
I arrived at a conclusion that I wasn’t really expecting or prepared for:
Lionel Messi is impossible.
It’s not possible to shoot more efficiently from outside the penalty area than many players shoot inside it. It’s not possible to lead the world in weak-kick goals and long-range goals. It’s not possible to score on unassisted plays as well as the best players in the world score on assisted ones. It’s not possible to lead the world’s forwards both in taking on defenders and in dishing the ball to others. And it’s certainly not possible to do most of these things by insanely wide margins.“
Do you know what the impossible looks like in reality? Like this (at the age of 19):
A better version of Maradona’s “Goal of the Century”:
No wonder Messi was constantly compared to the best player in the world (at the time) — they were both Argentines.
No wonder that under such pressure he played better for Barcelona (his club) than for Argentina (his national team).
And no wonder he has taken substantial criticism for failing to help Argentina to a World Cup trophy like Maradona.
He became the new best… huh, the bestest — still lost the World Cup final in 2014.
But it was only then that Lionel Messi started to warm up.
Since then, a few things have happened…
- won 4 Ballon d’Or (in addition to the existing 4) — more than any other player in all of their careers (except Ronaldo)
- won the Copa América with Argentina — the continental football competition (Ronaldo won the Euro with Portugal, but Maradona never did)
- won the treble with Barcelona — the 3 most important trophies in a season (only 7 teams did this, but Ronaldo never did). For the second time.
… and he won the World Cup.
What Messi touches (with his feet) turns to
Remember the price of diamonds from the Outer word intro?
Ladies and gentlemen, this is greatness.
But here’s something reaaally interesting…
While we were concentrating on Messi, we missed something.
Messi was constantly compared to Diego Maradona… until a point. Until, someone has stepped out of the shadows.
- outperformed Maradona in almost every important indicator
- as productive on the football pitch as Lionel Messi himself
- compared to Messi so many times that they have almost become one
Someone, who’s called Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo is considered to be less talented than Messi, but his work ethic is unbeatable.
Talent vs. Work — the popular comparison.
But I think there is something else here, something very special. Let me give you a different pespective, a special glasses, through which you can see what is perhaps the greatest rivalry in sporting history in a completely different light.
Ronaldo not only works hard, he works smart.
Cristiano Ronaldo just hacked the algorithm of the most powerful computer in the world — the human mind.
He knows perfectly well that he is not the most accurate passer.
He knows perfectly well that he cannot get through any defender.
He knows perfectly well that he won’t get far without his teammates.
And most importantly, he knows that none of this matters.
These — passing, dribbling, being assisted — are not important to the human brain.
What matters: goals.
- Wesley Sneijder won everything there was to win with his club and came second in the World Cup in 2010… and the Ballon d’Or goes to: Lionel Messi.
- Manuel Neuer has completely reformed the position in which he played and won the World Cup in 2014… aaand the Ballon d’Or goes to: Cristiano Ronaldo.
- Virgil van Dijk was the most important player of the best team who won the most important trophy in 2019… aaaaaaaaaaand the Ballon d’Or goes to: Lionel Messi.
Neuer was a goalkeeper, Van Dijk was a defender, Sneijder was a midfielder. None of them scored goals.
… and when it comes to scoring, Ronaldo is not in the shadow anymore.
Everything in life is made up of algorithms. And algorithms are made up of factors. To become the G.O.A.T.1Greatest Of All Time, you should rely on these factors.
In football, the most important factor is goal-scoring ability.
There are other factors that we — humans and our brains — take into account when deciding who is the best in the world, like:
- performance of your team
… and Lionel Messi is the best in almost all of them.
Ronaldo is… not even close. Yet we compare them to each other.
That’s the genius of Ronaldo: He picked the top factor that people care about (goals) and put all his capacity into developing it:
- Penalties would be worth about three-quarters of a goal per year. Messi has scored on 86% of his penalty kicks, versus an average of 77% for all players. Ronaldo has scored on 93%.
- Cost of missing shots is much lower in football than in other sports. Messi had the second highest number of shots on target (735). Ronaldo had the highest — almost one and a half times more than his rival (1018).
- Who Dares Wins. Especially if you can’t get past the defenders. Ronaldo takes more than twice as many shots from distance as Messi.
It’s not about Talent vs. Work.
It’s about Quality vs. Quantity.
Messi plays the “less, but better” game. Ronaldo plays the “numbers” game.
Note that these stats are from 2014 — Ronaldo got most of his Ballon d’Ors after that date. Messi, too. In fact, they won equal or more Ballon d’Ors after this date (3 and 4) than all the other players in their entire career. Despite both of them were close to (or over) 30, retiring age for professional footballers.
The comparison is pointless: both of them are great.
Messi is great in every factor of football’s algorithm, but Ronaldo has hacked the algorithm.
And it works in other sports, too.
Remember that Messi won 3 Ballon d’Ors after the age of 30? Remember that forwards retire in their 30’s? And remember that the 3 Ballon d’Ors are equal or more than any other player has won in their entire career? (except Ronaldo)
Well, there’s a Messi in American football too — his name is Tom Brady.
After turning 37, Brady won 4 more Super Bowls (in addition to the existing 3). After the age when 99% of QBs retire. And the 4 Super Bowls are equal or more than any other player has won in their entire career (except Haley).
The average NFL career length is ~4 years. Brady played 23 years…
Yeah, it definitely works in other sports, too.
The British Cyclist Team that — since 1908 — won only 1 gold medal in the Olympics… and had never won the Tour de France in 110 years. They were so weak that one of the top bike manufacturers in Europe refused to sell bikes to them, to avoid damaging its reputation.
… until a new performance director — Dave Brailsford — appeared.
His theory “The 1% Factor” worked like this:
More comfortable seats for easier cycling, rubbed alcohol on tires for better grip, different types of massage gels for faster recovery, electrically heated overshorts for ideal muscle temperature, lighter suits for more aerodynamic — and biofeedback sensors to track all of these results.
5 years later, they won 60% of the Olympic gold medals available in Beijing. Another 4 years, they won the Tour de France.
The definition of greatness.
- 100’s of world championships
- 10’s of Olympic gold medals
- 5 Tour de France victories
They created the most successful run in cycling history.
… by thinking it like an algorithm.
In fact, it works in other areas of life too.
My long, looooooong journey has led me to become an SEO professional.
To learn, understand and control Google’s algorithm.
One of the most powerful algorithm(s) in the world.
It was, that developed my algorithmic thinking.
And the factors are weighted — they matter to different degrees.
My first attempts with my newborn wings to fly were pretty… fucked up.
But after a while I knew Google’s algorithmic factors better than my own mother:
This led me to one of the greatest discoveries of my life.
The discovery that:
- Ronaldo used to keep up with Messi
- Google used to become one of the biggest company in the world. And Apple. And Disney.
- Hitler used to seize power and start the biggest war the world has ever seen
To understand it, I need to introduce you to these people… and a few more.
First, this guy.
Francis Bacon was a major figure in the scientific revolution — “the father of empiricism”. In 1620, he published his groundbreaking scientific work: Novum Organum.
In it he states that “knowledge is power”.
Why is it important?
Yuval Noah Harari (in his equally groundbreaking work Sapiens) puts it this way:
The Heath brothers reached a similar conclusion:
According to them, there is a lot of TBU in the world — True But Useless.
… and there is what they call: simple enough to be practical.
So we need practicality over accuracy.
The question is… how?
The answer came from my SEO career, where I noticed an interesting pattern.
There are a lot of Google factors. And most marketers try to use most of them, with medium results. But if you focus only on the most important 20% — you’ll get higher returns.
… or the 20% of the 20% (it’s 4%).
… or the 20% of the 20% of the 20… You get the idea.
This is how
Yes, it’s the Pareto principle.
Just pick the most important factors, and use them… better than anyone else in the world.
The same applies to the human brain — and its algorithm(s). Just think about it: if Google uses hundreds of factors, how many can our brains use? We need to choose the top 0.001%.
But how much is 0.001% exactly?
During my studies in psychology, among all the irrelevant information, sometimes a gold nugget popped up. George A. Miller, a cognitive psychologist from Harvard University’s Department of Psychology published a really important article in Psychological Review in 1956:
It says that the number of objects an average person can hold in working memory is about seven (plus or minus 2).
No wonder it’s the world’s favorite number.
… and speaking of wonders:
- Seven wonders of the ancient world
- The Seven Sages of Greece
- Seven hills of Rome
- Seven deadly sins
- Seven steps taken by the Buddha at birth
- Seven circumambulations around the Kaaba in Mecca
Or spirituality, like the seven chakras. Proverbs, like the seven years in marriage. Even the modern world, like Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs.
The magical number of 7 — Miller’s law.
It’s everywhere, because it is encoded in our brain.
There are only 3 big parts, and every part includes only 7 (plus/minus 2) principles4mostly minus 2, because I’m stupid.
The most important 0.001% of the human algorithm — Pareto of our brain.
We even have a word for it. You hear this word so often these days that you think: oh, not again…
But believe me, you should.
When Warren Buffet and Bill Gates first met (who later became the richest and second richest people in the world), their host at dinner — Gates’ mother — asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer:
I heard this word so many times that I began to hate not only it, but everything associated with it. My car was not impressed:
I hated it, even though I never really knew what does it mean.
But after Ronaldo, I left thinking “huh, so that’s what focus looks like.” And after my SEO career, I was like “okay, that’s how focus works.”
… and who knows this better than Google, who was a tiny garage startup on the early days of internet.
In that time, there were many search engines — Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos… just to name a few.
Each focused on different benefits:
- some focused on speed
- some focused on freshness
- some focused on having the largest number of results
But can you tell the difference between results that take 3 seconds or 4 seconds to load? Are you sure you want to get the latest news from a search engine and not a news site? Or do you have time to look through all 137,825 results for your search?
These were the questions that kept Larry Page and Sergey Brin up at night. And booooom: Google was born.
They knew that the most important thing for people was RELEVANCE — finding what they were looking for.
- NOT the fastest
- NOT the newest
- NOT the most
… but the most relevant. Exactly what the user needs.
And the rest is history.
Google has done the same as Cristiano Ronaldo — it has chosen the most important factor for the human brain. And now they are both on top of the world.
You don’t need everything. Just one thing — and then pour everything into it.
Google — surpriiiise! — is not the only one to have done this.
It definitely works in other examples too.
Let me introduce you to this guy!
Without him, we wouldn’t have Apple today.
- Millions of employees
- Billions of users
- Trillions of valuation
The most valuable brand in the world!
Genius engineers and designers come up with great things all the time. But without the ability to make it appealing to people, it’s just an idea.
Steve Wozniak couldn’t sell the computers — or create a brand.
Steve Jobs could.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, there’s a gold nugget that describes “The Apple Marketing Philosophy.” It’s three clear, concise points that were recorded right after the company was founded.
This was written by Mark Markkula, who was hired by Jobs to help prepare a business plan for the newborn company, and who became Apple’s first investor and later CEO.
Markkula, Isaacson writes,“wrote his principles in a one-page paper titled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy” that stressed three points”:
- the first was empathy
- the second was focus
- and the third was communication
As Isaacson writes, “For the rest of his career, Jobs would understand the needs and desires of customers better than any other business leader, he would focus on a handful of core products, and he would care, sometimes obsessively, about marketing and image and even the details of packaging.”
This didn’t just happen at Google and Apple!
Still doubt that it works?
Let me add another new face:
Probably the best CEO Disney has ever had — including Walt Disney himself.
… and yet he was almost rejected.
Only the power of the human algorithm helped him… and the company.
Ladies and gentlemen, Bob Iger.
The challenge for me was: How do I convince the Disney board that I was the change they were looking for without criticizing Michael [the previous CEO] in the process?
The solution to that predicament came from an unexpected place. A week or so after the board’s announcement, I received a phone call from a highly regarded political consultant and brand manager named Scott Miller.
He arrived in my office a few days later and dropped a ten-page deck in front of me.
—”This is for you,” he said. “It’s free.” I asked what it was. “This is our campaign playbook,” he said.
—”What you’re about to embark on is a political campaign,” he said. “You understand that, right?”
In some abstract way, yes, I understood that, but I hadn’t been thinking of it in the literal terms Scott meant. I needed a strategy for getting votes, he said, which meant figuring out who on the board might be persuadable and focusing my message on them. He asked me a series of questions;
—”Which board members are definitely in your corner?”
—”I’m not sure any of them are.”
—”Okay, who’s never going to give you a chance?” Three or four names and faces immediately flashed through my mind.
—”Now, who are the swing voters?” There were a handful whom I thought I might be able to convince to take a flyer on me.
—”Those are the ones you have to focus on first,” Scott said. “You must think, plan, and act like an insurgent,” Scott told me, and your plan should be formed with one clear thought in mind: “This is a battle for the soul of the brand. Talk about the brand, how to grow its value, how to protect it.”
Then he added, “You’re going to need some strategic priorities.” I’d given this considerable thought, and I immediately started ticking off a list. I was five or six in when he shook his head and said, “Stop talking. Once you have that many of them, they’re no longer priorities.” Priorities are the few things that you re going to spend a lot of time and a lot of capital on. Not only do you undermine their significance by having too many, but nobody is going to remember them all.
—”You’re going to seem unfocused,” he said, “You only get three, I can’t tell you what those three should be, We don’t have to figure that out today. You never have to tell me what they are if you don’t want to. But you only get three!
He was right, in my eagerness to demonstrate that I had a strategy for solving all of Disney’s problems and adressing all of the issues we were confronting, I hadnt prioritized any of them. There was no signaling as to what was most important, no easily digested comprehensive vision. My overall vision lacked clarity and inspiration.
A company’s culture is shaped by a lot of things, but this is one of the most important–you have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. In my experience, it’s what separates great managers from the rest. If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be.
After the meeting with Scott, I quickly landed on three clear strategic priorities. They have guided the company since the moment I was named CEO:
1. We needed to devote most of our time and capital to the creation of high-quality branded content. In an age when more and more “content” was being created and distributed, we needed to bet on the fact that quality will matter more and more. It wasn’t enough to create lots of content; and it wasn’t even enough to create lots of good content. With an explosion of choice, consumers needed an ability to make decisions about how to spend their time and money. Great brands would become even more powerful tools for guiding consumer behavior.
2. We needed to embrace technology to the fullest extent, first by using it to enable the creation of higher quality products, and then to reach more consumers in more modern, more relevant ways. From the earliest Disney years under Walt, technology was always viewed as a powerful storytelling tool; now it was time to double down on our commitment to doing the same thing. It was also becoming clear that while we were still, and would remain, primarily a content creator, the day would come when modern distribution would be an essential means of maintaining brand relevance. Unless consumers had the ability to consume our content in more user-friendly, more mobile, and more digital ways, our relevance would be challenged. In short, we needed to view technology as more of an opportunity than a threat, and we had to do so with commitment, enthusiasm, and a sense of urgency.
3. We needed to become a truly global company. We were broad with our reach, doing business in numerous markets around the world, but we needed to better penetrate certain markets, particularly the world’s most populous countries, like China and India. If our primary focus was on creating excellent branded content, the next step was to bring that content to a global audience, firmly planting our roots in those markets and creating a strong foundation to grow significantly in scale. To continue to create the same things for the same loyal customers was stagnation.”
—Bob Iger, excerpt from his book The Ride of a Lifetime
Aaaaand again, the rest is history:
- they have the best branded content in the world (Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar… just to name a few)
- which they can stream with the help of technology (Disney+)
- anywhere, anytime, globally in the world (even in India)
All because he reduced the human algorithm to only 3 factors.
Focus — that’s the name of the game.
Unfortunately, it works even when it shouldn’t
No, sadly, that’s not Charlie Chaplin.
It’s Adolf Hitler.
The most evil man in the world.
- How did he gain so much power?
- How could he carry out his diabolical plan?
- How did no one stop him?
Well, the answer is the same as above.
He perfectly understood and manipulated the human algorithm.
Just look at how William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich describes it:
Though Dr. Poetsch had given his pupil marks of only “fair” in history, he was the only one of Hitler’s teachers to receive a warm tribute in Mein Kampf:
“It was perhaps decisive for my whole later life that good fortune gave me a history teacher who understood, as few others did, this principle…—of retaining the essential and forgetting the nonessential…”
And another one:
“At that time I read enormously and thoroughly. All the free time my work left me was employed in my studies. In this way I forged in a few years’ time the foundations of a knowledge from which I still draw nourishment today.”
In Mein Kampf Hitler discourses at length on the art of reading:
“By ‘reading’, to be sure, I mean perhaps something different than the average member of our so-called “intelligentsia.” I know people who “read” enormously… yet whom I would not describe as “wellread.” True, they possess a mass of “knowledge,” but their brain is unable to organize and register the material they have taken in… On the other hand, a man who possesses the art of correct reading will… instinctively and immediately perceive everything which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing… The art of reading, as of learning, is this:… to retain the essential, to forget the nonessential… Only this kind of reading has meaning and purpose…”
He knew perfectly well — in theory — what focus was.
And, unfortunately, in practice too.
One day, he recounts in Mein Kampf, he witnessed a mass demonstration of Viennese workers.
“For nearly two hours I stood there watching with bated breath the gigantic human dragon slowly winding by. In oppressed anxiety I finally left the place and sauntered homeward.”
At home he began to read the Social Democratic press, examine the speeches of its leaders, study its organization, reflect on its psychology and political techniques and ponder the results. He came to three conclusions which explained to him the success of the Social Democrats: They knew how to create a mass movement, without which any political party was useless; they had learned the art of propaganda among the masses; and, finally, they knew the value of using what he calls “spiritual and physical terror.”
This third lesson, though it was surely based on faulty observation and compounded of his own immense preju-dices, intrigued the young Hitler. Within ten years he would put it to good use for his own ends.
The first signs of his peculiar genius began to appear and make themselves felt.
What the masses needed, he thought, were not only ideas a few simple ideas, that is, that he could ceaselessly hammer through their skulls — but symbols that would win their faith, pageantry and color that would arouse them, and acts of violence and terror, which if successful, would attract adherents (were not most Germans drawn to the strong?) and give them a sense of power over the weak.
He reduced everything to its essence.
But it was the failure of the Pan-Germans to arouse the masses, their inability to even understand the psychology of the common people, that to Hitler constituted their biggest mistake. There was another mistake of the Pan-Germans which Hitler was not to make. That was the failure to win over the support of at least some of the powerful, established institutions of the nation- if not the Church, then the Army, say, or the cabinet or the head of state.
His thinking was both genius and evil — the worst possible combination.
And, unfortunately, it has also embraced the other most important weapon of all: communication.
The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone.
The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech.
All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of the literary aesthetes and drawingroom heroes.
One small word that moves the whole world.
- the greatest athletes of our time
- the most important algorithm(s) of all time
- the richest people in the world
- the most valuable brands on the planet
- the most powerful leaders in history
And vice versa: they have completely changed the world…with only their thinking.
So I ask THE question:
Can we start working on your thinking? 🙂