December 21, 2017

Episode 51: Joshua Cooper Ramo

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I spoke with Joshua Cooper Ramo in this podcast interview, partly about his latest book, The Seventh Sense and partly about his overall life and pursuit of excellence.

Mr. Ramo started off as a journalist, working at Newsweek then for Time Inc back when, as he says, “it mattered who The Man of the Year was.”  He worked as both senior and as foreign editor at Time, and he wrote for them long enough ago (1997) that he wrote The Man Of the Year cover story on Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel.

From Time Inc he moved to China to pursue adventure in the world of business.  He became fluent in Chinese and fell in love with the culture.

In China he worked for the former president of Goldman Sachs and eventually began working at his current company, Kissinger Associates, where he’s now co-CEO.

He lived in Beijing full time for a little over a decade and now splits his time between Beijing and New York.  Yes, he’s a busy, pipe hittin’ dude and I was super stoked to connect for this conversation.

I found him through his first book, No Visible Horizon, a lovely story about his journey to aerobatic nationals as a pilot that reminded me of reading Ernest Gann’s “Fate Is The Hunter”, another excellent and relatively unsung pilot book.

Curious about what else he’d written, I found his third book, The Seventh Sense, which I read through with great enjoyment and then went on to read his second book, The Age of the Unthinkable. 

Reading those two books gave me a look into the mind of a writer deeply immersed in international relations, intensely curious about connections in the modern age, and fascinated with networks in particular.  

Both books deal with the unpredictable nature of an increasingly connected world, and as a business owner running a small enterprise in that world I found them entertaining and educational.  In fact, they forced me to re-evaluate our strategy at Paleo Treats and the way we’re using our networks.

In this interview we dive into the important points of a network, the difference between complex and complicated systems, what topology is and why it matters, and how emergent properties of networks are inevitable.

I asked him how he curates and uses his curiosity, and he talked about his main theme in The Seventh Sense that “connection changes the nature of an object.”

We do dive briefly into some flying stuff and how flying may move from unnatural to natural as you become a better pilot, but the majority of this interview deals with networks and how to understand and explore them in this incredibly connected world.

Joshua talks about the importance of figuring out what tools you need in order to understand and investigate a problem.  He places the conversation in the context of historical cycles, the enduring nature of art, and the best kind of adventure you can have.

Enjoy the show!

Books Mentioned

-No Visible Horizon

-The Age of the Unthinkable

-The Seventh Sense

-Fate is the Hunter

-China’s Wings

-The Rational Optimist

For each podcast I do I end up writing a bunch of notes and questions.  While I don’t always ask the questions, it’s helpful to have them written down and reviewed before the show.

Here are my notes for this interview:

-You’re a searcher, a seeker, and a story teller.  Tell me about that.

-in Age if the Unthinkable you talk about the importance of relationships.  You seem very well connected to a number of different cohorts.  How did your learning of Chinese culture influence that?  Is there anything more important than building relationships when it comes to getting things done? (Planning to be Dan Kaminsky)

-connection changes the nature of an object.  What does that mean?

-how are the fourth revolution & the seventh sense tied together?

-how do we cultivate the 7th sense? 

-Clausewitz noted, “Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain. . . . In short, most intelligence is false.”  How are you assessing a network accurately?

-in Age of the Unthinkable you talk about the spymaster Farkash asking questions no one else asked and being amazed that Israel’s actions had forced the enemy to evolve.  This evolution of both sides seems like a fundamental part of struggle.  Is anyone asking “How do we force our enemy to *devolve*?”  Examples of it working?

-how many languages do you speak or you speak or understand?  Is it worth it to learn another language, or is there a universal language of networks?

The standard visualization of a network is as a fish net, however, that is not what it might look like. When you talk about topology there is a deceptive notion that these things can be understood in nearly 3 dimensions. How else can someone visualize what a network might physically look like? Or does this require a new skill of four dimensional visualization?

-can you talk a little about how blockchain ties together multiple networks (financial, legal, social?)

-do we need to change to a network system without fallible leaders?  Our current leaders seem unable to solve problems for which there are fairly clear solutions.

-how would you befriend a network?  Can you be friends with a network?

-how would you addict a network? 

-assessing trust in a network? 

-assessing quality of expertise in the network?  use past predictions? 

-let’s talk about topology & networks.  As I understand it, topology basically refers to the way networks can be thought of in terms of connection time between nodes, regardless of physical distance.  If topology is 2 dimensional, is there a way to understand how a 3rd dimension would apply?

-how can we find the edge of a network so we can “shake the blanket” and cause change?  Is it possible?

-a group of almost successful (or even unsuccessful) people is far more powerful than a single lucky person; do networks remove the filter of luck, or offset the capriciousness of chance?

-how does a small business use the seventh sense?  practical example?


Dad is a cardiologist being outdated/outgunned by Google search

Mom is a high powered lawyer who wrote about the power of systems (specifically applied to law offices)

-aerobatic pilot, No Visible Horizon

-started as a journalist, a story teller in ’93 at Newsweek

-Time magazine in ’96, hired by Walter Isaacson, the guy who wrote biographies about Steve Jobs, Ben Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger

-oversaw Time’s digital operations while covering tech; has been pursuing this idea of tech & networks for a long time

-moved to Beijing in 2002 & worked with John Thornton, former president of Goldman Sachs

-from ’03-until now he’s worked at Kissinger Associates, where he’s currently co-CEO

-fluent in Mandarin (and Spanish?)


-how do we expand the network?

-the sixth sense is a feeling for history

-the seventh sense is a feeling for being enmeshed in networks

-what happened in 1848?  Massive backlashes?  Industrial Revolution



-if I wanted to build my own network, how would I use the concepts in the book?

-AI + social media posts?  to what end?  What is the goal?  Maximum engaged followers.  What is engaged?  Contributing useful content.  Can I define useful?  Content that triggers conversations or additions to the convo like pictures or video

How can I let the Paleo Treats audience connect with each other and find their friends who are already in the network?

What is our network strategy?

And email centered around the idea of “Who can I introduce you to?”


Finally, I love the technical geekery of podcasting and am psyched on spreading the word.  Here’s the equipment I use to make mine:

Mackie Onyx 1220i mixer

ProAudioLA cables

ElectroVoice RE20

Fethead inline preamp

AKG K-240 headphones

U-Control UCA222 splitter for Skype

Avantone Mixcube

Reaper DAW

Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

Too much reading...
How about dessert?

Too Much Reading...How About Dessert?

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