Surrounding yourself with interesting people


“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Don’t underestimate this statement.

A really easy way to improve in a particular area is to surround yourself with someone who is at a higher level of mastery in that field. For example if you want to learn more about how to run a business, start reaching out to CEOs who run successful businesses and spend time with them.

There is another angle to this. You have to be really careful about spending your time with people who drain value rather than add. Recently I’ve come to terms with the fact that many friends from earlier years of my life have taken very different paths to me. I really struggle to maintain friendships with people who have practically no real goals. As I enter my early twenties, I’ve had to actively let go of a lot of friendships for this reason.

The bottom line is, you should seek to place people in your life who are at a level where you want to be and remove those who are at a level you don’t. I don’t mean just a material/societal level, but mostly on a skills, expertise and general life level.

This year I started organising small networking dinners for interesting people at London universities, with a focus on entrepreneurial spirit. These have been a great success. After the first 3, new friendships have been born and even startup business partnerships have been made. The way it works is I invite someone, tell them about the plan and ask them to bring a guest. The result is a diverse group of interesting people getting to know each other over an informal dinner. The effect of connecting them all can be monumental. I encourage you to start up something similar in your field of interest or with your immediate relationships. All it takes is booking a restaurant (or cooking at home) and inviting a few people down.

In the past year I’ve discovered the power of “network intelligence” (see Reid Hoffman’s The Startup of You). Being aware of what you have expertise in and specifically what you do not is incredibly useful. The first thing I think about when I approach a new challenge is “who do I know who has already solved this problem / is an expert in this area?”. By reaching out to them, I am going to save countless hours of research and get straight to the meat of it. A really simple practical example was when I begun studying chaos theory in 3rd year mathematics. My friend who graduated from Imperial Physics with a First was all over chaos theory. He has a logistic map equation tattooed on his arm, I kid you not. So when I opened the module and glanced over the first few lines, I realised I could just call him for a 15 minute fast-track introduction. After, I skipped reading through the notes and went straight to the practice exam questions. Surprisingly, I could answer every single one and got 100%. I had a great fundamental understanding of the material because I’d interactively spoken to the right person. I saved myself hours of reading, understanding and learning through one quick phone call.

So next time you’re hanging out with someone and find yourself bored and gaining nothing, think again about keeping them in your life. And next time you’re undertaking a big challenge or trying to focus on a new area of your life, think about who you know who can help you with it. People always love to be called on for their expertise and will always appreciate you asking.

The secret to success; how to never fail


How is that person so perfect? How are they so successful with everything they do and I can’t seem to get anything?  Why did they get the job and not me?

What if I could tell you the single biggest secret to being successful…

Maybe it’s because they have more connections? They had a more privileged upbringing? They’re smarter?


None of these things single handedly define whether you are going to be successful or not. Think of someone who you regard as successful… Mark Zuckerberg, Howard Schultz, Oprah Winfrey. Now pick another. If you contrast and compare the details of their path to success, chances are they have very little in common. But there is one hidden underlying string behind every success…

The secret character trait that features at the very core of every successful person is simple: grit. They never gave up.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm
– Winston Churchill

When you fail, the first thing you feel is that you aren’t as good as you thought you were. Everyone you told about that job interview now knows that you aren’t good enough. Maybe you’re not cut out for this; you should stop trying.

STOP. You have to forget about everyone else. This is about you. You have to keep moving forward, keep trying and forget the past. No one can believe in you as much as you can believe in yourself. Don’t count on other people to help give you your self-confidence.

J.K. Rowling was a single mum living off welfare when she began writing her first Harry Potter book. When she took her book to publishers, it was rejected on 12 separate occasions. Finally, on her 13th attempt, it got published. Imagine, getting rejected again and again and again. She could’ve given up after the 5th, 10th or even 12th time… But she didn’t. Now her books have set records for the fastest selling books in history with gross sales worth over $450 million.

It is all too common for someone who’s been successful to go on about everything they did right. But the thing they all too easily forget is how many times they failed. Yeah they got that dream job, but only after the other 8 companies turned them down (but who cared about those companies anyway…).

So if things seem to be going wrong, that’s OK. Things don’t go right 99% of the time. But YOU are responsible for making your opportunities to be successful. If you stop now, having not been successful, you will never even have the chance to be successful. You only fail if you give up now. But if you keep trying, keep hitting hard and keep putting yourself out there, your chance of success improves infinitely.

Wayne Gretzky said it best:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Getting over failure is simple. Have a shower, eat a tub of Ben & Jerry’s – whatever it takes – pick yourself up, put yourself out there again and give it your best shot. There is always a way to turn failure into success. Just go out there and try.

Edit: Some practical advice on this topic from an expert, check out this TED Talk:

There is no substitute for hard work


Imperial courses are extremely heavy on theory. In Mechanical Engineering, you have a tonne of material to cover and learn in depth – more than is possible to realistically cope with. It means you have to work incredibly hard just to keep your head above water or even remotely close to the surface. My peers often ask why the hell are we tortured into learning all these derivations and theories we won’t actually apply in engineering jobs in the future? But there is a method in the madness…

Engineers are problem solvers. An engineering degree develops the ability of the student to solve problems. Consequently, this is a skill expected of every engineer. The unique advantage of Imperial is that the excessively content-heavy approach develops you not only into a problem solver, but into an engineer that can solve problems BEFORE they even arise – an expert problem solver.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours to achieve mastery in a field. A 4-year degree from Imperial gives you your first seven and a half thousand, taking you the vast majority of the way towards being a master in problem solving.

You can apply this example to any field. If there is a particular skill, experience or knowledge you wish to gain more of, dedicate time to it. But let’s make this practical. Don’t just make a mental note of needing to spend more time on your interest. Start it immediately, right now. Stop reading and put in your first 5 minutes. If that’s not possible, schedule it in. Put an hour block into your Outlook Calendar immediately where you will focus on development in this specific interest. You have to push to get started, because just 1 hour is an infinite percentage improvement on zero.

Note: This is not to say you shouldn’t be ‘working smart’ too. But remember, anyone who’s smart can find the right way to ‘work smart’. You can usually differentiate yourself by working both smart AND hard.

Lessons from 2014

  1. Quickly affirm or rule-out areas of interest through experimentation. If you think you want to do something as a career, get experience in that area immediately. Whether it’s a day, a week, a month; try it out.
  2. If it feels like you don’t have enough time for everything, you don’t manage your time effectively. If you manage your time effectively, you will know how many hours you have and how many hours you waste. Step 1: Work out how you want to spend your time on a weekly basis (make a list of the activities). Step 2: Implement a time management strategy to ensure you consistently spend your time that way. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds, but the improvement to your life will be phenomenal. You need to monitor precisely how you spend each hour of the day and how this is aligned with your goals/desired activities. If you do this efficiently, you will never worry about being too busy ever again. You will achieve total balance.
  3. Focus on getting depth, meaning and breadth with your relationships. Connect as deeply as possible with as many people as possible who are aligned with your vision, purpose and/or interests.
  4. Expose yourself to as many things out of the norm of your everyday life as possible. Your knowledge/experience bank consists of what you have consumed from the environment that surrounds you. Tailor this environment so that the stimuli are new and diverse.