Hello, everyone. I’m very happy to introduce Pat O’Connell. He’s a great technology fantastic teacher. He taught me during my master’s program in Columbia, and he’s a fully practicing rock star ready that combination of tech teacher and rock star, apart from his professional teaching working and he is doing a concert, which is so awesome. He also helps out charitable institutions, even in this busy time. So I know in the last ten plus years that I’ve known, Pat, he has taught me some great lessons. The warm welcome to this session. Pat, I, I’m excited to have this conversation with you today.
Pat O’Connell : (00:52 – 01:02)
Oh, well, thank you very much. Giri is a real pleasure. It’s been a pleasure to know for so many years and very excited for our chat and hopefully it’ll be valuable to you and to anybody else who might listen.
Giri Devanur : (01:03 – 01:12)
All right. So now let’s jump in. Can you please tell us tell us a bit about yourself, your background today. And what are you doing now?
Pat O’Connell : (01:12 – 03:29)
Yeah, well, essentially, you know, just from my accent, I’m Irish. I grew up in Ireland, went to university there, did an undergraduate degree in mathematics and applied mathematics, which is an unusual combination. And then I did a graduate degree in computer science, worked initially in Ireland for an American company, and then I was recruited by a different American company to come to New York in the early eighties.
So I worked in an engineering company called AT&T. I was a geeky systems engineer, the early version of the Internet for the networks between computers. I won’t even tell you about the technology was because most people won’t recognize it anymore. One of the things one of the clients at the tech company was Morgan Stanley. So that was the beginning of my management career.
So I joined Morgan Stanley. They were a client of AT&T and so they identified me and brought me in. And that’s kind of a lesson about building your brand individually so that you get picked up by great companies. So one of the things I learned at Morgan Stanley, I built the first interface for a U.S. broker dealer firm into the Japanese markets that were trading on my workstation in my cubicle before they even went live.
the demand was. So one of the things I learned at Morgan Stanley were a bunch of great lessons, one about the value of early adopters, of technology, not being afraid to get into new tech. Also, I learned the culture of a company and they built a great culture. So having a close relationship with the business units, embracing new technology all the time, I was there for six years, so constantly bringing in new technology.
I had the people skills, so I developed a good relationship with the salespeople. They used to bring me on customer needs. I’d be the tech guy now because of my background in interface. As I used to say very proudly, there’s no machine that we can connect to and get data in and out of here now. But also the other thing I learned was they had me take my hands off the keyboard and said, We don’t want you to program anymore.
We want you to manage. So I learned about managing people, which is very hard when you want to do the work yourself because you know, you know you can do it, you know, but but you have to you have to learn to take your hands off and trust other people. And then you have to be comfortable managing technologies you don’t understand and processes and so on.
Giri Devanur : (03:29 – 03:44)
That actually leads to know my next question, because it’s like the transition from it or doing yourself to managing slack. What do you think makes somebody a good leader?
Pat O’Connell : (03:43 – 08:21)
Well, there’s a lot of things we can talk about. What is the big one is kind of the ego. Letting your ego go and being patient and allowing people to try accepting people are going to make mistakes, giving people the opportunity to learn. These are all key lessons and I just give you two or three other quick career stories, then I’ll talk to Morgan Stanley.l
I went to Jp morgan and I learned culture is a big thing in organizations, whether you’re a big one or a new one. So Jp morgan, same business, same footprints, same customers, but completely different way of thinking and operating. So what I learned there was the big difference in terms of expectations of people, the way people work, what’s important, you know, work, ethics and results, focus are very different between the two companies.
And that’s something every company has to think about. What is the culture we want to create and what we expect of our people? And you know what? What’s our measurement for good or better performance? And then my last corporate job was completely the opposite of the great story, said Morgan Stanley, Jp morgan. For the first time, I worked for a European based bank, so I was ING, our insurance company, who bought Bearing Brothers the bank when they collapsed.
And so I got some great opportunities to build from the ground up trading floors, back office systems. But I did learn the cultural difference between North America and Europe in terms of competence. And I simply when I compensation the way people engage together and I also learned bad management. I worked with some people who were completely awful and then, you know, you’re in that you’re in this matrix role where you’re working for a global boss, a regional boss, and then you got the business and everybody has different expectations.
So I learned a lot of lessons in that place. And then the end of my corporate life was 911. I was supposed to be in the South Tower and 911, but because we were selling a piece of IMG bearings, all travel and public speaking was canceled. So about a week after 911, I had a kind of an epiphany moment or having worked for 20 years in Wall Street, I decided I was in my mid-forties early forties.
Like there’s more to life than working on Wall Street. And and I also, you know, after 20 years in any one industry, you kind of do you do everything that you ever going to do. And the next job is just can be more of the same kind of a cookie cutter repeat and do it again. So I was looking for sort of a challenge and coinciding with that, Columbia University showed up in my life.
They asked me if I would give a speech at the business school and the beginning of the tech management program. I had to talk about the value proposition of IT. So I remember coming home from Columbia that one night thinking, Do I want to stay in corporate life or would I like to be doing something different and beginning teaching?
Because one of the things I learned over the years, and when we all talk about this, I’m sure later, how do you hire the best people? One of the things I’ve learned is you have to be interested in, you know, the new technologies. You’ve got to be interested in people’s development. You’ve got to make your company exciting for people and the work you give people.
You got to make that interesting. And so by teaching, it’s a great opportunity to get into the next generation. I’ve been teaching now for nearly 20 years. So in terms of meeting different people, hearing ideas and you know, as the world has got more open and diverse, you know, students from all over the world and different ideas and so on.
But anyway, just to finish on my career, so after I left corporate life, I built my first business with some people in London. So I learned partnership. And what partnership is like when you got a global small business? And then I went out on my own about two years later, which I’m still doing so I learned about at the end of the day, you know, it’s about the customer and so on.
My business is kind of brokering deals between companies. It’s coaching and doing training and companies. But at the end of the day, if you’re not thinking about the customer, your business doesn’t exist. So I’ve been able to run my own company now for 20 years, still viable, still have something to offer. But it’s only because I understand the need of the customer.
And so that’s a big thing. So that’s what I’d say. So I’m still here. I’m running this small business and I’m teaching and learning every day, particularly through my students. And, you know, I’m meeting you, Giri, one of my students from a few years ago. This is the benefit of teaching. And so you meet some not everybody, but you meet some future leaders who go off to do great things.
And that gives me great joy to see other people, you know, benefiting down the road in their careers.
Giri Devanur : (08:22 – 08:55)
That’s fabulous career. I mean, you know, it’s just fantastic things that you’ve done. One of the recent questions that I have and obviously, you know, many of the viewers that we have seen in our podcast is Startup Founders, etc.. Yeah. One of the things that, you know, like how do we achieve insane goals, you know, you learn much more about.
Rushing the timeline to, you know, from ten year to six months, right? You think, you know, that is possible? I mean, is there any secret around?
Pat O’Connell : (08:55 – 10:20)
Oh, I think there’s a few things to think about. You know, insane goals. You need insane people. And we all know Elon’s story. And there’s no doubt by setting the bar high, you not everybody wants to work in those kind of companies. That’s one thing to understand. That’s the thing called pace setting leadership that only works with pace setting people, people who want to work in that kind of environment.
And even if you get some of the right people, you run into issues of burnout, you know, in terms of just the pace is too much, the expectations are too much. But there is a trick, I think, to doing amazing things. And I think the answer is not people, it’s technology. Increasingly, we’re finding with RPA and with A.I. that the like but you know Google I go is a great example you know in terms of Google output I should say that basically won the game a go against to go champion so we already know that I can do great things and the future they say or if you remember Karl Newton and deep work that idea yeah you got the future is going to be for people who can do deep work assisted with their AI. So if you want to do crushing goals I’m going to suggest that you need to have the right technology as a partner in it, because if it’s just people, you run into the risk of burnout and all sorts of other problems, you know.
Giri Devanur : (10:21 – 10:48)
That’s a very unique angle. And I always throught its all about people plus technology. That is the secret of the insane goal. Changing gears a little bit as part of our podcast, you know, we analyze what we you pick Invictus. I it’s one of my favorites as well. I watched it recently, you know, like literally good. Which part of that movie do you like?
Pat O’Connell : (10:48 – 14:06)
Well There’s a few lessons in that I remember. Well, first of all, I have to go back to my early days. I was a rugby player, so I so if you remember Invictus, it was about not so modern after many years in Robben Island as a political prisoner got elected as the first black African American leader.
But because of his many years of reflection in jail, I mean, he came out as a very thoughtful leader. And if you remember some of the scenes he had to deal with the ANC who wanted a civil war, he got them to throw all their weapons into the ocean. If you remember, these are the details. Basically, the ANC, which was the political party he was leading, wanted to change the name of the rugby team.
They didn’t like the Springboks as a name. They didn’t like the green, the gold colors because these were symbols of the apartheid rule. So basically he overturned his own people to say the culture, if we’re going to be if we’re going to survive as a nation, we can’t take away everything from our previous oppressors. So he basically bought into rugby as a way not to lose one of the constituents, which would have been the old white Afrikaner guys.
And if you remember, there’s a great scene. I mean, one of my favorite scenes was his in having tea with Pienaar, who was the captain of the South African team and they talked about leadership, if you if you watch that closely. And so Mandela asked Pienaar, you know, how do you motivate your team? What’s the quality of a leader in rugby?
And he talks about inspiration. And so the punchline basically is inspiration is something a leader needs to do to do things they themselves feel they can’t do, in other words, stuff beyond their own ability and then inspiration for other people is going to be other people to believe they can go beyond their capability. So that’s a major lesson and also is to bringingtogether.
I mean, he had one of the most difficult trouble, like he credit the Rainbow Nation. One of my great favorite lines was Forgiveness Liberates the Soul. But that’s a political kind of context. We can probably live with today in our polarized world, but a better but ultimately that the main leadership lesson is the leader whether it’s the rugby rugby captain I remember rugby is a team sport, you know, I mean, you can have a great player, but at the end of the day it’s a team sport and so good process is important.
I’m talking about rugby now, good process, repeatable process, everybody knowing their job, everybody knowing the objective. And so the inspiration of Going Beyond Yourself wins the World Cup final, where it went to overtime, it went to extra overtime, and then the captain of the team had to convince a bunch of tired people, We can still do this, we can still do this, and then finally win the game.
And so that was the inspiration to go beyond what is possible, you know, doing things like the Elon Musk you to do it in a compressed time period. Inspiration has got to be a big part of that operation for the leader going beyond themselves. And it’s and then providing the inspiration to the team belief that they can go beyond themselves.
And then don’t forget an RPA, because you’re not going to do it just with just with people. I don’t think.
Giri Devanur : (14:06 – 14:15)
In that arena, one of the one of my favorite statements in all it makes is I’m the master of my trade. I’m the captain of my soul, right?
Pat O’Connell : (14:15 -14:16)
Yeah, that’s right.
Giri Devanur : (14:16 – 14:30)
Probably like a manager every leader, you know, at times we all go through, you know, like that. Yeah, lows and highs and stuff like that. Because I’m the master of my faith, you know, which was your most memorable statement in that moment.
Pat O’Connell : (14:30 – 15:58)
Yeah. Basically think it’s this this the idea of understanding. I mean, there was a humility and Mandela I mean, he had 42 million people, 80% were oppressed for the previous number of years, 50 years or more. And so, like having the humility and the confidence to make tough decisions was critical. And so each one of us, I mean, I, my favorite idea is resilience.
This idea that you can respond in each case and at the best basically, you know, on certainty, a setback is an opportunity. And rather than think about setbacks, problems or playing victim or whatever, it’s more like, I can’t believe my good luck. I have a problem here and I need to go beyond it. And so I’ve been having my own business for 20 years.
I’ve had some periods where things have slowed down. I mean, if you remember 2008 a nature to the economic crisis and nobody was spending money and how do you keep your business going? And you have to be able to think on your feet. So there is Brock a large is a French verb that talks about adaptability. You have to be able to be clearly see what’s in front of you.
And this is an individual thing as well as a company. But like to be clear about what the problem is or what the difficulty is to be able to have the kind of ritualized integrity to think clearly under difficult situations and then the ability to move and adapt.
Giri Devanur : (15:58:11 – 16:01)
What do you mean by ritualized? You know, that’s a very interesting thought.
Pat O’Connell : (16:01 – 18:05)
As having experience and having a clear head and clarity of thinking one of the biggest problems and clear thinking of stress. So one of the things that gets people a lot is stress. You know, whether it’s that little voice in your head, which is creating doubts or you have other problems, right? So the elimination of stress is a it’s an important thing, the clarity of your to be able to think clearly, but also to have a reservoir.
That’s the ritualized integrity. It’s the idea of a reservoir of experience that could be your own personal experience. It could be stories. I mean, in my life I was very lucky going back to rugby. One of my uncles was an Irish professional rugby player. I shouldn’t say professional, but international rugby player. In his career there was a young man called Tony O’Reilly, who was an orphan but a fabulous rugby player.
My uncle was maybe 15 years older than Tony, and he took Tony under his wing on a rugby team. Tony went on to be the first Irish billionaire. I was very lucky to know Tony through my uncle and so I have stories from that experience. I’m not saying everybody has that kind of background, but you have to think about every opportunity and learning that you get it from everything you might remember.
In My Course I talk about Q which is a quality and the idea of Q is like persistence, intellect, it’s good interpersonal skills. And another part of it is luck. You know, being there at the right time. And sometimes setbacks can be seen as luck it’s an opportunity to rethink and actually pivot and go off and try something else.
And so I think some of it comes back to resilience. It’s different to endurance. Endurance is a different thing. And when you think about going fast and ridiculous in saying goes endurance becomes important.
Giri Devanur : (17:45 – 18:20)
So not when we’re talking about insane goals. You mentioned that, you know, you need to put together an insane team and bring in and hire those insane People, I mean, you know, that’s the hardest challenge, right? You know, like if we look at Apple, Apple, you know, when you back when you came back, you brought in a two people and then I’m sure.
Tim Cook sure is. Yeah. I mean, Jonathan. Right. So, you know, one guy was design expert, one guy was an extra what is the, you know, luck angle in that, you know, you brought resilience IQ and intelligence.
Pat O’Connell : (18:21 – 21:46)
I wonder if you remember Steve’s commencements speech at Stanford. He talked about his career going forward was not a straight line, but when you look backwards, it was a straight line. And you remember that. You remember that message? Yeah. So the idea. So but you could see that in the backward look, not in the forwards. So I think he was just lucky to meet Ives and the supply chain guys.
I talk about. I think one of the questions you were teasing out earlier was this idea of like like how do you get the right people? My experience, there’s two things involved. One is personal ego and the other is team ego. So I’ve worked with really smart developers over my career, and all of them have a personal ego about their skill, their ambition and, you know, their vision of where they want to go.
And then if they will find the team they want to be on. So it’s hard to attract them. They find the team. That team has a team ego, which is built up of the sum of all the developers ego. And then the developer embraces the team ego. And I’ve seen this like scale is important here. I’ve seen this in Morgan Stanley.
I’ve senior Goldman Sachs, where they absolutely believe they’re the best tech people on the planet. And so when you cite the Kool-Aid problem, so when I was at Morgan Stanley for six years, by the end of the sixties, I literally believed there were no better tech people on the planet other than the tech people we were working with at Morgan Stanley.
And that it’s only when you move around, you find whether there’s other good tech. So you have to think about. One of the things I used to do is how do you attract the best people? So the big idea there is just be visible, be out talking, be a speaker at conferences, network through, you know, the association and be talking about your door.
And that creates an excitement, hopefully. And then you will attract you’ll attract some of the best tech people. And then, you know, asking people who they want to work, you know. So a lot of times if I had an opening in my corporate life, I would just talk to my current team and say, Listen, we’re looking for one of these.
And I would give them the first opportunity to introduce somebody that they knew that they like working with. And that way you’ve got a very cohesive team and and you got people to work well together. But that there’s another idea, which I call the grumpy orchestra phenomenon, which is the idea that not everybody has to like each other.
So you’re not talking about liking each other, but they all have the goal of making beautiful music. So if you hear a beautiful piece of classical music played by an orchestra, don’t make the assumption that they all like each other. So you don’t necessarily performances. Yeah, they’re all great performers and together they create something beautiful. And so.
So so I would say as you’re thinking about bringing on people that the other idea which gets back to your true question is the idea of cognitive diversity, this idea that, you know, creating friction, positive friction, not negative friction, but positive friction happens when you bring divergent ideas together. And so you create this kind of what they call the zone of possibility.
Now, without it, cognitive friction, you’ll have the groupthink problem. You have everybody, or you’ll have the charismatic leader who is trying to like direct everybody. But but by deliberately getting friction, you create opportunity. And so what are the things you have to learn about? Is this humility as a leader, kind of knowing when to be smart enough to know that you need to be open and listen to divergent ideas, but also to know when you should not listen.
Giri Devanur : (21:47 – 22:18)
I’m sure I’m sure, you know, many CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers, business. See, we all you know, like you mentioned, ego. Ego is part of human life. Right. And yeah, you perform at a certain level in your house, certain level of ego because of the ego. You know, like we all want to think that we are the most qualified, that’s for sure.To handle an opportunity or an obstacle. How do we stretch that mindset from how would bring into the team?
Pat O’Connell : (22:18 – 25:29)
I think one is and we’ve talked about this a little bit already, which is this ego, this idea, it’s like the acceptance. I think we’ve talked about the hedgehog concept from good to great, this idea of passion and skill and so like what, what is any person passionate about? And to be really honest about their passions, not interest, but literally passionate about.
And then when you look at your own skills, I mean, I remember doing this when I left corporate life. I put in the skill circle, project management, budget management. But then as I thought about it, I was honest. I’m not I’m not the best project manager in the world. I’m I’m not the best budget manager in the world.
But I am very good at ideas. I’m very good to create. So you get very clear on what you’re good at. So I think there’s an honesty that we all have to reflect. Mandela would be the extreme example, you know, 20 years in a prison cell, you know, under, you know, as a prisoner, he had a lot of time to think.
But most of us were moving so quickly. In fact, I have sort of a guy called Paul Szabo who is walking around the world. I don’t know if you know, but this fellow, it’s called Out of Eden and it’s a 24,000 journey where he’s walking from, you know, the Valley of Eden in North Africa. And it’s every walk in the planet.
I think he’s about 17,000 miles in and he’s got 14,000 miles to go. And so I follow him on Instagram and what he talks about is slow down. No, I’m not saying we should slow down when we’re building companies, but the idea that there is are there insights to be had by actually stopping and thinking for a while?
And then you might we go back to Karl Newton’s idea of deep work, the ability to pause and to think I can figure out something interestingly about attention. And the idea is our smartphones make us less attentive. And the answer is no, they’re not the problem. What attention I learned traced me through some neurology I was looking at is bored of boredom.
So that’s a big problem with attention is people just get bored. And so what’s happening with technology is it’s change in our memory essentially. So rather than having to remember things and Einsteins, my favorite example would be even before technology, I go back to them in a minute. But the idea is that I know where the information is, so I don’t need to keep it in my memory.
You know, learning how to open your mind. Like, what are the quotes from the diversity ideas? Genius is not about the size of your brain, it’s about how open you are. The idea is like slowing down to think and then this is four ideas come from. There’s the thing called the default mode network in the brain where the brain, when it’s not paying attention, when it’s idle, when it’s, you know, you listen to music, you’re going for a walk.
The brain keeps working. It’s like a shark that never sleeps. And the default no network is where the brain makes connections. When you get yourself out of the way.
Giri Devanur : (25:30 – 25:45)
You get a nice, you know, every episode. So right in the middle, you know, like one statement the speaker talks that becomes the title of the episode. You just gave it Sharks Never sleep, right?
Pat O’Connell : (25:43 – 27:17)
The sharks never sleep. But the other thing I just want to throw out is this idea that and I was thinking about how to bring this into the conversation because it is controversial, but it is well known. More recently, it’s this idea of microdosing with psychedelics. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but a lot of the Apple guys, a lot of the Google guys do this.
It’s not well-known. And the idea of psychedelics, we’re talking about LSD, these are schedule one drugs, by the way, and it’s all illegal, but the mood is shifting. And the idea is that under control to use, you know, through psychologists, psychiatrists, medical practitioners, microdosing, very, very like two milligrams of psilocybin. For example, does give people insights which are very similar to the default network experience.
So I personally would not be a proponent of microdosing because our brain is a chemical, biological machine. And the idea of putting stuff in there to me seems like you know, you’re tinkering with the engine and who knows what’s going to happen, what’s very brief. But if you’re aware that Microdosing does create a change, then maybe you can do it naturally.
And I believe the way to do it naturally is through reflection, meditation, just thinking, you know? Yeah, just, you know, keeping your mind clear.
Giri Devanur : (27:17 – 27:30)
So as we are approaching our 30 minutes that we know we had set up, I have two final question. Sure. Can I just one more cool person who would be the right person for us to interview for our podcast? Yep.
Pat O’Connell : (27:30 – 27:56)
I’ve got two people in mind. One is somebody I’ve known for years but not well, but I believe I can probably get him to do it. Is Dr. Parag Khanna, who I met 12 years ago. Maybe he’s become a leader, leading thinker in geopolitics. So he’s written many books and. And the world. You know, is changing. We’re moving into regionalization rather than globalization.
So Parag is one of the leading thinkers in this space. He’s regularly on TV, he speaks at conferences. So maybe based on a personal introduction, he might want to talk. The other person, you know, Steve Van Der Chuck and Xerox his mantra right now is the pace of change. And that would be a very interesting conversation to have.
So I would think of those two and possibly some other people, but we can talk later about which one we should go for.
Giri Devanur : (28:26 – 28:34)
That’s great. And any final advice for our startup founders, managers who are trying to build great teams, our company?
Pat O’Connell : (28:35 – 29:09)
Yeah, I would say there’s a few things that there’s a recent work from Stephen Colby’s son, who’s also called Stephen Colby. So we all remember I could do it. Yeah, seven habits of Highly Effective People. Anyway, that Stephen has a son who’s also called Stephen and they knew Stephen talks about trust and he’s basically it’s his whole proposition is everything is based on trust but the most important one for a leader he has five levels of trust.
The first one is what he calls self trust. And so for a leader, I think the most important things there are think about level one and there’s two things in there. One is character who you are, your integrity, your heart, the clarity of what you’re doing and should be above question. There should be no question about your integrity.
There should be no question about the clarity of what you’re trying to do. So that’s character. And then competence is about, you know, skills and talent and about results. So I think for a startup founder, they should always be reflecting on their character and their competence because if you don’t have good character and you don’t have competence, you’re not going to get the best people.
And then when you think about getting people, I think what you have to do is think about what that what you’re trying to do. And I’m reminded of the some of the breakthrough technologies. I mean, the most famous one is Newton invented calculus because there was no mathematics to help them understand life, you know. So you want people like that.
Facebook, the story of Zuckerberg turned down a big job because he wanted to build something that he felt was missing, you know? So you want to I’m not saying find, you know, Newton or find Zuckerberg and people who genuinely have a passion to do something that’s not there, that drives them to do us. And if you can find enough of those people and you have the character and the competence, you know, you can maybe build a great team and, you know, start small and grows and you have to decide.
What I say about organization is build around the talents that you have. Think about the gaps in your organization, and then think about how do you fill the gap. And then it’s a journey. You know, companies go on journeys. So if you think about where you are beginning and where you’re going to be in six months and so on.
Giri Devanur : (31:10 – 31:15)
All right. That ending statement will be sharks never sleep.
Pat O’Connell : (31:15 – 31:17)
It’s sharks never sleeps.
Giri Devanur : (31:17 – 31:38)
On my pod. This was a great conversation. I really appreciate you taking time. This has been fantastic learning for me and I’m sure and all our viewers enjoy it. I will be putting, you know his link to his music album, One Place.
Pat O’Connell : (31:40 – 31:54)
Thank you, Giri. And best of luck. It has been a wonderful opportunity. Thank you and take care. All right. Bye.