Today we’re talking with Neil Parikh, the Co-Founder and CSO of Casper, one of the most popular mattress manufacturers. Casper has been an amazing story of growth and success, but it’s also had its struggles along the way. Neil has been there leading since day one, he and I met about 3 and a half years ago, and it has been a true honor to watch him, his co-founders, and the team at Casper take the dream of a better-rested world and made it a reality. Through our time together Neil has consistently demonstrated a huge vision, and a desire to make a big impact on the world. We’re going to talk about accepting shortcomings and leaning into strengths, catching frustrations at the root of the logical fallacy, the way safety plays into acceptance, and discovering capabilities that the perfectionist in us wants to hide.
And so when you actually apply a different lens to it and think about, how do we get people to be unconfused? And secondly, how do we think about, how do we design systems to enable success rather than just people? Because people are kind of hard to change. It takes a really long time, a lot of effort, and maybe, I've always believed, maybe you can get five or 10 degrees off of center, but you know, it's very hard to radically change people in a short amount of time. And so it kind of goes back down to, for me, coaching has been a space first and foremost for self-reflection and understanding to have somebody to bounce ideas off of, or to be that person for people to help them work through a framework, to get unconfused, to take something that seems like it's creating chaos in their world and to try to make sense in order of it through a systematic process. So that's a repeatable thing. And so that both for me, so that I could, you know, be successful in whatever it is that I wanted to do. And for the people that I've worked with as an investor mentor do the same.
And so really growing up inside of that and realizing that human beings, as you were saying are just so difficult to change, right? And not, I think this is an important distinction and I think it's consistent with what you were saying, actually change isn't that hard. Attention is really hard. And so like I, if I say I want to change my diet, I can change my diet. I just have to put all of my attention on it in a fast-growth environment. You don't have that attention. The attention is going through to the context shifts, rapid changes in the environment, and trying to make rapid decisions with limited data, stay one step ahead of the competition or funding, or whatever it is. And you just don't have the attention to allocate to behavior change. So the question is going to be, how are you going to get successful?
How are you going to unleash your potential and achieve your goals when you just don't have that attention available? Then I think it really is through the concept of self-awareness, knowing yourself, and then designing for that, you know, and I've seen you, who've been especially good at the South awareness piece of that, which is, I think is incredibly difficult for people. We, human beings are not wired for self- awareness, it's a habit that has to be developed. Some people are lucky they developed very early in life. Some people have to develop it through struggle over long periods of time, but it doesn't come naturally. The mechanics of our consciousness is very much about trying to make sense of the world by blaming others and believing we've got the answer and nobody else, you know, anybody who doesn't see it is a dummy and all those kinds of things.
So to put ourselves at the center of any confusion narrative and say, wow, this is probably about me. It's probably about the insufficiency about something in my mental model. What I don't understand and have that self-awareness to work through and say, I need to design right now for success. And I also need to get better over time within the container of the safety that success will create. Then I think it gives you the opportunity of behavior changes, an outcome of good design. Not as the goal of coaching itself. And I've seen you engage really well in that. So I think it's an excellent point.
I didn't know a lot of things, but one thing that always struck me was a sort of internal contradiction in the classic coaching models I understood to the degree. I do understand them. I'm sure there's a lot I'm missing, but the contradiction was sort of like the goal is behavior change. But in order to go through that, you really at the very beginning are failing to engage on one of the most fundamental things about a deep, fundamental behavior change, which is self-acceptance. In other words, like I think psychologically what happens is that we set this stuff up in our mind where we're like, oh, I'm really bad at this. Or you know, there's a negative impression of this thing. Or I don't like this about myself and it sets it up as something that's painful in your mind. And one thing we know about basic biological cognition is, your mind doesn't like painful things in it, it likes pleasurable things. So you set this up as this really painful thing, like, oh, I'm really, really bad at this. And then your mind is actually not seeking to engage it well in the unconscious, it's like seeking to avoid it. And so I just, it always struck me as like, if I could, I remember the first big talk I ever gave as a coach. And I was talking to all these executives and they said, well, what's the one big thing, you know, the big secret, because everybody wants the one big secret. There is no one big secret, but if I was to wish for any one thing for you, it would be self-acceptance. And they all, of course, all thought that was a terrible answer because I don't know, I kept using the F word or something, but like, they were just like, this is, no, no, you don't get it. I'm like, you don't understand the fact that you can't accept what you're like prevents you from change. And because it prevents you from change, it prevents you from adapting and because it prevents you from adapting, it means you're always in structural fragility. You're always waiting for a competitor to come along who, through lock or discipline or practice or whatever, is just going to be better at that thing than you are. So the only way you stay at the head of that is self-acceptance as a key part of that change.
Because when people, you know, this thing we've worked on over time, this big four model, in order to populate that and get the evidence to sort of figure things out, you have to have evidence of when you do things well. And what circumstances are you in when you're doing that well, and people don't pay attention to that stuff. All the diagnostic procedures are against the negative, right? The bad outcomes and the bad outcomes can provide a lot of really good, a lot of really good insights into what we're like, what context, etcetera. So I'm a big fan of spending time when things don't go well to figure out what's behind it, but it's absolutely just powerful to spend, you know when things do go well to spend time there and figure that out because it's so easy for us to dismiss that. There's this thing about as we gain mastery, that again, another weird facet of cognition, as we gain mastery, we tend to undervalue our own excellence.
And I see it all the time. It's like somebody who's really good at something, but it's just so obvious to them. It just is so apparent to them that this thing is true, that, you know, this would be the way you would paint, or this is the way you would act or where you know, where you're like it's so obvious it's not valuable. So I'm not going to pay attention to it because of course, everybody knows how to do that. And then you'll have these experiences where you'll do something or have some insight or say something to somebody, and everybody will be like, whoa, where the hell did that come from? And in that moment, the person is just as confused by the positive feedback as most people would be about negative feedback. They're like, what the hell do you mean?
Where did that come from? That's just so obvious. So you just can't depend on human beings to have clarity about what they're like, you just can't. And that's the problem to tackle. It's not like, Oh, you're, you know you're bad at communication. So let's go fix that. Maybe you are bad at communication. Maybe you aren't, maybe you're bad at communication because in certain contexts you don't feel comfortable, so let's try to address that. Not like, here are three tips for, you know, faking your way through a conversation. Now, of course, everybody's got their own impressions and ideas about this, but that's sort of at the root of what I was realizing is as we were developing our stuff and hopefully bringing it to incredible entrepreneurs like yourself.
Agreed. I think a corollary to something you were talking about is also that when you're really good at something, I think it's really hard to sometimes understand that other people might not be good at that. Yeah. Because we're living in our own world. I've seen this because I've spent a lot of time just thinking about the way people think and act, and, you know, being coached by you and you sometimes forget, Oh, wait, my worldview, because it's so Neil centric and yours is so Jeff centric, you can very easily forget that other people might perceive the exact same situation completely differently because of, you know, where they're coming from or their strengths or weaknesses. And so it also makes a fascinating set up for coaching because you're coaching people that are going to go through conversations on a daily basis with other people, and in some ways, you're only getting one side of the story, but you've got to coach the person to be able to try to understand the whole situation, which is challenging.
Right? What we experience is, Oh, that guy just put me at risk or he's making me late or whatever. And so, you know, you son of a bitch, and I think it's just this thing about how we're all self-involved in our own world and getting back to this point we were talking about before, about self-awareness, how difficult that is, because our mind is really scanning the environment all the time for risk to us. And it's also scanning for opportunity for us, and to get out of that and to be in the moment of above we, as opposed to me, and to be thinking about what am I missing about, you know, how I'm interacting with others. Or about how I actually feel or what my actual motivations are or how, what I could do to help this person and how that might be helpful to me, all those things, those are acts that fall outside of our sort of basic biological wiring and require help to get there.
We don't naturally fall into it. We all need help to become better in any particular moment or overtime to discover that thing in ourselves, that we can become better. And the absence of that, all these things that you and I are talking about happening, we don't see what we're good at or bad at. We don't see where opportunities are. We think that things are obvious. And so therefore we dismiss ourselves or we dismiss others because they don't see it. It's all this, again, confusion in our minds that leads us to be less than we can be. And I've always loved coaching leaders who are open to that, right? Who are open to that, like, okay, there has to be a level of self-awareness and self skepticism here for me being able to build the thing I want to build. Because my mind is messing with me all the time and that's job one, today and every day is I got to deal with that effectively.
If I could ask myself those questions and answer them, well, then I was probably doing okay. And I said, yeah, I do want to get better. I want it. Like, I hope the best I can ever be is on the last day here on earth, that's the best I wanna be, like every day, I'm trying to get a little better. And then I'm going to measure myself against what is possible, not against what has happened because what is possible is almost an infinite set. And what has happened is a finite set and it's usually protecting us, right? But if I was to just step back from those two questions and not to judge anybody, I would say, if someone says, I don't want to get better either because I don't know that opportunity exists or I've thought about it. I'm really super comfortable right here right now.
And I want to measure myself against what has been now, you know, what is in the future, then I think you can probably design your world so that you were never confused, right? Because nothing is ever happening that isn't what you expect, right? Like you live in a very contained world. You get up every morning at a certain time, you eat a certain breakfast. Everything's sort of going as you expect. And that's great. But if you do that, there's a thing you have to pay. There's a penalty you pay for that decision or that blindness, which is, you're never getting better. Confusion is required to improve because you have to see that what you believe about the world is not accurate or complete or useful and that's where confusion flows from. And so you have to be able to keep experiencing new things and being like, wow, I was wrong about that.
Oh, I missed that. Or I am not good at that. Or I am good at this. These are all things that, where we have beliefs about ourselves, about the world and the connection between those two things, that are not, they're not productive, right? And so that's awesome, confusion is a signal that we've got something to learn. And so I do believe you can create a life that is where you get out of confusion, but then that's a work. That's a life where you're not growing and learning. And of course, that's a very fragile life because you lose all the ability to adapt and so then, you know, if unexpected shit happens, you're probably really in a bad place with regards to it. But sure, I think you can, you can live a life of no confusion.
So I don't want to give a blanket answer here because the playing field is not level, and not everybody gets to play in a way that they can allocate a ton of their attention to turning confusion into clarity. Because that's really what you're trying to do is take these confusion signals and turn them into productive learning in the form not of coming up with a final answer, but in the form of coming up with a useful next step in your experiment of discovery, right? And so I think as a general rule for those of us who are fortunate enough and privileged enough to have the opportunity to think of these things and engage in these things, I think if the day goes exactly as you expected, you probably failed. And if the day feels completely overwhelming, you probably failed.
Where you want to be is more in that flow dynamic of what is coming at you can be productively engaged with. In a way sort of sounds like this. That's interesting, I expected A and I got B, I wonder why that is, and wonder what I'm missing and now how am I going to go test that and get better? Like, that's a mental process that you want to go through when you get to confusion, right? A really productive self skeptical sort of engagement. Well, you only have a certain number of those you can give yourself. And after a period of time, your brain's like, yeah, I'm on full meltdown, this is not going to work anymore. I'm in full protection mode. I just want to get in the fetal position and go to bed. So if you hit that point, you can't turn your confusion into learning.
And Bob Graham was talking about how to make silicon chips, the things that drive our world now. And he was saying, you know, the amazing thing we found out is that if you're ever making silicon chips and they make a whole bunch of them on a single wafer, if that wafer goes through, we make the chips and it gets tested and there's a hundred percent throughput. In other words, every chip on that thing works, that we have failed. And I remember hearing that at the time and thinking that makes no sense. Of course, you'd want every chip on the wafer to work. Of course, you'd want that perfection. And his point was our goal is to stress test the tolerances of these chips through our designs every day. And you need to get a certain failure rate to know that you're at that limit.
Too much failure and you know that you've designed beyond the tolerance, you know, that these chips are actually not capable of working just as a design element, too few errors, too few failures and you actually haven't pushed far enough against the physics and against the design. And so that stuck with me, you know, that was 1982. I heard that and I remember being in that room and hearing that, because it just blew my mind that your life is about being in that range, right? It's like, if you're not getting any failures, you're not pushing the tolerances hard enough. If you're getting too many failures you're pushing the tolerances too hard. And so you're trying, each of us is trying to find our place inside of that bounded region.
If I know I can get it now, if I can nail it now, which is great. I mean, it's incredible. It's important to have high standards, all paths to excellence lead through high standards. But if you don't try stuff, then you don't discover, you know, the thing that is hidden from you but is actually within you. And so there's so much you have to do, my father in law, I've been married a long time, and my father in law, who is a man I hold him incredibly high estime, and he's an aeronautical engineer. And he has planes from the Smithsonian. He's this amazing, amazing guy, humble, incredibly humble. And he said, you know, if you want to make it, if you want to have a world record, then you’ve got to understand a very, very simple fact.
And that is if it's worth doing, it's worth doing shit. And I remember when he first told me that I was like, that makes no sense whatsoever. That can't be true. You're an engineer. One of the best engineers I know, I'm sure you sweat every tolerance, I'm sure you sweat every scenario. And he said, sure, but if you don't push the plane out of the hanger, you don't know if it's going to fly. And so like, you got to get the plane in the air to get the data. So do your work but you gotta get the plane in the air. And that always struck me as this guy who I thought was the ultimate perfectionist had achieved all these things because he was willing to get the plane in the air. And he was willing to figure out whether this is going to fly and if the plane crashed and they lost everything. And, you know, they were literally at the point of ruin, that was a real risk they were taking by going too soon, but that risk was preferable to the risk of never having gotten it in the air in the first place. And so to me, it was just another example of hearing something where I thought at first, wow, that just doesn't make any sense. And over time I realized the wisdom of that approach.
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