The following is a conversation with Stephen Schwarzman,
CEO and cofounder of Blackstone,
one of the world’s leading investment firms
with over $530 billion of assets under management.
He’s one of the most successful business leaders in history.
I recommend his recent book called What It Takes
that tells stories and lessons from his personal journey.
Stephen is a philanthropist
and one of the wealthiest people in the world,
recently signing the Giving Pledge,
thereby committing to give the majority of his wealth
to philanthropic causes.
As an example, in 2018, he donated $350 million to MIT
to help establish his new College of Computing,
the mission of which promotes interdisciplinary, big,
bold research in artificial intelligence.
For those of you who know me,
know that MIT is near and dear to my heart
and always will be.
It was and is a place where I believe big, bold,
revolutionary ideas have a home,
and that is what is needed
in artificial intelligence research in the coming decades.
Yes, there’s institutional challenges,
but also there’s power
in the passion of individual researchers,
from undergrad to PhD,
from young scientists to senior faculty.
I believe the dream to build intelligence systems
burns brighter than ever in the halls of MIT.
This conversation was recorded recently,
but before the outbreak of the pandemic.
For everyone feeling the burden of this crisis,
I’m sending love your way.
Stay strong, we’re in this together.
This is the Artificial Intelligence Podcast.
If you enjoy it, subscribe on YouTube,
review it with five stars on Apple Podcast,
support it on Patreon,
or simply connect with me on Twitter at Lex Friedman,
spelled F R I D M A N.
As usual, I’ll do a few minutes of ads now,
and never any ads in the middle
that can break the flow of the conversation.
I hope that works for you,
and doesn’t hurt the listening experience.
Quick summary of the ads.
Two sponsors, Masterclass and ExpressVPN.
Please consider supporting the podcast
by signing up to Masterclass at masterclass.com slash lex,
and getting ExpressVPN at expressvpn.com slash lexpod.
This show is sponsored by Masterclass.
Sign up at masterclass.com slash lex
to get a discount and support this podcast.
When I first heard about Masterclass,
I thought it was too good to be true.
For $180 a year, you get an all access pass
to watch courses from, to list some of my favorites,
Chris Hadfield on Space Exploration,
Neil deGrasse Tyson on Scientific Thinking and Communication,
Will Wright, creator of SimCity and Sims on game design,
Carlos Santana on guitar, Gary Kasparov on chess,
Daniel Negrano on poker, and many, many more.
Chris Hadfield explaining how rockets work,
and the experience of being launched into space alone
is worth the money.
By the way, you can watch it on basically any device.
Once again, sign up at masterclass.com slash lex
to get a discount and to support this podcast.
This show is sponsored by ExpressVPN.
Get it at expressvpn.com slash lex pod
to get a discount and to support this podcast.
I’ve been using ExpressVPN for many years.
I love it.
It’s easy to use, press the big power on button,
and your privacy is protected.
And, if you like, you can make it look
like your location is anywhere else in the world.
I might be in Boston now, but it can make you look like
I’m in New York, London, Paris,
or anywhere else in the world.
This has a large number of obvious benefits.
Certainly, it allows you to access international versions
of streaming websites like the Japanese Netflix
or the UK Hulu.
ExpressVPN works on any device you can imagine.
I use it on Linux, shout out to Ubuntu 2004,
Windows, Android, but it’s available everywhere else too.
Once again, get it at expressvpn.com slash lex pod
to get a discount and to support this podcast.
And now, here’s my conversation with Stephen Schwarzman.
Let’s start with a tough question.
What idea do you believe,
whether grounded in data or in intuition,
that many people you respect disagree with you on?
Well, there isn’t all that much anymore
since the world’s so transparent.
But one of the things I believe in and put it in the book,
the book, what it takes is if you’re gonna do something,
do something very consequential.
Do something that’s quite large, if you can, that’s unique.
Because if you operate in that kind of space,
when you’re successful, it’s a huge impact.
The prospect of success enables you to recruit people
who wanna be part of that.
And those type of large opportunities
are pretty easily described.
And so, not everybody likes to operate at scale.
Some people like to do small things
because it is meaningful for them emotionally.
And so, occasionally, you get a disagreement on that.
But those are life choices rather than commercial choices.
What good and bad comes with going big?
We often, in America, think big is good.
What’s the benefit, what’s the cost
in terms of just bigger than business,
but life, happiness, the pursuit of happiness?
Well, you do things that make you happy.
It’s not mandated.
And everybody’s different.
And some people, if they have talent,
like playing pro football,
other people just like throwing the ball around,
not even being on a team.
Depends what your objectives are.
Depends what your talent is.
Depends what gives you joy.
So, in terms of going big,
is it both for impact on the world
and because you personally gives you joy?
Well, it makes it easier to succeed, actually.
Because if you catch something, for example,
that’s cyclical, that’s a huge opportunity,
then you usually can find some place
within that huge opportunity where you can make it work.
If you’re prosecuting a really small thing
and you’re wrong, you don’t have many places to go.
So, I’ve always found that the easy place to be
and the ability where you can concentrate human resources,
get people excited about doing really impactful big things,
and you can afford to pay them, actually.
Because the bigger thing can generate much more
in the way of financial resources.
So, that brings people out of talent to help you.
And so, all together, it’s a virtuous circle, I think.
How do you know an opportunity when you see one
in terms of the one you wanna go big on?
Is it intuition, is it facts?
Is it back and forth deliberation with people you trust?
What’s the process?
Is it art, is it science?
Well, it’s pattern recognition.
And how do you get to pattern recognition?
First, you need to understand the patterns
and the changes that are happening.
And that’s either, it’s observational on some level.
You can call it data or you can just call it listening
to unusual things that people are saying
that they haven’t said before.
And I’ve always tried to describe this.
It’s like seeing a piece of white lint on a black dress.
But most people disregard that piece of lint.
They just see the dress.
I always see the lint.
And I’m fascinated by how did something get someplace
it’s not supposed to be?
So, it doesn’t even need to be a big discrepancy.
But if something shouldn’t be someplace
in a constellation of facts that sort of made sense
in a traditional way, I’ve learned that if you focus
on why one discordant note is there,
that’s usually a key to something important.
And if you can find two of those discordant notes,
that’s usually a straight line to someplace.
And that someplace is not where you’ve been.
And usually when you figure out that things are changing
or have changed and you describe them,
which you have to be able to do
because it’s not some odd intuition.
It’s just focusing on facts.
It’s almost like a scientific discovery, if you will.
When you describe it to other people in the real world,
they tend to do absolutely nothing about it.
And that’s because humans are comfortable
in their own reality.
And if there’s no particular reason at that moment
to shake them out of their reality,
they’ll stay in it even if they’re ultimately
And I’ve always been stunned that when I explain
where we’re going, what we’re doing and why,
almost everyone just says, that’s interesting.
And they continue doing what they’re doing.
And so I think it’s pretty easy to do that.
But what you need is a huge data set.
So before AI and people’s focus on data,
I’ve sort of been doing this mostly my whole life.
I’m not a scientist, I’m not let alone a computer scientist.
And you can just hear what people are saying
when somebody says something or you observe something
that simply doesn’t make sense.
That’s when you really go to work.
The rest of it’s just processing.
You know, on a quick tangent,
pattern recognition is a term often used
throughout the history of AI.
That’s the goal of artificial intelligence
is pattern recognition, right?
But there’s, I would say, various flavors of that.
So usually pattern recognition refers to the process
of the, we said dress and the lint on the dress.
Pattern recognition is very good at identifying the dress
as looking at the pattern that’s always there,
that’s very common and so on.
You almost refer to a pattern that’s like
in what’s called outlier detection in computer science,
right, the rare thing, the small thing.
Now, AI is not often good at that.
Do you, just almost philosophically,
the kind of decisions you made in your life
based scientifically almost on data,
do you think AI in the future will be able to do?
Is it something that could be put down into code
or is it still deeply human?
It’s tough for me to say since I don’t have domain knowledge
in AI to know everything that could or might occur.
I know, sort of in my own case,
that most people don’t see any of that.
I just assumed it was motivational, you know,
but it’s also sort of, it’s hardwiring.
What are you wired or programmed to be finding or looking for?
It’s not what happens every day.
That’s not interesting, frankly.
I mean, that’s what people mostly do.
I do a bunch of that too because, you know,
that’s what you do in normal life.
But I’ve always been completely fascinated
by the stuff that doesn’t fit.
Or the other way of thinking about it,
it’s determining what people want
without them saying it.
That’s a different kind of pattern.
You can see everything they’re doing.
There’s a missing piece.
They don’t know it’s missing.
You think it’s missing given the other facts.
You know about them and you deliver that
and then that becomes, you know,
sort of very easy to sell to them.
To linger on this point a little bit,
you’ve mentioned that in your family,
when you were growing up,
nobody raised their voice in anger or otherwise.
And you said that this allows you to learn to listen
and hear some interesting things.
Can you elaborate as you have been on that idea,
what do you hear about the world if you listen?
Well, you have to listen really intensely
to understand what people are saying
as well as what people are intending
because it’s not necessarily the same thing.
And people mostly give themselves away
no matter how clever they think they are.
Particularly if you have the full array of inputs.
In other words, if you look at their face,
you look at their eyes, which are the window on the soul,
it’s very difficult to conceal what you’re thinking.
You look at facial expressions and posture.
You listen to their voice, which changes.
You know, when you’re talking about something
you’re comfortable with or not,
are you speaking faster?
Is the amplitude of what you’re saying higher?
Most people just give away what’s really on their mind.
You know, they’re not that clever.
They’re busy spending their time thinking about
what they’re in the process of saying.
And so if you just observe that, not in a hostile way,
but just in an evocative way
and just let them talk for a while,
they’ll more or less tell you almost completely
what they’re thinking,
even the stuff they don’t want you to know.
And once you know that, of course,
it’s sort of easy to play that kind of game
because they’ve already told you
everything you need to know.
And so it’s easy to get to a conclusion
if there’s meant to be one, an area of common interest,
since you know almost exactly what’s on their mind.
And so that’s an enormous advantage
as opposed to just walking in someplace
and somebody telling you something
and you believing what they’re saying.
There are so many different levels of communication.
So a powerful approach to life you discuss in the book
on the topic of listening and really hearing people
is figuring out what the biggest problem,
bothering a particular individual or group is
and coming up with a solution to that problem
and presenting them with a solution, right?
In fact, you brilliantly describe a lot of simple things
that most people just don’t do.
It’s kind of obvious,
find the problem that’s bothering somebody deeply.
And as you said, I think you’ve implied
that they will usually tell you what the problem is,
but can you talk about this process
of seeing what the biggest problem for a person is,
trying to solve it,
and maybe a particularly memorable example?
Sure, if you know you’re gonna meet somebody,
there are two types of situations, chance meetings,
and the second is you know you’re gonna meet somebody.
So let’s take the easiest one,
which is you know you’re gonna meet somebody.
And you start trying to make pretend you’re them.
It’s really easy.
What’s on their mind?
What are they thinking about in their daily life?
What are the big problems they’re facing?
So if they’re, you know, to make it a really easy example,
you know, make pretend, you know,
they’re like president of the United States.
Doesn’t have to be this president, could be any president.
So you sort of know what’s more or less on their mind
because the press keeps reporting it.
And you see it on television, you hear it.
People discuss it.
So you know if you’re gonna be running into somebody
in that kind of position.
You sort of know what they look like already.
You know what they sound like.
You know what their voice is like.
And you know what they’re focused on.
And so if you’re gonna meet somebody like that,
what you should do is take the biggest unresolved issue
that they’re facing and come up with
a few interesting solutions
that basically haven’t been out there.
Or that you haven’t heard anybody else
always thinking about.
So just to give you an example,
I was sort of in the early 1990s
and I was invited to something at the White House
which was a big deal for me because I was like,
you know, a person from no place.
And you know, I had met the president once before
because it was President Bush
because his son was in my dormitory.
So I had met him at Parents Day.
I mean it’s just like the oddity of things.
So I knew I was gonna see him
because that’s where the invitation came from.
And so there was something going on
and I just thought about two or three ways
to approach that issue.
And you know, at that point I was separated
and so I had brought a date to the White House
and so I saw the president
and we sort of went over in a corner for about 10 minutes
and discussed whatever this issue was.
And I later went back to my date.
It was a little rude
but it was meant to be confidential conversation
and I barely knew her.
And you know, she said,
what were you talking about all that time?
I said, well, you know,
there’s something going on in the world
and I’ve thought about different ways
of perhaps approaching that and he was interested.
And the answer is of course he was interested.
Why wouldn’t he be interested?
There didn’t seem to be an easy outcome.
And so, you know, conversations of that type,
once somebody knows you’re really thinking
about what’s good for them and good for the situation,
it has nothing to do with me.
I mean, it’s really about being in service,
you know, to the situation.
Then people trust you and they’ll tell you other things
because they know your motives are basically very pure.
You’re just trying to resolve a difficult situation
or help somebody do it.
So these types of things, you know,
that’s a planned situation, that’s easy.
Sometimes you just come upon somebody
and they start talking and you know,
that requires, you know, like different skills.
You know, you can ask them,
what have you been working on lately?
What are you thinking about?
You can ask them, you know,
has anything been particularly difficult?
And you know, you can ask most people
if they trust you for some reason, they’ll tell you.
And then you have to instantly go to work on it.
And you know, that’s not as good
as having some advanced planning,
but you know, almost everything going on is like out there.
And people who are involved with interesting situations,
they’re playing in the same ecosystem.
They just have different roles in the ecosystem.
And you know, you could do that
with somebody who owns a pro football team
that loses all the time.
We specialize in those in New York.
And you know, you already have analyzed
why they’re losing, right?
Inevitably, it’s because they don’t have a great quarterback,
they don’t have a great coach,
and they don’t have a great general manager
who knows how to hire the best talent.
Those are the three reasons why a team fails, right?
Because there are salary caps,
so every team pays a certain amount of money
for all their players.
So it’s gotta be those three positions.
So if you’re talking with somebody like that,
inevitably, even though it’s not structured,
you’ll know how their team’s doing
and you’ll know pretty much why.
And if you start asking questions about that,
they’re typically very happy to talk about it
because they haven’t solved that problem.
In some cases, they don’t even know that’s the problem.
It’s pretty easy to see it.
So, you know, I do stuff like that,
which I find is intuitive as a process,
but, you know, leads to really good results.
Well, the funny thing is when you’re smart,
for smart people, it’s hard to escape their own ego
and the space of their own problems,
which is what’s required
to think about other people’s problems.
It requires for you to let go of the fact
that your own problems are all important
and then to talk about your,
I think while it seems obvious
and I think quite brilliant,
it’s just a difficult leap for many people,
especially smart people,
to empathize with, truly empathize with the problems
Well, I have a competitive advantage,
which is, I don’t think I’m so smart.
So, you know, it’s not a problem for me.
Well, the truly smartest people I know
say that exact same thing.
Yeah, being humble is really useful,
competitive advantage, as you said.
How do you stay humble?
Well, I haven’t changed much.
Since I was in my mid teens.
You know, I was raised partly in the city
and partly in the suburbs.
And, you know, whatever the values I had at that time,
those are still my values.
I call them like middle class values,
that’s how I was raised.
And I’ve never changed, why would I?
That’s who I am.
And so the accoutrement of, you know,
the rest of your life has gotta be put on the same,
you know, like solid foundation of who you are.
Because if you start losing who you really are,
who are you?
So I’ve never had the desire to be somebody else.
I just do other things now that I wouldn’t do
as a, you know, sort of as a middle class kid
I mean, my life has morphed on a certain level.
But part of the strength of having integrity
of personality is that you can remain in touch
with everybody who comes from that kind of background.
And, you know, even though I do some things
that aren’t like that, you know,
in terms of people I meet or situations I’m in,
I always look at it through the same lens.
And that’s very psychologically comfortable
and doesn’t require me to make any real adjustments
in my life and I just keep plowing ahead.
There’s a lot of activity in progress in recent years
around effective altruism.
I wanted to bring this topic with you
because it’s an interesting one from your perspective.
You can put it in any kind of terms,
but it’s philanthropy that focuses on maximizing impact.
How do you see the goal of philanthropy,
both from a personal motivation perspective
and the societal big picture impact perspective?
Yeah, I don’t think about philanthropy
the way you would expect me to, okay?
I look at, you know, sort of solving big issues,
addressing big issues, starting new organizations to do it,
much like we do in our business.
You know, we keep growing our business
not by taking the original thing and making it larger,
but continually seeing new things and building those.
And, you know, sort of marshaling financial resources,
human resources, and in our case,
because we’re in the investment business,
we find something new that looks like
it’s gonna be terrific and we do that
and it works out really well.
All I do in what you would call philanthropy
is look at other opportunities to help society.
And I end up starting something new,
marshaling people, marshaling a lot of money,
and then at the end of that kind of creative process,
somebody typically asks me to write a check.
I don’t wake up and say,
how can I give large amounts of money away?
I look at issues that are important for people.
In some cases, I do smaller things.
Because it’s important to a person, and, you know,
I can relate to that person.
There’s some unfairness that’s happened to them.
And so in situations like that,
I’d give money anonymously and help them out.
And, you know, it’s like a miniature version
of addressing something really big.
So, you know, at MIT, I’m a little bit
you know, at MIT, I’ve done a big thing,
you know, helping to start this new school of computing.
And I did that because, you know,
I saw that, you know, there’s sort of like a global race on
in AI, quantum, and other major technologies.
And I thought that the US could use more enhancement
from a competitive perspective.
And I also, because I get to China a lot
and I travel around a lot compared to a regular person,
you know, I can see the need to have control
of these types of technologies.
So when they’re introduced, we don’t create a mess
like we did with the internet and with social media.
Unintended consequence, you know,
that’s creating all kinds of issues and freedom of speech
and the functioning of liberal democracies.
So with AI, it was pretty clear
that there was enormous difference of views
around the world by the relatively few practitioners
in the world who really knew what was going on.
And by accident, I knew a bunch of these people,
you know, who were like big famous people.
And I could talk to them and say,
why do you think this is a force for bad?
And someone else, why do you feel this is a force for good?
And how do we move forward with the technology
by the same time, make sure that whatever is potentially,
you know, sort of on the bad side of this technology
with, you know, for example, disruption of workforces
and things like that, that could happen much faster
than the industrial revolution.
What do we do about that?
And how do we keep that under control
so that the really good things about these technologies,
which will be great things,
not good things are allowed to happen?
So to me, you know, this was one of the great issues
The number of people who were aware of it were very small.
I just accidentally got sucked into it.
And as soon as I saw it, I went, oh my God, this is mega,
both on a competitive basis globally,
but also in terms of protecting society
and benefiting society.
So that’s how I got involved.
And at the end, you know, sort of the right thing
that we figured out was, you know,
sort of double MIT’s computer science faculty
and basically create the first AI enabled university
in the world.
And, you know, in effect, be an example,
a beacon to the rest of the research community
around the world academically,
and create, you know, a much more robust U.S. situation,
competitive situation among the universities.
Because if MIT was going to raise a lot of money
and double its faculty, well, you could bet that,
you know, a number of other universities
were going to do the same thing.
At the end of it, it would be great for knowledge creation,
you know, great for the United States, great for the world.
And so I like to do things that I think are really positive,
things that other people aren’t acting on,
that I see for whatever the reason.
First, it’s just people I meet and what they say,
and I can recognize when something really profound
is about to happen or needs to.
And I do it, and at the end of the situation,
somebody says, can you write a check to help us?
And then the answer is sure.
I mean, because if I don’t, the vision won’t happen.
But it’s the vision of whatever I do
that is compelling.
And essentially, I love that idea of whether it’s small
at the individual level or really big,
like the gift to MIT to launch the College of Computing.
It starts with a vision, and you see philanthropy as,
the biggest impact you can have is by launching something new,
especially on an issue that others aren’t really addressing.
And I also love the notion, and you’re absolutely right,
that there’s other universities, Stanford, CMU,
I’m looking at you, that would essentially,
the seed will create other, it’ll have a ripple effect
that potentially might help US be a leader
or continue to be a leader in AI.
It’s potentially a very transformative research
Just to linger on that point a little bit,
what is your hope long term for the impact
the college here at MIT might have in the next five, 10,
even 20, or let’s get crazy, 30, 50 years?
Well, it’s very difficult to predict the future
when you’re dealing with knowledge production
MIT has, obviously, some unique aspects.
Globally, there’s four big academic surveys.
I forget whether it was QS, there’s
the Times in London, the US News, and whatever.
And one of these recently, MIT, was ranked number one
in the world.
So leave aside whether you’re number three somewhere else,
in the great sweep of humanity, this is pretty amazing.
So you have a really remarkable aggregation of human talent
And where it goes, it’s hard to tell.
You have to be a scientist to have the right feel.
But what’s important is you have a critical mass of people.
And I think it breaks into two buckets.
One is scientific advancement.
And if the new college can help either
serve as a convening force within the university
or help coordination and communication among people,
that’s a good thing, absolute good thing.
The second thing is in the AI ethics area,
which is, in a way, equally important.
Because if the science side creates blowback
so that science is a bit crippled in terms
of going forward because society’s reaction to knowledge
advancement in this field becomes really hostile,
then you’ve sort of lost the game
in terms of scientific progress and innovation.
And so the AI ethics piece is super important
because in a perfect world, MIT would
serve as a global convener.
Because what you need is you need the research universities.
You need the companies that are driving AI and quantum work.
You need governments who will ultimately
be regulating certain elements of this.
And you also need the media to be knowledgeable and trained
so we don’t get overreactions to one situation, which then goes
viral and it ends up shutting down
avenues that are perfectly fine to be walking down or running
down that avenue.
But if enough discordant information,
not even correct necessarily, sort of gets
pushed around society, then you can end up
with a really hostile regulatory environment and other things.
So you have four drivers that have
to be sort of integrated.
And so if the new school of computing
can be really helpful in that regard,
then that’s a real service to science.
And it’s a service to MIT.
So that’s why I wanted to get involved for both areas.
And the hope is for me, for others,
for everyone, for the world, is for this particular college
of computing to be a beacon and a connector for these ideas.
Yeah, that’s right.
I mean, I think MIT is perfectly positioned to do that.
So you’ve mentioned the media, social media, the internet
as this complex network of communication with flaws,
perhaps, perhaps you can speak to them.
But I personally think that science and technology
has its flaws, but ultimately is, one, sexy, exciting.
It’s the way for us to explore and understand
the mysteries of our world.
And two, perhaps more importantly for some people,
it’s a huge way to, a really powerful way
to grow the economy, to improve the quality of life
So how do we get, how do you see the media, social media,
the internet as a society having a healthy discourse
about science, first of all, one that’s factual
and two, one that finds science exciting,
that invests in science, that pushes it forward,
especially in this science fiction, fear filled field
of artificial intelligence?
Well, I think that’s a little above my pay grade
because trying to control social media
to make it do what you want to do
appears to be beyond almost anybody’s control.
And the technology is being used to create
what I call the tyranny of the minorities.
A minority is defined as two or three people
on a street corner.
Doesn’t matter what they look like.
Doesn’t matter where they came from.
They’re united by that one issue that they care about.
And their job is to enforce their views on the world.
And in the political world, people just
are manufacturing truth.
And they throw it all over.
And it affects all of us.
And sometimes people are just hired to do that.
And you think it’s one person.
It’s really just sort of a front for a particular point of view.
And this has become exceptionally disruptive
And it’s dangerous.
And it’s undercutting the ability of liberal democracies
And I don’t know how to get a grip on this.
And I was really surprised when we was up here
for the announcement last spring of the College of Computing.
And they had all these famous scientists, some of whom
were involved with the invention of the internet.
And almost every one of them got up and said,
I think I made a mistake.
And as a non scientist, I never thought
I’d hear anyone say that.
And what they said is, more or less, to make it simple,
we thought this would be really cool inventing the internet.
We could connect everyone in the world.
We can move knowledge around.
It was instantaneous.
It’s a really amazing thing.
He said, I don’t know that there was anyone
who ever thought about social media coming out of that
and the actual consequences for people’s lives.
There’s always some younger person.
I just saw one of these yesterday.
It’s reported on the national news
who killed himself when people use social media
to basically sort of ridicule him or something of that type.
This is dead.
This is dangerous.
And so I don’t have a solution for that other
than going forward, you can end up
with this type of outcome using AI.
To make this kind of mistake twice is unforgivable.
So interestingly, at least in the West and parts of China,
people are quite sympathetic to the whole concept of AI ethics
and what gets introduced when and cooperation
within your own country, within your own industry,
as well as globally to make sure
that the technology is a force for good.
And that really interesting topic.
Since 2007, you’ve had a relationship
with senior leadership with a lot of people in China
and an interest in understanding modern China,
their culture, their world, much like with Russia.
I’m from Russia originally.
Americans are told a very narrow, one sided story
about China that I’m sure misses a lot
of fascinating complexity, both positive and negative.
What lessons about Chinese culture, its ideas as a nation,
its future do you think Americans should know about,
deliberate on, think about?
Well, it’s sort of a wide question
that you’re asking about.
China is a pretty unusual place.
First, it’s huge.
It’s physically huge.
It’s got a billion three people.
And the character of the people isn’t as well understood
in the United States.
Chinese people are amazingly energetic.
If you’re one of a billion three people,
one of the things you’ve got to be focused on
is how do you make your way through a crowd
of a billion 2.99999 other people.
No, the word for that is competitive.
Yes, they are individually highly energetic,
highly focused, always looking for some opportunity
for themselves because they need to,
because there’s an enormous amount of just literally people
And so what I’ve found is they’ll
try and find a way to win for themselves.
And their country is complicated because it basically
doesn’t have the same kind of functional laws
that we do in the United States and the West.
And the country is controlled really
through a web of relationships you have with other people
and the relationships that those other people have
with other people.
So it’s an incredibly dynamic culture
where if somebody knocks somebody up
on the top who’s three levels above you
and is, in effect, protecting you,
then you’re like a floating molecule there
without tethering except the one or two layers above you.
But that’s going to get affected.
So it’s a very dynamic system.
And getting people to change is not that easy
because if there aren’t really functioning laws,
it’s only the relationships that everybody has.
And so when you decide to make a major change
and you sign up for it, something
is changing in your life.
There won’t necessarily be all the same people on your team.
And that’s a very high risk enterprise.
So when you’re dealing with China,
it’s important to know almost what everybody’s relationship
is with somebody.
So when you suggest doing something differently,
you line up these forces.
In the West, it’s usually you talk to a person
and they figure out what’s good for them.
It’s a lot easier.
And in that sense, in a funny way,
it’s easier to make change in the West,
just the opposite of what people think.
But once the Chinese system adjusts
to something that’s new, everybody’s on the team.
It’s hard to change them.
But once they’re changed, they are incredibly focused in a way
that it’s hard for the West to do
in a more individualistic culture.
So there are all kinds of fascinating things.
One thing that might interest the people who are listening
who are more technologically based than some other group.
I was with one of the top people in the government
a few weeks ago, and he was telling me that every school
child in China is going to be taught computer science.
Now, imagine 100% of these children.
This is such a large number of human beings.
Now, that doesn’t mean that every one of them
will be good at computer science.
But if it’s sort of like in the West,
if it’s like math or English, everybody’s going to take it.
Not everybody’s great at English.
They don’t write books.
They don’t write poetry.
And not everybody’s good at math.
Somebody like myself, I sort of evolved to the third grade,
and I’m still doing flashcards.
I didn’t make it further in math.
But imagine everybody in their society
is going to be involved with computer science.
I’d just even pause on that.
I think computer science involves,
at the basic beginner level, programming.
And the idea that everybody in the society
would have some ability to program a computer is incredible.
For me, it’s incredibly exciting,
and I think that should give the United States pause
and consider what…
Talking about sort of philanthropy and launching things,
there’s nothing like launching,
sort of investing in young youth, the education system,
because that’s where everything launches.
Well, we’ve got a complicated system
because we have over 3,000 school districts
around the country.
China doesn’t worry about that as a concept.
They make a decision at the very top of the government
that that’s what they want to have happen,
and that is what will happen.
And we’re really handicapped by this distributed power
in the education area,
although some people involved with that area
will think it’s great.
But you would know better than I do
what percent of American children
have computer science exposure.
My guess, no knowledge, would be 5% or less.
And if we’re going to be going into a world
where the other major economic power,
sort of like ourselves, has got like 100% and we got 5%,
and the whole computer science area is the future,
then we’re purposely or accidentally actually
and our system doesn’t allow us to adjust quickly to that.
So, you know, issues like this I find fascinating.
And, you know, if you’re lucky enough
to go to other countries, which I do,
and you learn what they’re thinking,
then it informs what we ought to be doing in the United States.
So the current administration, Donald Trump,
has released an executive order on artificial intelligence.
Not sure if you’re familiar with it.
In 2019, looking several years ahead,
how does America sort of,
we’ve mentioned in terms of the big impact,
we hope your investment in MIT will have a ripple effect,
but from a federal perspective, from a government perspective,
how does America establish, with respect to China,
leadership in the world at the top
for research and development in AI?
I think that you have to get the federal government
in the game in a big way,
and that this leap forward technologically,
which is going to happen with or without us,
you know, really should be with us,
and it’s an opportunity, in effect,
for another moonshot kind of mobilization
by the United States.
I think the appetite actually is there to do that.
At the moment, what’s getting in the way
is the kind of poisonous politics we have,
but if you go below the lack of cooperation,
which is almost the defining element of American democracy
right now in the Congress,
if you talk to individual members, they get it,
and they would like to do something.
Another part of the issue is we’re running huge deficits.
We’re running trillion dollar plus deficits.
So how much money do you need for this initiative?
Where does it come from?
Who’s prepared to stand up for it?
Because if it involves taking away resources
from another area, our political system is not real flexible.
To do that, if you’re creating this kind of initiative,
which we need, where does the money come from?
And trying to get money
when you’ve got trillion dollar deficits,
in a way, could be easy.
What’s the difference of a trillion
and a trillion and a little more?
But, you know, it’s hard with the mechanisms of Congress.
But what’s really important is this is not an issue
that is unknown, and it’s viewed as a very important issue.
And there’s almost no one in the Congress
when you sit down and explain what’s going on
who doesn’t say, we’ve got to do something.
Let me ask the impossible question.
You didn’t endorse Donald Trump, but after he was elected,
you have given him advice, which seems to me a great thing
to do, no matter who the president is,
to positively contribute to this nation by giving advice.
And yet, you’ve received a lot of criticism for this.
So on the previous topic of science and technology
and government, how do we have a healthy discourse,
give advice, get excited conversation with the government
about science and technology without it becoming politicized?
Well, it’s very interesting.
So when I was young, before there was a moonshot,
we had a president named John F. Kennedy from Massachusetts
And in his inaugural address as president,
he asked not what your country can do for you,
but what you can do for your country.
We had a generation of people my age, basically people,
who grew up with that credo.
And sometimes you don’t need to innovate.
You can go back to basic principles.
And that’s good basic principle.
What can we do?
Americans have GDP per capita of around $60,000.
It’s not equally distributed, but it’s big.
And people have, I think, an obligation to help
And I do that.
And apparently, I take some grief from some people who
project on me things I don’t even vaguely believe.
But I’m quite simple.
I tried to help the previous president, President Obama.
He was a good guy.
And he was a different party.
And I tried to help President Bush.
And he’s a different party.
And I sort of don’t care that much about what the parties are.
I care about, even though I’m a big donor for the Republicans,
but what motivates me is, what are the problems we’re facing?
Can I help people get to a good outcome that
will stand any test?
But we live in a world now where the filters and the hostility
is so unbelievable.
In the 1960s, when I went to school and university,
I went to Yale, we had so much stuff going on.
We had a war called the Vietnam War.
We had sort of black power starting.
And we had a sexual revolution with the birth control pill.
And there was one other major thing going on,
the drug revolution.
There hasn’t been a generation that
had more stuff going on in a four year period than my era.
Yet, there wasn’t this kind of instant hostility
if you believed something different.
Everybody lived together and respected the other person.
And I think that this type of change needs to happen.
And it’s got to happen from the leadership
of our major institutions.
And I don’t think that leaders can
be bullied by people who are against sort
of the classical version of free speech
and letting open expression and inquiry.
That’s what universities are for, among other things,
And so I have, in the midst of this onslaught of oddness,
I believe in still the basic principles.
And we’re going to have to find a way to get back to that.
And that doesn’t start with the people sort of in the middle
to the bottom who are using these kinds of screens
to shout people down and create an uncooperative environment.
It’s got to be done at the top with core principles that
And ironically, if people don’t sign on
to these kind of core principles where people are equal
and speech can be heard and you don’t have these enormous
shout down biases subtly or out loud,
then they don’t belong at those institutions.
They’re violating the core principles.
And that’s how you end up making change.
But you have to have courageous people who
are willing to lay that out for the benefit of not just
their institutions, but for society as a whole.
So I believe that will happen.
But it needs the commitment of senior people
to make it happen.
And I think for such great leaders, great universities,
there’s a huge hunger for it.
So I am too very optimistic that it will come.
I’m now personally taking a step into building a startup
first time, hoping to change the world, of course.
There are thousands, maybe more, maybe millions
of other first time entrepreneurs like me.
You’ve gone through this process.
You’ve talked about the suffering, the emotional turmoil
it all might entail.
What advice do you have for those people taking that step?
I’d say it’s a rough ride.
And you have to be psychologically prepared
for things going wrong with frequency.
You have to be prepared to be put in situations where you’re
being asked to solve problems you didn’t even
know those problems existed.
For example, renting space, it’s not really a problem
unless you’ve never done it.
You have no idea what a lease looks like.
You don’t even know the relevant rent in a market.
So everything is new.
Everything has to be learned.
What you realize is that it’s good to have other people
with you who’ve had some experience in areas
where you don’t know what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, an entrepreneur starting
doesn’t know much of anything.
So everything is something new.
And I think it’s important not to be alone,
because it’s sort of overwhelming.
And you need somebody to talk to other than a spouse or a loved
one, because even they get bored with your problems.
And so getting a group, if you look at Alibaba,
Jack Ma was telling me they basically
were like at financial death’s door at least twice.
And the fact that it wasn’t just Jack.
I mean, people think it is, because he
became the sort of public face and the driver.
But a group of people who can give advice,
share situations to talk about, that’s really important.
And that’s not just referring to the small details
like renting space.
It’s also the psychological burden.
Yeah, and because most entrepreneurs at some point
question what they’re doing, because it’s not going so well.
Or they’re screwing it up, and they
don’t know how to unscrew it up, because we’re all learning.
And it’s hard to be learning when there are like 25 variables
If you’re missing four big ones, you can really make a mess.
And so the ability to, in effect, have either an outsider
who’s really smart that you can rely on
for certain type of things, or other people who are working
with you on a daily basis, most people
who haven’t had experience believe
in the myth of the one person, one great person,
makes outcomes, creates outcomes that are positive.
Most of us, it’s not like that.
If you look back over a lot of the big successful tech
companies, it’s not typically one person.
And you will know these stories better than I do,
because it’s your world, not mine.
But even I know that almost every one of them
had two people.
If you look at Google, that’s what they had.
And that was the same at Microsoft at the beginning.
And it was the same at Apple.
People have different skills.
And they need to play off of other people.
So the advice that I would give you
is make sure you understand that so you don’t head off
in some direction as a lone wolf and find that either you
can’t invent all the solutions or you make bad decisions
on certain types of things.
This is a team sport.
Entrepreneur means you’re alone, in effect.
And that’s the myth.
But it’s mostly a myth.
Yeah, I think, and you talk about this in your book,
and I could talk to you about it forever,
the harshly self critical aspect to your personality
and to mine as well in the face of failure.
It’s a powerful tool, but it’s also
a burden that’s very interesting to walk that line.
But let me ask in terms of people around you,
in terms of friends, in the bigger
picture of your own life, where do you
put the value of love, family, friendship
in the big picture journey of your life?
Well, ultimately, all journeys are alone.
It’s great to have support.
And when you go forward and say your job is
to make something work, and that’s your number one
priority, and you’re going to work at it to make it work,
it’s like superhuman effort.
People don’t become successful as part time workers.
It doesn’t work that way.
And if you’re prepared to make that 100% to 120% effort,
you’re going to need support, and you’re
going to have to have people involved
with your life who understand that that’s really
part of your life.
Sometimes you’re involved with somebody,
and they don’t really understand that.
And that’s a source of conflict and difficulty.
But if you’re involved with the right people,
whether it’s a dating relationship or a spousal
relationship, you have to involve them in your life,
but not burden them with every minor triumph or mistake.
They actually get bored with it after a while.
And so you have to set up different types of ecosystems.
You have your home life.
You have your love life.
You have children.
And that’s the enduring part of what you do.
And then on the other side, you’ve got the unpredictable
nature of this type of work.
What I say to people at my firm who are younger, usually,
well, everybody’s younger, but people
who are of an age where they’re just
having their first child, or maybe they have two children,
that it’s important to make sure they go away
with their spouse at least once every two months to just
some lovely place where there are no children, no issues,
sometimes once a month if they’re
sort of energetic and clever.
Escape the craziness of it all.
Yeah, and reaffirm your values as a couple.
And you have to have fun.
If you don’t have fun with the person you’re with,
and all you’re doing is dealing with issues,
then that gets pretty old.
And so you have to protect the fun element of your life
And the way to do that isn’t by hanging around the house
and dealing with sort of more problems.
You have to get away and reinforce and reinvigorate
And whenever I tell one of our younger people about that,
they sort of look at me, and it’s
like the scales are falling off of their eyes.
And they’re saying, jeez, I hadn’t thought about that.
I’m so enmeshed in all these things.
But that’s a great idea.
And that’s something, as an entrepreneur,
you also have to do.
You just can’t let relationships slip
because you’re half overwhelmed.
And I think there’s no better place to end it.
Steve, thank you so much.
I really appreciate it.
It was an honor to talk to you.
Thanks for listening to this conversation
with Stephen Schwarzman.
And thank you to our sponsors, ExpressVPN and MasterClass.
Please consider supporting the podcast
by signing up to MasterClass at masterclass.com slash lex
and getting ExpressVPN at expressvpn.com slash lexpod.
If you enjoy this podcast, subscribe on YouTube,
review it with five stars on Apple Podcast,
support it on Patreon, or simply connect with me
on Twitter at lexfriedman.
And now, let me leave you with some words
from Stephen Schwarzman’s book, What It Takes.
It’s as hard to start and run a small business
as it is to start a big one.
You will suffer the same toll financially and psychologically
as you bludgeon it into existence.
It’s hard to raise the money and to find the right people.
So if you’re going to dedicate your life to a business,
which is the only way it will ever work,
you should choose one with the potential to be huge.
Thank you for listening and hope to see you next time.