Kevin Ashton | Tech Pioneer, Author, Speaker

 Kevin Ashton is an Entrepreneur, Writer, Speaker. He co-founded the Auto-ID Center at MIT which created a global standard system for RFID. He invented the term “The Internet of Things” as well as taught the online world a lesson through Santiago Swallow.  He doesn’t mince his words and therefore provides a riveting interview from a fresh perspective.

The Difference between Good and Great | How they spend their time. Greatness comes from doing one thing obsessively to the exclusion of almost everything else, and ignoring everybody’s else comments about “balance,” “serendipity,” “having a life,” “socializing,” and a thousand other things you are “supposed” to do instead of the thing you want to be great at. If you want to be great at something, become absorbed by it and say “no” to everything else. Do it all the time. Read about it, practice it, find people who can teach you about it, know everything thing that could possibly be known about it. If that sounds unhealthy or unreasonable to you, fair enough, but settle for goodness not greatness.

My talent |The only advice I have is don’t take advice, and especially not from me. I am not sure if it is a talent or strength particularly, but I have noticed that, relative to other people I know, I have little use for plans and I don’t need to know the details of how things are going to happen to get on with doing them. Obviously if I am doing something like getting a product built, we have plans, and we try to keep to them, but nothing, and I mean NOTHING, ever goes according to a plan. Getting obsessed with plans and being afraid and worried if you don’t have a clear picture of what is going to happen next is not being deliberate, it’s being delusional. Plans and strategies and projections are illusions, and illusions are not useful tools. You can’t control the future. Being too rigid about making things happen the way you guessed they were going to happen can stop you reacting to emerging problems and make you miss unexpected opportunities. Expect little, execute lots. This, by the way, is the opposite of how most companies and people operate. “Executives” in most companies spend half their lives in “planning meetings” and other half preparing for them.

Characteristics that have led to my success| In reverse order: bloody mindedness, hubris, dumb luck.

How I keep my mind sharp| I read a lot, especially original sources. Bestsellers are nice, and they can help you organize ideas, but they are the fast food of thinking. The real nutKevin Ashtonrition is in the originals. Want to know about evolution? Don’t just read about Darwin, read Darwin. See a newspaper story about some academic paper published by scientists? Read the academic paper. Get one of those Tweets or forwards that quotes a few words from somebody? FInd the book it came from and read the whole thing. If you feed your mind with original sources, rather than what somebody else thinks about original sources, you’ll be thinking on a whole new level, and you’ll probably amplify your passion for what you are doing. Original sources do not have to be books: if you are a musician, study original influences, get deep into theory, understand every part of how your instrument was made and why; if you want to write or direct movies, do the same with movies; and so on. Never stop learning from original sources, never stop getting deep in the context, never stop practicing and learning. Spend every moment on it for your whole life. Do not be a fan, become an expert. If that sounds too hard, see the difference between goodness and greatness above.

The most important lessons I have learnt | Listen more, speak less. Be nice to everyone. Sleep a lot, several times a day when you can, totaling ten hours or more. Stay hydrated by drinking so much water your pee looks like it came from an Alpine spring. (These two will help you be nice to everyone, among many other benefits.) Rescue a dog or two, take them with you everywhere, and listen to what they have to teach you. Say “no” to almost everything and everybody almost every time.

Performing at my peak | I don’t. I seldom “perform at my peak,” and when you think about the definition of “peak,” trying to makes no sense. There are good days and less good days, but the only bad work is work you do not do. Keep working whether you feel like it or not, whether you are in “the mood,” regardless of how “inspired” you think you are. Be chronic, not acute. Success doesn’t strike, it accumulates. Do not be sporadic.

The meaning of life | Love living, love the living, leave something useful for those who live after you.

Building wealth | Don’t.  Money is a means not an end and typically a side effect of passion, which is what will drive you to do something useful and valuable, which is what money represents. Most people who make money, rather than inherit money, (people who make their own money are a very small percentage of people with money), were trying to do something else: build something, solve something, make something, be the best at something for its own sake. Get a day job, pay the bills, live within your means, spend the rest of your time on your passion, and let one thing lead to another. If you do that, you’ll be happy whatever the outcome. If you get in the habit of wanting more money than you have, or more money than other people, you will always be wanting more, and every day of your life will feel desperate. Follow dreams not dollars. Why do you want all this money in the first place? Probably to impress people. Don’t try to impress people who are impressed by money; try to impress people who aren’t.

Inspiring others | If you set out to do something great for its own sake, not for yours, great people will self-select and find their way to you. After that it’s about respecting what they know that you don’t and staying out of their way. They are not working with you to reach your goals. You are working with them to reach their goals. The goals just happen to be the same, or similar.