Table of Contents:
Highlights to inspire your 2024
CHRIS MCLEOD: Hi listeners, it’s Chris McLeod — executive producer of Masters of Scale.
Daymond John on his ode to financial literacy
JODINE DORCÉ: I’m Jodine Dorcé, VP of Live at WaitWhat — the company that brings Masters of Scale to life.
My favorite moment from 2023 is Daymond John’s ode to financial literacy, featured in the Eileen Fisher episode. I love Daymond’s commitment to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
The lesson at the heart of this clip is about keeping ideas simple and adaptable — something I’ve thought about a lot in my own work since the episode dropped.
REID HOFFMAN: Imagine you’re a kid visiting a library for storytime.
Once you get past the stuffy Dewey decimalization of the grown-ups shelves, you find yourself in the wonder-filled world of the children’s section. There are dragons painted on the wall. Plush owls are posted on tables and Saturn hangs from the ceiling.
As you gather around with the other kids, your excitement builds. Are you about to hear a heartwarming tale about a hungry caterpillar? Or perhaps you’re going to launch into a space rocket adventure? Or maybe you’re going to shiver your timbers on a jaunty
So imagine how you react when you learn that this storytime is going to be all about financial literacy.
That may sound like a hard sell to a bunch of hyperactive six-year-olds. But for one superstar entrepreneur, there was a finance-shaped hole in the world of children’s literature that he felt compelled to fill.
DAYMOND JOHN: There’s so many great books that talk about getting to know your feelings and the differences of others. And there were no books about financial intelligence or entrepreneurship.
So I just figured, why not me?
HOFFMAN: That’s Daymond John, the founder of the game-changing streetwear brand FUBU, and one of the original sharks on ABC’S Emmy-award-winning Shark Tank.
JOHN: Most of the challenges we have come from the lack of money and the lack of information, or what to do with money.
HOFFMAN: He’d need to tell a simple, relatable story to capture kids’ imaginations. So he looked to his own childhood for inspiration.
JOHN: It was really rooted in a version of Daymond at 20 years old and a version of Daymond at six years old.
I did sell pencils when I was young and stuff like that to make money. But my passion was hip hop.
HOFFMAN: Daymond titled his book Little Daymond Learns to Earn — telling the story of a 6-year-old who creates a T-shirt business, so he can buy a poster of his favorite hip-hop artist. At its heart is a simple refrain that every little kid can get on board with.
JOHN: To get kids to participate in it, studies have shown that they feel very strong about counting to five.
So when you see the crisp dollar bill laid out and you’re reading that in the classroom, or the mom or dad is reading it to their kid, they go one, two, three. I know you’re thinking about the count right now. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I know you’re thinking about the count right now. 1, 2, 3. It’s all, you know, there’s certain methods and ways to communicate with children that are easier because they’re absorbing information in a certain way.
HOFFMAN: The aim of this simple idea is to give kids a life-long interest in building their financial literacy. And there’s something that even the most seasoned leaders can learn from keeping simplicity at the heart of their businesses.
JOHN: Every single business has to have clarity and simplicity. And so, you know, when you say Nike, just do it, Fubu, for us by us, White Castle, what you crave, TNT, we know drama, TBS, very funny. You know, that you are getting to the core of something.
That’s why they say, the great people know how to do what they call a elevator pitch, 90 seconds. You should be able to convey whatever you do on the back of a business card. So you better either have a huge ass business card, write very small, or you get it, put it in a couple of words. You gotta convey what you do. There’s nothing more important than simplicity and clarity.
HOFFMAN: The challenge is keeping things simple, but not letting that keep you behind the times.
That’s why I believe if you want your company to stand the test of time, you need to keep things simple — without letting them stay the same.
Priya Krishna on developing recipes with AI
MASHA MAKUTONINA: Hi, it’s Masha Makutonina — assistant producer at Masters of Scale.
My favorite moment is hands down from Priya Krishna’s segment in our special miniseries, AI and You. I don’t want to spoil the clip, but as a cookbook author, Priya attempts to use technology in a totally new way to develop Thanksgiving recipes. What I love about this excerpt is that Priya shows the power of a true experimentation mindset. This moment inspired me to pursue creative risks and rethink how I use technology to amplify my skill set.
HOFFMAN: On the final Thursday of every November, many homes across the US burst with the sounds of a parade on the TV, spirited family debates, and the squeak of an old oven door. For some people, preparation for the holiday begins months in advance. While traditions may stay the same, the menu often evolves.
PRIYA KRISHNA: It’s like, what’s a new way to make turkey? What’s a new way to make pie? It can be so frustrating.
HOFFMAN: Priya wondered… rather than bend over backwards to invent the next Turducken, what if AI was the secret weapon every recipe writer didn’t know they needed? Priya and her team filmed their experiment. She committed to cooking the AI-generated recipes word-for-word.
KRISHNA: We gave ChatGPT a bunch of different prompts. Show us a Thanksgiving dessert that is a spin on pumpkin pie. Show me an unconventional take on stuffing. Show me an Indian inspired version of turkey. And that’s where things got really interesting. The more specific we made the prompts, the more creative ChatGPT would get.
HOFFMAN: To Priya’s surprise, GPT’s recipe for stuffing called for Indian naan bread.
KRISHNA: Naan is not the most intuitive bread for a stuffing. You think you would want something that’s super absorbent. But in my mind, I was like, maybe there’s something to naan.
HOFFMAN: While Priya cooked through each of the AI recipes, she battled against her instincts — desperate to amend peculiar directions and measurements. The first dish Priya finished and plated was the naan stuffing.
KRISHNA: It looked a little gnarly coming out of the oven. It sort of looked like a cinnamon raisin bread pudding.
HOFFMAN: Thankfully, other dishes looked more appetizing.
KRISHNA: The cake looked delightful. It was like a pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese frosting.
HOFFMAN: To judge AI’s Thanksgiving dishes, Priya invited four New York Times cooking columnists.
KRISHNA: The green beans were cooked to that perfect crisp, tender texture — bright green, they’ve got a little crunch. And then on the other hand, you had this turkey that was just dry as a bone. The general consensus was, if I went to someone’s Thanksgiving dinner and they served this, I’d be ordering pizza afterwards.
HOFFMAN: Despite GPT’s lack of culinary success, Priya came away with some optimism.
KRISHNA: There are plenty of uses for AI in cooking. You could tell AI, I’ve got mushrooms and chicken broth and green beans in my fridge. What are some things I could make? And AI could give you ideas. I’m cooking chicken thighs. What temperature should they be at to be considered fully cooked? What is the roasting temperature for sweet potatoes that are cut into cubes? AI can be very good as sort of a kitchen assistant, rather than perhaps the kitchen leader.
HOFFMAN: Priya was only able to make this useful discovery through experimentation.
No chef expects to create a flawless dish on their first attempt. They know from experience that commitment and patience are key in finding the perfect balance of flavors, textures and smells. Although AI lacks the distinctly human senses — and emotions — needed to enjoy a turkey with all the trimmings, it can still help us come together and experiment and collaborate to make cooking creative, exciting and accessible.
Even though the AI’s integration was far from a triumph, it encouraged Priya to step outside of her comfort zone and open her eyes to new ideas. Every business leader should take inspiration from Priya’s willingness to invite AI into the kitchen and experiment. With patience and an open mind, the potential is boundless.
That’s why I believe that AI won’t revolutionize your business overnight. To unleash AI’s true power of scale, you must dive headfirst into an era of ongoing experimentation.
Reshma Saujani on creating a network of changemakers
ANYA PROFUMO: Hi, it’s Anya Profumo, the ad producer here at Masters of Scale. My favorite moment of the year is from Reshma Saujani’s episode, where she talks about creating a network of changemakers. Reshma is the founder of Girls Who Code and the founder and CEO of Moms First. In a year where news from around the world makes it harder than ever to stay motivated, I think Reshma’s story of optimism and empowerment feels even more inspiring.
RESHMA SAUJANI: 74% of high school girls wanted to pick a career that was about changing the world. And back then, less than like 0.2% of girls were going into computer science. So I thought, you know what? If I could connect coding to change-making, I could inspire a generation of girls to go into technology.
HOFFMAN: Reshma didn’t just want to build a network to address the issue of representation in tech.
SAUJANI: You could use these programs to close the gender gap. The idea was that you would come out of that summer classroom, you would love coding so much that you would want to go major or minor in computer science. And if you majored or minored in computer science, you would then go work in the technology workforce. This is a job where you can march up into the middle class. Maybe for the first time, we’re kind of starting kids out at the same place. And whether you are a young girl living in a homeless shelter in Harlem or a girl going to the best private school in New York City, you have an equal shot at getting a job at LinkedIn, right? That really excited me.
At the core of my life is not just solving equity for women and girls, but it’s also solving poverty. And here, I saw an opportunity to do both. So, I put the model together. When I talked to people, the number 20 kept coming up, that you wanted to put a group of 20 together to teach them a new skill set. And so I designed these summer camps to have 20 girls, and then I did my first program.
HOFFMAN: The experience was so negative that Diana decided software engineering was a closed network, and one she couldn’t break into. That was until she came across the website for Girls Who Code. She applied, was accepted, and in the summer of 2012, arrived for her first Girls Who Code session at an office building in downtown Manhattan.
HOFFMAN: The program covered coding skills, but Reshma also made sure to get the cohort thinking about how they could work together to solve a range of problems.
SAUJANI: What app would you create? What technology would you build? And I remember just watching the room. I believed in this idea that if you actually bring together girls that were black, white, straight, gay, you know what I mean… rich, poor, and you put ’em in a classroom together and you taught them a new skill set, that they would become best friends.
SAUJANI: It was this big light that went off in my head. I thought to myself, maybe I could help create an entire generation of girls that could make the world a better place.
SAUJANI: And then that was it. We were going to build Girls Who Code.
MCLEOD: We’re back with our favorite Masters of Scale moments from 2023. There are so many incredible moments that we don’t have time to share today, and we’re curious what your favorite was. Let us know. We’re at masters of scale on all social platforms.
Next up, passing the mic to Adam.
Ed Catmull on Steve Jobs leaning into his lighter side
ADAM SKUSE: Hello, this is Adam Skuse — senior writer at Masters of Scale.
My favorite moment of the year is a story about Steve Jobs from Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull. Ed tells how Steve leaned into his lighter side at the 1999 MacWorld event — poking fun at the event and himself.
Ed used the story to illustrate a change he saw in the years he worked closely with Steve — a change that produced a lighter-hearted, more accepting Steve Jobs, that remained somewhat shrouded by his reputation.
The theory of the episode is about the need to constantly reinvent your creative processes — something mastered by both Steve and Ed — and a skill that is only going to become more vital with the runaway development of AI.
ED CATMULL: When Steve Jobs bought us, at the beginning, to be honest, we were nervous, because we did know what Steve was like and what the reputation was. And I have to say, for several years, I didn’t see any sense of humor at all.
HOFFMAN: That’s Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, recalling Steve Jobs as a creative genius. Yes, but a genius who was demanding, brash, abrasive. And that’s putting it mildly.
CATMULL: I would say from ‘91-‘95 was a dramatic change in him as a person. He became more empathetic and caring. He paid attention to people. They actually began to see him having a sense of humor.
HOFFMAN: But this reputation stuck with Steve, even after the changes Ed is talking about.
CATMULL: So when the stories were written about him, they’re about the early public stories because frankly, it’s kind of sexy to talk about bad behavior or various things like that. It makes for more dramatic television.
HOFFMAN: A good example of that dramatic television is the 1999 TV movie, Pirates of Silicon Valley.
CATMULL: Noah Wyle had played Steve in a television movie that was fairly derogatory towards Steve.
NOAH WYLE: I want beauty, not incompetence. Are you listening to me? Are you listening?
MOVIE SOUND BITE: Yes, I’m listening. I’m so sick of your abusiveness. That’s all you know. Tearing people down for a tantrum, you miserable son of a *****.
HOFFMAN: Shortly after the film came out, was the annual Apple showcase, Macworld ‘99. It meant the image of Steve Jobs as an intense, humorless taskmaster was fresh in the minds of attendees. That didn’t stop them from going wild, as the lights dimmed and a turtlenecked figure strode out to the center of the stage.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Macworld ‘99 stage… Steve Jobs.
WYLE: This is going to be a great Macworld.
CATMULL: What you could hear in the audience, sort of this increasing titter, as people begin to laugh because they realized that it wasn’t Steve. In fact, it was Noah Wyle that came out.
WYLE: You know, everybody at Apple has been thinking different for the last couple of years. We’re selling a lot of computers, but there’s something else happening here… the resurgence of Apple.
CATMULL: So, this went on for a couple of minutes and then reached a point where Noah Wyle says something, like an extreme version of what Steve used to say.
WYLE: Some really great new products, some insanely great new products, some really totally wildly insanely great new products. We have got products that are going to…
CATMULL: And then Steve came out.
JOBS: That’s not me at all. That’s not me at all. You’re blowing it. Look, you’re supposed to come over here. Open a water.
CATMULL: Now, Steve, with this lighter sense of humor, thought it’d be a great idea to have Noah Wyle come out on the stage and pretend to be him. He just demonstrated the depth of humor to be able to do that.
JOBS: This insanely great thing, we stopped using that a hundred years ago.
HOFFMAN: This moment of levity was a clear indication of how Steve had changed. It’s a change Ed had been tracking for a long time, even if most of the world overlooked it. And it had a huge effect on how Steve worked.
CATMULL: Part of his change, over time, was that in recognizing why things weren’t going the way expected, he could then change the way he worked and thought about people. And throughout his life, he kept learning and growing, as we all should be doing. As a result of that, Steve and Apple had a major transformative effect in the world.
HOFFMAN: The MacBook, the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone. These are some of the vastly impactful things that Steve Jobs shepherded into the world. And I’d argue, these were all so successful in part, because Steve learned to change his approach, his process, and even the way he saw himself. I believe you need to constantly tweak, hack and reinvent the ways you work to keep at the top of your creative game.
Ron Howard & Brian Grazer on how they met
This fall, we chronicled the story of Imagine Entertainment through two separate episodes with the company’s co-founders Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
We heard in Brian’s episode about his unique networking practice which he calls ‘curiosity conversations’. Whether it’s a Hollywood star or a young office assistant, the way Brian spends meaningful time to connect with people has stuck with me. As a podcast producer, or even just a human being in the world, it’s so important to remember how curiosity can be a catalyst for meaningful connection.
And Brian will go to great lengths to engage in a ‘curiosity conversation’. An early example was with child star turned teenage heartthrob, Ron Howard, who would one day become his lifelong business partner. Let’s hear the story of a meet-cute for the ages.
HOFFMAN: One day, Brian saw Ron Howard passing below his window.
GRAZER: I ripped it open, and I yelled out the window, just impulsively, “Ron, Ron Howard.” And he glanced at me, and then kind of took off. So, he eluded me, but I thought, you know, no, I really wanna talk to him.
HOFFMAN: It’s usually a bit harder to forge a trusted professional connection than simply yelling out your window at a passerby. It’s one of the reasons I built LinkedIn. But this was 1979 — some time before the rise of online social networks. So Brian took a more conventional approach to making a connection with Ron.
GRAZER: I called his assistant, Louisa, and said, “I really want to have a conversation with Ron Howard.” And I was quite persuasive. And I had the meeting with Ron, he came to my office, and we had this magical one-hour conversation. He just had this aura of goodness about him. That was very attractive to me. We shared movie ideas back and forth, and I had several movie ideas that he really was impressed with.
HOFFMAN: Both Brian and Ron had the will to push forward with their vision. In 1982, they brought to life a comedy, set in a morgue, titled Night Shift, starring Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. The film was a low-key success.
Ron and Brian then set their sights on a project Brian had been trying to get made for years: the story of a man and a mermaid who fell in love, titled Splash.
Splash lived up to its name and was a massive hit.
HOWARD: After our Night Shift and Splash experiences, I was so impressed with Brian. We had bonded, and he had a similar kind of output, but we were driving all over town, all the time, trying to sell to every studio and network. And, between us, we had probably 30 development projects going, which meant a lot of meetings. And we actually said, “if we just pooled all of this, we’d have some leverage and maybe we could just work out of one office, and not have to drive around quite so much. And we’d, you know, we’d have each other.”
HOFFMAN: Ron and Brian saw each other as force multipliers, helping each other bring their visions into being. So in 1985, shortly after Splash was released, they decided to officially pool their resources by co-founding Imagine Entertainment.
HOWARD: There was no sort of secret formula to Imagine, other than our personal taste, and this sort of belief that we could, between us, tell stories that would reach an audience.
HOFFMAN: Ron’s a master of movie-making, and here, he’s also being a master of modesty. Because I would argue that personal taste plus self-belief was his secret formula. In fact, it is the formula that can make a vision into a reality. In order to achieve your own unique vision, it needs to be guided by your own personal taste and values, and driven by your belief that you can make it a reality.
Thanks to the huge success of Splash, Imagine was one of the hottest production studios in Hollywood. So, within a year, Ron and Brian raised funds with an IPO, so they could rapidly scale their vision for creating modern, human-centered stories that spoke to their generation of moviegoers.
HOWARD: We immediately had a pool of money to work with, to control our own development, to invest in the films, with the idea that we would maintain the rights to syndication, burgeoning video cassettes, and so forth. It was really, uh, thrilling on paper. It looked like we’d really done something on paper.
HOFFMAN: Ron and Brian felt like they’d built a future-proof model for scaling their vision. But then, they were broadsided by an unexpected upset — the kind that crawls barefoot through air ducts and yells “Yippee Ki Yay.”
HOWARD: Bruce Willis was given 6 million dollars to star in Die Hard. He was a TV star. When this TV guy leapt to that number, every A-list actor in Hollywood jumped to that number, or more. And our model no longer held up, because we were supposed to make movies for a certain number, yet the studio wanted us to get the best actors of our generation, the best stars, to be in these movies.
HOFFMAN: Before moving on, I want to assure you that Ron Howard, the nicest man in Hollywood, is in no way bitter at Bruce’s casting.
HOWARD: He was the right guy for the movie, by the way. They made it a good call. It was a huge hit. But that priced us out of our model.
HOFFMAN: As a creative leader, you’ll always have to face unexpected outside forces that may undercut your ability for delivering your vision. They might be as bland as a change in interest rates, or as unexpected as a disgruntled New York cop in your ventilation system. And that’s where your expertise as a visionary will be most needed.
MCLEOD: There we have it — the Masters of Scale team’s favorite moments from 2023.
We have a lot of exciting things planned for 2024. We can’t wait for another year alongside you on your scale journey.
Thanks for listening.