Jimmy Soni Interview


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This podcast is about a genius reflecting on what it means to be a genius…that’s pretty FREAKIN’ cool!

Hey Thought Stackers!

You’re in for a treat. Today we have Jimmy Soni, author of A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, who’s spent the last five years studying the most underappreciated genius of our time, Claude Shannon.

Meet Claude Shannon, the inventor of Information Theory.

Today You’ll Learn Five Things

  1. Claude Shannon’s unique approach to networking – we call it “Anti-Networking”.
  2. Why you should start visualizing the end state of problems you’re trying to solve BEFORE diving into the details.
  3. Claude’s six step process for creative thinking.
  4. Our biggest take away: Avoiding over specialization.
  5. Why the connection between our hands and our minds are not valued enough in today’s culture – we get into how Claude, who was a mathematical genius, was also a tinkerer who enjoyed building and juggling.


You’ve heard the old adage: you’re the average of your five closest friends. Claude took this to heart but went one step further. His genius attracted like minded people to gravitate towards him and he didn’t allow those who weren’t serious thinkers or tinkerers to waste his precious time.

You might be thinking, that sounds pretentious. Well maybe, but would your life improve if you were more meticulous about spending your time with higher quality people? Claude knew that time was his most precious resource. He would suggest we spend it wisely and focus on generating the greatest amount of happiness.

Do yourself a favor and do a time audit on your friends. Is there one that causes more consistent misery than happiness? Maybe they need to be cut…

Visualize the Big Picture Before Getting Into the Details

Claude was unique in that he visualized the whole system before getting into the details. This prevented him from getting stuck on details that didn’t help get his end result. He was more interested in getting from A to Z, instead of E to F…that could always be figured out later.

Is there a problem that you’re working on that could benefit from a high-level vantage point? Sometimes we get stuck on a smaller problem that might not even be a problem if you zoom out and see what you’re really trying to solve.

Next time you get stuck, zoom out.

Be creative like Claude.

Claude’s Six Step Process for Creative Thinking

Jimmy and his coauthor Rob Goodman put out a fantastic and detailed piece on this topic over at Business Insider which could be found here. For those who want the cliff notes, keep reading.

  1. Simplify – Claude was a master of embracing the simplicity in his work. If you’re having trouble solving a problem, looks to simplify it into its basic components. Confusion rests in complexity. Simplify.
  2. Look for similar solutions to problems in adjacent fields – Many problems can be solved by looking at how others have solved similar problems in their field. That’s why it’s important to be more general in your thinking to allow for orthogonal thinking.
  3. Approach the problem from many different angles – Don’t just rely on solving the problem in the standard way similar problems have been solved before. Allow yourself to approach it from many different angles, you never know which approach will lead to a breakthrough.
  4. Break large problems into tiny pieces – Tackling large problems can seem daunting and hard to start. For example, if you want to solve climate change, it’s probably best not to think of solutions to change the weather of the entire planet. It’s easier to think more locally then once you have something that works you can determine ways to scale it to a global level.
  5. Always try to solve a problem backward and forwards – This is Charlie Munger’s favorite approach to problem-solving too. Charlie recommends inverting the problem to make sure you’re thinking of all possible solutions. Sometimes starting from back-to-front is easier than front-to-back. Jimmy states in the podcast that he now writes his conclusions for pieces first and it helps him better understand how to structure the beginning of the piece to lead the reader to his main point.
  6. If you’ve solved the problem, extend the solution to its limits – Many times once a problem is solved at a certain scale, people stop working on it thinking they are done.  This leaves the door open for someone else to come along later and build upon it. Why not do it yourself? Learn to scale up your solution and take it to its limits. You never know where it will take you.

Avoid Specialization

This has to be our biggest take away from Claude — it’s important to be diverse in your thinking and not overly specialized. Specialization provides too narrow of a window for true problem solving and creativity. Claude wasn’t just a mathematician, he was also a tinkerer, juggler, investor, unicyclist and the list goes on.

Each different talent provides the brain an opportunity to look at the world from different angles. I like to think of learning as a tree:

  • You spread your roots as wide as possible through reading and studying different disciplines.
  • This feeds your trunk which is your specialties. You might have one or two areas you enjoy most which help you grow a sturdy base formed by a deep understanding of topics you enjoy.
  • Finally, if you’re strong enough you spread your branches and leaves out wide which symbolizes your life. You’re able to touch many fields and contribute to the oxygen producing creativity needed to keep moving society forward.

The Mind-Body Connection

The last lesson was an observation by Jimmy after studying Claude for five years — our society has lost touch with the mind-body connection for learning.

Claude was a tinkerer. He loved building with his hands and Jimmy believes this allowed him to approach problems differently than just working out problems on paper. To get this benefit, we need to get away from the computer screen and pick up a hobby that gets us using our hands and allowing us time to think, such as gardening.

Kevin mentions that once he started gardening, he was able to see the value in taking care of plants and growing his own food. Watching the process unfold and all the variables at play gave him a new perspective on how to build systems and a quiet space to formulate new thoughts.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, maybe it’s time to step away from the computer screen and unplug back into nature.

Actionable Nugget

Go out and do something with your hands today. Try and establish that mind-body connection. Maybe to you want to build or tinker with something. I suggest everyone at least take-up gardening and eat something you’ve grown.

Whatever it is, do it and see how that improves your thinking and creativity.

More Articles by Jimmy

Connect with Jimmy

Be sure to follow Jimmy on Twitter: @jimmyasoni and pick up his book on Amazon.

Grab a Copy of the Book

A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age

Stay Thought-Full.


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