Kamran Elahian (Part II): The brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets

Kamran Elahian

<< read the first part of Kamran Elahian interview

OU: There are many success stories of young entrepreneurs who made it before their 30th birthday. How would people who are already older than that make a life and entrepreneurial breakthrough?

KE: A good metaphor to look at is sports. If you work hard then once you reached a certain age you have a chance to be nostalgic and think back that, “I used to be famous or successful”, or you can say “I learned a lot from my days as a sportsperson. Now I can be a coach and teach other young people, who want to play sports. I’ll help them to become more successful and become good athletes; I’ll teach them not to cheat I’ll teach them not to give up.”

With intellectual businesses in the innovation-economy, you are using your brain, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets. If you continuously challenge your brain as you grow older, it stays active and comes up with new creative ideas. If you believe that you can do it, then you can do it. However, if you say, “I’m 40, 50 or 60 years old and innovation and creativity is the job of young people”, then by definition, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Eventually, you stop using your brain for creating things.

The brain is like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets, and it does not deteriorate as fast as many people say it does. Many people think 65 years old is the time for retirement. If you are doing that, then you are saying that from now on things will become more and more problematic for you. But if you see yourself as a curious mind, who still wants to learn and study new things and build new neuron networks then your brain gets stronger and stronger. There is no end to that.

But if at some point, you find that you are not as creative as you should be, you can consider becoming as a coach, a mentor and work with younger people and help them to benefit from your experience. Accept that they might be more creative, but that you are helping them to put that creativity to good use. My experience has been that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I say that innovation only happens by a certain age then that’s what will be but if I say, “I’m still young and I can be creative. I’ll challenge myself and I can go and talk to smart people and challenge myself to read and learn new things”, then I become a lot better.

OU: Kamran, both you and your wife work hard while still maintaining and developing your relationship. How do you balance a passion for ideas and business with developing a personal relationship and at the same time fulfilling and enriching your lives?

KE: My wife and I have been married for more than 40 years. One of the reasons that we have such a happy marriage is that we did not try to abandon our unique identities and become one. Each of us kept our unique characteristics. We do things out of love and caring for each other, but it’s not done because of an obligation, but because we want to do it.

Often when people get married, they think “This is my wife, or this is my husband”, and look at it as slavery, as ownership rather than “I’m a human being. I have my unique capabilities, and she is a human being, with her unique capabilities. We agreed to do certain things together and certain things as individuals”.  It must be organic.

She’s a professional; I’m a professional, we have shared interests in activities for the foundation, for which we both work. She also likes hi-tech and has learned a lot about hi-tech recently and during the past 10 to 15 years. On some of the projects, she sits on the board of directors of some hi-tech companies and shares her ideas with me. But, at the same time, she likes yoga, I don’t like yoga, I like skiing, she doesn’t like skiing. I don’t push her to go skiing, and she doesn’t force me to do yoga. She does yoga with her friends, I go skiing with my friends. But we both love hiking, going to the mountains and traveling, so we do that together. And this is very important: we are together because we like to be together and we are very good friends with each other, but it is not out of the ownership or out of obligation. She is busy, I’m busy, she travels, I travel. We try to organize our schedules and, if possible, to spend more time together. If it doesn’t happen then she’s not angry with me and I’m not angry with her. We talk every day, no matter where we are, and we share ideas through phone calls and emails, discussing things, and, because of our friendship, we try to enhance each other’s lives instead of causing one person to make all the sacrifices just to be together. So, that’s a very simple thing.

OU: Can you tell us the top three secret life-hacks for successfully managing yourself and for maintaining self-discipline that helped you to achieve your goals?

KE: Talking about self-discipline, when I was younger I always felt that I wasn’t disciplined enough because I noticed that the way I did things was very different from the way that other people did things. Many of my friends had no problem sitting in the class for five days and be fine. I would get very impatient and I wanted to go outside and do something different. I used to feel bad and say, “Why don’t I have the discipline to pay attention for 5 hours on something?” Later, I found out that my brain is different from many of my friends’ brains. I would study for half an hour and then go and do something different, sometimes have fun or read a different book for 1-2 hours. After that, I’d come back and study for half an hour. And in that half an hour that I was studying my ability to observe, absorb and retain everything was equivalent to my friends, who were studying for 3 hours. So instead of torturing myself and asking, “Why am I not disciplined?”, I learned that my brain is different. I started to celebrate my difference.

I also learned that it’s not the amount of time, but it is the productivity, the quality that matters. Often, when I compare myself to many of my friends, I notice that they schedule everything in a very nice process and do a little bit here and a little bit there, which is a nice logical way. I do many things but perhaps 90% of the work is completed in the last few hours or days of the project. And I always meet the deadline. It’s just my approach – to do things slowly and then to end with a big push instead of doing things steadily.

In my companies and organizations, I always make sure that I have somebody else, who is very detail-orientated in the traditional way so that I can concentrate on the high-level things. We complement each other – they take big ideas and put them in order and split the processes into segments, which helps me to manage the project, considering my productivity. The quality of the work is usually much higher, once I get closer and closer to the end. Sometimes I joke about it, saying “If you give me three months and three days, I’ll always do it only in the last three days, so just give me three days.” [lauphing]