Day 222: Joon Yun

(From The Get Inspired! Project)

I go about my day really not thinking about ‘Do I know what I want?’ It’s more about ‘Am I available to what’s going on in the moment?’ And it’s a very nonlinear path, but it is much more … because I’m vulnerable and I don’t know where we’re going, I’m much more aware, and I find solutions to questions I wasn’t even asking.”

Toni Reece: Thank you so much, Joon, for agreeing to be part of the Project today, and before we begin, can you please introduce yourself?

Joon Yun: Yes, my name is Joon Yun. I am President of Palo Alto Investors, an investment management firm located in California, and I’m a physician by background. I ran healthcare investing at a firm for about 10 years, and I’ve been overseeing the firm for the last 2 years.

Toni: Thank you. And Joon, when you think of the word inspiration, who do you think you inspire, and how does that happen?

Joon: Well, I certainly encourage people to find their own passions, and by giving them a framework that allows them to think about their own inner drive and own inner desires, passions. I really encourage people to be their own source of inspiration.

Toni: And how does that happen? Can you give us just an example of that?

Joon: Well first of all, when people are being recruited at our firm, I let them know that I am not a good manager, I’m not really interested in managing people per se, and that if they need lots of feedback and if they need lots of approval, that this is probably not the right place for them. So in a sense, we self-select people that are self-managers, and while they are here, I try not to give them too much feedback. We really push people where they lean, where they want to go, and try not to intervene too much.

Obviously, we’ll provide the right kind of guidance and support, but sometimes even when they ask for support we often just allow them to think it through themselves and to be really thoughtful about how they seek support, to really frame questions in a way that allows them to think about the answers themselves, and therefore they really are answering a lot of their own questions.

I find that feedback is a very … it can be a potential trap. It sounds so good. We think we’re being constructive, but in fact people as they grow and mature in their own paths, sometimes people can take feedback personally. They can get resentful. They might get defensive, and the impact that people may think they’re having may not actually be the impact that is resulting, …

Toni: Now you…

Joon: … so they’ll

Toni: Sorry, go ahead.

Joon: Please.

Toni: No, the only thing I was going to clarify is that you’re speaking primarily of the employees that you are recruiting, correct?

Joon: Primarily, but this is … this is also something that I think is … it’s a way of life, and it’s the way I probably deal with a lot of my personal friends and family as well. And certainly with our children; we have two young kids.

Toni: How do you inspire, and do you think you inspire the clients that you work with?

Joon: So our clients are investors in our firm, and we are in the business of making money for them, so we have … we don’t have a lot of direct interaction with our clients. We’d love to hear from them more, but they essentially entrust us with their capital and we invest their money into the markets, and what inspires them is hearing about the investments themselves. We invest in things that create value for society. If there’s an end demand for the kinds of products and services that are offered by our companies, than our companies will win. And if our companies are winning, then our clients will win. If the clients win, our firm wins, so we’re sort of at the back of the line.

We try to communicate about the kinds of investments, exciting investments, with high-growth potential that our investors are putting their money into. We meet in conferences with our clients a couple times a year. We’re also in smaller group meetings with them, and they really love hearing about the company and the exciting things that are going on in the world.

Toni: So really it’s inspiring their thinking.

Joon: Yes. Their thinking especially in ways … hearing about the endeavors of people and companies that create value for society.

Toni: So how do you think you help others to explore their own potential?

Joon: The primary thing I do is I really encourage people to listen to themselves, even when they’re seeking feedback. Overall, I think there’s a coming global shortage of people that are self-directed. A lot of people I know, my peers, have been so conditioned to listen to the direction and advice of others that it’s very hard for them to think about who they are and what they want to do. And I think that’s a product of a system, let’s call it school, that constantly tells our children what to do, and they grow up thinking that they really should be meeting the expectations of others.

And certainly the early parts of people’s career track after they get out of school, they’re being heavily managed and being told what to do. By the time you hit your peak of your career, let’s say you’re in your 40s, and there’s no one left to tell you what to do anymore, and then people often are in search mode, because they haven’t thought about who they are and what they want to do for a long period of time.

So I really encourage people from a very young age to direct themselves, give yourself feedback, write things down, read about it later. Instead of seeking the feedback of others, really listen to one’s self. That’s a very hard thing to do, because the world is more and more becoming a top-down heavily managed system, so really encourage people to think bottoms-up. Think about yourself. Think about it from listen to the inside, listen to your inner voice, what do you want to do?

Toni: It’s interesting, because one of the themes — from my perspective only, and there’s others that would have different perspectives — of the interviews for the Get Inspired! Project is people are searching for their purpose or what they’re passionate about and taking a risk to go towards that, that purpose and passion. And the example that you just used as far as encouraging people to think for themselves, listen to themselves more at a young age, I’m wondering if that were to happen more and encouraged more at a young age, if that crisis of not knowing what your purpose and passion would be lessened?

Joon: Absolutely. Because I think the world is more available to us at a younger age. I think it gets harder and harder to find what that is the more regimented we are. We become more regimented as we get older, so at a young age when you’re totally available to the world is, I think, the time to begin listening and listening to one’s self.

Again, I think the … even though it’s with the best of intentions people give feedback to children, and it’s a very seductive path, too, because you can get “better” by listening to the advice of people who have gone through it before, the best practices, and to an extent it does work. But for some, in the context of perhaps not the best type of … best style of feedback, you really start to see these kids shutting down, and they start doing things because they have to, not because they want to. They can take that a long way.

So it looks pretty good from the outside, but from the inside it gets emptier and emptier, and the passion for that activity or whatever it is – it could be playing soccer or playing the violin or studying chemistry – the passion starts to fade, and what you’re left with is an incredible resilience and endurance for something that they have lost interest in.

Toni: Absolutely. What … that is incredibly important, and when we promote this interview, I’m going to make sure that we call out that piece of information, because that’s incredibly valuable. Joon, what inspires you? What do you need to be inspired?

Joon: The freedom … when I say freedom, freedom includes time freedom. Freedom includes intellectual freedom, the only thing freely about a situation or an opportunity or setting. It’s really … I love being around people who themselves are inspirational and inspired, and I find that freedom is the basis of creativity.

When I was an immigrant to this country, I came twice, first at the age of three, went back to my native country Korea at age six and came back at age 11. Relative to the Asian education system, I found the American system extremely liberating. You can think for yourself, and as a result of that, people worried that well maybe the standards are lower. You have more diversity of points of view, and relative to the system that I grew up in which was much more conformative-based, I found that the diversity of points of view and thinking, there is enough outlier ideas that are terrific that really drive progress and change and prosperity. And so I find the freedom is what inspires creativity, which inspires the fun, which inspires a lot of the productive capacity of society.

Toni: So do you get inspired by having fun?

Joon: Absolutely, so it’s an unwritten value in our firm. We have stated values, but then we have one unstated value, which is we want to be fun. Because in general, if fun is a driver, there’s a relentlessness that comes with that that is much more powerful than the resilience of doing something against … that resilience of doing something that’s not fun. So we find that people just do better, and they enjoy the experience better, and therefore have a higher performance when something is really fun.

Toni: Now when you are experiencing a day … and I’m not saying that you … I would have no way of knowing that you do, but let’s say you do have days where the inspiration’s running a little low and you think, you know, “I’ve got to … I need a little inspiration here, I want to be lifted up a bit.” Do you tend to reach for certain tools or books or things that help you to fill that inspiration back up on a consistent basis?

Joon: Yes, in the sense that I create a lot of time to do that, so my calendar is fairly light. I typically run a couple of scheduled meetings a week. So in a world where I think people are overscheduled and they know it, I know it – there’s a lot of lament about the fact that people are so busy these days – I find that in fact the time to sit back and reflect and having an empty calendar, that’s the time to get inspired.

You get actually inspired by disengaging, not by being engaged, and there is various ways I disengage. I have some daydreaming time within the office. When I need to, I will literally just hop in the car and go on a drive. There’s a word that I heard a while back which I think actually describes what that experience is like, which is “carcooning.” You’re essentially putting yourself in your car and putting yourself in a different setting.

Some people can get inspired by putting one’s self in a different setting like traveling to a faraway place. I find that even just turning the corner in a familiar neighborhood, sometimes I’m inspired because it’s a new setting, so I really espouse vulnerability. Vulnerability sounds terrible, sounds undesirable, but in fact vulnerability is what helps me see. And walking into a day and not knowing what’s going to happen is very vulnerable.

But being vulnerable, I can pay attention to what’s happening in front of me, something I hear about, something I read about, and then I can go in the now and have the time to explore it that day. So by 7:20 in the morning, I may have read something that’s interesting, and I’ve got all day to pursue it. It’s a very different way of going about the day than somebody who hears something but they’re booked until 6 p.m. and really no interest can get directly pursued because there’s a blockade of required meetings throughout the day.

Toni: And what a potential missed opportunity there might be.

Joon: Absolutely.

Toni: The final question of the Project is, how do you continue to explore your own potential?

Joon: Yes, I thought about that question, and again the … one of the things I don’t do is set goals. Again, this is a … in my world, it works best. Many of my peers are goal-directed people, and I think about life more of as a backpacking trip in Europe where you land and you have no idea, than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Most people run their life like Raiders of the Lost Ark, where they know what they’re looking for and there’s a little bit of adventure that comes with pursuing that, but it’s still a fairly narrow path.

I go about my day really not thinking about “Do I know what I want?” It’s more about “Am I available to what’s going on in the moment?” And it’s a very nonlinear path, but it is much more … because I’m vulnerable and I don’t know where we’re going, I’m much more aware, and I find solutions to questions I wasn’t even asking. So really I think the focus on the process in the everyday more than setting long-term goals has worked for me.

I know different people see it through different ways. People who are goal-directed can become very successful relative to their own pursuits. The way I do things is just not set goals and just be totally available in the moment on a day-by-day basis.

Toni: And by doing … by being that open, you can explore your own potential in ways where those goals may end up being some sort of a chain that, you know, that locks a door that you can’t get to because it doesn’t align to the goal.

Joon: That’s a good way to describe it. It’s really emergent, so the outcomes and the goals are emergent out of the bottoms-up way that I go about the day.

Toni: And at another time, I would love to talk to you further about the idea of maybe a debate you may have gotten into or if anyone has brought that debate to the table for you on goals versus living your life and being as successful as you are without goals. There’s a whole debate around there that would be very interesting to dive into.

Well thank you so very much, Joon, for coming to the Get Inspired! Project today, and you’ve really given a lot to think about, and I appreciate that. We will put a link to how to learn about what you do and who you are, and again, for giving your time today to be part of the Get Inspired! Project, we cannot thank you enough.

Joon: Thanks, Toni, I enjoyed it. Have a good day.

Toni: Thank you. Take care.