About Ambassador Jeffery Bleich
Jeff Bleich is the Chief Legal Office at Cruise, leading the legal and compliance teams. He previously served as a special master in the U.S. District Court, and as a partner at both Munger, Tolles & Olson and Dentons. He has over three decades experience in resolving complex domestic and international disputes. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Australia, and as Special Counsel to President Obama in the White House. For his federal service, Ambassador Bleich received numerous awards, including the Sue Cobb Medal, the State Department’s highest award for a non-career ambassador.
As an attorney, Mr. Bleich specializes in disruptive technologies, cybersecurity and international disputes. He has been honored as California Lawyer Attorney of the Year, and regularly listed among the Daily Journal’s 100 most influential attorneys in California, in the LawDragon’s top 500, and in America’s Best Lawyers as a top “Bet the Company” lawyer.
Outside his professional practice, Mr. Bleich serves on several boards,including as Chair of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Mr. Bleich has also served as the Chair of PG&E Company during its 2019-2020 bankruptcy reorganization, Chair of the California State University Board of Trustees, President of the California State Bar, President of the Bar Association of San Francisco, Chair of the ABA’s Amicus Curiae Committee, and a member of the Board of Trustees of Amherst College. He has been elected as a life member to both the American Law Institute and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. Bleich has taught several courses at UC Berkeley School of Law, and publishes extensively. He holds a B.A. magna cum laude from Amherst College, an M.P.P from Harvard with highest honors, a J.D. from the Univ. of California, Berkeley with highest honors, and an honorary Doctor of Laws from S.F. State University and Flinders University.
Mr. Bleich clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Abner Mikva of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Howard Holtzmann of the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal at The Hague
Lesson 1: Don’t Choose A Job For The Money To Impress Other People 04:45
Lesson 2: Be Useful 06:11
Lesson 3: Spend Money On The Things You Touch Every Day 09:45
Lesson 4: Don’t Let Fear Of Losing Things Keep You From Enjoying Them 11:39
Lesson 5: Nothing Appreciates Like Appreciation 15:14
Lesson 6: Our Health Is A Crapshoot, So Play The Odds 18:47
Lesson 7: There Is No Good Relationship Advice 21:31
Lesson 8: Find People You Admire And Spend Time With Them 24:14
Lesson 9: Business Relationships Are No Different Than Any Other Relationships 33:04
Lesson 10: Character Defines You And Hard Times Determine Your Character 36:10
Jeff Bleich There is no good relationship advice
[00:00:07] Duff Watkins: Hello, and welcome to the podcast 10 Lessons it Took Me 50 Years to Learn where we dispense wisdom, not just cliches or platitudes to the next generation of leaders. My name is Duff Watkins and I’m your host. And our guest today is the honourable Jeffrey Bleich, former ambassador from the United States to Australia during the Obama administration.
He’s currently chief legal officer at Cruise. He’ll tell you more about that. And many people don’t know. So let me just paint you a picture when, Jeff was ambassador to Australia, a former prime minister described, and I quote as the best U S ambassador ever sent to Australia newspaper called him Obama’s Superman, and he is forever remembered in Australia for bringing the big O to Australia, no, not Obama, Oprah Winfrey.
You bought Oprah Winfrey, to Sydney, the place went crazy. So hello, Jeff. Thank you. Thank you for joining us.
[00:00:55] Jeff Bleich: Thank you Duff and by the way, that Obama guy came as well. So double up.
[00:01:01] Duff Watkins: Yeah. Yeah. I suppose I should mention him, but when you were there as the ambassador, I mean, you, there is a city in Australia, Adelaide, they have a university Flinders university and inside it is the Jeff Bleich centre for us Alliance for digital technology, security, and governance.
And then the whole purpose of it is to address the misuses of digital technology, which unfortunately is a big need. And I know it’s non-profit. I know it’s non-partisan no, it’s got your name on it. So, tell us more about that. I mean, I can’t think of anything more current than miss something opposing the misuse of digital technology.
[00:01:36] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, no. When I was, when I was, uh, ambassador in Australia and I was receiving regular classified briefings. It became clear to me that one of the major challenges was that digital technologies, posed a unique threat for democracies in particular. And any, any tool can be used for good or ill. Uh, you know, uh, a hammer can build a house, or it can break a skull.
And digital technology is no different. Uh, we had bought that it was going to spread democracy because it would democratize information. Anyone could have access to information, at, at any time. And it would educate people and ensure that democracies flourished around the world because we’d be able to know what was true and demanded of our leaders and throw people out if they weren’t fulfilling their responsibilities.
And that was, that was the vision. Uh, what we discovered was that authoritarians, saw the same thing that we saw understood that there was a great risk, but also understood the great power that they could assert taking that kind of information machine and bending it to their own designs. And so, misinformation campaigns and the ability to muddy the information, um, landscape, the ability to undermine trust between people within democratic institutions.
And look, I mean, democracies were based on this notion that we understand what the issues are. We know what we want to have happen. We choose people, to, to represent our interests and we trust that they are going to fulfill that responsibility. And if they don’t, we vote them out of office. Um, if you don’t know, what’s true and you know, know who you can trust, it’s very difficult to maintain a democracy.
So, this is a. a centre, which is focused on what it’s going to take to better understand this kind of new digital terrain in which we all live most of our days, to protect democracies and allow us to continue to, create the values and protect the freedoms they we’re committed to.
[00:03:29] Duff Watkins: And this is a U S Australia Alliance?
[00:03:32] Jeff Bleich: Yes. So even though it’s based in Australia, it’s focused on, US Australia efforts as kind of a model relationship around the world. And the goal is to work with other like-minded countries everywhere in the world, on how we, ensure that digital technologies are subject to some international norms and rules, to protect against them misuse, that we develop defensive capabilities to prevent our, governments being perverted by them.
And I think there is also an effort to better understand, how you manage, how you govern, uh, how you lead in this new, digital terrain.
[00:04:09] Duff Watkins: Well, I knew the Jeff Bleich centre existed. I knew it was in South Australia. I didn’t know that it pertained as much to me. So now I’m enlightened
so, I’m wiser already. Speaking of wisdom.
[00:04:18] Jeff Bleich: Everything pertains to you Duff,
[00:04:21] Duff Watkins: I’ve been telling people that for a long time.
[00:04:24] Jeff Bleich: So, you’re like the you’re like the Kevin Bacon of, thinking you’re, you’re like part of the, the six degrees separates.
[00:04:34] Duff Watkins: Well, um, that’s an excellent piece of wisdom and I want the production crew on our podcast that we play that over and over again. But let’s turn to your lessons of wisdom, which I have in front of me,
[00:04:45] Lesson 1 Don’t Choose A Job For The Money To Impress Other People
[00:04:45] Duff Watkins: lesson number one, don’t choose a job for the money or to impress other people.
[00:04:50] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, I know if you, um, if you choose a job for the money or because you want to impress other people, what you’ll ultimately find is that you’ll never make enough money, to feel that you’ve, that you’ve hit the right mark.
and you’ll never impress enough people. I think that’s one of the big mistakes that a lot of folks make is thinking that somehow, if I just make this much money, I’ll be financially secure. Or if I just do this, everyone will be impressed with me. But, you know, that first one never works out for people.
They inevitably discovered that, they wanted validation because there’s some other hole that they haven’t filled in, which you have to do is fill in the hole.
[00:05:29] Duff Watkins: Well, I have to laugh. it’s so ephemeral. I was traveling last year, and I came back from overseas to Australia and I checked my retirement fund and my magical, wonderful number, very high, very large was there.
And I had exceeded it while I was on holidays. And that lasted for almost six days, Jeff, until the pandemic occurred. And it went tumbling back to pretty much where it was before I went overseas. So, you know, these things are ephemeral. They’re not the things that really matter.
[00:05:56] Jeff Bleich: And the thing is, once you hit that number, trust me, in about a year, you’d say, ah, that number, it may have been a little, a little light.
I probably need to pack a little bit more in there, but I think that’s just a little bit more, just a little bit more.
[00:06:11] Lesson 2 Be Useful
[00:06:11] Duff Watkins: Which takes us to lesson number two, be useful
[00:06:15] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. Yeah. Um, I just, just, choose a job that allows you to, to be useful to someone else. I think the, the important thing isn’t what you do, it’s figuring out how that job improves someone else’s life.
And once you start improving someone else’s life, you get a sense of satisfaction from your work that nothing else can replace. I don’t know that there are many jobs in the world where you can, um, improve everyone’s life every day. I don’t think such a job exists, but you can improve someone’s life every single day, no matter what job you’re in.
And you just have to find how you can make your job, do that. And then you’ll find it to be a very satisfying job. I have, two stories on this, um, both of which are parables that someone taught me at some stage or the last 50 years, one was, uh, about these two bricklayers who were side by side.
And, someone comes along and says to the first person, what are you doing? And the guy goes well what does it look like? I’m doing, I’m laying bricks, and goes over to the other person, says, so what are you doing? And says, um, I’m building a cathedral. Yeah. That’s the difference it’s perspective and understanding that you’re building towards something bigger that will serve others.
the other one is, uh, the story of a father and son walking along the beach. And there are all these starfish that are stranded and, um, you know, thousands of them and the little boy picks up one of the starfish and it starts to run to the water to, to throw it in and the father says, son that’s sweet, what’s the point there are thousands of these. It doesn’t make any difference. And, the boy says, it makes a difference to this one.
So, you can make a difference to this one.
[00:07:47] Duff Watkins: Yeah. One of the guests on the podcast said that to young people, you don’t become relevant until you enter the workforce. And then, and, and the reason why is because then you’re in a position to make a contribution, then you’re in a position to change the world.
Or, or instead of just consuming you’re at now, then able to give back
[00:08:04] Jeff Bleich: that’s right. Yeah. And it’s also, I mean, it’s why people do crazy things like have children, you know, children are a nonstop, demand on you in the early days. and yet, it’s rare to find a parent who doesn’t say that the greatest thing in their life and the greatest satisfaction they’ve had is.
their children raising their children and all the things that went into it, you know, that we’re wired that way.
[00:08:28] Duff Watkins: One of your stories, remind me, I can’t remember these, the stoic philosopher. He was quite wealthy. Then he lost all his money in a political upheaval, and he ended up selling firewood and his friends were combined, they were upset and they S they said, you know, look at you, man, you’re selling firewood, you had so much money.
And he said, would you like me better? If I was playing the liar, like Nero, who was the corrupt ruler at the time illustrating sort of the, the nobility of work, I guess, if you want to put a gloss on it. But the fact that you’re doing something, that’s contributing some to somebody somewhere.
[00:09:03] Jeff Bleich: Right, right.
That’s it then. Yeah. You know, I, I guess some of the things that you learn over the course of 50 years. uh, if it takes a 50 years, it’s probably, you’re like me, you’re a slow learner, but some of the wisdom that you’re told when you’re young, it doesn’t sink in until you get to an age where you can really appreciate the insight, the wisdom, the, the lasting, truth of it.
And so, you can’t take it with you. Pieces is part of it. You’re new. You’re not going to take your possessions and your money with you. What do you take with you and what do you leave behind? What do people remember about you? It’s um, were they a good person? Did they make, did they make other people’s lives better?
How did they make me feel?
[00:09:45] Lesson 3 Spend Money On The Things You Touch Every Day
[00:09:45] Duff Watkins: Well, speaking of income, uh, lesson, number three, spend your money on what you touch every day. I really liked that one. The things you touch.
[00:09:54] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. You know, People spend money on lots of things that end up in their drawers or shelves, and they never used them, and they just become clutter and almost a burden to them over time.
and, when you’re trying to figure out where you should spend your money, you know, I, I found that the things that you’re going to touch every single day, uh, your laptop, your iPhone cover the, desk chair that you work in, the, uh, hairbrush that you use your toothbrush to razor the, uh, the bed you line in your pillow, the car you drive in those things that you touch every single day, maybe a pen, you should love those, because it means even on a bad day, um, you are, doing things, you enjoy the things that you enjoy and they will be enduring and durable.
[00:10:37] Duff Watkins: so, what takes us so long to grasp that lesson?
[00:10:40] Jeff Bleich: Oh, I don’t know. You know, it’s a combination of people you know, we, we have lapses in our thinking we’re impulsive. We get emotional when, you know, we, we see someone else has this. I should have that too. and then we also have a, uh, an organized system of advertising and marketing that is to play upon those, those weaknesses.
I mean, that’s part of what’s happening in digital space is that there are algorithms that are designed to take advantage of our lapse in thinking our ability to fall victim, to magical thinking. And so, it’s only over time that we of. You know, have the ability from experience and perspective to appreciate, what has really worked in our lives and based it on something empirical and in our lives. When I finally found a pair of glasses that I liked, I was like, yes, I’ve, I’ve put these things on, you know, 50 times a day. I better like them.
[00:11:37] Duff Watkins: Good example. Like I’m a lot.
[00:11:39] Jeff Bleich: Yeah.
[00:11:39] Lesson 4 Don’t Let Fear Of Losing Things Keep You From Enjoying Them
[00:11:39] Duff Watkins: Lesson number four, I like because it has a psychological basis to it, don’t let fear of losing something, anything somewhere sometime don’t let the fear of losing, prevent you from enjoying it here and now.
[00:11:54] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. And look at it. It’s a corollary to the other one. If there’s something that you enjoy, that you love. Um, don’t keep it hidden away because you’re so afraid that you might lose it. I’ve discovered this during the pandemic. So, this is a recent revelation. but I, you know, we were going through the house and cleaning up and I have these, these sort of, those special things.
I actually they’re right here. So, I’ll, I’ll, I’ll show you some like this, this pen knife that my wife gave me on our wedding day, um, for, uh, this, this world series ring, um, um, Willie Mays gave me, or, other things they’re there. They were so special to me. I had them locked up in a drawer and, never wore them, never touched them.
Didn’t want to take a chance to losing them. And I thought, well, I’ve already lost them because I’m not using them. I’m not enjoying them. I’m going to lose these eventually one day. Anyway, when I pass, might as well enjoy them while I’m alive. And if, you know, it falls out of my pocket or, you know, someone steals it off my finger, um, I’ll be mad, but at least I’ve enjoyed it for some period of time in my life, as opposed to never.
So, since I’m locked in the house for a few months, I thought I’ll just carry these every day, wear these every day. I’ve got the watch from my grandfather, I’ve got, special things for my dad, and it makes me realize don’t save things up for, for later enjoy the things you love while you have the capacity to love them.
[00:13:19] Duff Watkins: I used to work in psychiatry, running therapy groups. And one of the things I learned there is that fear basically is the underlying emotion that drives almost everything else. And fear of losing, as you know, is a very strong driver in humans. Financially, for example, people, fear loss as much more they in than they enjoy games, which is kind of weird, but it’s just the way we’re hard wired evidently.
[00:13:46] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, no, I didn’t have that in my list of 50, because I heard a list of 10 items because, um, I really took you seriously, which is what did it take me until over on 50 to figure out, whereas pretty early on, I realized. you’re never going to sink a basket. If you don’t take a shot, you never going to get a base hit if you don’t swing in the bat. You just got to go for it. And so early on in life, I just did a lot of stuff and I failed at a lot of stuff. Um, but I was glad I failed at them because it gave me, um, it gave me experience. It gave me resilience. It taught me things I never would have learned. Um, I got better and better because I was trying more and more stuff.
And I think I’ve had a life that has been very satisfying to this point in part because, I didn’t let fear control it. and I’ve had some pretty spectacular failures.
[00:14:32] Duff Watkins: We’ll save that for another podcast. Well, the, burning question is why did Becky give you a pen knife when your wedding day.
[00:14:41] Jeff Bleich: Oh, you know, part of it was just a tradition that you gave each other a special gift, and I think she wanted something that, I would hold close to me, all the time and would stay warm in my pocket.
[00:14:54] Duff Watkins: I knew there’d be a good reason. you’re pointing out something that it’s a hard lesson, everything parishes, you know, tangible goods, intangible things, uh, relationships, uh, can as well. yeah, just everything parishes. There’s no need to defend against it. And instead, just kind of accommodate yourself to that reality.
[00:15:13] Jeff Bleich: Right.
[00:15:14] Lesson 5 Nothing Appreciates Like Appreciation
[00:15:14] Duff Watkins: I’m just going to number five on your list. Nothing appreciates, like appreciation.
[00:15:19] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, that’s, that’s true. you know, you got to save, uh, you have to invest, um, and those are ways of, having your income appreciate, but nothing appreciates in your life as much as the appreciation of others.
So, if you are thoughtful on giving and, support, people that you love, causes that you’re committed to, charities that do good in the world, and, and spend some of your money on that. it always comes back to you in much, much bigger ways. You know, I know I knew some people I w we would do fundraising drives they had alligator arms, like just trying to get them to reach into their pockets or their arms just wouldn’t extend that far to give any kind of money to a good cause. And they thought it was because, if they gave too much away, then they’d have too little and they’d never survive.
And what I learned was just the opposite, which is the more you give, the more Goodwill there is around you. And there are more opportunities that create, more, more work, more rewards, and more wealth. and so, I don’t, I’m not generous to others because I think I’m going to get a big payback for, um, it just works out that way.
if you do good to, you will also do well. and I think people who are hoarding those, those dollars, don’t realize that, at the end of the day, having a lot of people who feel good about you and are grateful to you in the world, not only is its own reward, but financially it, works out well also.
[00:16:51] Duff Watkins: I’ve been using a financial discipline for years that I read about in a book many years ago. And you know what tithing is 10% of your income and a lot of people use, but this author said that’s way too high. You know, that’s, that’s from a different time and era what he suggested, and it’s a discipline you have to administer.
This is any time you get money of any form, your wages, bonuses, commissions, whatever windfalls, take 1% and give it away immediately. Give it away me, as soon as you get it, give that 1% away. And so, um, it actually takes more admin to, to do that on a timely basis. And you’ll probably end up what I ended up doing is giving it advance because his whole idea was to change your mentality and keep it flowing and to allow people to experience the very thing you just, you just described Jeff, that experience of getting is a good thing.
It feels good. It benefits you, but among others, it benefits others too. But, and, and it’s, uh, and it’s cultivating a good habit and, and anybody can give away 1%.
[00:17:57] Jeff Bleich: yeah, no, I, I do basically that, and you know, every new job I start, um, one of the things I do is I, um, immediately take on a pro bono matter.
And then as soon as that’s done, I’ll do another pro bono matter. I’ll have two going simultaneously, whatever. Um, just so I always have that as part of my work day. And then you don’t feel as though you’re like, how am I going to squeeze this, this work in it’s just part of your day and the same thing with giving away 1%.
It’s like, you just factor that into what your income is or isn’t, and you don’t even, you don’t even feel it. it’s like most things in life, life is just an accumulation of good habits. It really is if you if you train yourself to do the right thing, eventually it becomes second nature and it doesn’t feel like you’re making a sacrifice.
It just feels right.
[00:18:44] Duff Watkins: It’s just you being you.
[00:18:46] Jeff Bleich: Right, right.
[00:18:47] Lesson 6 Our Health Is A Crapshoot, So Play The Odds
[00:18:47] Duff Watkins: okay. Lesson number six. You’re going to have to explain this one. To me. Your health is a crap shoot. So, work the odds. Now, first of all, your experience with gambling for exceeds mine. So, you might have to explain what craps are.
[00:18:58] Jeff Bleich: So hard. Yeah. And craps is a, it’s a game where you roll the dice involving dice game of chance.
And, um, because one and six, five and two and four and three all add up to seven, um, a much higher chance of rolling seven, which is why people that I’m lucky seven and then, you know, either they win, or they crap out. That’s the nature of that game. What I was really getting at is that there is a lot of luck involved in our health.
And so, people get illnesses or other things that they’re, they have genetic predispositions that put them at a, you know, they put their health in greater peril or cause them to become, you know, to age much faster. You just don’t know. So, what you should do is, um, do everything you can to improve your odds.
And so, uh, bet on seven bet on the reliable, trustworthy thing. So, like wear sunscreen, floss your teeth. Um, don’t text and drive some, some basics that if you do those, those fundamentals, you’re increasing your, the odds that you’ll be able to keep rolling the dice at the, uh, at the craps table longer than anyone else.
And, you know, I think, By the time you’re 50. The reason this resonates more when you’re 50 than when you’re younger is you’ve seen the people who have always been very healthy, and you’ve seen their health fail. And you’ve seen, um, that this isn’t the nothing’s, nothing’s a given, and you realize that their health is fading.
Um, even some of the strongest and healthiest people you ever knew then it’s going to happen to you too. So, you got to just appreciate your body for the amazing vessel that it is. and, uh, and do as much with it as you can and protect it as well as you can. During the times that it’s functioning.
Um, one of my favourite lines from, uh, Warren buffet, he used to, he used to say, I always worried about people who said, well, I’m doing a job. I don’t like, but you know, 10 years from now, I’ll be a partner. And then I’ll, then, then I’ll be in control. And it’s like, no. And 10 years from now, you won’t even know what you like anymore, because you have been doing something that you didn’t like, and no one’s going to let you do what you like, because they all value you and you’ll value yourself for what you didn’t like in the first place.
It’s a bad idea. Take care of your career and do what you like now, cause it’s not like you want to save out sex for old age. Um, and it’s the same thing with your body. Your body’s going to going to run out of steam at some point. So, you know, make the best use of it, and take the best care of it while it’s working.
[00:21:30] Duff Watkins: Mm.
[00:21:31] Lesson 7 There Is No Good Relationship Advice
[00:21:31] Duff Watkins: Mm. Point number seven. This is particularly funny to me. There is no good relationship advice. And the reason, the reason that’s funny to me, I just finished a book. Jeff it’s called everything you know about sex relationships is wrong.
It was written by a psychologist who is Abolishing all this supposedly conventional wisdom that people say and learn, it gets repeated mindlessly and endlessly and endlessly, but I like your take on that. So please proceed.
[00:21:55] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, no, I mean, my, my take on this, uh, every relationship is different.
but the only advice that works, not just for romantic relationships, but really for any relationship is basically three rules, which is, be honest, be useful. And don’t be mean, if you do those three things, you’re going to have good relationships. And if you demand that the people who are in your life, the people who you form relationships with are people who honour those same three codes.
you’re going to have, great relationships in your life that didn’t really, you know, improve it, enhance it, make your life good.
[00:22:31] Duff Watkins: Kurt Vonnegut said, you’ve got to be kind. He thought that was the, that was the overwhelming rule in relationship. You’ve got to be kind.
[00:22:40] Jeff Bleich: I think, I think that’s right.
And, and people confuse kindness and niceness. I, when someone says, oh, he’s nice. You know, there’s a little bit of a, there’s a compliment, but there’s also a little bit of a criticism in that, which is, you know, they’re not, maybe they, they don’t stand up for themselves. That kind of suggestion, but kindness is different.
Kindness says, I haven’t forgotten what it is that I’m trying to accomplish here in this world, but I don’t have to be disrespectful to you. I don’t have to demean you or condemn you, uh, in order to make my point. And in order to push forward with what I think is right, there’s nothing, there’s nothing weak about kindness.
it takes strength because it requires a self-discipline and consideration and that extra measure. But in moving through the world that way, I think you can accomplish a lot more. and do it in a way which makes people feel even better about the work you’ve done.
[00:23:35] Duff Watkins: You, you talked about those three rules for, um, for good relationships. One of the psychologists, I like you said, you put it in one sentence, and I liked this. Just keep your agreements, you know when you make your agreements with people, keep doing
simplifies it for me.
[00:23:53] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. I’ll tell you my favourite line. I’ve heard recently and I, this could have been life lessons. So, bonus. Bonus lesson is, You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. Yeah, that’s right.
[00:24:07] Duff Watkins: Yeah. And I know because I’ve tried that many times by the way, and I empirically verified that.
[00:24:14] Lesson 8 Find People You Admire And Spend Time With Them
[00:24:14] Duff Watkins: Okay. Point number eight, hang around people you admire. That’s why you’re on the show by the way, Jeff, you know, and that’s, that’s what we’re trying to do here.
[00:24:22] Jeff Bleich: ‘Cause I admire you, but
[00:24:25] Duff Watkins: no, the other way around.
[00:24:28] Jeff Bleich: yeah, look, I think, um, throughout my life I’ve I looked for people who I really admired, who I thought were interesting smart had those 10, those qualities and just described honest kind of useful.
but also. Didn’t have any, any point in wanting to be with them. Other than that, I know I’ve learned from them. There were things about them that I wanted to be better at myself and that I enjoyed their company. And, the worst thing that happens if you choose your relationships that way, is that you’ve got a life full of people are really interesting.
and inspiring. And that’s the worst thing that happens. You know, the best thing that happens is that because you have those sorts of people in your life, you find all sorts of things to work on together. And before you know, it you’re doing things you never imagined. I think about, you know, um, skinny law student that I started talking to back in, um, 1990, trying to recruit him for a job and, um, turned out to be Barack Obama.
And we be, we became friends, um, or, when I was young and a girl who was really shy and hung out in the math office during lunch hour, because she was afraid of, you know, they’d know sort of the social pressure of being in the cafeteria and, um, but really just a beautiful spirit and smart and everything.
And, I met her, her first day of college and, fell in love with her and we’ve been together 40 years now. So, find people who are great, you know, you just stick with them and, and the opposite too, you see people in their toxic, they’d let you know who they are. You know, you, you, you believe them.
[00:26:10] Duff Watkins: Yeah, there has been a lot of psychological research, and this actually surprised me as to the power of it on the toxic people. They do have an effect on us much more than, than we would like to think. For example, I mean, you know, most Americans lately, like to think that they were rugged individualist John Wayne types, but no, no.
I mean, once you get in a group that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, for example, they were, they were textbook sons and daughters of America serving their country. They weren’t bad people. They, they just got into a bad environment. In other words, the situation exerts far more pressure on you than you realize.
And you, you, you, me, everybody, we overestimate our ability to defend or resist that pressure.
[00:26:57] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. people will often do bad things for good reason. Um, what I’ve seen as more people I have known have been corrupted by friendship, than by greed, or I look at the things that will cause someone to lose their bearings.
Um, remember the, um, the Stanford experiment, the famous, um, prison guard experiment. They did, they did a reroute. Yeah. And the whole point of it was that students, when they were told that, they needed to increase the, um, the voltage on prisoners on another side of a wall, were convinced to do so.
and people thought, well, this, this just shows that anyone in a position of power as a sadist and that these people were. You know that all people are bad people. but it was actually more nuanced. It went back and looked at that study again and all the notes on it. And what it really was is that if you told people, that, people in authority were wearing lab coats and had studied this, we’re saying, this is very good for science and it will improve our, our understanding.
they were prepared to do things that felt wrong, for a good cause. But when they were told by those same administrators of the, of the test, you must do this because I tell you, so they, they resist it and said, no, I’m out if they were being told to do something, simply because an authority figure told them to do it, they weren’t just prepared to obey orders.
But if they believed it was for a greater cause and were misled into that. And they would do it, which is why, as I was talking about beginning disinformation and misinformation are so dangerous, you know, we, we had a rebellion in the United States because people thought they were doing the right thing. They thought an election had been stolen by evil forces in a vast conspiracy, and that they needed to take back the capital.
Um, some of these people were horrible people, but some of them were just completely, um,
[00:28:56] Duff Watkins: stupid is the word I would, I would like to volunteer. I mean, well, they were,
[00:29:01] Jeff Bleich: they were, they were also effectively brainwashed into believing something which was fundamentally untrue. and they thought they were doing the, the ones who were not, you know, part of the proud boys or these white supremacist groups, but the others were just people who were gullible, um, and thought they were doing something good for America.
[00:29:20] Duff Watkins: Yeah. The, the psychological experiments with the shocks, that was the Stanley Milgram experiments performed at Yale. I do recall that. So, I’m confused that with something else, but, um, and it’s been, that’s been replicated by many times around the world and the results are almost always the same by the way.
you know, when you’re talking about that episode on what was it, what day was it? I forget, but you know, the thing that struck me the most Jeff was when I looked at the people who were there, a lot of them were my age peers of mine. And I thought, you know, so I thought, well, you know, could I see myself or my friends doing something like that?
And it’s hard. And I, I thought to myself, how could you be 60 plus years old and not have a clue about how the, the, of the presidential election in the United States works? You’ve seen enough of them. I mean, I don’t know.
[00:30:12] Jeff Bleich: No, I mean, look, the, these folks, We’re trained over the course of several years, that they should not believe, what they see.
They shouldn’t believe experts. They shouldn’t believe the media. It shouldn’t believe anyone except for their president. He was the only one who would speak truth to them. Elcor Q who was, you know, this conspiracy, monger, that’s what they were convinced to think. Um, and that doesn’t excuse it.
I mean, they were, they were gullible, and they violated laws and they knew they were violating laws at the time. No one thinks it’s okay to storm the Capitol and break on the federal buildings and deface it. Um, so, you know, can’t excuse any of their behaviour. Um, but we’re really came from was. when the president of United States on his very first day in office at his inauguration tells everyone that it’s not raining when they see rain coming down and that he has the largest crowd ever, when the national park service says, no, it’s not the largest crowd ever.
By in fact, it’s a relatively small crowd and he just keeps repeating it. We knew it, we were in for, it was just a four-year disinformation campaign. Uh, and some people, are susceptible to that kind of, thing.
[00:31:24] Duff Watkins: Well, a lot of people evidently has the surprise for me, but, um, one final question about that.
Um, hang around people you admire, I’m not being trivial here, but what happens if the people you admire don’t want you hanging around them, they will let you hang around.
[00:31:40] Jeff Bleich: You know, what I’ve found is, I didn’t bring anything unique to the table when I got to meet some famous people. Um, I was just myself, but myself was, I hope, honest, useful kind, you know, and as a result, no one minds having people like that around, you know, they may not, you may not be their best friend, but they’re never going to shoo you away because you’re annoying.
Um, those are those, those are the nice qualities to have. and I’ve always treated everyone, whether they are doesn’t matter what position they’re in, in society. I was driven the same way, which has been useful in terms of working with world leaders and with celebrities and with other people who, the folks around them tend to treat them strangely.
They don’t want to say, or they say too much, uh, over, they’re always asking for things. And I just treat everyone the same way. So, I mean, a celebrity, I talk to them as though they were someone, I’ve met at a party for the first time. And, because it is the first time, I’ve met him, and I think they appreciate it and they kind of want more people like that.
More people treat them normally around them. So, maybe, maybe there’s some challenge, but I haven’t experienced it.
[00:32:54] Duff Watkins: So, in other words, it’s me. Okay. I figured
[00:32:59] Jeff Bleich: it gets you
[00:33:04] Lesson 9 Business Relationships Are No Different Than Any Other Relationships
[00:33:04] Duff Watkins: lesson number nine. This is the only one I really want to contend with you. Business relationships are relationships they’re just like any other relationship.
[00:33:13] Jeff Bleich: yeah. the, I think the line I used was if you lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas, you should treat a business relationship the same way you would treat, any other long-term partnership.
There’re some people who think you can get away with a series of one-off relationships, maybe in business, you can get away with that for a little while, but you develop a reputation. Communities are small and eventually it comes back and bites. You, people don’t want to do business with you simply because they’ve heard how you do business.
my sense is you want to deal with people who you want to have a long-term relationship with. I got this advice from, um, Charlie Munger, who’s Warren Buffett’s business partner, and had founded the law firm that I was at for 20 years. and, and we were a pretty successful law firm, but we’re very careful about who we were representing.
and we turned away clients with a lot of legal business because we didn’t trust the ethics of, um, their senior leaders. And, and, um, Charlie had a great way of saying this. You said, look, here’s the right thing to do. Business relationship is like a marriage and it’s never a good idea to marry for money, especially when you’re already rich.
And so, we had a good business. Why mess it up? You know?
[00:34:23] Duff Watkins: Well, my experience though is that business relationships tend to be highly transactional. And, and I’m not saying I like this. I’m not saying I don’t operate like this such certainly try not to, but I mean, highly transactional in the abbreviated truncated, curt since, uh, devoid of anything else.
[00:34:44] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, no, I think that’s right. and I make this point sometimes about the difference between allies and other nations, allies are your friends and that there’s a lot of trust and there’s a lot of, give and take that you wouldn’t have with, other nations that you don’t have that, that Alliance relationship, that friendship with.
so, there is, there’s a difference in, you know, in degree, but ultimately in quality, like, do you get involved with, um, you know, making, making partnerships with countries that, you think are engaged in terrible human rights violations? Do you know if you try and form. you know, a close working relationship with, um, Nazi Germany, you know, no, I think you, your relationship is you have to, if you have to deal with them, you deal with them at arm’s length, and as little as possible, and try and limit their, you know, their impact on the things that you value in the world.
and same thing with businesses. If you find there are business leaders or businesspeople who are toxic, um, there may be situations where you’re thrown in with them and you have to deal with them. Uh, but you deal with them, the way you would, someone you that you don’t trust in your life.
And if you come across someone who you believe in, you treat them with the trust and faith that you would extend to, you know, a friend. and so, when you make a partnership, which is what I was really referring to, um, your partners need to be people who you trust and believe in.
[00:36:10] Lesson 10 Character Defines You And Hard Times Determine Your Character
[00:36:10] Duff Watkins: lesson number 10 character defines you, but what defines character is life’s challenges and obstacles.
[00:36:18] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, no. I mean, I think, you know, people often think of character as you know, I will, I will work very hard for the thing that I desire. And then when I get that, it will reveal, you know, then I had the tenacity and the commitment and the strength and the talent and all those, you know, the, my character will be revealed by my success.
Then I think your character is actually revealed by the things that go wrong. Um, and the things that go wrong for all of us. So, we will, you know, everyone will, at some point experience, you know, loss of a loved one. And many of us will experience, you know, illnesses or, uh, betrayals, or failures and, what, Test your character is how you respond to them.
And for me, it’s always having perspectives that other people have been through this and they’ve survived. And how did they survive? Um, it was by, appreciating what they have and, staying calm and optimistic and moving forward, even when it was more difficult to do that. And I think what I, when I said to you in my note was when I think about this, I think, uh, that every one of those is a reflection of a life well lived.
If you lose a loved one, it’s because you had the blessing of having had someone in your life that you loved. and, if you feel ill, it’s a reminder of, that you feel this because normally you were so healthy. and felt so much better and being able to appreciate that this is a reminder of your good health and if you’ve been betrayed it’s because there were people in your life that you, cared enough about to trust them.
And that you’re blessed to have the capacity to, to form intimate relations. Even if occasionally someone, someone disappoints, you and failures, no failures, are, you know, as I said, they’re a gift. They, uh, it means that you tried many things and that you had many experiences and that, you, you learn lessons from them and you’re still here and you’re still moving forward.
[00:38:23] Duff Watkins: I think failure is a gift that I’d like to return. I can tell you that, but yes, I get that you’ve been dipping into Marcus Arelius again, haven’t you? I mean, I’m seeing, I’m hearing some stoic philosophy come through.
[00:38:34] Jeff Bleich: No, there’s some Winston Churchill here.
success is caused by going from failure to failure, to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
[00:38:46] Duff Watkins: And, you know, speaking of, I mean, he had an astonishing time in the world, and it was a long time before he became prime minister, and it wasn’t a groundswell of support.
[00:38:54] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. Well, he was, he was the right person for that time. He was, he was a, a great war time, prime minister, and not a great peace time prime minister, which is why he was thrown out pretty unceremoniously, but he was, he had that war time capability because he had put himself in one. challenging situation after another.
And also, then he took these moments for reflection to unpack what he had learned, what he had discovered, you know, he wrote fallings and volumes. and, and if you go back and read his writings, there’s tremendous honesty and introspection in them. Based upon those failures and it gave him a resilience and a depth of understanding and a, um, a spider sense, that made him a very good wartime prime minister.
[00:39:41] Duff Watkins: He was a prolific author. And when asked if he thought history would be guard him? Well, he said yes, because I intend to write it. And he did,
he did. He wrote volumes of his career.
[00:39:56] Jeff Bleich: Uh, here, he’s a great wit I still love the one line that I’ve used and it, and it goes to the last point that we were talking about characters. And when you’re going through hell. Keep going like, right. I mean, that’s a part, isn’t it? You know, if there’s ever a time not to give up, it’s when you’re in the middle of hell, you know, get to the other side before you take a rest.
[00:40:19] Duff Watkins: Let me close off with one final question. We’ve talked about a lot of things, wisdom that you’ve acquired accrued over the years. What about what is something that you have unlearned lately? And by that, I mean, something you absolutely positively knew to be true one year ago, three years ago then, but now, now, you know, it’s not the case.
[00:40:45] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. Well, I, I’d say recent events with the president of United States. former president Donald Trump, because when I became ambassador in Australia, I remember, a very senior diplomat pulling me aside and I was trying to get as much depth as I could on, on the work. And, um, learn as much about Australia, learn as much about the state department and, you know, just make sure I didn’t mess up.
And he said, you don’t have to worry. These jobs are designed. So, any idiot can do them because eventually one will.
So, they’re guard rails and there are, you know, training wheels and buffers and bumpers. You know, you can’t go too far wrong. and I always took comfort in the fact that some of our most significant positions are ones that are designed that way and that it would be very difficult for anyone to.
mess them up too badly. I think this presidency has, has challenged that assumption for me. while we have a lot of great rules and laws and other things to protect, our democracy, many of them are based upon, conventions. They’re based upon, informal understandings. They’re based upon courtesies.
they’re not based upon, laws that are backed up by police force. And so, for us to function as a society for people who are willing to tear that connective tissue apart, and are prepared to destroy those conventions for their own personal ambitions, there is vulnerability, and it does matter who you put into these positions, and you can’t take that sort of risk.
so, I’d say that was my big takeaway.
[00:42:26] Duff Watkins: yes. It’s um, well, I mean, you live through it. We survived Nixon. I thought that was the big constitutional test. I had no idea. I pined for Nixon. I was yearning for Nixon over the last few years. Now this.
[00:42:41] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, I said, I told someone, we were talking about Nixon as well.
And I said, the crazy thing is, Richard Nixon could not get the democratic nomination today because he would be way too liberal. He would be perceived as a radical, you know, remember he did the clean water act, the clean air act team for families with dependent children. He opened relations with China.
I mean, this was an agenda that people would describe today as radically socialist. so yeah, I think there’s, perspective.
[00:43:13] Duff Watkins: So just on that. So, you’ve unlearned that lesson about the, what, the resilience, the stability, the robustness of political institutions.
[00:43:23] Jeff Bleich: Yeah. I think look the, um, the, the core held, but I think the core, uh, was badly damaged because again, it’s not just that we have a system of checks and balances and, a set of systems in place that are designed to prevent power from accumulating entirely in one branch of government or in one, one set of hands.
But 80% of that is, probably based on agreements, understandings, traditions, customs. courtesies that all have stood the test of time, and all reflect very sound judgment, but every time you pass a law, it’s, uh, it, it diminishes us as people in the sense that if you have to tell people not to spit on the sidewalk, that’s a, that’s a sad thing about us.
We should know, not to spit on the sidewalk without a law being passed. so, we have relied on conventions rather than laws, but if you’re someone who is willing to, take every advantage, of people’s trust and, and defy anything that isn’t absolutely prohibited by law, you can do tremendous damage. And I don’t know that you can do it, have that happen too many times for the whole system breaks down.
[00:44:37] Duff Watkins: Well, I look forward to the time when the Jeff by centre in Australia will not be dedicated to the misuse of digital technology, but will be aimed for some something a bit more, bit more useful.
[00:44:48] Jeff Bleich: Yeah, well, you know, there are, uh, the whole idea is to develop this technology for good, rather than evil. Um, and so, we’re, we’re doing some defensive things against misuse, but we’re also doing a number of positive things that I think you, you, enjoy.
So, you haven’t standing invitation Duff come by the Jeff Bleich centre at Flinders university. And, um, we will, we will give you the full tour and the a and the Royal treatment,
[00:45:14] Duff Watkins: you know, I will, if I can never get out, get on a plane, or get out of here, you know, escape. I’ll hold you to it too, by the way,
we will close here on that note. You’ve been listening to the podcast 10 Lessons it Took Me 50 Years to Learn. Our guest today has been Jeffrey Bleich, former ambassador of the United States to Australia, currently chief legal officer for Cruise, which is automated vehicles. this podcast is sponsored by professional development forum, which is dedicated to helping younger people accelerate their careers in the modern workplace. You can find them online. It’s professional development forum.org. Everything they do is free.
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