Dec. 30, 2022

All-Time Top 10 Guests – #1 Luke Gromen (My Favorite Books, Tools, Habits, and More)

We deconstruct Luke Gromen's peak performance playbook—from his favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on his life. Luke Gromen is the CEO and Founder of The Forest for the Trees. We cover cognitive dissonance in today’s economy and the benefits of early morning writing.


We deconstruct Luke Gromen's peak performance playbook—from his favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on his life. Luke Gromen is the CEO and Founder of The Forest for the Trees. We cover cognitive dissonance in today’s economy and the benefits of early morning writing.

“The ability to make the data useful, to interpret the data, to make music out of the data, if you will, I think you're seeing that dynamic across a lot of different sectors and in the economy.” – Luke Gromen

EPISODE GUIDE (LINKS, QUOTES, NOTES, AND BOOKS MENTIONED)

https://www.danielscrivner.com/notes/fftt-luke-gromen-20mp-show-notes 

FULL TEXT TRANSCRIPT

https://www.danielscrivner.com/notes/fftt-luke-gromen-20mp-transcript 

CHAPTERS

In this episode, we deconstruct Luke Gromen's peak performance playbook—from his favorite book to the tiny habit that's had the biggest impact on his life. In it we cover:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:01:44 – The cognitive dissonance in today’s economy and connecting the dots
  • 00:04:07 – Moving too quickly to the second derivative
  • 00:05:35 – Daily walks and early morning writing
  • 00:10:30 – Learning from Grant Williams and Kiril Sokoloff
  • 00:12:02 – Architecture school and f*ck you money

 

ABOUT LUKE GROMEN

Luke Gromen is the CEO and Founder of the Forest for the Trees. Luke publishes a weekly macro research report called Tree Rings, and he's the author of the world renowned Mr. X Interviews Volume 1 and 2. After working as an analyst for 20 plus years, Luke founded the Forest for the Trees in 2014. Luke's Gromen as one of today's best macroeconomic thinkers. His view, which I love, is that as data increasingly becomes commoditized, free thinking becomes priceless.

And he's a regular guest on real vision and has been published in a number of newspapers, including the financial times. As someone who's followed Luke's work for years, it was a thrill to finally have him on the show.

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ABOUT DANIEL SCRIVNER

Outlier Academy is hosted by Daniel Scrivner. Over the last 15 years, Daniel has led design teams at Square and Apple, turned around a $3M+ ARR SaaS business, and invested in more than 100 companies. He launched Outlier Academy in 2020 to learn from the world’s best founders, investors, authors, and peak performance experts.

Website: https://www.danielscrivner.com

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/danielscrivner

Transcript

Daniel Scrivner (00:06):
Hello, and welcome to a brand new episode of 20 Minute Playbook, where each week we sit down with an elite performer, from iconic founders to world renowned investors, and bestselling authors to dive into everything from their daily routine, to their favorite books, tools, super powers and more all in less than 20 minutes. I'm Daniel Scrivner and on the show today, I sit down with Luke Gromen of the Forest for the Trees. Luke publishes a weekly macro research report called Tree Rings, and he's the author of the world renowned Mr. X Interviews Volume 1 and 2. After working as an analyst for 20 plus years, Luke founded the Forest for the Trees in 2014. Luke's Gromen as one of today's best macroeconomic thinkers. His view, which I love, is that as data increasingly becomes commoditized, free thinking becomes priceless.

Daniel Scrivner (00:52):
And he's a regular guest on real vision and has been published in a number of newspapers, including the financial times. As someone who's followed Luke's work for years, it was a thrill to finally have him on the show. You can find the full show notes for this episode at outlieracademy.com/81, including links to everything we discuss. For more from Luke, you can follow him on Twitter @LukeGromen, that's Luke G-R-O-M-E-N. And you can find Forest for the Trees at fftt-llc.com. There, you can subscribe to Luke's weekly research report, Tree Rings, for just $97 a month and you can also download Luke's Mr. X Interviews Volume 1 for free. With that, it's time for 20 Minute Playbook with Luke Gromen of the Forest for the Trees. Luke, it's a huge honor to have you on 20 Minute Playbook. Thank you so much for coming on.

Luke Gromen (01:42):
Thanks for having me on. It's great to be here.

Daniel Scrivner (01:44):
So this should be fun, this is a little bit faster paced, and we'll just try to get as many interesting insights in 20 minutes as possible. And I wanted to start, I think you'll definitely have an interesting answer to this question. I want to start by asking what you've been fascinated about recently? So this is just things you're tracking ,topics that you're researching things you just can't get out of your head.

Luke Gromen (02:05):
There's a lot. So there's a lot going on in this head, that's why all the hair's gone. I mean, what's going on in the economy? What's the cognitive dissonance between watching people realize that it wasn't different last time now making the case, that it is different this time when you talk about, hey, home prices can never fall nationally, even though they had. Now you're looking at, hey, we can never have another sovereign debt crisis, even though we have, you know what does that look like? I spend a lot of time thinking about that. Watching my sons grow up and progress, this change in my own life of, hey, I got one gone, I got another one leaving, I'm going to be [inaudible 00:02:40]. There's just a lot of faceting stuff going on right now.

Daniel Scrivner (02:44):
So you're someone, obviously we went into depth inside this in the Infinite Games interview. And we talked a little bit about your research process, we talk a lot about the kind of origin story as an analyst. So clearly, you have kind of an analytical supercomputer in your head, at least that's what I would kind of think about. That may be your superpower, what do you think is your superpower or superpowers when you come into work every single day and how do you utilize those?

Luke Gromen (03:07):
I've had a couple clients say that they think I should have a PhD in connecting dots or dot connecting. And I think that's probably superpower number one, is just, I have this unique ability to connect dots in a unique manner. I have an ability to read lots and retain a lot really fast. I don't know why, but I do. I write well as well. If there's a connection there from here to here, and I think from my brain down to the computer and that helps. And the other one for whatever reason, maybe it's the old German hard headed IN me, I have a lot of perseverance. So when someone tells me I can't do something, it's my first reaction is always, "Oh yeah, hold my beer, watch this." Those, I think really are the superpowers, it's dot connecting, perseverance, the writing, and the ability to read and retain a lot of information relatively fast.

Daniel Scrivner (03:49):
That's fascinating too, especially when you think about that in terms of this concept of a skill stack, where obviously if you could only connect dots and you couldn't retain as much information and you maybe weren't as good a writer, you probably wouldn't be doing what you're doing today. It's like, it really takes all of those things to be able to come together.

Luke Gromen (04:04):
I'm very blessed. It's fun. It's like a dream situation for me.

Daniel Scrivner (04:07):
On the flip side, what do you feel like you struggle with and how have you either improved or worked around those things over time?

Luke Gromen (04:13):
Something that I've always done and I need... And it can be both a blessing and a curse, but it's what I call moving too quickly to the second derivative. So it's a blessing when it's, hey, this great success happened and you feel it for a second, but it's never like, oh, I'm done forever, I'm the man. It's always like, okay, what's next? Okay, what's next? And so, it can be helpful in terms of just maintaining that discipline to your process, but where it can be problematic is, sometimes the money's just in the corner and there is no second derivative. It's just, hey, this happened, and don't think about how this is going to impact this and that, and this and that, and this and that. It's almost like the brain that can kind of get going, the dot connecting. There are times when it's like, no, no, no, it's just that, act on that.

Luke Gromen (04:56):
And that, at times, has made me make things more complex than they need to be. And so, I think for me, trying to recognize it when it happens, you'll see reactions from clients or questions from clients that can help clear, hey, well, why not just that? And it's just having that humbleness to say, "You know what?" "You're right." "I'm wrong, you're right." "Why am I worried about all that other shit?" "It's this, right." So it's having that humbleness to recognize that, or when mentors of mine say that to me and catch that for me. And then it's just, I think a form of being present, it's just, hey, that's that? Let me be here for that, before I'm on to the next other few things and the second derivative. So that's, I think the thing I would highlight.

Daniel Scrivner (05:35):
Yeah, it's fascinating. I love that concept too, of moving on too quickly to the second derivative. And also gets that, I mean, something I've always thought about is, that's obviously the shadow side of this super computer brain that's able to connect all these dots, is it connects too many dots. And sometimes, you've got to learn how to reign that in and just add a little bit of measure of control to that. When it comes to habits and routines, do you have a very buttoned up daily routine? And if not, what are some things that you tried again, and whatever you can, that you found helpful?

Luke Gromen (06:04):
Every day I wake up, and first thing I do actually is I sort of noodle around on my phone for a bit and just kind of get a feel. I'm not looking for anything specific, but just what's the tone of the day? Is there anything really big happening? Anything that I need to know about? And I usually, sometimes I set a timer for that. I need to do a better job of that, where it's set a 20 minute timer and when it goes off, you're done. Because then that's, you're very focused doing that, and that's something I've tried being more consistent with, but I haven't really, as much as I'd like. I go for a walk then every morning, it just kind of gets things going. It gives me a chance to sort of maybe spin around in my head, things I've just read. And then, I sit down and I sort of get going and I lay out what I need to do that day.

Luke Gromen (06:45):
My week, I publish a report Wednesday or Thursday and the report Friday. And so, Tuesday afternoons, Wednesdays, a lot of time spent sort of in the cave, Wednesday afternoon, a little less so. Thursday morning, a little less so. Then Thursday afternoons, Fridays back into the cave. I sleep when I need to sleep, I write when I need to write. There are times that I found that I'll wake up at 4:00 in the morning and there's something in my head. And so, I go downstairs, sometimes it'll be 2:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning. I got to get it out because I'm afraid it a leave. But if I don't write it down and sometimes I'll just get out of bed and just write it down, sort of note and I don't start writing. But sometimes, it's really good and I write now. Sometimes, I've been writing a lot and my brain needs rest and I'll sleep in, I won't set an alarm. I just try to flow with where the energy is, really.

Daniel Scrivner (07:28):
Yeah. That's interesting. A question, I feel like I can't not ask you is, so I do this podcast. I've done it for a bit over a year now, I think almost 18 months. And it's the first thing I've had, where it's an incredibly rigorous every single week, we publish one. And that is, I think for anyone that hasn't been on a weekly cadence, and I know you now published, it sounds like two reports a week, so you're on a twice a weekly cadence. It's a lot. And I think it's, there are times where it's very manageable, but there are definitely times consistently every single year, where it just gets challenging. Has it ever been any challenge for you? And is there anything you've learned, or there's any way you think about it that helps you just be comfortable with this pressure to always publish and that you have to do this every single week.

Luke Gromen (08:11):
I've been blessed in that, ever really since 2015, the macro situation has gotten, so that there's almost always something. With that said, there are times when it gets to the end of Monday, end of Tuesday and there's, I don't know what I'm going to write about. I don't know what I'm going to write, I've got nothing. And it's really, I think important, particularly like late Monday, late Tuesday, if I don't have it, I walk away and I just trust. My wife always says, "Hey, it's the universe." "The universe is going to give you something to write about it, I promise." And I've learned to just sort of trust that something's going to happen, something's going to catch my eye. There's going to be something there and almost without fail, it happens, which sort of sounds kind of woo, woo. But I think rather than trying to force it, nothing ever good happens when I sit there, and try to force it and grind through it.

Luke Gromen (08:53):
I think that's probably the closest I can come to sort of... Because it's, I publish... We publish 48 weeks a year, twice a week. That's probably close to a thousand pages of research a year.

Daniel Scrivner (09:01):
Wow.

Luke Gromen (09:02):
And, it doesn't [crosstalk 00:09:03] feel like it. Yeah.

Daniel Scrivner (09:03):
Yeah. And so, it's both this, you're both waiting for serendipity, honestly. You're waiting for something interesting to write about. And then at the same time, you're trying to be disciplined, but you're not ever forcing yourself to just sit down and write, because obviously I'm sure you won't enjoy that, people won't enjoy reading it.

Luke Gromen (09:17):
Yeah. It's almost like the sports... Is let the game come to you and I try to let the game come to me. There are things that I know. And the thing I'm doing is, I'm always reading, I read. And I love to read, I'm reading a lot. And so, I've equated myself in the past to being like the catfish down at the bottom of the Big River, I'm just kind of waiting for the right piece of information to kind of float down to me. And, it's sort of doing all the work ahead of time, so that when the play happens and the fumbles there, boom, you're in the position. And so, the right piece of information pops up or something happens and it's like, "Oh, I've got something interesting to say about that and this is important or..." And sometimes it's, gosh, I know ahead of time that I'm going to write about this.

Luke Gromen (09:54):
And there's times where ideas come in and I've already got something for that week, so I jot something down and I put it for the next week and some of them are time sensitive, some of they're not. There have been weeks, where I have a full report done Wednesday and something happens Thursday morning. And it's like, this has to get put aside, this has to get written about, and then it's like mad scramble four or six hours to kind of get it together, put it together, get it to compliance, and get it back and get it out. But, that's been the process.

Daniel Scrivner (10:18):
It looks much more graceful than that from the outside looking in.

Luke Gromen (10:21):
Oh, thank... It's like the duck, I always say I'm like the duck. Tell my boys, "Be like the duck, where you're nice and calm on the surface and you're paddling like hell underneath," so.

Daniel Scrivner (10:30):
Yeah, there's a lot going on. On that note, I mean, I know that you're a voracious reader, so I'm going to kind of ask a dual question. One, what books have you read recently that are interesting? And this could also be a book you read a year ago that you just are still thinking about or still recommending to people. But I think one would be books. And then another one would be just if somebody who publishes your own research, what research do you like to read?

Luke Gromen (10:51):
I like anything Grant Williams writes, or reads, writes or puts out. I read a lot of transcripts from the Investor's Podcast, transcripts from Real Vision, transcripts from Macro Voices. Anything I can see that Kiril Sokoloff at 13D writes, I read. I'm trying to think of some other authors off the top, there's so many good minds. I try to read good minds, and then I try to read things that I think are interesting topics, regardless of who it is. Because part of what I like to do is understand both things that I'm interested. And also, people that have the opposite view of me, is I want to know their view better than they do, because then I won't miss something on my side.

Luke Gromen (11:28):
There's several names there, but gosh, I could go on and on. There's so many thoughtful people that I feel bad about.

Daniel Scrivner (11:34):
Well, those are great ones. I mean Grant Williams and Kiril Sokoloff at 13D. I subscribe to his research for quite a while. And that was very unique, in that it's a very different perspective and it's very broad. And it was very different, I just feel like it's refreshing when you feel like you spend an enormous amount of time reading, I don't know, tactical micro details, like what happened this quarter or what did this company do? It's really refreshing to go, I go super meta broad and Carol does an amazing job at that.

Luke Gromen (12:00):
Absolutely.

Daniel Scrivner (12:02):
So, we'll link to those in the show notes as well, too, for anyone that hasn't discovered their works, you can find it. One question that we always ask everyone around is for a favorite failure. And what we are trying to get at with that question is, I think success is very celebrated, failure is something that's very important, and yet almost no one talks about it, especially successful people. So one, I think just making it a more common thing that we talk about it and kind of reflect on, but what we're really trying to get at there is, I think throughout life, you try these things, some of them work, some of them don't. And some of the things that don't work are an amazing blessing, because you learn something propels you in a different or a better direction. Does that resonate with you? And is there anything you think about, when you think about a favorite failure?

Luke Gromen (12:40):
Favorite failure. Yeah, it would probably have to be architecture school. When I graduated from high school, I was going to be an architect. So that's why I actually went to the University of Cincinnati originally, is they had one of the top five architecture schools in the country. I think they still do. And I got into the architecture school and went to be an architect. And about six weeks into it, I knew I did not want to be an architect for the rest of my life. So I went home and I told my parents and my dad wrote me this great letter. And I was scared to death of like, hey, I'm six weeks into college and don't screw this up, and now I want to transfer. I just felt like this utter failure because I was an Eagle scout, I didn't quit. I was an Eagle Scout, soccer player, football... High... I didn't quit, I didn't fail.

Luke Gromen (13:22):
And so, sort of that perseverance superpower was potentially going to work against me, because now the perseverance side saying, "Well, no, no, you started this, you got to finish this." But if I hate it, I'm going to be setting myself back, I'm not going to be doing it as well. I'm not going to be doing anybody favors being an architect who hates architecture. And luckily, I did have the foresight when I went to Cincinnati to say, "Hey, they've got a good engineering program, really good engineering program, really good business school." And those would sort of be two of the next things I would think, if I didn't happen to like architecture. And walking through the hall one day in the architecture school, once I made my decision, ran through by my parents, they said, "Look, maybe it's just the workload, give it a quarter, and then if you still don't like it, you start looking at transferring."

Luke Gromen (14:04):
And so, I did, I gave myself that span of time. And I saw an advertisement for an AT&T Investment Challenge, where you'd manage a $500,000 fictional portfolio contest. And I just knew, I said, "I want to do something involved with that." And so, I went to the business college and transferred and began co-oping with [Rolston & Company 00:14:22] in 1995 and through the University of Cincinnati. And so, it's incredible. Basically, not wanting to be an architect and my girlfriend at the time, actually my wife now, she was very instrumental where she said, "Listen, stop being so hardheaded, this isn't about perseverance, this is not about quitting, this is your life." "What do you want to do?" "And, do you want to do this?" "Yes or no." It was unequivocally no. And so, once you establish that, once I established that, it was so freeing because you're like, "Okay, I know I don't want to do this, I want to do that." Went to the business college, excelled, got great grades, loved it, co-oped, loved it. And then here we are, 25 years later having the time of my life.

Daniel Scrivner (15:03):
It's a fascinating story. And I love just that you called out that, you have this background where you never don't finish something that you say you're going to do. And you never don't persist, meaning if it's not snapping into place now, you just keep going after it, until it snaps into place and suddenly finding yourself in a position, where all of that advice is terrible. That would've been the worst thing to do.

Luke Gromen (15:23):
It's the wrong advice, so it sort of goes against every fiber in my body. So, it was really challenging at the right time. You can always tell when you make a good decision in my view, because when you make a right decision or you make a change, it's amazing how much things just flow and it totally flowed after. So it was, I could tell it was the right decision. Clearly, it's definitely been the right decision.

Daniel Scrivner (15:42):
Man, to think about Luke Gromen, the architect. So, the analyst.

Luke Gromen (15:46):
No one would want to do that. As I have a good friend of mine, he's one of my dearest friends in the world. And he was, I think, one of the best, highest GPAs in Cincinnati architecture ever. And, he is wildly successful architect in the southeast U.S. And we joke about that all the time, he's going, "Oh my God, you'd have been so bad." I said, "You'd have hired me, though."

Daniel Scrivner (16:03):
On the flip side of that, around success, what does success mean to you now? And, how has that changed over time? And I think what we're trying to get at there is, similarly with success, it's not really fixed. You're at a point like you talked about, where your kids are starting to leave, basically move on and have lives of their own, going outside of the house. There's a lot going on. How does that change, how has that shaped the way you think about success now?

Luke Gromen (16:26):
I think it changes as you age in my experience. And what I mean by that is, when I was in college, I remember wanting to make X dollars a month, and X dollars a year and I wanted that car, and then I wanted that house. And I wanted to be, it was very much in your twenties and your early thirties, it's almost like about showing up the bully, rolling up to the high school reunion and...

Daniel Scrivner (16:49):
Like outcome driven, like very focused on this thing.

Luke Gromen (16:51):
Yeah. Very sort of materialistically outcome driven. I want to make this much money, I want to have this car, so on. And what I found is that, at least for me, as I've gotten older, it's been less about the stuff, and then it starts to sort of morph into the experiences. I want to travel here, I want to be there with my kids. I want to take my wife here. And what I'm finding as I even move on from, and not even move on from there, because I think that's sort of a permanent thing, is it gets even more simplified to freedom. Right now, I'm free to go here, go there, afford this if I want it, afford that if I want it, I can make these opportunities available to my children. I can stop working at two o'clock tomorrow, if I want and go drink beer all afternoon. Like, that's okay.

Luke Gromen (17:44):
I probably can't do that every day, but just that freedom to do what I want when I want, and have that level of personal, professional financial... I jokingly said to a buddy, it's not fuck you money, but it's fuck you for a little while money." It's just...

Daniel Scrivner (17:59):
That sounds a little bit more achievable.

Luke Gromen (18:03):
And it is just that translation of like, just that freedom to do what you love with who you love when you would love to do it.

Daniel Scrivner (18:09):
Yeah. I've thought about that and heard that talked about in the vein of, and it's a weird word, but sovereign, just like you want to be in charge of yourself, and the decisions you make and what you're able to do with your time. And, I relate a lot to that.

Luke Gromen (18:20):
Yes. A hundred percent. That's a great word for it.

Daniel Scrivner (18:23):
Last question, you're somebody that obviously spent an incredible amount of time studying the markets, studying great investors, being around, getting to spend time with wonderful, brilliant people, like Grant Williams and Simon Mikhailovich, who've had on the podcast before. What is your favorite piece of investing advice or wisdom?

Luke Gromen (18:41):
I think it's a combination of knowing what your edge is, position sizing, making sure you have the right position size. But then I think also a combination of those two and this is something Stanley Druckenmiller and Soros talked about, where when you know you have an edge, push the advantage. I would say those are probably...

Daniel Scrivner (19:00):
I love those. Those are great. I think those are great, especially when you stack those together, because I feel like it's almost starts to put together a formula for success. Know what you're good at, understand how to size that correctly, and then when you see you have an amazing opportunity, make sure you don't undersize it, id maybe another way.

Luke Gromen (19:19):
That's a very good way of putting it.

Daniel Scrivner (19:19):
As I think as Soros said, you need to know when to be a pig or something like that, when to be [inaudible 00:19:23]-

Luke Gromen (19:23):
Yeah. Something to that effect, but I [inaudible 00:19:25]...

Daniel Scrivner (19:27):
It's a little bit more colorful, so I know people can find you on Twitter and I highly recommend anyone that's not following you, follow you. I really enjoy just the stuff that you share. People can find you on Twitter at Luke Gromen, G-R-O-M-E-N. And people can also find your research service, the Force for the Trees at fftt-llc.com. Thank you so much for the time, this has been such a delight.

Luke Gromen (19:46):
Thanks for having me on, Daniel. It's great talking with you.

Daniel Scrivner (19:49):
Thank you so much for listening. You can find links to everything we discussed, as well as the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.co/81. For more from Luke Gromen, listen to Episode 78, where Luke joins me on infinite games to talk about everything from the biggest lessons he's learned as an analyst over the last 30 years, to his thoughts on gold and Bitcoin, what he's hearing from institutional investors and allocators today and his advice for new investors. You can find more incredible interviews with the founders of [Superhuman Levels 00:20:19], [Rally 00:20:20], [Common Stock 00:20:20] and Primal Kitchen, as well as bestselling authors and more of the world's smartest investors at outlieracademy.com. You can now also find us on YouTube at youtube.com/outlier academy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full length interviews as well as our favorite short clips from each episode, including this one. From our entire team, we hope you enjoyed the show and we hope to see you right here next week on 20 Minute Playbook.