Arianna Huffington, co-founder, and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, shares her views and perspective at the Stanford GSB View From The Top talk titled “We Are Drowning in Data and Starved for Wisdom” on April 12, 2016. Here is the full transcript.
Interviewer: So Arianna welcome to Stanford.
Arianna Huffington – Co-founder, and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group
Thank you so much. What a fabulous auditorium!
Interviewer: We handpicked them specifically just for you. And so you often quote a Persian poet who encouraged us to live our lives as though they were rigged in our favor. Now as it is often easy to proclaim the fact after success, it appears as though you actually embodied this mindset from an early age. But not just you, your parents, too.
So, I was wondering if you could take us back to Greece where it all began and share with the audience a story as to how your parents met and how they came to be in Greece.
Arianna Huffington: Well, first of all Liv, thank you so much for starting with my favorite quote, which I carry with me laminated in my wallet, and which I keep bombarding my children with. In fact, my oldest daughter Christina is here, so she has heard it many times. It really did all start with my mother, because we lived in a one bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece. And one day, I saw a picture in the magazine of Cambridge University. And I said to everybody who could listen, I really want to go there. And everybody said don’t be ridiculous; you don’t speak English. We don’t have any money and it’s really competitive to get into Cambridge even if you’re an English girl.
But my mother said, let’s see how you can get there, and that involved going to the British council and taking my GCEs, which as you know since you’re an Oxford girl, it’s what you need to take as the first step and borrowing money. And then one thing which I kind of love is that she said, one day, I got us these cheap tickets and we can go and see Cambridge. It was just kind of an early visualization trip. We’re not going to see anybody at Cambridge. We’re just — we’re going to see Cambridge and kind of make it more real for me that I could go there.
And to cut a long story short I got an exhibition, which is kind of a scholarship, a version of a scholarship. I remember getting that telegram saying awarded exhibition and I have to find out what the hell was exhibition to Cambridge and that definitely changed my life. It was kind of the unexpected trajectory that made a lot of other things possible, especially because I fell in love with a Cambridge union, the Debating Society. And I really, really put a lot of my energy into learning to speak. And whenever anybody says, well I can’t speak or I’m terrified of speaking, apparently public speaking is, in terms of fears, higher up than death by mutilation.
Interviewer: Okay. So this is not good for me right now, then. Okay, good to know.
Arianna Huffington: So I started literally by writing down every word. I would be called in sometimes after midnight. And because I was so bad and also had this heavy accent which was even —
Interviewer: Accents are good. Accents are good.
Arianna Huffington: Well maybe now, maybe in America. But you know perfectly well, not in England. Anyway, so –
Interviewer: You’ve got to take whatever card you can play, so I’ll take the British accent here.
Arianna Huffington: So I spent an enormous amount of time at the union. In fact, I spent more time at the union than I spent studying, which is why you got a first at Oxford and I only got a two one.
Interviewer: Okay, and that’s why you’re sitting in that chair and I’m right here.
Arianna Huffington: Well, you are 3,000 years younger so.
Interviewer: So on that point, in Thrive one of your best selling books, you talk about having this inner voice, that sort of obnoxious neighbor. And yet, from the outside, you look as though you have this remarkable self belief. Because you not only went to Cambridge but despite a glorious accent, you decided to run for President of Cambridge and became the first foreign lady or foreign lady at all to become President. That continued thereafter whereby after your first successful book, your next one was rejected 36 times before. And then even with the Huffington Post, you launched it to a backdrop of critics. So this perseverance appears to be a common thread throughout your journey. How much of that spun from drive of being the underdog, or was it a mindset that you taught yourself over time?
Arianna Huffington: Well, it was a mindset that was very much something that my mother kept talking about. One of her favorite sayings was failure is not the opposite of success. It’s a stepping stone to success. But the obnoxious roommate, that voice of doubt and self-judgment, remained very loud. And people don’t write about it. But I can tell you, I can still hear it. I can still hear, for example, when I gave my first big speech at the — what do they call? Do they still call it a paper speech?
Interviewer: They do indeed, yeah, traditions die hard.
Arianna Huffington: Meaning that you actually are one of the main speakers as opposed to somebody they call on after the main speakers. And I was speaking on the same side as JK Galbraith against William Buckley and I remember every detail. And the topic of the speech was The Market, meaning the free market is a snare and a delusion. And I was sitting next to Galbraith and while Buckley was speaking, Galbraith leaned over to me and said, can you stand up? You have the right at the union to stand up and every speaker has to give way for the point you want to make. So can you stand up, he said, and interrupt him and make it. And he mentioned some kind of recondite econometric point, which I stupidly stood up and interrupted Buckley with. And then he turned to me and said, well madam, I don’t know what market you patronize and brought the house down. And I sat down feeling completely humiliated, which would have been neither here nor there. Except the obnoxious roommate, for the next week, I’m not exaggerating, was replaying that incident as though this was the end, not just of my career, but my life.
And looking back, of course, it is none of the above, but that’s what the obnoxious roommate does. And it kind of basically tears you apart. And I’ve had so many experiences like that, where all my energy would be absorbed in listening to that voice. And that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time in my life trying to evict the obnoxious roommate from my head. And I’m doing a pretty good job now but it took many, many years. And it changes your life when you don’t have to waste your energy dealing with that voice but you can actually go on with your life and recognize that sometimes things are not going to go well. And sometimes you’re not going to perform at your best and that’s part of life.
Interviewer: It’s funny you say that because I read somewhere that you appear to be in your own person from a very young age. Would you mind sharing the story about your fifth birthday party?
Arianna Huffington: Yes, I always love to read. I love to lose myself in books. And so from my fifth birthday party, my mother had invited my best friends. And I told them they had to go home because they were interrupting my reading.
Interviewer: Yeah, well this is clearly a passion. And although you’ve written 15 books to date now across a wide variety of topics, it seems to be politics that’s kind of captured your attention the most. What is it that drew you to the political sphere, especially in the discussion and commentary side?
Arianna Huffington: So, it was politics and as the Dean mentioned, the Third World America book was very much sort of my deep concern about what was happening in the country and how we are not paying sufficient attention. And that remains a very deep concern of mine. But, I now feel increasingly that the thing that we are most starved for in our political lives as well as the rest of our lives is wisdom. And I feel that we’re kind of drowning in data and starved for wisdom. And so my passion now is, how can we connect with that part of ourselves, that is the wisest part of ourselves? And whether we are politicians or business leaders or media leaders, there are huge problems in front of us. And if we don’t connect to that part, we are going to be operating and making decisions from the surface. And as a result, missing the opportunity to really come up with big solutions. And I was fascinated by how leaders that we admire throughout history have done that in the past. Like one of my favorite stories that I’ve included in my new book, is about FDR.
In 1940, when there was all this pressure on him to enter the war. But the American public was completely opposed to it, so he didn’t literally, he didn’t know what to do. And what he did would never have happened today. He took 10 days off and went on a naval ship around the Caribbean. And Eleanor would send him letters saying things, I’m so happy to think of you sleeping and refueling. And his aids afterwards have written how he truly refueled and in the process of refueling, he came up with what was a political masterpiece of a solution: The Lend-Lease program that allowed America to enter the war at the time when otherwise public opinion would have been completely opposed to it. And I feel we all need to do that. And we need to validate people who do that as opposed to judging politicians who go on vacation or who play golf, or who do anything to refuel and therefore ideally come up with the solutions that are really at the heart of leadership.
Interviewer: It’s interesting because some may say that the reason that it doesn’t happen is because of this 24/7 media commentary. And increasingly it’s thought in some circles that media is increasingly shaping politics as opposed to just reporting of it. So, how do you think through and try and control that with your curation and editorial prowess?
Arianna Huffington: So you mean it’s our fault, right?
Interviewer: I was trying to be diplomatic. Some may say. Certainly not myself but some.
Arianna Huffington: So I think first of all, we are not going to avoid the 24/7 nature of media and the internet. This is whether you, even if you never go on the Huffington Post, or the New York Times site, or any site, you have your Facebook and Instagram and endless social media. So that’s going to be the nature of our lives going forward. So that’s why it’s even more imperative that we learn to set our own boundaries. And that we need to stop giving in to FOMO, the fear of missing out.
Interviewer: We don’t know if that is here totally.
Arianna Huffington: Because in the end what we’re missing out on is our life. And that is something which will require a major culture shift. I mean we can do it individually and a lot of people are doing it. And ironically there is now more and more technology that paradoxically is helping us deal with technology. But in the end, it will require some support from the culture, whether it’s culture at school, at college, and the workplaces where we are and our families. So I feel that we are in the process now of a major culture shift, and we’re in the middle of this transition. And like any other transition, a lot of different types of behavior are valued and are exhibited, all at the same time. And whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic depends on what you focus on.
Interviewer: So this Fourth Revolution has been a big topic at Davos amongst many of the world leaders. And you ran for governor of California once but haven’t returned to politics directly yourself. What caused you to run then and why not since and would you like to bring about the fourth resolution?
Arianna Huffington: No, I have — I would rather have five-hour root canal. There are very few things that I can categorically say but I would never run for office is one of them which I’m sure Christina my daughter will be happy to hear. She was very opposed to my running in the first place. I would never run, first of all because I feel I can contribute more with what I’m doing. And secondly, because politics at the moment is completely poisoned and I think that’s one of the problems that really — we got to the point where anybody who can do anything else is not going to enter political life anymore. So we would definitely need to change the system so that we can bring in better people to run but I am definitely not going to be one of them. Maybe you, if you decide to –
Interviewer: Well, you’ll certainly do without me bumbling along and making a mess of things. Okay, so let’s talk about the platform from which you’re currently able to shape the view, the Huffington Post. So you established this back in the day, it was a revolutionary online platform, mix of original content, aggregation and blogging. Yet you were at the time neither part of the media establishment nor a common man that the bloggers represented nor a tech person. So how did the idea come about and how did you get it off the ground initially?
Arianna Huffington: So the idea really came about because I could see that the conversation was moving online. And I wanted to sort of elevate the online conversation, because as you said, at the time bloggers were perceived as people who couldn’t get a job, in their pajamas, in their parent’s basement. And I want to demonstrate that, in fact, it could be different. And so from the beginning, my aspiration for Huff was, remember we started with five people out of my home in Los Angeles, but —
Interviewer: In the basement, in their pajamas.
Arianna Huffington: No, not in the basement, a rather nice office but still, a tiny operation. But the goal was to ultimately become both a journalistic enterprise of the kind that we did become, we now have 850 reporters, editors, engineers in 15 countries, we won a Pulitzer. So, to become a really substantive journalistic enterprise, but to also be a platform. And that was just as important from the beginning. And on day one, I had an amazing roster of bloggers. I had emailed everybody I knew and had said if there is anything on your mind that you want to write about it, please write about it on the Huffington Post. And we’re going to make it super easy for you. I know all of you could be writing for The New York Times, because I invited people like Larry David and Ellen DeGeneres and, this is how long ago it was, so many of them are dead now, Walter Cronkite.
And basically, we had this amazing first day when a lot of these people, everyone I just mentioned, was on the first day of the Huffington Post blogging. So suddenly, blogging was elevated into something which you could do, even though you could actually write an op-ed that would be accepted in the Financial Times or The New York Times. And the reason why they would do that is because it was so much easier. They would just write something and we would post it and they wouldn’t be edited and they wouldn’t go back and forth, asking them to make it shorter or longer or whatever. And, in fact, we created a little concierge service where people in LA could literally dictate. They could call us from the phone, from their cars and we would take dictation and then send it back to them to make any edits. And I think Larry David, everything he wrote, he would dictate from the set. Ari Emanuel, who I remember, called me from the golf course, and say I have this idea about Mel Gibson, it’s terrible that Hollywood isn’t going against him. Remember when he made his anti-semitic comments and Hollywood was giving him a pass? And, literally, Ari called me on a Sunday, I took dictation, and I sent it back to him, he made a couple of changes, we posted it and it changed the climate in Hollywood. Suddenly, Disney announced we’re not going to be doing his next movie, etc., etc.
So people began to see the power of blogging and the power of just expressing an opinion, having it up immediately. We had, from the beginning, our comments were pre-moderated, because I wanted to keep a civil environment and avoid ad hominem attacks. Because I felt like I was inviting these people to come to my home and express their views, and I owed it to them that nobody was going to suddenly start trashing them. And we had very little money, we started the Huffington Post with $2 million, which I collected from my friends, and my partner, Kenny Lerer, collected. Actually, my first investors were Laurie and Larry David and when they got divorced they split the Huffington Post investment. And so I remember paying my daughter’s $5 each to moderate comments, they were in their early teens. And basically we used everything we could to create from the beginning a civil environment in which these people would want to return. And probably the breakthrough moment was when — who was the identity of Deep Throat was revealed. Do you remember that?
And Nora Ephron was in high demand; everybody wanted her to tell her story. What did she know, when did she know it, because at the time she was — because she had been married to Carl Bernstein. And so she calls me up and says, you know what, I don’t want to go to CNN and get on a makeup and I don’t want to have to bother with a New York Times op-ed, I’m sending you my blog. So the fact that Nora Ephron chose this new platform to write something, which was then everywhere, made people realize that if it was something that was newsworthy, they could write in the Huffington Post, and then it would be everywhere anyway. CNN and the New York Times and everybody would be compelled to link to it, because that was the only way to get the story.
So that was when we really kind of arrived in a way, in terms of people coming to us to write, and that has remained kind of a big passion of mine. Recruiting people, interesting voices, in fact, I want to invite all of you to write on the Huffington Post, and I always make it super easy by giving you my email address so you can email it to me directly. Now, we give people we trust passwords, so you can post directly, and then our editors, front page and social, and we translate the best, so my email address is email@example.com. That’s one of the good things when you found a company you get a good email address. So we are now up to 100,000 bloggers and our goal is get to a million. We’re creating a lot of new technology that will make it easier to post and to navigate the site, etc.
Interviewer: Good luck getting sleep after 500, 600 people email you their blogs. But before we move on, just on the point of the platform, given that it was always meant as this medium for anyone to share their opinion and voice pretty much unfiltered. What led to the decision to share your name with it, knowing that your personal reputation will be associated with the material posted on the website, and how, if at all, has that affected the curation process?
Arianna Huffington: Well, I was always, like all in. There was never any question of separating myself from the Huffington Post. I have to say that my daughters begged me not to call it the Huffington Post, because they thought it was just going to be an embarrassing failure and they would not be able to show their faces at school. So I remember tearful moments with Christina and Isabella saying you can’t call it the Huffington Post, that’s so embarrassing. And Isabella, my younger daughter, announced that she will never blog, and she hasn’t. And so that, for me, it was all like saying, I’m all in. This is it. And curation though has always been a very important part of it, like from the beginning even though the platform was open we have ground rules, like we will not publish conspiracy theories. Like if you think 9/11 was an inside job, we’re not going to publish it on the Huffington Post. We’re not going to publish cookie medical theory. So we create a set of boundaries, that you may disagree with people who are writing but it’s not going to be because they are insane.
Interviewer: It’s always helpful, a good boundary to have in life in general. So, some of your recent books lament the lack of surprise in the modern world and yet, I know that this is a reason from the fact that an online content is filtered based on preexisting preferences. So how would you think through the fact that some platforms similar to Huff Post are responsible for creating this bubble effect and kind of narrowing our preferences? And are you thinking of ways to introduce serendipity again online as browsing once did?
Arianna Huffington: Well, right now actually, what is happening is that the majority of people don’t receive that information by going to a destination but through social. Even the Huffington Post, which is probably the last big destination site, gets now the majority of our traffic through social, through people posting something that they’ve read on the Huffington Post, on Facebook, or tagging their friends. So this is kind of a revolution in how we create a site. I tried to convince friends of mine, for example, who are starting a new business and are investing a lot of money in their website, how useless that is.
I actually say to them that if I was launching the Huffington Post today there would be no website because it’s all social. And I think one of the reasons why we succeeded at remaining at the forefront of this business is because we changed our strategy. So three years ago, because I woke up after eight hours sleep feeling completely recharged, I could see the iceberg that was about to hit the Titanic. And the iceberg was that people were not going to be coming to the Huffington Post directly in the large numbers they were coming to the Huffington Post directly. We had — our operation was being driven very much around our Splashes.
We launched the idea of the Splash early on in the life of the Huffington Post, which was again very radical and controversial at the time because the idea was that you needed to put as many stories as possible at the top, kind of above the fall, to drive traffic to them. And we said, no. We are going to announce what we consider is the most important story of the moment. We may change it ten times in the course of the day, but it created a sense of drama. It made people keep wanting to come back to see what’s the big story now. And we hired editors who really knew how to create amazing headlines that were a little playful and not conventional. One of my favorites was when Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested. Our headline was OMG, IMF.
And so the point, though, was as things changed, we decided to stop prioritizing our other front pages. We still prioritize the front page because we’re still getting enough traffic to it. But we stop prioritizing the splashes of what by then we had 70 sections at the Huffington Post covering everything from, colleges to wellness, to business. And editors would spend a lot of time creating beautiful splashes which would be seen by fewer and fewer people. So we made different teams that instead worked on how to make content be social and be viral.
But here is another thing we discovered. Normally we think of content going viral as being cats on skateboards or cute animals. And we discovered that the content that goes most viral is content around solutions. Things that people want to share.
Interviewer: Positive stories.
Arianna Huffington: Yes. And so we have now focused our coverage in three main areas. The first is obviously news and politics, where we take our own — I would consider our job to take stands. We don’t consider our jobs simply to blindly kind of just write what’s happening, because we feel you can get that anywhere now. Why come to the Huffington Post if you just want to know who won the Wisconsin race? First of all, you’d have gotten it from your Twitter feed. So for us, I mean, just one of the most controversial thing we did that everyday that passes, I consider one of our best decisions, was covering at the beginning Donald Trump in the entertainment section. And then on the day that he announced that his proposal to ban 1.6 billion Muslims from this country to start covering him under a clear and present danger who then editor’s note appended Underneath each story were his name appears that says, we would like to remind our readers that Donald Trump regularly advocates balance at his lies, and is a birth, which people forget. People forget that he still believes Obama was not born in this country, wants to ban at 1.6 billion Muslims, a serial liar, misogynist and xenophobe.
Interviewer: Quite subtle.
Arianna Huffington: It’s very subtle. So basically we have no opinion on Donald Trump.
Interviewer: Yeah, yeah.
Arianna Huffington: And really, I think the key here was that in a way, you think how can you cover both in entertainment, then under clear and present danger, think king Kim Jong Un, you know, somebody who is both a buffoon and a danger. The two things are not contradictory, and the two of them really exemplify that fact. So that’s one bucket.
The other bucket is solutions and we have a dedicated section called What’s Working, we brought in a great journalist from The Guardian Jo Confino to run it. And in every area whether it’s business, the environment, workplaces, we focus on what is working. What are the solutions that are working and this is the content that goes more viral than anything, it’s absolutely amazing.
And the third market is Wellness.
Interviewer: Just on that point again, a lot of the — even through your Facebook feed and so forth, comes again from your preconceived tendencies. So when certain articles pop up, for example, someone searches on the immigration crisis, would it not be a case of having a one sided story, but then on the other, something like and by the way, here are the great immigrants that built America like Steve Jobs was Syrian? and so forth and having them side by side such that it’s almost put in front of every reader, regardless of what they search for.
Arianna Huffington: Well, absolutely we would be covering the basics of the story. This is not kind of an alternative to that. But so often media cover the crisis, the problem, without also covering the fact that there are solutions to most problems that are actually happening somewhere. But they are just not scaled enough. So, I know you do a lot of work here. But how do you scale something good? So we feel that by putting the spotlight on why this is working, we can help them scale. We talk about copycat crimes, how about copycat solutions?
So I think that for us, the larger point here is reimagining journalism. So that in journalism schools, right now you are taught that if it bleeds, it leads. And of course if anybody is unfortunate enough to watch local news, you would’ve thought that the only things going on the communities are burglaries, rapes, murders. And this is just the choice of the outlet. They think that’s the way to drive people to their broadcast. But I think the fact that now most people receive their news through social is changing the dynamic.
Interviewer: So, on the topic of solutions, a lot of your current book is around kind of helping us as individuals become better at what we do. Now what many may not know given your long string of successes is the continuous stream of personal hurdles that went on in the background, right? You very unfortunately had complications with your first pregnancy, you had a breast cancer scare, I believe. You had a public divorce, within the family, certain issues around substance abuse and so forth. And yet you continue to go on and be successful. To what extent was work a distraction to help get through these moments? And why was it that it took a literal bump to your head to get you to kind of wake up and reevaluate, and now help us to avoid that situation in the future? Sorry for the question.
Arianna Huffington: No, that’s great. I think that work was never a distraction because I always kind of loved my work. I think what led to my collapse in 2007 and my breaking my cheekbone on the way down, was that I had completely bought into the collective delusion that burnout was the way to achieve things. That yes, I know I’m exhausted and I know I’m kind of sleep walking through my life but hey, I’m building the Huffington Post. And I had the delusion that so many entrepreneurs have, that nothing could be done except by me. And therefore, I had to be up all the time and driving this third baby that I considered the Huffington Post while my first baby, Christina, was on college tour with me. And she had asked rightly that I should not be on my Blackberry while we were together. Remember, that’s 2007, so it was still Blackberry time.
And when she would go to sleep, I would start working and to cut a long story short, I ended up back at home collapsing. But in a way I feel very, very grateful. Speaking going back to Rumi and living life as if everything is rigged in your favor. I honestly believed I would either be dead or have had a heart attack if I had continued that way. Because these things become cumulative, so the price you pay, it’s not obvious right away. Like things seem to be working until they stop working. And the great thing about last year was that it was the year when executive after executive collapsed, and either died or ended up with a heart attack. Most recently the CEO of United Airlines. And if you read his schedule before his collapse, you can see why. He is back at work now but he ended up with a major heart attack.
The CEO of BMW collapsed during a press conference. The head of MMA at JP Morgan, Jimmy Lee, died on his treadmill. And I mean, I could go on and on and what is interesting is that we’ve kind of convinced the world that exercise and nutrition are important, whether we do it or not, we kind of recognize they’re important.
But the third leg of the stool is sleep. And you have people who literally put the alarm on and they wake up exhausted, then drag themselves to the gym. Which now every sleep scientist, and you have some of the best here at Stanford, will tell you it’s just a terrible mistake for your health and for your weight. If all you care about is your weight, sleep in. Don’t wake up sleep deprived and go the gym, because your body is going to crave carbs and sugars in order to be able to function during the day.
Interviewer: It is somewhat ironic that in the Valley, we have sheer panic attacks when our iPhone depletes in energy down to like 7%. But the fact that we’re charging and running around at 2% doesn’t seem to affect us at all.
Arianna Huffington: That is such a great point. In fact, if you think of it, we do take better care of our smartphones than we take of ourselves. Because as you said I actually begin to panic at about 13%, is yours 7%?
Interviewer: Mine barely gets turned on, so I’m okay.
Arianna Huffington: I normally travel with about three portable chargers just in case. And yet, if you had asked me the day I collapsed, Arianna, how are you? I would have said fine. Because exhaustion had become the new normal. And do you know now, that if you go on Google, at least when I last checked a week ago, and you type out why am I, the most common auto-complete is why am I so tired? And the second most common auto-complete is why am I always tired?
Interviewer: So, I like your mantra of encouraging us all to sleep our way to the top. It’s not my words, credit goes to you. Obviously, it’s all good and well, kind of raising awareness among the rank and file. But the challenge is the environment in which we operate. So to what extent to your point around all these CEOs kind of waking up and literally smelling the coffee, do you think that there should be an equivalent of the giving pledge for sleep whereby you kind of shame everyone into getting rid of that social stigma, writing on paper their commitment to adopt the third metric, embody a work environment which rewards people for coming in rested, auto-deletes emails when they’re on holiday, and gives you taxis to get home at night when you’re sleep deprived and –
Arianna Huffington: What are you doing when you graduate?
Interviewer: Working on this.
Arianna Huffington: These are brilliant ideas. I love the equivalent of the giving pledge, let’s talk about that afterwards. I think this is really a fantastic idea because really, we are talking about the need for a culture shift, and there are pioneers who are leading the way, and removing some of the stigma. When, for example, Satya Nadella, when he became the CEO of Microsoft, told Business Insider that he sleeps for eight hours, and could not be an effective CEO if he did not, that was pretty revolutionary. Because in the past, and when I say in the past, I mean a year ago, before he said it, even if a CEO was sleeping eight hours, he would never admit it. Because the whole idea was the Jon Bon Jovi song that I’ll sleep when I’m dead, or you lose you snooze, you snooze you lose, or congratulating people for working 24/7, which now sleep scientists will tell you is the cognitive equivalent of coming to work drunk. But that has been the prevalent culture.
And now, I mean, actually, last week, too late to include it in the book, was a real tipping point. And that was a McKinsey study that they extracted part of the Harvard Business Review, I don’t know why they didn’t do it for you.
Interviewer: We were busy sleeping.
Arianna Huffington: A mistake, a clear mistake, which the title first of all, when you saw the title, you would have thought it was from The Onion. The title was The Proven Link Between Effective Leadership and Sleep. And it was co-written by the McKinsey Chief Global Learning Officer and a woman who was identified as McKinsey’s sleep specialist. The idea that McKinsey has a sleep specialist, to teach you not how to do without sleep, but to teach you the importance of sleep, shows that we are in an amazing Zeitgeist moment. And once I stop kind of pinching myself, I celebrated the fact that this had happened and reached out of course to the people who wrote it to have them write about it on The Huffington Post, which they’re doing. And incidentally, the sleep specialist has now been hired by Facebook to give these workshops at Facebook.
So this is all an amazing new phenomenon and what I love about this piece, which I highly recommend, is that they walk you through what happens to the prefrontal cortex, which is where the leadership functions, that’s what they call the executive functioning is housed. And how incredibly degraded they are when you are sleep deprived. And then I was co-hosting Squawk Box on Tuesday and I asked Mark Bertolini one of the good things about co-hosting, that you can invite people that you want to bring these messages to the financial community. And I invited Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna because I wanted him to talk about the new initiative he started at Aetna, the third largest health insurance company, which is he asked his employees to track their sleep with the Fitbit and anyone who gets at least seven hours a night gets $25 for each night. And that’s kind of again an amazing statement, by the CEO of a health insurance company. And then he has Duke tracking the results. And they are finding a 7% reduction in healthcare costs in all the wellness programs they have and a 62-minute a week improvement in productivity. So it really helps dispel all these illusions that in order to be productive you have to cut down on sleep.
Interviewer: So I hope all my professors are listening because I often email them saying terribly sorry it’s late, I overslept in the night, leave the classes at 3:30, and I was like I was having a nap, you know? Now I can just forward them and tell them I was decreasing my study.
Arianna Huffington: You’re increasing your performance.
Interviewer: Exactly, exactly.
Arianna Huffington: In fact, this afternoon —
Arianna Huffington: In conversation here at Stanford, if you have woken up from your nap, you can come.
Interviewer: I set the alarms specifically.
Arianna Huffington: With Ingrid Iguodala, the MVP from the Golden State Warriors, and the conversation is being introduced by Emmanuel Mignot, Head of your Stanford Sleep Center. And he’s going to talk about how sleep changed his game. And he has tracked it, he has all the data. And he, in fact, Instagrammed himself holding his MVP while sleeping. Because he feels he only got that because, his game so dramatically improved when he started getting enough sleep. And I love pointing to athletes, because all they care about winning. So, those in business school who only care about winning, I hope there’s nobody here like that, but let’s say, that’s all you care about, succeeding, winning.
Interviewer: And lose weight.
Arianna Huffington: Getting to the top.
Arianna Huffington: Sleep is a performance enhancement tool.
Interviewer: Yeah. Well clearly I’ve been dozing a bit on stage because we haven’t got that many minutes left, but we’ll turn to the audience for some questions. And there will be two microphones roaming with Kara there at the back to start.
Great, we’ll start with a question from Twitter. What do you think is the future for online content creation?
Arianna Huffington: Well, the future is incredibly bright. I think what’s happening now is that we are all content creators. It’s not just publishers who are content creators, anybody can be a content creator whether you’re a student and entrepreneur or a brand. In fact, brands increasingly now have entire departments that are about content creation and we were talking earlier backstage about native advertising. For us at the Huffington Post, native advertising has become a major source of monetization. And what we are finding is that we have a separate department, separate from editorial. But informed by the same beliefs and standards that creates contents for brands. We, for example, made a very profitable deal with Sleep Number, which is a mattress company with embedded technology. And we have a dedicated section, it is transparently labeled as a sponsored section. But again, as we were discussing backstage, that doesn’t stop people from wanting to consume the content, provided the content is good, credible, and well produced.
Audience: Hi, Arianna. Thanks so much for joining us. There is an article out today in the New York Times playing on the growing wealth disparity in this country that also says that the richest people in the United States far outlive the poorest people. This is not necessarily new but that gap is widening. Part of the reason for this is stress and unhealthy living habits. And so I wonder what you’re doing as you’re promoting this message of wellness, including sleep, that there are a lot of people who can’t partake in, and that’s not accessible to them. So how do we make sure that we’re not just continuing to grow this divide where those of us in this room get to be healthy and happy and wealthy and there are a lot of people who don’t experience those benefits?
Arianna Huffington: That’s a great question and, in fact, I tried to cover this in the book. And two weeks ago, we held a clinic in Harlem. We took over a church and invited people from the community to come in. And we had a group of doctors, Dr. Oz actually filmed it and it was an entire hour on his show last week, to talk about their health and their sleep specifically. And what is fascinating is that the delusions that we talked about, that permeated the top, have actually permeated also the bottom socio-economic class and unfortunately with even worse information being given to them. Like I talked to multiple people. Most of them significantly overweight and a lot of them suffering from diabetes. And we’re talking about people in their 30s and 40s. And most of them told me the same story. I have two jobs, I have three jobs, I sleep for four hours a night. And I really blame myself everyday because I’m exhausted. And they thought that if they were a Wall Street high flyer, they wouldn’t be exhausted. So that’s how they had interpreted our delusion.
And when you sort of ask more questions, what would happen, let me just give you a one story. This was a woman in her early 30s, was a pastry chef and a babysitter. And she said I would come home after my jobs and that was my time to watch my shows. So that was like her reward and what she didn’t realize is that she was short changing herself of the one thing that was freely available and that she desperately needed, and that was sleep. So sometimes, she said, I would watch for four hours and then fall asleep with the TV. Then the TV would wake her up and then she said I would be so tired. But yet I couldn’t go back to sleep so I would go and have something sweet to eat. So the vicious cycle was perpetuated. So there’s a lot that needs to be done. You know, we need to raise minimum wage, we need to deal with the dangers of technology taking away so many jobs for that people are being retrained. There is a lot we can do. Sleep alone is not going to solve all of these problems.
But here is something which is freely available that would dramatically change the health equation and the resilience of people who are struggling. And so that’s definitely part of the campaign that we are running now, which is focusing on these groups and on colleges. And the reason we are focusing on colleges, we’re doing sleep fairs in 100 colleges, is because this is the generation, it’s your generation that’s going to change the culture. And so, in this league first, we are, as well as giving a lot of free things that make sleep easier, including pillows, let’s say sleeping our way to the top. And we also are offering, which are available at Stanford all this week, free Uber rides at night by Toyota. All you have to do is put the promo code in, if you’re a Stanford student it’s ToyotaSafetySU. And Toyota is offering this because they’re partnered with Uber and The Huffington Post in underlining the dangers of drowsy driving.
And because what’s happened, again part of the culture with drunk driving, we’ve kind of won the battle. The numbers are going significantly down because people are much more reluctant to get behind the wheel when they are drunk. But not when they are drowsy, the numbers are going up. So it was 1.2 million crashes last year and 8,000 deaths. So we have a PSA about it, Travis Kalanick and I on tomorrow. We are doing ride alongs with Uber drivers, so you can actually request us, you can — the promo code is –
Interviewer: You’ve got to do selfies and take videos while that’s happening.
Arianna Huffington: Yeah, we’re having it, and then we take you where you want to go, we don’t kidnap you. But in this process, you have Travis and me talk to you about not driving while drowsy and any other of your bad sleep habits. And we give you a big fabulous bag with a lot of good things in it.
Interviewer: I think it’s a very interesting question though, because one is almost driven by necessity and the other is almost like a privileged choice that we end up in. But suddenly we’ve run out of time Arianna. But I just want to mention a story as we close to kind of just share with the audience how from dark places come great things like Arianna. We didn’t touch it on the beginning, but the story is to how your parents met. And it was at a hospital in Greece, where I believe your father was recovering from the Nazi concentration camp where he’d been taken as he was a journalist back in the day. And at the same time her mother was fleeing from Russia and they’re recovering from TB thinking that she’d never be able to get pregnant. So just to show, from despair come wonderful things like Arianna. She’s been delightful, so please join me in thanking her for being with us today.