In this Deep Dive I have a chat with Bobby Seagull, on television success, trivia, mindset and resilience. Some of the highlights of our discussion can be found below, as well as time-stamps if you fancy listening to us talk :)

Bobby is a school maths teacher and Cambridge University Doctorate student. Growing up in east London, Bobby received a Sixth Form Scholarship to study at Eton College. Before moving professionally into education, he was an investment banking trader at Lehman Brothers & Nomura, and is a qualified Chartered Accountant from PwC.

He is an ambassador for the charity National Numeracy and UK Libraries Champion. Bobby writes puzzles for BBC Radio Four's Today programme and is a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Numbers (Amazon top 50 bestseller) and co-host of the podcast Maths Appeal.

πŸ‘±πŸ½β€β™‚οΈ Bobby Β πŸ’» Website / 🐀 Twitter / πŸ“ΉYouTube / πŸŽ™Podcast

πŸ“š Bobby's Books:

πŸ“Ί Bobby's TV series:

πŸ₯ΌWeekly YouTube quizzes for the NHS:

Books Mentioned

The Last Dance documentary, Netflix


00:58 Bio and introduction
2:29 University Challenge
5:21 Turning overnight success into long term success
8:11 Being a Yes Man
13:03 Dropping out of Oxford
15:33 Career path
24:28 On identity
26:41 Brain size and learning trivia
30:27 On working as a team
33:04 The value of trivia
36:38 Does talent exist?
40:43 Bounce book and talent
44:42 Return on luck
51:33 YouTube vs Television fame
57:09 When to throw in the towel
1:04:10 On being OK with looking foolish
1:12:48 Notetaking and how to learn
1:18:55 Key learning points from Last Dance
1:23:44 How to write a book
1:34:27 The importance of stories and storytelling
1:40:35 Gratitude
1:43:30 Polietly saying no
1:50:17 Work life balance
1:57:08 Normalising achievements and gratefulness

Highlights From Our Discussion

  • 3:24 Without meaning to, his personality came off in the show which is what contributed to him going viral
  • 5:20 You do need luck to be in the right place in the right time in order to become a success, but also you need to be able to deal with the platform
  • 7:12 Be a Yes man: If someone gives you an opportunity, take it and deliver: this way you become known as being reliable. This becomes a virtuous cycle.
  • 10:03 Even when you think you are not qualified enough for something that is offered to you, say yes, google it, learn about it and deliver. You never know where any opportunity can take you

Bobby's career:

  • 14:31 Knockbacks happen to people, but it is how you respond them that defines you
  • Dropped out of Oxford University, had a well-planned work trajectory in accounting which he found thrilling, but found an interest in education
  • 24:25 It is difficult to change you identity, and it does not happen overnight. It often is a combination of events you do not have control over which cause a shift in identity

Brain and learning trivia:

  • 26:38 Horizon on BBC found through MRI scans that Bobby’s brain is not bigger than others (what was assumed), but actually smaller than average
  • 27:34 Life experiences: going to the library on Saturdays as a child, reading books for 2-3h on multiple topics
  • 28:26 Bobby had never watched University Challenge before going on the show
  • Bobby focused on capitalising on the strength of the team, focusing on coaching and supporting his team to make it more cohesive
  • 30:29 realising the power in leveraging the skillset of others
  • 33:05 Some trivia is more useful than others. Knowing about other’s cultures for example, can be a way to break the ice with others
  • (continued) Having superficial knowledge on a wide range of things will give you the opportunity to ask more informed and insightful questions, and be better at making new friends and connections

On talent and luck:

  • 36:38 Talent: it assumed to be the thing that makes people successful, this is not the case
  • 37:17 Angela’s book: talent, multiplied by effort is skill. It is the effort that will allow you to reap the rewards
  • 40:25 Great success is a combination of hard work and multiple fortunate circumstances (Bounce book)
  • 43:31 One of the factors that determines success is β€œreturn on luck” - to what extent can you capitalise on the fortunate circumstances you find yourself in. Often, there are similar lucky breaks happening to both those who end up successful and those who do not (Good to Great book)
  • 45:56 You cannot really control when luck happens to you, but you can maximise the opportunities for luck to find you: maximise randomness

Question: When to throw in the towel?

  • 57:09 If you keep trying something and it is not working, it may be the time to stop and think if it is the right thing for you. It is important to have external input and fresh perspectives too
  • 1:00:58 Process is key: when we begin a new venture we often we have an end goal in sight. We can forget that the journey needs to be enjoyable
  • 1:02:08 You’re only as successful as your most recent success - you need to move on to the next thing and build on things (Michael Jordan documentary)

Being content to be thought foolish:

  • 1:04:08 Like everything else this is a skill, trying to make it a principle to put yourself out there
  • Foolishness can be positive, it can show humanity, you can come across more natural, and makes people warm to you, buy into you and support you
  • There is a return on foolishness

On being worried about what others will think:

  • 1:08:49 We over-worry about what others think about us. People go home and have their own concerns
  • We notice all our micro-mistakes, others either don’t notice or don’t care
  • 1:10:50 Carl Sagan: β€œLook again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”
  • We are insignificant in the big scheme of things, just do what you need to do

Last dance, key insights:

  1. 1:18:55 Michael Jordan and a mindset to succeed. We should not be perhaps as ruthless has he was with his success, but we can take from his determination
  2. (continued) You cannot do it by yourself, you need a team around you. Despite your own talent, you need to rely on and motivate those around you to be the best they can be
  3. (continued) Overcoming setbacks, you can pitch all you have and lose, and you should be able to come back as though it didn’t happen, and be able to build everything up again

On writing a book:

  • 1:23:46 Be prepared to be imperfect: the stars will never align for you to start something, you need to just start and make the best of your circumstances
  • You do not need to be Shakespeare, just be consistent and work with it
  • Write stuff, and edit it later
  • Be perfectly imperfect
  • A first draft should be fast, bad wrong: FBR
  • You do not absolutely need an outline for a non-fiction book, nor do you need to write it in order of chapters

On storytelling:

  • 1:34:26 Stories are the way that we communicate, the thing that makes us human, the way to be engaging when communicating
  • When you bring in a story, people are more likely to listen to you, bring in the story and then give the information

On gratitude:

  • 1:39:58 Experiencing life twice: when living it and when writing it down/thinking about it later can make you more appreciative of life
  • 1:40:35 The value of being grateful and finding things to be grateful for in your everyday life
  • 1:42:12 Keeping a gratitude journal can result in as much of an increase in self-reported hapiness as a doubling in salary
  • 1:50:17 We do adjust to our goals and get accustomed to things. It is human to normalise our new sate of affairs, but we should be able to take a step back and appreciate what we have achieved
  • 2:00:08 Mitigating lifestyle inflation by altering interest rates by goal setting