Life Reimagined Insights with NBA Strategist Taylor Platt

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Taylor Platt
Taylor Platt is a Princeton graduate and McKinsey alum working as a strategist for the NBA.

Meet Taylor Platt, one of the kindest and smartest people on the planet. I met Taylor at Princeton, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to have him as a good friend over the years. His passion for learning, teaching, and self-improvement have inspired me and countless others to be better humans.

Today, I’m excited to share an interview with Taylor in which he discusses his life philosophy, mission-critical habits, favorite books, and most important life lessons.

Who is Taylor Platt?

Taylor works in strategy for the NBA, focusing specifically on the G League (the NBA’s developmental league). Taylor graduated from Princeton University where he studied international and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School.

He first worked as a business analyst for the consulting firm McKinsey before joining the growth marketing team of the startup Toptal. In his spare time, Taylor loves playing sports and reading about behavioral science. He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and has a healthy addiction to coffee.

What did you learn growing up that still sticks with you today?

The importance of being present and listening to others. Growing up, I always saw my parents making time for others—whether it was friends, family, or strangers. And most importantly, I noticed how they listened. Conversations were never shortened, people were never dismissed; everyone had a worthwhile voice.

For me, this meant I learned to not just hear another person but listen to their words intently, to engage fully. The immediate feedback was powerful: I learned that perspectives are multitude, everyone struggles, and nuggets of information can be found anywhere.

Moreover, I learned that being present and engaging is the easiest way to build meaningful relationships. This focus on listening (and not bring an agenda to conversations) continues to help me professionally and personally. 

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

This one has close competition, but I would choose John Rawls (narrowly edging Daniel Kahneman and Alan Turing). For those who don’t know him, Rawls is an Amercian 20th century philosopher whose work focused on justice and political structures. I am filled with unease about the existing socioeconomic divide in our country and around the world, especially with the looming impact of technological advances.

I believe Rawls’ formulation of a just society (based on the thought experiment of the “veil of ignorance”) is the best solution to creating a well-functioning society that works for all people. Beyond basking in his brilliance, I would love nothing more than to understand his perspective on the recent global shift toward authoritarian and fascist governments. 

What random stranger has had the biggest impact on your life?

I met John (a pseudonym) when I was in the midst of thinking through a potential career shift. He was building a new team at a technology hedge fund and said there might be an opening for someone with my background. Connected through a former colleague, we met for coffee and immediately hit it off–I felt he would be an incredible manager and could easily see myself working for him. We met a few more times and I became more excited about the opportunity; however, something was gnawing at me. I had previously pushed away from working in finance and had wanted to break into the sports industry.

After much internal back and forth, I called John and explained the situation. I expected frustration at having invested time in my candidacy, instead he completely surprised me. The response: “You have to follow your passion! I have a friend at the NBA, do you want me to introduce you?”

He wanted to help me even if it wasn’t the best result for him personally. To this day, it remains the most selfless professional interaction I have ever experienced. It made me want to work for him even more! He remains the professional I strive most to emulate and his example continues to inspire me to try and help others in their early career progression. 

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

There are many, but I think one of my most worthwhile investments has been the time spent becoming “financially literate” and automating my own personal finances. I will be the first to argue that money does not provide meaning; however, that does not stop financial issues from impacting health, affecting relationships, and limiting one’s opportunities.

Taking the time to learn about credit scores, investing for retirement, and target savings was not sexy, but it has provided me a luxury: I spend relatively little time actually thinking about money!

With today’s technology, it is easy to set up an automated system for saving and budgeting. This means I have more time to pursue interests and I can align my expenditures with my values. Understanding the basics of personal finance is something achievable for all people (I highly recommend the book I Will Teach You to Be Rich) and can help anyone, regardless of income level.

If you were to give your 18-year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Diversify your experience and exposure: travel freely, learn broadly, and talk to as many people as possible. As humans, we all suffer from the availability bias—a noted psychological phenomenon in which examples that are easier to recall seem to be more likely. While this generally refers to how we predict events, I believe it also shapes how we think, who we build relationships with, and what careers we choose. For me, this last part is one I think about the most.

Coming out of college when I was 21, I applied to jobs primarily based on what was readily available to me (i.e., my parents’ careers, my friends’ careers, normal job tracks from my major). I was ill-prepared to know what work interested me, where I wanted to live, and what a career even looked like.

While this would not be completely remedied by broadening my experience, speaking to more people in a wide-variety of fields would have significantly increased the data informing my decision. While I am extremely happy in my current role, I often think about how limited my perspective was in college and how there was so much more I could have learned if I started pushing myself when I was 18.

What habits have you developed that have improved the quality of your life?

These are over-referenced so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I beleive daily exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are fundamental necessities of a high quality life. Beyond these essentials, the following habits have helped me…

Cooking – The easiest way to improve your eating habits is to take control and start cooking. This requires time but I think the tradeoff is worth it. There are immediate gains from choosing what goes into your body and long-term gains from developing competency. Cooking is fun and often therapeutic, it allows you to host guests more easily, and can help you attract a partner (seriously!).  

Using Audibooks – I commute roughly 1-1.5 hours each day on New York’s lovely (read: dirty and packed) subway system. Listening to audiobooks has helped me turn this into a productive and enjoyable experience; I truly look forward to my commute each day. I use the app Libby, which allows you to borrow audiobooks from your local library system–providing huge cost savings over Audible without sacrificing quality.  

Taking Notes While Reading – This simple habit has radically transformed the way I process information. This will not come as a surprise but you learn more when you take notes. The key is just doing it at all. I use the Notes app on my iPhone while I read (or listen) and then write a short summary after I finish a book. My comprehension and retention have improved significantly, and I can access the information later. Try it for your next book and you will notice the difference. 

What are three books that have greatly shaped your thinking?

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – This is the book that has changed me the most since graduating college. Kahneman details how our brains process information in automatic and deliberate ways, and how our use of heuristics (shortcuts) creates systematic biases in decision-making. Understanding the fallibility of our minds is critical in personal development, creating good policy, and much more.   

Alternatively, you can read The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis.  The novel captures the highs and lows of an intense friendship (between Kahneman and his long-time collaborator Amos Tverskey) while also introducing the reader to the psychological phenomena they discovered.  

Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans – The worst feeling is waking up and asking yourself how you got here. Burnett and Evans of the legendary Stanford d.School apply design-thinking to life-planning, helping you find and develop intentionality as you move through life. This book provides practical advice but also fostered, in me, a personal philosophy of life’s potentiality (more on that later).

Give and Take by Adam Grant – My favorite book by Grant, Give and Take reinforced a core belief of mine: acting to support and further others will ultimately help you advance forward in your career (and life). Grant argues through research that acting selflessly is of critical value in business and can also help individuals reach the pinnacle of success.

How do you decide what projects, people, or experiences to prioritize in life?

I have reflected on and codified a personal set of values that I use as a compass. Awareness of my values helps me to live with intentionality and prioritize my attention with what I care most about. This is not to say I don’t get caught up occasionally and overextend myself—we all do—but, by keeping a set of values, I have a benchmark that I can use to evaluate my current set of obligations. If you have never reflected on a personal set of values, I highly encourage the exercise. It is liberating and enlightening.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

I recently started using an online service called iTalki, which is a platform for learning languages that connects students and teachers. Beyond the benefits to mental health, speaking and thinking in another language allows you to understand other cultures. It opens doors (e.g., through traveling) and broadens your perspective.

I always loved learning Spanish and later Portuguese in school, but had struggled to find opportunities to practice while living in New York. For the price of $10/hour, I can connect with a teacher in Mexico or Colombia–not only improving my speaking and comprehension but also meeting new people. 

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?.

I’m going to cheat a bit and mention two, one behavior and one belief. First, I stopped drinking 9 months ago and that is probably the single most important change I’ve made in the last 5 years. There are small discrete benefits—financial, health, and time come prominently to mind—that have accompanied this decision, but also a necessary shift in outlook.

When interacting socially, I now focus more on the activity at hand and creating meaningful interactions rather than simply relying on alcohol to pave the way. There was a readjustment period, but, for me, it has improved my friendships and experiences.

Second, I’ve found a new way of thinking about FOMO and regret. Prompted by reading Designing Your Life, I have come to believe that we are all capable of leading many lives and “occupying” many worlds. There is a simple beauty in realizing there are many possible journeys for your life and no one is truly better or worse than another; the meaningful journey is simply the one you are living.

Regret subsides when you accept these many potential “lives” as part of you, yet relish in the path you are walking. We do not make decisions twice, so embrace yours and learn from them. 

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