Write of Passage Fellowship
The Write of Passage Fellowship was designed to help a small group of intellectually curious people create world-class essays on a topic of their choice.
With the rise of the internet and tools for mass communication, we’re witnessing a new generation of writers and content creators. It has helped me build my own audience, a process that I then systematized to create the Write of Passage course as we know it today.
The news doesn’t dive deep enough. The problems of the modern world are too complex for short articles with clickbait headlines. We plan to nudge the conversation in a more thoughtful direction. Each essay will analyze events with the context required to communicate nuance and help the reader understand them.
For the inaugural cohort, we brought eight people together. Each fellow received mentorship and professional editing.
In addition to the essays, we also published a series of short interviews to complement each essay, which you can find them on YouTube.
Background: A writer, thinker, and real estate investor. I spend my weekdays working for a midsize consulting company in New York City. I enjoy hiking, running, playing golf, cooking, reading, writing, and too many other things to list. Curiosity is one of my strengths. Having too many interests to pursue is one of my weaknesses. I don’t understand boredom. I write a weekly newsletter and regular articles on my website where I discuss societal problems and how to solve them through systems and self improvement.
Topic Description: When you hear the words compulsory national service, your head might fill with images of the draft. But the issue extends beyond World War II and Vietnam. When you turn on the news (which I don’t recommend) what do you see? National disunity. The student debt crisis. A country in need of repair. In this fellowship, I will explore the idea of compulsory national service. What is it? Where has it been tested? What were the effects? What could it look like in the United States? Might it be the answer to some of our problems? Or would it create more issues than it resolves?
Background: Suthen is an avid learner – writing for his weekly newsletter where he shares lessons relating to personal growth, building companies and becoming financial independent. He also hosts a podcast where he interviews up-and-coming leaders across all fields, giving his audience a perspective into a diverse range of careers. During the week, Suthen leads a corporate development and M&A team at Constellation Software.
Suthen is incredibly passionate about understanding how different systems work – particularly in urban environments. He’s always up for a conversation to learn, build and share interesting ideas on anything related to cities, building businesses or personal growth. You can connect with him on his Twitter, website, or newsletter.
Topic Description: We live in a world of unprecedented urbanization. Cities have brought society huge rewards, including record-high economic growth and value creation. Yet, cities are in a world of trouble. Their archaic infrastructures are showing cracks and their streets are congested to the point of being un-drivable. Who should we look to in order to tackle these problems? One surprising answer that I will explore in this essay—Walt Disney. Disney had everything figured out from innovative features, special legislation to even having a PR strategy. Despite his untimely passing, we have a lot to gain from applying his ideas to today’s projects whether its the Charter Cities movement or something else. As Marc Andreessen said, it’s time to build. Who better to learn from than Walt Disney himself?
Background: I’m interested in how we might redesign economies to enrich their most neglected product: human consciousness. I received a degree in economics and spent a year studying meditation in India. To make sense of things, I write essays and produce a podcast, both bringing contemplative philosophy into dialogue with economic theory.
I’m fascinated by the dynamism of consciousness, the untold ways it can feel like to be alive. But to explore these possibilities as a collective, we require a sturdy, sane economic base. Economies of the 21st century should minimize avoidable human suffering while maximizing vitality. Musingmind.org is my digital home base, the splayed trail of my becoming as an astonished bag of flesh in an expanding (perhaps infinite!) cosmos.
Topic Description: This essay explores how universal basic income intervenes in the hyper-capitalist distortion of human development.
Perhaps the most neglected product of modern economies is the human being. When digital technologies enabled the conversion of attention into capital, the commodification of consciousness became the next frontier of economic development. Universal basic income intervenes in this process by affording everyone a basis of decommodified time that makes behaviors, relations, and projects – ways of living – viable even if they don’t generate income. By remaking the logic of the everyday, basic income incites new developmental trajectories to arise from the bottom up.
Background: After six years at Breather as the NYC GM and then VP, Experience, Packy is building Not Boring, a community of smart, curious people, and writing a newsletter about business strategy and trends mixed with pop culture.
Topic Description: Throughout history, much of the world’s progress has come from particular combinations of place, people, and time. Ancient Greece, Renaissance Florence, and Silicon Valley are just a few of the examples of this phenomenon, which Brian Eno dubbed “Scenius.”
One characteristic that each of these scenia share is that they emerged from catastrophe, from the Bubonic Plague to World War II. Today, we are in the midst of a similar crisis, and new scenia will be born out of Covid.
In this essay, I explore history for the ingredients that go into the creation of scenius, learn lessons from budding modern-day scenia, and provide a roadmap for promising communities that want to change the world can follow. It’s time to build together, and scenius holds the key.
Background: Rhys Lindmark is helping build The Bento Society and the Center for Paradigm Change. Before that, he was the Head of Long-Term Societal Impact at MIT DCI. His podcast “Conversations with Rhys” has 150,000+ plays and he self-taxes 10% of his income.
Topic Description: Rhys’ essay is titled We Need To Talk: Marriage Counseling with Capitalism Itself. It explores our post-capitalist future through playful dialogue (and VR scenes) with Humanity, Capitalism, and Post-Capitalism. The essay outlines the four crucial components of this future: 1) Networkism: how decentralized digital networks are outcompeting centralized institutions. 2) Coherent Pluralism: How individuals should consume information on the internet—by looking through many lenses (Pluralism) while also striving for clarity (Coherence). 3) Bentoism: A mindset that frees us from short-term thinking by zooming out to our collective future. 4) Generosity: Recognizing our newfound abundance and giving back the planet and each other.
Background: Jessy is a technologist and incoming PhD student at Berkeley. She studied computer science and philosophy at MIT, where she did research on human-inspired AI at the Computational Cognitive Science Lab and co-founded independent research group LabSix to work on real-world adversarial examples. Previously, she spent time at Google Research with the Natural Language Understanding team, organized HackMIT, and did product/engineering at startups.
Topic Description: In response to mounting concerns about the effects of AI on society – job loss, safety, fairness, and more – there is a counter-narrative, an optimistic vision of “human-centered AI” that augments humans instead of replacing them. But what does this entail? What does it take to develop systems that work in the dynamic, interactive, and messy environments in the real world, and what lessons can we draw from history, economics, and more?
Background: Adrienne is a Product Manager at Tesla building the in-car experience in your Model S/X/3. Before Tesla, she founded a biotech company focused on automating drug development with computer vision. The company was later acquired and she led product design at the parent company. Previously, she has worked at Google, Bridgewater, and Y-Combinator Research.
Topic Description: The common narrative is that a startup founder needs to have certain qualities and run their company in a certain way in order to succeed, but the fact of the matter is that these things vary greatly depending on the type of company you are building. Specifically, there are three types of risk that a company should be focused on aggressively removing, and these risks differ depending on the life cycle the company and their industry. This essay will deep dive into those risks, take a quick survey of several prominent companies and describe how their risk levels have changed over time and how they have overcome them. Most literature on building products tends to be abstract (e.g. “here is a 5-step design process”), but we learn best from stories. I will include examples on how various companies aggressively removed risk in order to deliver successful product launches.