I have two guests today: Tiago Forte and Will Mannon.
Tiago is my business partner and the creator of an online course called Building a Second Brain. The two of us record a podcast like this every year to reflect on what we’ve learned about the online education industry. And this time, we invited our Director of Student Experience: Will Mannon.
Will oversees all aspects of the student experience with the exception of curriculum design. He’s at the frontier of thinking about live online learning, from how assignments should be delivered to how live sessions should be structured.
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Find Will & Tiago Online
3:21 – Why hiring your first employee is one of the most important steps you’ll take in your business.
5:38 – How sharing a workforce and resources with another business or entrepreneur can help fast-track personal and professional growth.
11:00 – How running an online course is like organizing a music tour.
13:30 – The role of the alumni mentors in Tiago’s courses, and how they have changed from his first to his most recent cohort.
17:16 – What different mentors can bring to the table and why the differences between them all brings strength to the program.
21:03 – Why giving as many people as possible the ability to lead allows much more effective learning for everyone.
25:04 – The nature of burnout and why creatives are so prone to experiencing it.
31:04 – Discovering the right size for a cohort and how to scale effectively.
37:13 – How to help students find each other and make meaningful and lifelong connections with each other.
40:28 – The “beer mode” and “coffee mode” of productivity.
44:32 – How to increase your focus by never giving yourself enough time.
51:02 – Why David and Will organize Write of Passage to have attendees “come for the ideas and stay for the people”.
56:23 – Why running a course should be about empowering leadership in students, not in building dependence on the teacher.
1:02:33 – Why the element of shock is so fundamental to deep learning.
1:06:43 – How friendship can come so readily out of hardship and pain.
1:11:33 – The unusual growth of David and Tiago’s online brand this year and what sparked it.
1:14:45 – Why writing a book summary for Tiago is so integral in internalizing the information and the message contained within it.
1:24:22 – What hands-on education and perseverance in the face of extreme difficulty can teach us that traditional education never can.
1:32:30 – What we can learn about education from businesses and markets outside of the educational sphere.
1:36:33 – Why success in a new business should not be focusing on competition, but on radical differentiation.
1:39:23 – The importance of finding your community online and curating it to inspire and inform you.
David: We’re here in Long Beach, California. I’m here with Tiago Forte who runs Building a Second Brain and Will Mannon who runs the student experience for Write of Passage, which is my course, and for a Second Brain. We’re just going to use the next couple hours to reflect on what we’ve learned. One year ago, we were in Mexico City doing a team retreat, and this was really just an experiment. A year ago we were just hiring Will, who was our first full-time employee. One of the things that Tiago and I figured out this year was that, one of the big problems with online education is that the revenue streams are really spiky. And so you could think of it almost like a music festival. So Coachella happens every year in April, they need a huge staff for those weeks and then the rest of the year, they don’t need a lot of employees.
That creates a lot of cashflow difficulties and it creates a lot of flux in terms of how much work is involved. And that makes it really hard to hire a full-time staff. Online courses all around the world have this problem. What Tiago and I figured out this year which is where we’re going to begin this podcast, is how to structure a partnership where we split expenses 50/50. And as a result, rather than having a team that we would bring on only work half the time and not being able to afford those people because we split everything. We can not only afford people, but have everyone who works with us, double their rate of learning and share ideas. So Tiago, why don’t we begin there and we’ll see where we end up today.
Tiago: Sure. Happy to join you guys. I think a good place to start is your first employee. I think that’s the game changer. When you go from a solo printer, which I was a year and a few days ago, up until that point I had hired course managers on a part-time basis for short periods, but really for the most part, I was doing everything myself from answering customer service emails, to doing sales, to teaching, to everything. And hiring your first employee it’s like a small step for mankind. It’s like a small step, but it’s also a huge leap psychologically, financially in terms of risk, in terms of dynamics, have a team that I think a lot of creators are interested in and potentially are close to being able to make that leap.
But I think we should talk through what it’s been like and the business model, the partnership that we have, I think is a huge part of that because we share really two things, the team and the infrastructure. The infrastructure is important because it’s the only thing that makes it possible to share the team. I just realized if you had two completely separate companies with different software, different systems, different platforms, there’s no way that the staff would have to learn twice as many things to be able to do their jobs. What’s so important is that we also share the same platforms.
David: And the other thing that we’ve done this year is even with people that we hire on our own, such as assistance, we share ideas there and we’re all in the same group together. So it’s this really weird blend of not this official partnership, but something that actually is made possible by a tremendous amount of trust that you and I have. Being able to take a lot of things that would ordinarily be disagreements, and basically saying, “You know what, I’ll give you this one. You’ll give me that one.” And over the long arc of time, things will just work out because the collective pie is so much bigger than any of the petty disagreements. There’s actually not a lot of people who I think I could do that with. So I’m really happy that we’ve had that, but I wonder, Will, what has stuck out for you in terms of running both of these courses and just the pace?
Will: It’s great to have two different courses to work on because you can learn lessons in one course, and then rather than having to wait several months to iterate and try some new things turn right around to the other course, implement those new lessons that you learned in the first course, and you can ladder that learning back and forth. We ran Write of Passage early in the year and introduced an Alumni Mentor Program. We were trying to make a big class of 150, 200 students feel smaller. The first program in some ways went well, some ways didn’t go as well. And so we transferred right back to Second Brain, less than a month later, iterated introduced some new elements to the Metro Program, did that four times in one year. So it really felt like we had twice the learning for that aspect of building online course than we would have if I were just working on only Write of Passage or only Second Brain.
Tiago: I studied business in school. My major was business and a lot of what we’re doing goes against a lot of business principles like, it’s just an unorthodox thing to do. It’s an informal partnership that has certain shared elements, two completely separate brands and courses that actually I’ve noticed are diverging. That’s actually an interesting thing. We’re not getting closer and closer together. This is related to… I think a different conversation we’re going to have on becoming a platform, which didn’t go so well this year. But instead of convergence, which you would expected if this was just a product. Oh, we need standardization, efficiency, make everything modular, make everything down to these exact specifications.
In fact, our courses are diversing, we’re finding that even two subjects as extremely related and close as note taking and writing they’re right there next to each other, require a different mindset, has a different crowd who needs to have a different set of experiences at a different pace, obviously different material. But that’s a really weird emergent thing that’s happened is that we’re going in more and more different directions on some fronts, but actually maybe also some other things are getting… The parts that work well across both are getting standardized while the rest gets more divergent.
David: I think that we can dive into building off what Will was saying in terms of how do we actually share learning. So Will, why don’t you dive into the weeds of how this actually works? Specifically the things that we shared between the first cohort, the second cohort, the third cohort, the fourth cohort, how did we actually improve it?
Will: The program started with a handful of our best alumni who were each given the same size group of students that were sort of arbitrarily assigned. On our course forum, we had these sections of the forum, one for each group and a mentor leading each group. So it was all asynchronous offline communication and the thought was, you’d get people in these groups in the forum, they could exchange feedback on their articles and it would be this sub-community within the larger community. What we found was that when it was just that asynchronous interaction, the levels of interaction stayed pretty low.
We would meet with the mentors every Friday and say, “Okay guys, how did the week go? Is there a lot of posts in your group? How’s the energy in your group?” And it was a mixed bag. Some groups had some energy some weeks, but overall the energy was lower than what we wanted. So then we turned around to Second Brain in the spring. A Month later and we introduced an element where the Alumni Mentors in Second Brain would actually have a portion of one of the live sessions where Tiago would give the reins over to them for 30 minutes and let them teach assessing. So that was the first time we introduced mentors to actually live teaching in our courses. That was better. We had some limitations with Zoom and some of the things that we were able to do with getting the right people in each group each week, but we still had mentors teaching.
The big insight came after that cohort. I realized that if you were just putting… Take, you had 300 students in Write of Passage, you had 800 students in Second Brain and you divide them up into equal arbitrary blocks of 30 or 50 and put them in these groups. There was no real felt sense of comradery because we had just arbitrarily assigned these groups. The big switch was with the next cohort of Write of Passage, we made these groups opt in. Said first of all if you’re busy, you don’t even need to join one of these mentor groups, just get the basics of the course that’s fine. If you want to go further, if you want to engage more, here are seven mentors or here are 20 mentors we have for Second Brain. Here are their interests, here’s what they’re best at, and you choose which mentor groups you want to attend.
And this was this light bulb moment where all of a sudden people joined these groups and they felt a sense of ownership. We started hearing people say things like, “Oh yeah, I’m in Labs group with so-and-so.” And I was like, they’re really identifying with it because they chose it and they had that agency of choosing it. Then each of these mentors taught their own live session for an hour each week. We enabled the mentors to have more authority to actually teach their own session, create it the way they wanted to teach it. The students had more agency and more ownership of being a member of that group and we saw the really strong, smaller sub-tribes emerge, which we’d wanted all along. That was the real learning and we’re going to keep iterating off of that.
David: I think that one of the things that you’re going to hear throughout this conversation that makes this partnership work is when you teach hundreds and hundreds of students at the same time, it’s like going on tour. It’s extremely difficult emotionally because, it’s like going on tour but having to develop the music before every single new show. Because what we do is our curriculums aren’t really set in stone, before every single Write of Passage session Will and I probably spent between seven and nine hours preparing the curriculum and the recent one. That was because we’re doing a curriculum review, but then also trying to make sense of where are our student’s confused and then thinking about how do we make sure that every second of this experience is worth it? What is the best mosaic of activities for students to have in order to make this an entertaining and engaging experience for our students?
So that requires just going, going, going. And so as an instructor of Write of Passage, it’s my job to spend my life thinking about, what do you need to do to understand, and then to teach online writing to people? I’m always collecting ideas and then once the cohort begins, I’m in a forcing function to actually make sense of all the experiences I’ve had. Then Will work with me to push my thinking, tell me where things are a little bit confusing or try to have a story that better illuminates what it is that I’m saying. I remember one time we were preparing one of the live sessions this year and Will and I would spend probably 30 minutes sometimes on a certain metaphor to illustrate a story.
Will, and I were going back and forth on legos. I was like, “Yeah, it’s like having a big box of Legos in your basement.” And Will was like, “No, it’s not like that at all. It’s like an ocean of legos.” And we were debating back and forth and then we’d go on Unsplash and then we go on Google to try to find Creative Commons images, that then we can have an image to communicate that ideal with. What happens is we really have this division of labor where Tiago and I are really coming up with the ideas and Will is sort of pushing back. Then Will is coming up with the ideas for student experience and actually making sure that that’s good, and then Tiago and I push back on that.
Tiago: Interesting. Alumni Mentors have been such a… And actually there’s a much longer history to that. I had five, I think five people I hired in cohort four, this was end of 2017. Over the course of that was the first year of Building a Second Brain. I was in that initial sprint of what felt like unstoppable momentum, every cohort adding so many things, increasing the price, all the stuff and I burned out after this cohort and you’ll understand why. I hired them and they were matched with students who had paid for the higher tier for coaching.
I learned two things from that. One is that coaching is a really loaded word, coaching. I don’t know if it brings up baggage from you’re sports coach in high school or what, but people have these astronomical expectations, especially because they’d paid more that they’re going to get on and just have their lives transformed by this person. But this person was just a graduate of the previous cohort. So that was one and two was, they needed way more training. I had a couple calls with them, maybe one call a week to check in, but there was so much variability, like one or two of the coaches did fantastically well, because they happened to have experience in that. I’ve a couple others who really did badly. So we didn’t do that from cohort four all the way till 10.
There’s a few other experiments that I tried, but that has a long history. But I think if I had to summarize what we’re doing with the Alumni Mentors it’s, there’s this idea you hear which is, the person you want to learn from is not the huge at the summit of Mount Everest expert. You want to learn from someone who’s a couple of steps ahead of you. Who’s a little bit further on the path. And I think with the latest cohort of Building a Second Brain, we took that seriously and had the dedicated sessions throughout the week for them. That was really like putting emphasis or really believing in that idea when we’ve flipped the course instead of 80, 90% of the time being with me 80 to 90% of the time became with the Alumni Mentors and I was that once a week check-in.
Will: With the Second Brain, we had 20 mentors each doing an hour session each week, times five weeks, that’s a hundred hours. And then of course our mentors are fantastic. They go above and beyond, a lot of them stay 30 minutes extra. A huge portion of the course, like you said, shifted away from just you presenting the material and you have released that bottleneck. So there’s now 20 other people who have their own strengths and own particular skills and areas of expertise, and their own styles of teaching that different people jive with and getting value not just flowing from Tiago, but from Tiago and 20 other people.
I think this is totally the future of what we’re doing because something that’s different with online education versus traditional education it’s not assumed that everyone is the exact same coming into the course. There’s this total variability. Some people come back in Second Brain, they’ve taken the course three times already. We have this policy where you can always return. Some people stumble onto it the day before the cart closed, Googled, found this weird thing, dropped in the door and they’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Different people need different experiences and we don’t have all the answers for what’s the best experience of a course.
That’s something I’ve learned. It’s not this always top down from the team designing exactly what you’ve ever experienced should be, you just empowered these 20 people who are going to… We have been so amazed with how they just take these hour sessions that they have and run within people there’s a spectrum between pure teaching and more facilitating and enabling people to have discussions and Q&A’s. I’ve talked to so many of our mentors and they all fall somewhere different on that spectrum. But each session has this different type of value.
David: I think the other thing is different students need different emotions. When you take that seriously, you basically pair different students with different Alumni Mentors and those Alumni Mentors, because they have so much freedom they create very different vibes in their experiences. We have certain teachers or certain mentors who are all about looking inside and being vulnerable and trying to take those experiences, make sense of trauma and pain and difficulty, and then translate that into writing. They’re almost like a therapy group of discussion and we have people who are even in tears in these Alumni Mentor Programs and in the discussion groups. For certain people, they’re like, “Wow, that’s what I want, that’s what I need to make sense of this experience to go through this block that I have psychologically.” And then other people are just like, “Why in the world would you want that from an online course?”
That makes no sense whatsoever. And for those people, we have totally different experiences. We have people who want to double down on the tactics, people who are saying, “Okay, tell me exactly and Write of Passage. What are the best vehicles for me to grow my newsletter? How can I build a referral program? What is it that you did when your newsletter was between 1500 and 3000? How then did you double the size of your email list while also keeping your open rates up? And then how do you actually manage replies? And then it’s boom. What are the actual tactics that are needed?” And then everyone’s just going back and forth with that. I think that this is what a single teacher can no longer provide and what we’re trying to do is figure out how do we match students with mentors who provide the same emotions as them. And not just that, but then give our students a community of people who are like them and share those same values, and those goals and make this big world small.
Will: And I think that there’s multiple layers to this. So this is where we’re at right now. We’ve added this layer and we’re working on really perfecting this Alumni Mentor layer. But there’s another layer beneath that, which is more casual forms of organization of people within the community because the mentor groups are still oriented around writing, around personal knowledge management. But when you gather hundreds of people from all over the globe who are curious and driven and would voluntarily pay money to take an online course, you get people making connections beyond the realm of the course. And that’s really important. So we have our forum and we have places where these interest groups can form that are student created that are organized around all kinds of different things. We had a group from people who lived in Manchester, United Kingdom. We have people who speak Japanese, people who use DEVONthink- some very particular old, online, personal knowledge management tool.
And something that’s our growth edge now I think our new frontier is making those groups more established and giving other students the opportunity to lead. The Alumni Mentor is a paid position. They are essentially part of the team during those five weeks, but we also want to empower this lower level of community and have people lead because when somebody comes into your course and takes on a leadership role, even if it’s unpaid, even if it’s in a casual interest group, that’s a big moment for that person leading others in an online environment. It might be weird at first, but if they have a successful experience leading others, even in a small humble group of five people, that is a seriously positive moment for them and those positive externalities get associated back to your course and what you’re doing. That’s our frontier for what we’re trying to do going into this year.
Tiago: It’s funny. It’s like the old saying like the best way to learn something is to teach it and everyone goes, “Oh yeah, nods their head.” They’re like, in the past how would you take action on that? Go get a job at a school or go start an online education business. There wasn’t a way to plug into, there was no place or forum for you to have any experience facilitating your teaching. But now we do have that. It was amazing, I think when we were doing the retrospective after the cohort and I looked at everyone that was involved, was 50 people. If you included us and our team and the contractors that work directly on this cohort, if you included the 20 Alumni Mentors, the Senior Alumni Mentors, my wife Lauren, who was the Unofficial Alumni Mentor Director, and then the affiliate partners who aren’t like these random people out there, but were very close to us.
There were 50 people that were part of this launch. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, that is a massive team.” And I think one of the things that’s so satisfying is to talk to those Alumni Mentors who have better testimonials than any student. They’re the ones that are glowing because they got to get up on this platform. First of all, they always say, “Oh, now I really get this material.” Because they were responsible. They had to produce it, not just consume it. We actually furthered their learning and their understanding, but then they have other testimonials like, “I’ve discovered that I really like leading and teaching people. I discovered that I really have something to offer. I discovered that I’m only 23 and I’m still in college, but there are people twice my age that have a lot to learn from me.” These realizations that you could tell someone these things a hundred times and they wouldn’t believe you, but having experience it. I love the transformation those mentors go through in five weeks it’s just incredible.
David: Let’s talk about something that you mentioned earlier, which was probably the worst part of this year, and that was unbelievable burnout. And I think all of us should talk about it because one of the big realizations I had this year is the absolute grind that comes with being a creator, that comes with being a teacher, that comes with doing what we do for a living. I love this job, absolutely. But, Oh my goodness, what happened in July and August, for me in some ways felt like a traumatic experience and Will calls these horror stories. So Will, why don’t you talk about some horror stories? Tell the email story.
Will: That was a real moment there. With all these launches, there’s especially a ton of activity. When the sales card opens for the two weeks before the course launches and the two weeks after the course launches, and there’s a ton of interest and there’s ton of people reaching out to us with questions. And so all the work from home this year, I was doing a lot of this work from my bedroom. And when it got late enough at night and I still had a mountain of emails to get through, I’d often lay in my bed, try to knock out the rest of the emails. And one night its probably 4:00 AM I’m responding to customer emails. Two or three days before the course launches and I fall asleep in my bed at 4:00 AM with my hands on my keyboard. And I wake up, four or five hours later and opened my eyes and my hands just on my laptop keyboard. And I don’t even budge, go right back to answering more emails.
That encapsulates a lot of the hard work from this year. And we do have a small team. We did have a lot of students this year. It was a ton of work, but like you’re saying, David, I mean, this is such a cool job to have to meet people from 75 countries in Building a Second Brain. I got to know people all over the world, just from my room on Zoom. There’s nothing quite like it, or there’s certainly never been a job where you can meet people from dozens of countries from your bedroom until really recently. The hard work is worth it because of all the cool things we have to do, the people we get to meet, the impact we get to have, when we hear stories of how these courses impact people, inspire them to go create things of themselves. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.
Tiago: I wonder what makes this, is it just us that are prone to burnout or is it something about the nature of the work? I think it’s the nature of the work, because I hear this from a lot of creators. I honestly think the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s so rewarding. Every additional marginal bit of effort, every marginal hour has such a clear impact on a real person that then comes back to you, and then remotivate you, and then it’s almost like a drug that feels great, but it can completely exceed your physiological capacity. So you need some meta-awareness, some self-awareness to understand, “Okay, I could keep going. I could put in that extra bit, but there’s some sign from my body, my mind, my emotions that is telling me I have to set artificial boundaries.”
David: I think that it’s tied to individual people and we are in a business where if we don’t work the business doesn’t move forward. And I’m really trying to figure out, I think all of us are how to build something where there’s a system that just goes, and this is why we want to improve our operations so that a lot of things are just automated and software can take care of things. And when it comes to exactly what you’re saying Tiago, these little marginal efforts that actually rely on us, like we are the fuel, we are the steering wheel and we are the wheels that actually move this thing forward.
I want to figure out how to get away from that. But you said something in October that I thought was really interesting. We had the best year we’ve ever had, and we never want to do this again. So that indicates that there’s something at the nature of either this work or how we’re doing it. And probably a little bit of both that just has this being absolutely exhausting. Also planning becomes really important. I think we had two things that stood out. So in the last Write of Passage cohort, you don’t really realize things until you start doing it and you’re like, “Oh, why did I do that?”
So we would do a Wednesday night session and we would have a Monday and a Wednesday, and so we would plan for Monday, Sunday night, then we would teach Monday, all Tuesday I would plan, all Wednesday I would plan. We had a session on Friday at 9:00 AM Pacific when I was in San Francisco at the time. We had to plan on Thursday, and so almost every Thursday Will and I were up til like 2:00 AM and then we would go through, we would rehearse the entire live session. Then after that we would have to do the mentor session and then after that, we would have to do the executive coaching. And so it just never ended. Then the next day we’d have to do CrossFit for Writing and host for all these people. And so our break was from Saturday at Noon to Sunday at 6:00 p.m. and that was it. And there’s so much at stake and it all depends on us. And shouldering the weight of all those people is really difficult. And then why don’t you talk about the burnout of going from Write of Passage to Second Brain after the last Write of Passage cohort to Second Brain?
Will: So the last Write of Passage live session, 16 out of 16, a really special moment, right? We have all the students on and we’d leave the final 25, 30 minutes for people to share how the course had an impact on them, and all these people are sharing. They published this for the first time, they overcame that fear. It went so well, we actually went into a “after party” in another Zoom room, because 45 people wanted to stay on and talk more and just hang out. So this really powerful moment, probably the highlight of my working career and online education thus far. And then, it ended about 8:00, 9:00 p.m., and I had to be in Long Beach, 30 minutes away, at 8:00 a.m. the next morning to start the planning for building a Second Brain.
And we went every single day in August, nights, weekends, launched on August 31st, ran that cohort for five weeks, and then we finally got a break this fall. But yeah, there’s the benefits of laddering back and forth and learning between the courses, but you only have 52 weeks in a year. The course takes 10 to 13 weeks to put on depending how you slice it, and so you can do the math. There’s not that much margin room in there. So I think something that will make this year different is that in the earlier iterations of these courses, we’re making bigger picture changes.
With Write of Passage over the summer, we’ve re-wrote the entire curriculum. We originally had 11 sessions, we added those five Friday sessions. So we basically rewrote 16 sessions. We’re not going to do that dramatic of a rewrite this year, same with Second Brain. In August, we were restructuring huge pieces of the curriculum. We printed out, I think, 140 slides and hung them on your wall, Tiago, and we’re moving these building blocks around. There will be changes this year. But I think the goal is to keep operationalizing and to reduce the scope of magnitude of the changes, leave those for maybe once in a while, not every cohort.
Tiago: An interesting thing I think we’re noticing is, every size cohort is completely different. The first one I ever did was 30 people. That’s completely different from 60 people, it’s completely different from a 100, 200. Like each, I don’t know, 50 to 100 people, the dynamic changes, just like it does in the physical world. You’re at a party or you’re having dinner at a restaurant and someone new comes in, it’s like people have to shift in their chairs, turn a little bit, move forward, move back. They don’t know where to look. It’s insane how sensitive we are to group dynamics.
And so here, we’re talking about much bigger jumps, in the hundreds. And so I think we’d like that because it’s a forcing function for innovation. Okay, now, this cohort were beyond Zoom’s capacity for breakout rooms. We can’t do breakout rooms, what do we do? And that forced us to do these special mentor sessions. Talk about, seeing that changing dynamic, how did that play into your decision to cap, to have a target, an ideal group size for Write of Passage?
David: Yeah. I got a question last night from somebody who is thinking about building an online school, and he asked me the same question that I was asking two years ago, which was, “How do I scale?” And when I first started, I was like, okay, Write of Passage will just be means to an end, and then we’ll work on other things, there’ll be other courses and all that sort of stuff. And then, we’re going to have thousands and thousands of students because software just has zero marginal costs, and that’s that. And the truth is, in some way, software has zero marginal costs, for example. What we write in this podcast actually has zero marginal costs, because it is free for us, for an additional person to read it.
But running cohorts is not zero marginal cost at all. And now, the marginal cost is small and the marginal cost is much less than if we try to way scale in-person things. But what I discovered was that for Write of Passage, in particular, I’m really just inspired by Y Combinator. You look at the early days of YC and the founders of Airbnb and Stripe and Dropbox and Reddit, were all in the same room, and you just look at that and you’re like, what was happening there? This really special moment in time? There’s not a lot of moments like that, where there’s people in a small area who are just clustered together, and you might have the Scottish enlightenment as an example of that. We had David Hume and Adam Smith and this 30-year period in Edinburgh, a very small city.
And I really want Write of Passage to be like that. I really want people to look at Write of Passage, as what Brian Eno calls a scenius. We think of genius as something that comes from an individual, “Oh, I’m a genius.” The root of genius is genie, flies into you and just creates this magic. But a scenius is magic that’s created by groups. And the thing is, as groups get bigger, they get diluted and they lose some of their, in Yiddish, chutzpah. And then what we’re trying to figure out here and what Will and I basically said is, we can’t do more than 350 people in total. Now 350 people is a lot, but we can actually, by having the alumni mentor groups make the big course feel small and get that chutzpah back into the course. But by capping it at 350 and trying to make sure that we have those really high-quality people, then we think that we can run the best course possible.
This gets back to what you were saying earlier about the differences between Second Brain and Write of Passage. Second Brain is really about implementing a system and the variance on that implementation. It exists, but it’s not huge. It’s much more binary. Did you implement it or not? And then Second Brain, even though you continue to use your Second Brain, it ends. It’s like, did you get it? Okay, you have your Second Brain, it’s going. Write of Passage, very different. There’s a giant power law in terms of how successful people will be as online writers. And, hopefully, people keep doing online writing and actually editing each other’s work and helping each other think for decades and decades to come. And so the returns to really tight relationships are extremely high, and therefore we decided to cap the cohort, even though that necessarily limits how much revenue we can make.
Tiago: Yeah. With building a Second Brain, it’s more about diversity, because people adopt behaviors that they see modeled and modeled by people like them, something I’ve noticed again and again, and again, how people disqualify themselves. They see how I do things. You would think, “Oh, everyone wants to see how I do things because I’m the expert and I’m the teacher.” But no, that’s not how people think. The essential question on their mind is, “Does this fit with me? Can I see myself in this? Does this fit into my life?” So what they’ll typically do, they’ll disqualify themselves, “Oh, well, I don’t use Evernote, so this doesn’t work for me.”
“Well, no, use a different program.” “Oh, well, I’m not single, I have a family, so this won’t work for me.” “Well, no, you just fit it into the times you can.” “Oh, well, I don’t like digital. I only like paper.” “Well, just do it on paper.” Note-taking, I didn’t invent it. Right? Some of the earliest writing in existence were essentially notes, right? It’s not going away and it’s not new. And so that’s like with the alumni mentors, we saw things. There was one alumni mentor who had a relatively small session, relatively small attendance, but we realized she was a middle-aged mother, right? So, very different demographic than someone who relates more to me, right?
But the people who came to her session, it’s like they saw themselves in her. They saw, “Oh, so this is what it’s going to look like for me to work this in between my kids’ schedules and all my other responsibilities, and the things that I care about.” And so it’s like with this course, I’m trying to just gather. It’s like this giant festival. I think of it like Burning Man or Coachella, just this menagerie of weird, the strangest, most bizarre out there, niche, crazy people, all together so that we can all see that we can be so insanely different and yet all share this essential thing, which I think is just the love of ideas. You have to be in love with knowledge and ideas to dedicate the time to just take notes, distill those notes, revisit those notes.
Will: And then when you come into that larger group, a lot of people, if they’re more, say, tech oriented, they’re online, but they’re in their particular niche, but they come into Second Brain, we had 1,100 people in the last cohort. And you might not only find the others, as in the people you’re already looking to find, but you might find connections and draw insights from somebody who has a totally different life path than you, totally different set of experiences than you. So you just don’t know until you come into that large group. And I think it does have that feeling, that festival feeling that we talk about, in this place, this virtual place, meeting all kinds of different people.
David: You know, Will, I would love to hear you speak to this, because I know this is something you’re thinking a lot about, but I think this is right now, the frontier of online education, is how to help students find each other and make connections. I remember when I was in college, and this is what we have been able to replicate. You start off, you’re freshmen and you go in and you’ve been away from home for a week. You think you’re all cool. You just went to your first party, all these sorts of things. And then, the first Friday afternoon, there’s the club fair. And you go, there’s the language club, there’s public speaking and debate, and all these sorts of nerdy things.
Tiago: The dorms.
David: The dorms, right? That’s a really good way to meet people. But I think what we’re trying to figure out is how do we actually match people, and how do we proactively make connections? And just say, “Lisa, in Stockholm, you got to meet Julia in Sydney. And both of you would have never met otherwise, but I know that you share the same interests,” and figure out, maybe interest isn’t the thing. Maybe interest is the obvious thing, and they could meet people, similar interests, otherwise. But maybe we have some personality type matching.
Will: Yeah. Indispensable part of our courses we haven’t talked about yet are the breakout rooms. So this is when you’re in one of the live sessions and you get spun off, via Zoom, into a random room of two, three or four other students. And what’s so great about breakout rooms, all the community we’ve talked about thus far is largely self-selecting. Okay, I’m going to go join this group because I have a shared interest with this mentor, or I created this interest group because I grew up in Germany or something. But when you go into a breakout room, it’s purely random.
And people love that element of the courses is having that chance to meet somebody from any different diverse background or different geographic location and see the connections fly, even if you didn’t think on paper you would necessarily have much in common. So we have learned lessons, there’s different ways to use breakout rooms. I think, in particular, with Write of Passage, it’s people who are looking for feedback on their ideas, and that’s where they’re particularly valuable. We have a lesson we learned with Second Brain, is the actual class time is more utilitarian and people are in their mentor groups to learn the specific nuts and bolts of building a Second Brain.
And for that Second Brain course, a lot of the meeting and this stuff has to happen outside of the official class sessions, but there’s still a hunger to meet others in Second Brain. We’re thinking of new creative ways this year to get people to meet others, increase the serendipity surface area between all the students we have in our courses. And one thing we’re going to try, I think, for Write of Passage is imagine a really good musician goes to Julliard, and there’s the official classes where you’re practicing in the whole concert hall with everyone.
But you know that at Julliard in the evening hours, people get together in a room and you have a tuba and a violin and whatever, and you just jam and make music just for the love of the game. And so we want to create those jam sessions for ideas. We’re thinking about how to do that. Just bring curious people together, have the official stuff, but how do you create that casual evening setting vibe where people can just trade ideas, workshop metaphors, and just work in that casual free-flowing way.
David: Yeah, because there’s two kinds of creative productivity. There’s beer mode and then there’s coffee mode. And the productivity world is very good at coffee mode. And coffee mode is focus, very clear goals and objectives, tune everybody out, turn off all your notifications, don’t even look at the clock and converge towards a goal. And that’s really easy to find, easy to write about, easy to measure success. But what you’re saying is beer mode.
And there’s a study that I read earlier this year of innovation, in cities and neighborhoods after the prohibition when there were no more bars, actually went down. And it took three years for the innovation to return to its normal baseline because 10 to 12% of innovation came out of bars, of people just getting drunk together and just shooting the shit. And so what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to figure out how to get those jam sessions, that beer mode, that bar talk going in our courses, and no one’s really figured this out yet.
Tiago: I think it breaks so many expectations and assumptions about what a class should be. In class, okay, I think people’s mental model is college classes, right? Okay, I should prepare and really think things through. I should get the syllabus first day, really see what’s everything on the syllabus. I should do all my homework, do the right way, get the good grade. Maybe I can talk to my neighbor in case I need to get the homework, but shouldn’t talk too much. All these things, which don’t really apply in this situation. Starting with the fact that there’s no diploma. I have to remind people, we give you a little certificate, but it’s… You don’t apparently. That’s probably a good idea.
When it really gets down to it for fun, no one forced you to be here. There’s no mandate, there’s no law. You’re not going to get fined or punished if you don’t come. So what do you want to get out of it? And people, a light bulb goes off, “Oh wow. I’m allowed to get out of this experience, whatever I want to get out of it. And to just be open to possibilities, and to not…” I think the mindset that people have is really getting the grade. The subtext of so many questions is, “What do I need to do to get an A?” “Oh, should I make my second brand?” “Should I organize my notes in this way or that way? Which is going to get the higher grade?” And I’m like, “There’s no grades.” I feel like at the same time they’re learning, they’re also unlearning just as many things about what education looks like.
Will: Yeah. One of the favorite moments from over the summer, a Write of Passage student in about week three tweeted, “I’m in David Perell’s Write of Passage course. I finished one of the three assignments. In a traditional school, I would have an F. And yet, this has been the most transformative learning experience I’ve had thus far.” And I loved that particular tweet because that’s the thing, right? It’s not this compliance and reward model of traditional education, a stick and the carrot. It’s you’re here because you chose to be here and you can get value out of the course in so many different ways, so many different flavors, right? So we have that example of a student from Write of Passage. Maybe he’s busy, did his work, can’t do every single assignment, but it’s still getting a lot of value out of the course.
We have somebody in the last cohort of Second Brain who, I guess, had some more free time on her hands, she was able to attend 11 mentor sessions, just went all out. Was what we call, Second Brain famous. Everybody knew this person in the course and got a ton of value out of the course in a completely different way. And so that is something that is so different about this new, young world of online learning. But we all have this mental inertia of this is how education is, it’s just the way things are, because it’s been like that for so long. But that’s changing, and understanding how to get people more quickly acclimated to those changing norms is an exciting challenge, something we’re going to keep working on this year.
David: Yeah. What school doesn’t understand is the value of talking. And we see this in Write of Passage all the time. So my senior year in college, my favorite class was sex, gender and power class, where we studied just ultra-feminist philosophy. And my teacher, Professor Cahill, she was incredible. And what she did was, she was also super intimidating, but this was back when I was a real, real slacker in life. And what she would do is you would have to read, we’d read Simone de Beauvoir, and then you would read that paper at night, and then you would have to write a thousand word reflection before you came to class.
But then what she did was, you got in class and you went to all these different groups. So you started in groups of two, went to groups of four, back to group of two, group of eight, group of four, and then a whole class discussion. So an 80-minute session, we would do like six different things. And the entire time, it was this very Socratic method of, this is what I thought, another person saying, “Ah, I didn’t quite think about that,” and you just talking things out and explaining things to yourself, making sense of what it was that you discovered.
And that’s what we do in Write of Passage, where we basically never do something for more than 15 minutes. So I will deliver some lecture, but then no more than 15 minutes. Then people need to go discuss, then will be a silent work time, and then we go right into breakout rooms. And one of the things that Will and I always do is we say, and at every single point in the course, there can’t be enough time, because when there is scarcity that forces focus among our students. And my goal is for people to end the 90-minute session and say, “How was that 90 minutes? How did that go by so fast?” Because you were so focused, and I learned that from Professor Cahill in college.
Tiago: Yeah. I had a similar experience doing this landmark course, weekend course, that I did where I would watch. And this is some of the most refined… I mean, they’ve been delivering this since the ’60s, in a hundred countries, have had something like two or three million people do it. So it’s so refined. And they would introduce this big idea that is very, really powerful and paradigm-shifting and moving. But universally, across all their programs, I did their whole curriculum from the introductory thing all the way to the leadership program. Two minutes, the sharing was always two minutes. They’ve decided that two minutes each, so you turn to your partner, it’s not even enough time to say what you want to say, what’s on your mind in that moment.
But it’s enough time to communicate a feeling. Because that’s what’s building up in people, is this almost repressed emotional energy, and they just need to be gotten. That’s in landmark language. But they just need someone to look in their eyes, see their face and their body language, get a blast, like an emotional, mini outpouring, just so that they feel seen. It’s like someone in here saw me and experienced me and felt what I was experiencing, and then I saw what they were experiencing. And there’s this very deep, but rapid exchange of information that happens in that moment in just four minutes, two minutes, two minutes. And then they move on.
David: When you ran Art of Accomplishment with Joe Hudson earlier this year, what did you learn about how Joe asks questions that lead to epiphanies?
Tiago: Oh, man. So asking questions is his whole method. In fact, we’re working on a new course that’s going to be based on this methodology. It’s called VIEW, which is an acronym, stands for Vulnerability, Impartiality, Empathy, and Wonder. It’s a coaching framework, but more specifically, it’s just how to ask questions. And so he, he has a whole teaching on this. We’re going to have a whole course on it. But I think what I would say is… So here’s what’s interesting, you get a coaching framework, you would think, “Oh, that’s such a niche thing.” It’s applicable to performance coaches, executive coaches, productivity coaches.
But actually, it’s just life, this way of asking questions, which is basically always asking from a place of those four things, vulnerability, impartiality, empathy, wonder. And the cool thing is, it’s for productivity-minded people like us. It’s a checklist. If you’re in a conversation and it’s lacking vividness, it’s lacking life. Which we just all know that feeling, it’s unmistakable. There’s just like a dead weight. And this is so funny that this works, but you can just go through and say, “Which of the four is missing?” One of those four will always be missing. And once you know what’s missing, you can just say, “Let me just add that in.”
So I’ll give you an example. For me, it’s usually the, I. It’s usually impartiality. And what that looks like is I always think I know the answer. I’m a problem solver, I’m a coach, I’m a teacher. So I go through life, seeing everything and everyone as a problem to be fixed. Which I don’t think I even need to go into why that’s an issue. But I just go around in this state of mind and it doesn’t lead to enlivening conversations or even relationships. That can destroy a relationship, that mindset. Once you get locked into that dynamic, which some people have with a younger sibling. Every time you see them, okay, what’s the new problem that you have? And they take on the victim, you take on the domination mindset, and then every time you’re together, you just play those roles.
And so I think what Joe is doing with this work is bridging the analytical mind and the intuitive mind, right? Us analytical people can really benefit from doing things like introducing vulnerability, impartiality, empathy, wonder into our conversations. But likewise, the intuitive people sometimes need a little structure. They need a little bit of accountability, a little bit of organizing their thinking around it. So I think what I learned is just that conversations can improve. You can work at them. You can ask a question that penetrates to the very core of someone’s mindset. A question can be as impactful as a statement or a declaration or a teaching, which I don’t think I would have believed if I hadn’t seen it with him so many times.
David: One of the things that Will and I talk a lot about in Write of Passage, is the different stages. So Chris Dixon, who’s a very successful investor, has a framework called, Come for the tool, stay for the network. And what that basically means is that the way that you bootstrap an app or something would be, you start off by giving people something that they wouldn’t get otherwise. And the online course equivalent is, come for the ideas, stay for the people. And so this gets into the vulnerability, because I don’t think that you can do this with our courses in the first session.
And so Will and I talk about this all the time, where we start off and students aren’t supposed to hear this, and so this is like a little secret for the listener, and we start off and we just really focus on the ideas. And we say, “This is what you need to write well, these are the strategies, these are the tactics,” and all the while, Will and I just look at each other, wink-wink, and we’re like, it’s really about the emotions, the deeper stuff. Then, what we do is this year, we had in our session 11, session 13, that’s really, in those last six sessions where it actually becomes about the vulnerability, the empathy, the impartiality, the wonder, that you’re talking about. And what we do is we use the alumni mentors to break open the window and set the direction, set an example.
And then we have these mentors, they open it up with empathy. We have people talking about eating disorders, we have people talking about all, like abuse, all of these sorts of really difficult ideas, these traumas that they’ve had. And then once people go back into breakout rooms and have these conversations, they’re like, whoa, actually a lot of the things that I struggle with in writing, my fear of publishing, my issues with imposter syndrome, with perfectionism, actually go back to these things that are so much deeper, but it takes weeks to be able to basically excavate the internal gates that we have and actually pierce into the soul of certain students.
Will: I think one of the great things about having alumni return and take the course again, either as a mentor in an official capacity, or they just come back to Write of Passage for a second or third time, is that, Tiago, what you’re saying about learning from the person who’s one rung above you on the ladder. People who have been in Write of Passage, know the feeling of not being sure your article’s done or perfect, but being encouraged to hit publish anyways. They know what it feels like to get those crickets of indifference that we talked about, where you put something out on the internet, it’s this huge moment, and nobody replies to your email newsletter, nobody retweets your tweet. It doesn’t feel good. It’s happened to me, it’s happened to all of us. But it’s really powerful when somebody, you see them Write of Passage for the first time, and they’re feeling that for the first time, and they’re bummed out, but they hop in the live session, and there’s one of the alumni saying, “Hey guys, I struggle with perfectionism. I struggled with not getting a response to my pieces. Here’s what’s been working for me. I’m still struggling with this. This is an open question for me. Let’s talk about it as a group or in a small group.” And, like you’re saying, I think that’s really where the magic happens.
We see it with Second Brain. I think after every session, there’s these Q&As where Tiago does these Q&As for 45 minutes, an hour. Some of my favorite parts of our course, because people they’ll ask the question and sometimes with a little prodding, they’ll ask the question behind the question. They’re wondering how to implement a certain productivity method or tactic. But Tiago, a lot of times you’ll return back to them with another question. I think you’ve mentioned how seeing Joe do it has maybe partly informed how you do that, but you’ll really sort of pull that thread and see, okay, what’s really going on? You’re asking about collecting ideas in your Second Brain in your Evernote, but all you’ve wanted to write a novel for nine years and you haven’t even finished one chapter and it just eats away at you. That was one I remember in particular, but yeah, it’s just something I think we see in both the courses.
Tiago: Yeah. People always wrap their question in a veneer of something, respectability, intellect, cleverness, sarcasm, projection. There’s like a whole laundry list. You can engage with the question on that level, but it so quickly becomes a contest of wills. It’s their intellect versus your intellect, which is kind of a lose-lose. Either you’re going to quote and quote win, and they’re just going to feel bad, or you’re going to let them win somehow and then everyone else is going to be like, “Why did we just watch these two egos collide?” So I think, yeah, asking them what the question is behind the question, or just answering the question behind the question, I really think that there is a skill that you can develop of just hearing it. And often people will just tell you through their inflection, their body language, their poses. They’re actually screaming it, because they want to be discovered. It’s like when you’re on a date, you want someone to look through your facade and see the real you. You don’t want to just tell them the real you.
David: Yeah. I always think of the student paradox. All the Write of Passage students, when they come in, the beginner ones they’re both at the same time, terrified that every single person they know is going to judge them for their article. But at the same time, they’re kicking and screaming that no one reads their work. Those both can’t be true, but they feel both extremely strongly. What’s really funny though is, we’re talking about these ideas and trying to investigate the heart. It’s really not up to me to do that because that’s just my way. What I’ve said is that, the students can do it together. And how do we create a community and create the infrastructure in sort of a culture really for this just to happen organically in these small groups, in a way that’s just totally beyond us. I think that’s something that we’re thinking a lot about of, how do these courses just not be about us?
Tiago: Amen. Gosh.
David: I don’t want Write of Passage to be about me. I don’t think you want Second Brain to be about you. We really want it to just leave us and just float down this river and have all of these people nurture it and take care of it, and just have this thing, just leave our fingertips. I mean, we can be custodians of it, but I don’t want to be responsible for all of these people’s emotions and experiences, mostly because I’m not as good at it and our students won’t have as good of an experience as if they can do it for each other. And that comes back to the matching thing, of how do we match people? How do we have really strong and well trained mentors who have this intellectual and emotional intelligence? And then create a culture that lives so far beyond us.
Will: I think an important thing that you’re getting at there is that, this civilization we had this year, it doesn’t all have to be from the top down. This is how we’re going to design every single element of your experience in these five weeks. That’s what I’ve been most surprised by this year, is seeing how so much emerges bottom up. These other groups we haven’t even talked about yet, but with Write of Passage, students organize their own writing accountability groups. Groups of students will get together, sometimes 9:00 AM Eastern, 6:00 AM Pacific, people will wake up and just hop on Zoom together for an hour and just write together. Right there, hardly even talking too much.
But those types of things emerging, it’s just really exciting. I think it’s sort of inevitable when you bring together great people who share similar goals and are willing to be earnest and are willing to make friends with people, who are perhaps thousands of miles away. And so cool, that you just hear about these things through the grapevine. Somebody mentions it in passing on the forum, right. Or somebody mentions it in a live session. And I’ve learned to really be, “wait, hang on. You guys have met how many times?” We did this other workshop in January, the annual review, and it’s a two day workshop where people come together and reflect on their past years, and then make some connections and create their vision for the following year.
And we had a band of students who completely self-organized, met monthly after this annual review this past year. Every single month, first Sunday of the month, for 12 months, just to see themselves through on the goals that they set in January. Seeing that happen is really powerful. I think the question for us is, what can we do to touch lightly, but give these groups a little bit of support, if needed supply Zoom links, supply messaging, broadcasts, if these groups are meeting. But mostly let it just emerge organically.
David: I think that one of the things that we’re realizing is that communities are so just fashionable right now. And when I look at them, they feel sterile. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. And one of them that is the closest I’ve come is that they’re not really oriented towards something. We shared goals. People have shared interests, but what’s important in a community is that everyone is fighting for the same thing. That everyone can look at each other and say, “You’re my brother. You’re my sister. And we’re going to work through this difficulty together. And we might not succeed, but we have a better chance if we hold hands and we march forward together.”
A really good example of this, the Navy SEALs. The former chancellor of the University of Texas at Austin, 2015, 2016, gives us commencement speech, Navy SEAL. It has about 10 lessons, of what you learned by being a SEAL. One of them is, he is like scuba diving underneath a boat, and you got to like, hang out down there. And you can’t go up too fast and you go down too fast. He’s talking about just the challenge of that hell week, you can’t sleep, you don’t get to eat in the same way. You got to spend all this time under water, you got to run, you’ve got to do all these very difficult stuff. But you make it out of that with somebody, you’re brothers. You have trust, you have been through something together and that’s community.
So while everyone is trying to make these communities that you can opt in and out of, that are frictionless, I want to make a community that’s fricking hard to be a part of. I want to make a community where people have to fight. They got to be warriors together, but because of that, friendships are formed. That’s what makes these friendships happen. It’s that writing and trying to build a note-taking system and make sense of how to live in this information age. It’s so damn hard that people have to figure it out together.
Tiago: I think this is one of the big things that is almost a society-wide phenomenon. My whole life we would go to Brazil where my mom is from. And Brazil is dangerous in so many ways. It’s risky, the road conditions, crime. The whole culture of like you don’t realize it until you leave the US of safety. Every plug needs the little protector in it. Every rough edge you better put yellow tape on that, there’s a three inch gap from this to that, Oh, put a warning sign. It’s absolutely pervasive, it’s impossible to push back. No, one’s going to say no, keep that dangerous, keep that gap right there. That adds spice to life. Like all aspects of our civilization just get more and more safe.
But I read this paper one time that really looked at the conditions for learning, what conditions need to exist for learning? And I loved it because it was like very dry language, very academic, but they had maybe all these points that needed to be there. And one of them was an external shock. I saw that and I said, “This is so politically incorrect. Think about this.” For you to argue that learning can’t be totally safe, there needs to be something shocking, something disturbing. I think the argument that paper was making is the existing structure of understanding the way you understand things is highly resilient. It doesn’t just go away, it doesn’t just evaporate, it actually resists change. You try to introduce a new idea and it has defense mechanisms, confirmation bias, all these biases that we know about. There actually needs to be an external shock to the system of some kind to at least have a little bit of instability.
So totally politically incorrect. We cannot say that except on this podcast, that we’re about to distribute to tons of people. But I think it could take different forms. In the Navy SEALs it’s the shock of that water, the ice cold water when you jump in. In the Peace Corps, it’s insane. They ship you out. They give you three months of language training and general training. Then you just show up. I remember showing up in my little Eastern Ukrainian town in the middle of winter, and it was the coldest winter in like a decade. It was like a Siberian winter, is 30 degrees below zero. And I have my, one in California is a heavy jacket. From express has some down, and I’m like, “Oh, this will take care of me.” I’ve never encountered a winter, that this wasn’t good enough for.
I get off the train and they just look at me like I have just got off the train naked. Within 10 seconds of being outside, I can’t feel, not just my fingers, but my wrists and my hands are numb. That kind of story, which all of the 200 of us that were part of that cohort in the Peace Corps in Ukraine experienced. We would just trade stories. Oh yeah well, I don’t have hot water in my hut that I live in. Oh, well, my train broke down and we had to trek through the snow two miles. Like everyone has a one story that’s crazier than the one before. And that’s how you bond. And those are lifelong friendships.
David: You learn once there’s pain introduced pain and suffering. I remember. I went to Israel with some friends when we were in eighth grade to go try to learn Hebrew. And we didn’t learn anything because we just spoke English, hang out with each other. And I had spent eight years learning Hebrew in school, didn’t learn it at all. Then when I got to high school, I started taking Spanish. The rate of improvement, just wasn’t there. Then for one month I lived with a host family in Southern Spain. And it was no one there spoke English, no one in my family spoke a word of English, town same thing. In order for me to have any social life, I just needed to learn Spanish. There wasn’t any other option. I came back and I went from like mid tier beginner to the advanced course in Spanish in one month.
Will: The equivalent here for our courses is the intensity and the pace of the course. I think we’d say that for both courses where you enter into this and you might not even know how intense an experience it’s going to be. We throw a lot at you. With Second Brain you’re reinventing your personal knowledge, productivity and management system, which you might not even have one in the first place to begin with. And you’re learning these terms and these tools and these methods, and there’s all these people. So that intensity and that pace in the Write of Passage, it’s, you’re publishing right out of the gate. Week one, you’re writing an essay and publishing. And you’re doing that every single week for five weeks on top of the methods and the tactics and the lessons you’re learning.
You have all these bonus groups you can go to. There’s a forum, you’re giving other people feedback. There’s so much there, but I’ve been so surprised with how close people can get in a virtual setting. When we started this, I started as a student, I took your courses and I started working on these courses. I knew that you could meet other people on the internet. And it was cool when you meet somebody in Hungary and somebody in Peru. But the level of bonding that can happen in a virtual space, I don’t think any of us really expected the degree to which it can happen. We had a student share after Write of Passage. He said after the five week course, he had 10 people in the course, he considered close friends. 20 more people he considered friends, and 50 additional people he would consider friendly enough acquaintance to, if they’re in the same city, go grab a meal, go grab a drink.
That’s 80 people. Everybody has different levels of connection that they make, depending how much they can give to the course. But people are meeting people and seriously becoming friends. And those friendships are enduring beyond the five weeks of the course. We see it in our Twitter sphere where people are in the same mentor group for Second Brain are still cracking inside jokes across the interwebs of Twitter. And these groups aren’t going away. So I really do think there’s something to, when you suffer in this very particular online education version of suffering and you’re challenged, then results have spoken for themselves this year.
Tiago: I saw recently an article that quantified friendship. Did you guys see this?
Will: I did not.
Tiago: I love this stuff. Because it tried to answer the question, how do you define an acquaintance versus a friend, versus a close friend, versus a best friend? And what unit of measurement would you use? I believe they used hours. Which you can quantify fairly closely just ballpark. Okay. I see this person this often for this much time, knowing them this many months or years. And what was so shocking about it was, there were big jumps in those definitions, but not that big. It was something like an acquaintance is like 10 to 20 hours you’ve spent with them. A friend was like 50. A close friend was like a hundred, and a best friend was like 300. Which when you look at it that way, we think of friendship especially really close friendship, as it’s supposed to be mysterious. That can’t be quantified, you can’t seek it, you can’t produce it. No. You just have to just go through life and life with these cliches-
Will: So they’re just like a French romance novel.
Tiago: Yes. You’re supposed to just be like a romance story. But for some of us, I don’t know if it’s that we just are goal oriented, I want to make some new friends. Or with COVID and everything, if we just see that we have to put a bit more intention or soonest I think we’re going through an identity shift in our lives. And we want people that we relate to in the new identity. But if that’s even partly a little bit true that friendship is a function of hours and the intensity and depth and vulnerability of interaction that we absolutely can, if not produce it, at least encourage it all highly. I think that’s what we do in our courses. We create this pressure cooker of intensity and frequency that they’re seeing each other many times a week, for five weeks that real friendships really do come out of it.
Something I noticed for myself is, when I meet someone who’s taken building a Second Brain, which I think is different, versus someone who had, say bought an ebook. I don’t know, I’m in a city somewhere and I meet someone. I step back. I blink a few times. It’s much more than, say meeting someone who went to your college, which you might have some rapport with. I really stop and I go, “Wow you know about me. You believed in this idea, and what I’m doing. You invested time and money. You put yourself into this experience. You put in the investment to get the value.” Like there’s so many things that are true of that person, just knowing that they took this course, which is, I think not true of any other especially digital product.
David: I think this is a good time to shift to the business of courses and to talk about emails and media. We spent a lot of time this year growing our email lists. I think between us, we probably picked up, I wouldn’t we picked up 70,000 email subscribers, which is pretty good. My email list grew a lot. I think my email list grew about 450%. My Twitter following grew almost 600% this year. Went from about 30,000 on Twitter to 150,000. I think that in some fundamental way, this is also a media business. We’ve been talking about the courses, but Tiago, I’m curious for you, what is stuck out about, you’ve gotten really good at some of the top of the writing stuff, and we’ve thought a lot about growth and funnels. Actually, we’ve also plateaued there. So we both figured stuff out, had our highs and now we’re like, “What’s the next stage here?” We sort of feel stuck.
Tiago: Yeah. Really interesting observations. I also had just insane growth. I think in August of 2019, so almost 18 months ago, which is when I remember the number, because that was when I switched from MailChimp to ConvertKit. I had 5,500 people on my email list, which had taken me from 2014 to 2019, five years, so a thousand people a year for those early stages. From August 2019 to now, it’s a year and a half later, I think actually today I’m going to cross 40,000, which is eight times growth. What am I taking away from that? First of all, the email list, I know we say this every time, it’s all important. It’s almost like, the way that I’ve been thinking about it recently is, you’re stockpiling customers. Imagine if you could just like stockpile customers, even without necessarily knowing what you’re going to sell them, just early adopters in general, people who are just game to just try whatever you want to try.
Imagine if you could just like put them in cold storage, like freeze them like Han Solo and Star Wars, and just like put them in a giant warehouse. How many customers would you want to stockpile before you come out with your thing? You’re just massively increasing your odds of success. I think that’s a huge misconception. People think that we take huge risks all the time. I think we’re risk averse. We don’t even make the product until we know this massive people is going to buy it, is going to give it a chance. So the email is just all important, which is why it’s so interesting that it’s kind of plateaued.
On the internet everything mostly is exponential. We’re used to exponents. But I’ve even noticed this, I’ve seen other creators and thought leaders post their email list growth. Like I saw, what’s his name? Benedict Evans, and then James Clear. It’s always a straight line. I haven’t seen any any large lists that are exponential. These are people who have had incredible growth trajectories in their reputation and their audience and their business, which makes me very curious.
David: Tell us why you like writing books summaries so much and what you’ve learned about essays and just your own relationship with writing.
Tiago: I wrote a guide this year, which was kind of a surprise hit. I thought the market for people who want to write book summaries was infinitesimal. The market of people who just like to read and think, period is already small. People who like to write at all is even smaller, and then write a book summary, which is a really sizable amount of work. I mean, besides the five to 10 hours of reading the book, it’s another, maybe 10 to 20 hours of work. But it did really well. I don’t know if it’s maybe the small number of people that appeal to it really appeal to, because I have never seen anything like this. I never saw a guide for creating a book summary in the way that I do it. Which is the way that I do it, and I think this was sort of the hidden thing in this piece is, I’m completely reconceiving of the thing.
You actually can’t read a book summary without putting your own ideas. I think people sometimes think you get the texts and just remove every third line or remove every second and third line. It’s just logic, just one-to-one correspondence, it’s not. That’s the scale dynamics thing again. Every scale of an idea, if it’s a 60,000 word book or a 30,000 word mini book, or a 10,000 word long form essay, 5,000 word blog posts, down to a one sentence Tweet, the idea, the quality and the format of the idea has to change. What that means is you have to make judgment calls. I’ll summarize a book and I’ll spend half the posts on chapters, one, two, and three, the next 10 chapters, I just cut out. I just go. “Yeah. Those were the chapters where the author just nerded out. They just went down the rabbit hole.”
If you’re trying to read, if you’re trying to consume this idea in 10,000 words, you can just ignore chapters four through 14. Then I focus on the chapters that make sense. But every single sentence you’re having to decide or determine, does the reader know this term? If I cut out chapter two, does that mean I can’t really introduce chapter four because it draws on that same idea. This is something that often happens, the conclusion that the author introduces at the end of the book, can I put at the beginning? That’s one of the most common things. Authors and writers tend to build up to an idea rather than leading with the most important thing.
I don’t know, for a certain kind of audience, it just provided a way, ultimately the bottom line is to internalize a book 10 times more deeply, at least than if you just read it. Which I think in most cases, it just goes one in ear out the other, because you didn’t interact, you didn’t put your reputation and your emotions and your decision-making on the line for anything. You didn’t share it with your own network and your own audience. It’s like driving on the highway and you see a town and you go, “Oh, I saw the town, I visited the town,” but you don’t know the town. You didn’t experience the town. You’re not part of the town.
I think with writing a book summary, you’re like moving to the town for a few months and just like meeting half the people in the town and going to every store. I feel like after going through that experience, years later, I can cite the smallest details of books, I find that they’ve been integrated into all sorts of other kinds of things I’m thinking about. And I kind of become, I wouldn’t say definitely not an expert on the topic, but an expert on the book. I’m an expert on what that author wrote in that book. I can say I’m an expert on that.
David: Yeah. I think that what’s crucial to the knowledge economy is that ideas become wealth. So what that means is that, why would you spend so much time writting these books summaries? Doesn’t it take forever? And it does in some very myopic way of looking at time and attention. But what’s happening is that you are amortizing the benefits of writing that summary over years and decades. So it actually makes a lot of sense for you to write the summary, basically benefit and stand on the shoulders of somebody who has spent all this time, thinking through ideas, structuring them, organizing them, communicating them in a way that is simple. Then what you’re doing is you’re removing the stuff that doesn’t apply to your worldview, and then also putting it into your language. Then what you basically have is a number of Lego blocks.
I remember there was one night we’ve read a passage, where it was our 15th session. And it was a Thursday night. We started planning for the Friday session and we planned the entire thing in a night. And we told students that, to try to show the benefits of the Write of Passage system. And they were like, “What?” That was because of this book summary thing, where I had all of these basically primitives, and all of these simple building blocks that I had built. And then once you have them, and they’re really good, all we’re doing when it comes to actually creating something, is recombining existing assets. So I actually think of our work in the day-to-day, is creating new building blocks. And actually the easy part is creating products, assembling ideas and stuff like that. That’s what you’re doing when you’re writing a book summary.
Tiago: I think you just reminded me of where this practice came from. Which is something I learned from a mentor of mine, Venkatesh Rao, who comes up every episode. I want to be able to write about ideas succinctly that reference all sorts of other things. To do that though, the internet makes it uniquely possible through hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are just incredible. You can have an entire world and that hyperlink is a portal to that world. But here’s the issue and what I would notice is a blog would say, you probably know about the idea of, I don’t know, let’s say, network effects. Network effects if you don’t know what that is, it’s a link, “Oh, thank God. I can click on this and find out what that is.” And then it links to an Amazon profile page and I’m like, “Wait a minute. What are you saying here? Are you telling me that I should stop reading this blog post, go buy this book for 10 bucks, spend the next month at least five to 10 hours reading it, understanding it, digesting it, and then come back and continue.”
That’s not a reasonable ask for even the most hardcore fanatic, right? And so what Venkatesh would do is write book summaries, just so that the person is kind of like a Wikipedia entry. But it’s not because it’s not an objective. Here’s what any random person on the internet might need to understand this, it’s for your audience specifically, because there’s a way you want them to understand that. There’s an emphasis, certain aspects of that idea, that in my opinion, if you don’t write the summary, they’re never going to know it. They’re never going to do the work that you had to do to understand it. And why would you expect them to? That’s the whole power of the internet. One person can read a book summary. Often what prompts me to do it is I Google for it, no one has written a summary at least the way that I want it to be written. If they have I’ll just link to theirs, it’s funny.
I’m just as happy to link to someone else’s summary as my own, because I’m trying to get to something else. It’s a pyramid made of the sandstone blocks, the higher you want the peak to be the wider the foundation. The more of these like you said, building blocks that you have, the more you have to build on to create something that is founded on those ideas, but doesn’t have to re-explain them. That’s really what I hate most of all, re-explaining. I hate having to explain the same thing again, and again.
David: Our work is so meet up because the act of summarizing, the active teaching rests upon writing, and everything begins with writing, and then everything in writing rests on note-taking. So we’re just like in the process of teaching these things, we then practice what we teach, and then it creates these fast learning cycle which I love. When it comes to actually writing these books summaries and what you get out of it, because people always say, “Oh, don’t write books summaries. You’re not adding anything new.” That’s actually just not true. Because, two reasons. The first is emphasis. You can actually innovate in terms of ideas by emphasizing new things. If you just change where your weight is distributed then you begin to see things differently from that idea.
That’s the first thing. But secondly, you have an intellectual phase transition where if you look at how ice shifts to water, the molecules don’t change, but it’s an entirely different representation of those molecules. So you have something that’s hard and sort of very compressed in ice and then say it’s 30 degrees. Then once it hits 32, 33 degrees, it then turns into just water that’s spilled out all over the floor. So you could have the same ideas, but then for you as the creator, just like ice water, the whole idea can change and actually adopt a new form and have this emergent property that you wouldn’t have expected from what you originally started with.
That’s why writing these books summaries is so valuable because learning is almost like a orbit. So what you do is you sort of circle, circle, circle around something over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. But faster, and faster, getting closer, and closer to that truth in the middle. Learning isn’t really walking a path and seeing all these new ideas over again. You realize that learning can also be seeing the same thing over and over again, but just digesting it at a deeper and deeper level. Now, switching gears, I want to tell the funniest story of the year. Will you got to tell it of the PhD lady and just what that experience was like.
Will: So our business coach scheduled a meeting with us and a lady who has a PhD in education administration. She worked in the field for 30, 35, maybe 40 years, and we opened the call and we’re doing introductions. So David introduces himself, Tiago introduce himself, gets to me I say, “Hey, I’m Will, I’m a course director for these two courses. I helped design the student experience and curriculum.” She said, “Okay, excuse me, Will, what credentials do you have? If you don’t mind me asking, what experience do you have?” It caught me off guard? I was like, wait a second. I just said, “Well, I’ve been doing this for a handful of months and I’m really proud of what we’ve done.” I thought about it more. At first, the thing that you got a little bit, but I thought about it.
David and I talked about it after that call and I said, “Here’s the experience I have is, in seven months I’ve run three cohorts with over a thousand students and designed, launch, produced, and delivered three online cohorts.” That is real experience that we get from actually doing the things. And I think as this call with this lady went on, she had a deep grounding in things like performance metrics if you’re at a company running a training and things like that. But we felt we had this experience that wasn’t from getting a PhD in the early 90s, but from running an online course earlier that year. I think that was this moment we realized that this stuff is so new, that there’s not some expert who’s been doing this for 20 or 30 years who can tell us how to run our courses, right?
I love this phrase: who else but us to figure this out, feel our way through the dark, push through these frontiers on learning and see what’s possible. What’s been fun this year is, I think about a year ago, we were hearing not too many people were creating these cohort-based courses. We’re seeing more people come along and join in the experimentation. It still feels like the opening acts of this new movement in education. But that was a funny moment to humble us, but then realize what we’re doing is pretty cool.
David: I think that there’s something very subtle in here that we still need to figure out. I think a lot of people are still figuring this out. Is that what level of awareness of history should you have when you’re trying to innovate? There’s that meme where Uber comes out, and then somebody is like, “Taxis, you invented taxis.” But like, yeah, you invented taxis or like Airbnb. Hotels, you invented hotels. It’s like trying to diss the idea. But obviously it’s fundamentally different. It’s a subtle difference. But at the same time, Airbnb has a lot to learn from the hotel industry. Uber’s lots to learn from the taxi industry. We have a lot to learn from traditional education. But the pedagogy of in-person teaching cannot be copy and pasted to internet teaching. But at the same time, there is something that we should be learning from what other people have already figured out.
It’s really hard to navigate that tension now. One of the things I’ve discovered to basically trick this is to look at other industries that have already had a lot of these transitions. So when it comes to building community, you have like the SoulCycle effect. So there’s something SoulCycle figured out about communal motivation. So how can we go look at SoulCycle. Then what can we learn from different conferences? Talk about Tony Robbins. What can we learn from Tony Robbins? What he’s figured out. So there’s lessons out there, things that are already figured out. And it’s like books, we don’t have to go figure everything out for ourselves. I don’t know the answer. What is the right amount of history to be reading here?
Tiago: We get to borrow. We get to choose our influences. Who do we want to be influenced by. What models do we want to model ourselves after. Tony Robbins was in such a close parallel in many ways to what we’re doing. It’s a cohort. It has a starting time and an ending time. In his case it was 12,500 people over three or four days. Really focus on people’s mindset, focus on the underlying emotions, focus on community and connection, focus on breaking through barriers, so many of the same things. But if we decide, “That’s our model, we want to be influenced by that,” we’re going to end up with a completely different company and courses than if we say look at CrossFit, or we look at SoulCycle, or we look at Harvard, or we look at WC. Each of these are not just cultures, they’re mini worlds that have an entire ethos and an entire mini-civilization. So I think that that’s one of the challenges, is exposing ourselves to the sources we want to be influenced by, and maybe avoiding the ones we don’t want to be.
David: Yeah. I was talking to YC founder, because YC is one of my biggest inspirations in terms of also just how to teach. One of the things that YC does really well is they make you set more and more ambitious goals, and they just make you work faster and they have that very scarce time. So basically you just meet once a week, you set goals, then you come back and you talk about what you’ve been doing. I hear people who have spent time with Paul Graham and stuff back in the early days of YC. What they just repeatedly say is, “I set my sights so much higher than I would have otherwise.” Then earlier this year I did, or last year I did a Spartan race. It’s weird. I did one Spartan race with a group of people, we all ended up living together.
We spent one day with each other running a Spartan race, that’s it. I think it’s not a coincidence that we left with half of us pleading. We had to swim underwater in the dirtiest muddiest water in full clothes. It was 38 degrees outside. We had to carry 50 pound wet bags on our shoulders. In some ways it was like miserable, in some way it was also incredible. So this is the flip side of your point about friendship, about it not just being about time, about it, actually being about the quality of an experience. And I think both are true, but that for me is where I’m looking. I’m looking at these other places that have figured out elements about education. I think that when it comes to actually making an innovation and I saw this, I mean, at the beginning of this year, I took a class at Columbia and it was horrible.
I was shocked. That this was the quality of an Ivy League education. But at the same time there’s a lot to learn from the Ivy leagues about how to create clubs and communities. There’s studies that show that at least at Harvard, for example, there’s the bro wage premium. You guys heard of this. So the bro wage premium is you join a fraternity, and your grades go down by like 15 to 20%. But your lifetime earnings skyrocket. Which communicates that there’s something about the network in a college education. I was talking to another friend, Harvard graduate and I was like, “So you’re four years out. What did Harvard give you?” Well, he’s dating a Harvard girl. His first four people at his company were Harvard hires. All of his friends are Harvard, and I’m an investor in the company and we’re trying to meet investors and stuff.
That Harvard name really helps. It’s all about that network, because he can go, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, meet all these people. I think that’s one of the things that we can learn from traditional education. Something I’m trying to make sense of, what are the weighting of the different things that matter? How much is signaling? How much is the story, the drinking, the party, how much of it is the network? How much of it is actual learning? Then try to just make sense of, we talk about education is just being learning, but come on, let’s strip away the lies and let’s talk about what are the actual things that people want from learning. If we can make sense of that, then we can deliver a much better product to our students.
Will: Now the place we’re looking outside of the traditional realm of education is entertainment, right? Viewing these courses, not just as the goal is to educate, but there’s elements you can draw in, in a virtual setting that you can’t in traditional classroom. There’s no iron law of the universe that education has to be extremely self serious and stuffy, and perhaps even boring at times. We’re thinking about ways and drawing from what Tony did in this crazy three-day workshop four day workshop, where can we incorporate elements of production where it’s not just Dave or Tiago on a Zoom call talking, is there anything that we can do with lights or sound? Are there things we can do before the class starts where we’re showing something on the screen? That’s not just people sitting around waiting for the class to start. So I think these other places we’re looking outside of traditional education pedagogy for what can this be like? And how can we reinvent this?
David: And then sometimes things just emerge. So we were talking to Wes Kao who was our consultant who built altMBA. Super, super smart. When we were working with her, she said one of the things that altMBA did was they just embraced Seth Godin’s distinctive nature, right? His yellow sunglasses, his, you are all weird, ideas. His make a ruckus idea ready. All these terms, all these things that he does that are very Seth-y. We’re trying to figure out what’s Write of Passage-y, what’s Second Brain-y. One of the best ones was my assistant. She used to be a professional French horn player. I don’t know how it happened. I have no idea. It was something like this.
Maybe we were in a breakout room and something, and it’s so intense. Then we go to breakout rooms and then you’re just super relaxed, right? It’s like being in a concert. After the show and you’re just like sitting and you’re sort of slouching back, you’re just laughing. You’re just taking out all the nervous energy. I think that she picked up her French horn or something and they were like, “Becca, play it when we come back.” And then the students love it. Then it becomes a thing. Then Becca has always playing the French horn. And we’re just trying to figure out how do create that just sort of weird, very idiosyncratic culture that makes no rational sense, but somehow creates this pizzazz and this flavor inside of these courses?
Tiago: Just hard to plan for by definition. And we want to allow it but also we always have in the back of our mind the customer, right? Who doesn’t really want to join a community. Very utilitarian just wants to get their money’s worth. Has a problem, has a pain. That person is out there, definitely. And they should get their money worth too. Even if they don’t want all this extra stuff, they don’t want to be part of the network, et cetera. They just want the facts and the instruction and the skills. They should also walk away feeling like they really had just incredible value.
Will: This goes back to, choose your own adventure nature of online education that’s possible in a virtual setting. Something that’s an open question for me and I think for us this year is, how do we make that really clear sort of the minimum viable success path? If you come in and you might be working long hours and you have kids at home, or you’re just in a particularly busy time of your life, you can’t go to three, four mentor sessions. You’re not spending as much time on the forum, but how can you still get value? And so how can we simultaneously provide so much where everybody can find their group and their thing, but then also make that shortest line from A to B.
Make that really clear for people too. So that’s something we’re thinking about with how we communicate with students, how do we structure the actual material and present what we’re delivering, the actual material of the course? I think a big thing is how do we just frame things, right? You can have the exact same experience or assignments or whatnot on paper, but how do you frame things? How do you draw attention to certain things that are particularly important, downplay other things. So stuff we’re working on this year.
David: The thing with the internet is it goes back to what you’re saying about those books summaries, right? You’re like, I don’t know how anyone was interested in this. Is about writing meets book summaries, then my particular way of using notes to do book summaries. And then you said, “I swear, there’s nothing else like this on the internet,” and that sentence, there’s nothing else like this on the internet, is actually what you’re trying to do when you build an online business. You’re trying to be excellent, not through beating others, but through radical differentiation in a purposeful way. And I’m reminded of a very controversial company, but whatever, this goes beyond that, Palantir. I’ve a friend who was a very early employee there. They used to do sleepovers at the office every week. So everyone would bring their toothbrush and their toothpaste.
They’d bring their pajamas and they’d put their sleeping bags and stuff on the floor and they would sleep at the office together. But if you talk to people who were early at Palantir, there was just this special magic in the company and you just wouldn’t have found it anywhere else. Then I just lived with somebody, my roommate worked at Palantir, same thing exists. You just watch how this company functions. I watched it from very far away. I know nothing sort of proprietary about the company. I just watched how the culture runs and how people feel about the company. And things just move at a certain speed.
There’s a certain level of weirdness and just a radical intelligence and an intellectual honesty and ambition inside the company. I can just see how those things connect to those sleepovers in the early days. So what I’m trying to figure out about Write of Passage is how do we create these cultural elements that are just very distinct and one of a kind while also having them inspire excellence. I see this whenever I go to Stripe, I mean, Stripe has this culture of being really intellectually curious. You just walk into Stripe headquarters and the level of conversation is like nowhere I’ve ever seen. I mean, it’s how people talk about Cambridge in the 1970s, or at MIT next to Harvard.
They do these live interviews with scientists and with different researchers and stuff. And that’s just downstream of what Patrick Collison, the CEO is really into. They’re a finance company that has nothing to do with it. But in some fundamental way, it has everything to do with it. It is like the essence of what makes Stripe so special as a company. It doesn’t take away from what they’re able to do. It actually adds to it. But you can’t quite illustrate the connection. So I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out.
Tiago: There’s this strand of, it’s the intellectual tech Twitter-sphere startup nexus. One of my favorite comments that people have, I know you’ve heard a student say this too is, “I didn’t know this was on the internet. I didn’t know that this neighborhood existed.” I thought the internet was like a strip mall of just some stores and really people go in and out for utilitarian purposes, but behind the strip mall, there’s this party house with 50 people living in it. And they just have crazy intellectual discussions late into the night.
Will: Getting drunk on ideas in the bar.
Tiago: Yes. Exactly, exactly.
Will: One student in particular was talking to me from Write of Passage. We’re about the same age, similar background. He was like, “What world have I walked into?” It was like, we took of the courses, what is going on here? And signal I look at that tells me that it’s still early days for all of this stuff. The Twitter sphere, online learning, tech, nexus, friends of mine from growing up from school, from college and things, really smart people, working great jobs and living in the big cities and all this stuff, none of them are on Twitter. Almost nobody I know from growing up in that life is on Twitter. Twitter is not the only entry point but it’s a big one, right? Obviously that’s a huge thing that’s fueled our courses in our business and that’s a big piece of the puzzle here.
So not sure why, I guess again it’s just early. I think when I do mention Twitter to people who aren’t on it, or aren’t really aware of this whole thing that’s happening, they’ll always say things like, “Oh, Twitter is the worst of all of them. It’s just all the politics. It’s all the bickering. All the Trump this, Bernie and Obama that.” But also it’s this vibrant playground for ideas where people meet each other and found companies and make friends. It’s a really remarkable place if you curate it properly. That’s what’s great about Twitter, unlike Facebook or Instagram, right? Where I’ve heard it said, Facebook is the family you’re born into, Twitter is the family you choose. It’s happened to me. I’ve told this story where I was at work.
I was working for a tech company a couple years ago, and there was a particular political event happening that was really in the news. I spent three hours on Twitter and I felt sick to my stomach. I just melted these hours of my life away. And I said, “Something’s got to change.” And I just purged my Twitter following. Anything related to politics I unfollowed. I was left with like a couple dozen people I was following, I think James Clear and Shane Parrish. That was sort of my entry point into this whole world. But I think used properly that tool can be so powerful, but it’s still the best kept secret. If you’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like that. It feels like everybody’s in on this world, but it’s really not the case. So I’m interested to see how things develop if it stays relatively niche or if it expands and grows over time.
Tiago: Yeah. That’s maybe something that people wouldn’t expect to take away from a course. Is to be introduced to a virtual subculture that exists online that does take some work. You don’t just flip on the TV and you see it. You have to navigate these little wormholes and get behind some walled gardens and follow the right people and subscribe to certain email newsletters. But then once you do the value, it can’t be measured in money. It is just a torrent of ideas and insights, but also just genuine people love self-understanding and self-awareness. I’m fascinated by the… There’s another wormhole from intellectual ideas, the ideas side of the internet to personal growth and spiritual growth that is getting bigger and bigger all the time.
Because once you get to know the inside of your mind, you start to wonder, well, what other kinds of interiority, what kinds of interior experiences are there? And if you just walk down that path, you are led to really profound kinds of what we call personal and spiritual growth, but is different from the cliches and the stereotypes. There’s a way to do it. That is serious. That is rigorous. That actually produces great outcomes that’s fun that you can do with people in your life. Not just some weirdos out in California.
David: That’s a beautiful way to close.