Write of Passage Fellowship
Applications are now closed.
The Write of Passage Fellowship is designed to help a small group of intellectually curious minds to create world class essays on a topic of their choice.
With the rise of the internet and tools for mass communication, we’re witnessing a new generation of writers and content creators. It has helped me build my own audience, a process that I then systematized to create the Write of Passage course as we know it today.
The news doesn’t dive deep enough. The problems of the modern world are too complex for short articles with clickbait headlines. We plan to nudge the conversation in a more thoughtful direction. Each essay will analyze events with the context required to communicate nuance and help the reader understand them.
For the inaugural cohort, we’re looking to bring together 8-10 people to create a world-class essay on a topic of their choice. Each fellow will receive mentorship, professional editing, and special access to domain experts.
Fellows should have a combination of the following traits:
Deep domain expertise
Obsessive intellectual curiosity
A history of writing for private or public consumption
As a participant, here’s what you’ll need to commit to:
5-10 hours of work per week. You’ll use that time to write drafts, research your subject, and cycle through several iterations of your essay.
Weekly meetings designed to guide you through this process, provide feedback to other fellows and learning from domain experts.
At the end of the fellowship, each fellow will be expected to share a 10,000-15,000 word essay on the topic they choose. Each fellow will produce an essay that resembles my essay on information flow, Eugene Wei’s essay on Status as a Service, or Michael Nielsen’s essay on Reinventing Explanation.
Here’s what we’ll need from you:
Subject Line: Write of Passage Fellowship Application
Question #1: What do you want to write about? And why would someone want to learn about this topic?
Question #2: Why are you the right person to write about this topic?
Question #3: Why do you think you’re a fit for this program?
Please limit your application responses to 1,500 words.
Please also include a link to your personal website, your Twitter handle, and attach some long-form writing samples. If they’re confidential, we promise not to share them. The application deadline is November 30, 2019. The program will begin in January 2020 and run for three months.
— David Perell (Founder, Write of Passage) and Suthen Siva (Director of Write of Passage Fellowship).
How You Can Help
Every Fellow published a 1,500 summary of their long-form essay. You can find all the essays here.
We’d love to hear from you. If you have feedback, you can find the author on Twitter.
If you’d like to help edit one of the essays, you can contact me or the Fellows directly.
If you know somebody in a Fellow’s field of study, introduce them to an expert in their field.
Here is the list of essays:
Background: Tamara Winter is the Communications Lead of the Charter Cities Institute. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked as a Program Associate with the Project for the Study of American Capitalism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. She holds a BS in Economics and BA in Public Policy from Southern Methodist University, where she also worked as a Niemi Fellow in the O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom. Her byline has appeared in the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times. Find her on Twitter @_TamaraWinter.
Topic Description: Tamara will be exploring the life, death and future of new cities. Here are some questions she’ll be tackling:
How is it that Shenzhen, small fishing village with 30,000 people in 1980 could grow to become the manufacturing capital of the world in less than 30 years?
How did Dubai manage to get clean water, electricity, roads, bridges, and a port, all before a drop of oil was discovered?
How did Walt Disney’s vision of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow become the gold standard for city planners and autocrats alike?
Most importantly, what should few new cities prioritize?
Along the way she’ll highlight successes and failures of instant cities, from Brasilia to Singapore.
Background: I’m an independent researcher interested in education, children’s welfare and rights, and strategies for accelerating technological progress. I recently spent a year observing children at a very unique micro-school for the gifted while taking a deep dive into the structural successes and failures of our education system. I’m currently working on developing a physical space for experiments in adult learning and collaborative projects.
Topic Description: An exploration of how modern parenting norms and the child education system came to be, their strengths and weaknesses, and how we might rethink schooling in order to better serve our children and the future they’ll be tasked with creating. I’ll follow the American child from infancy to early adulthood, considering how his or her needs develop over time and supplementing the story with a variety of case studies, observations from my research, perspectives from educators and parents, and empirical findings on the nature of childhood and learning.
Background: A writer, thinker, real estate investor, and founder of Blogcastr. I spend my weekdays working for a midsize consulting company in New York City.
I enjoy hiking, running, playing golf, cooking, reading, writing, and too many other things to list. Curiosity is one of my strengths. Having too many interests to pursue is one of my weaknesses. I don’t understand boredom.
I write weekly articles on my website where I discuss self-improvement, real estate investing, financial independence, and other topics I find interesting.
Topic Description: When you hear the words compulsory national service, your head might fill with images of the draft. But the issue extends beyond World War II and Vietnam.
When you turn on the news (which I don’t recommend) what do you see? National disunity. The student debt crisis. A country in need of repair.
In this fellowship, I will explore the idea of compulsory national service. What is it? Where has it been tested? What were the effects? What could it look like in the United States? Might it be the answer to some of our problems? Or would it create more issues than it resolves?
I’ll cover those questions and more. And I’ll leave you with the information to draw your own conclusions.
Background: My work explores how contemplative practice and cultural studies might enrich one another, to help imagine more robust, vibrant institutions and possibilities for life in the 21st century. Equipped with a degree in economics and philosophy, and a few years exploring consciousness in Asia and back home in the US, I now write essays and host a podcast – both at musingmind.org. Beyond my own website, my writing can be found at Ribbonfarm, The Side View, and in the forthcoming essay anthology from Revelore Press, Mutations: Art, Consciousness, and the Anthropocene. Presently, I’m connecting my education in economics and my fascination with consciousness to explore the relationship between socioeconomic systems and subjectivity. How might revitalized economic visions give rise to richer ways of experiencing our lives?
Topic Description: The many warring perspectives on Universal Basic Income (UBI) are direct veins into the heart of the larger socioeconomic discourse on progress and 21st century capitalism: where do we go from here, and how might we get there?
The points of contention on UBI – about the role of markets in society, the existence and prospects of poverty amidst plenty, and the role of economics in the human evolution from coercion towards freedom – consolidate these long-standing disputes into a single, 21st century policy debate.
I’ll use two questions as guides through this terrain:
What is the point(s) of UBI?
Is UBI the best way to achieve its goals?
Organizing the scattered motivations for UBI will proxy the diverse perspectives on what our most pressing problems are, and evaluating UBI against alternative policy proposals will create a cartography of visions for how we might best navigate our socioeconomic position and prospects, so that we might bring the full force of our collective imagination and skill to bear upon the possibilities of the moment.
Background: Fresh off of six years at Breather as the NYC GM and then VP, Experience, Packy is building a members’ club focused on learning, new experiences, and great conversation within a community of smart, curious people. Since being in the first Write of Passage cohort, he won’t stop writing about community, strategy, and real estate.
Topic Description: Since Michael Porter introduced the concept in 1980, differentiation has been one of the most written about concepts in business strategy. Writing about differentiation is now…undifferentiated.
Today, though, we live in a world in which differentiation is the most potent force shaping individual behavior, company culture, community formation, and even national cohesion. At each level of human identity, we differentiate, then cohere, and then differentiate, and then cohere.
Why is the Passion Economy replacing the Gig Economy? Why does commoditization kill employee motivation? Why are IRL Member Communities like Ethel’s Club and The Wing thriving? Why did Americans across party lines support Daryl Morey against China?
My hunch is that our innate human desire to differentiate within groups and also as groups holds the answer, and I’m looking forward to exploring that idea through this fellowship.
Background: Preethi’s been a banker, engineer, investor, and most recently, a founder. But the one thing she is most passionate about is writing. She has a knack for understanding things at a fundamental level and explaining them as clearly as possible.
Topic Description: Eastern and Western approaches to medicine. Which one is better?
Western medicine approaches health and disease very differently from Easter medicine. The Western approach clearly separates health from disease while the Eastern approach considers health as a balanced state and disease as an imbalanced state. Moreover, the Western approach breaks the body into parts and follows hypothetical deduction while the Eastern approach considers the body as a whole and uses the inductive method. As a result, the diagnosis and treatment of disease for each approach is vastly differently. In this post, we’ll dive into understanding when Western approaches work better and when Eastern approaches work better. The answer may surprise you.
Background: Adrienne is a Product Manager at Tesla building the in-car experience in your Model S/X/3. Before Tesla, she founded a biotech company focused on automating drug development with computer vision. The company was later acquired and she led product design at the parent company. Previously, she has worked at Google, Bridgewater, and Y-Combinator Research.
Topic Description: The common narrative is that a startup founder needs to have certain qualities and run their company in a certain way in order to succeed, but the fact of the matter is that these things vary greatly depending on the type of company you are building. Specifically, there are three types of risk that a company should be focused on aggressively removing, and these risks differ depending on the life cycle the company and their industry. This essay will deep dive into those risks, take a quick survey of several prominent companies and describe how their risk levels have changed over time and how they have overcome them. Most literature on building products tends to be abstract (e.g. “here is a 5-step design process”), but we learn best from stories. I will include examples on how various companies aggressively removed risk in order to deliver successful product launches.
Background: Jessy is a technologist and incoming PhD student at Berkeley. She studied computer science and philosophy at MIT, where she did research on human-inspired AI at the Computational Cognitive Science Lab and co-founded independent research group LabSix to work on real-world adversarial examples. Previously, she spent time at Google Research with the Natural Language Understanding team, organized HackMIT, and did product / engineering at startups.
Topic Description: In response to mounting concerns about the effects of AI on society – job loss, safety, fairness, and more – there is a counter-narrative, an optimistic vision of “human-centered AI” that augments humans instead of replacing them. But what does this entail? What does it take to develop systems that work in the dynamic, interactive, and messy environments in the real world, and what lessons can we draw from history, economics, and more?
Background: Rhys Lindmark is a post-VC who helps frontier people manifest their ideas around post-capitalism, meta-rationality, and sociotechnical systems. Most recently, he was the Head of Long-Term Societal Impact at MIT DCI. His podcast Grey Mirror has 150,000+ plays and he self-taxes 10% of his income.
Topic Description: Catalyzing a Post-Capitalist Paradigm. As this new millennium kicks off, society finds itself in the waning stages of a hidden, self-destructive paradigm: We maximize financial value as we ignore other values of meaning, sustainability, and connection. We’re driven by scarcity instead of abundance. And we view the world through top-down institutions instead of bottom-up networks. It’s time to shift. Unfortunately, it is difficult to do so. Capitalism and its institutions form a reinforcing feedback loop that is difficult to outcompete. Most importantly, individuals in society (that us!) see things as they are, not as they could be. We are stuck in our current mindset. In this essay, I will explore how we can deprogram ourselves from the current paradigm while simultaneously building protoexamples of a new one.
Background: Ash launched Zetta Venture Partners – the first venture capital fund focused on intelligent systems – with Mark Gorenberg. The firm has $185M under management and invested in over 30 companies. Ash is a board member of and lead investor in companies such as Kaggle, Domino Data Lab, Crate, Invenia, Clearbit and Tractable. Before Zetta, Ash started the money side of AngelList, the most successful startup investing platform in the world that now manages billions of dollars of technology investments over thousands of funds. There, he launched online startup investing, created the first startup ‘index fund’ and curated investment opportunities across 500,000 companies. He also ran special projects like AngelList’s expansion into Europe and the UK. Ash previously co-founded Topguest, a Founders Fund-backed company that built customer analytics technology for companies like IHG, United and Caesars Entertainment. Topguest sold in an 8 figure transaction 18 months after the company was founded. He started his professional career at Macquarie Capital, where he was a top-ranked analyst in private equity, investment banking and equity research.
Topic Description: I plan to write about how to compete with artificial intelligence. We’re changing how we compute so we must change how we compete. Previously, the people that won managed land, labor or capital better than anyone else. Today, the people that win manage data better than anyone else. I want to write an essay that empowers readers with new words and frameworks to understand competition in the intelligence era. I want to help people to apply AI to win at work. This essay may evolve into one about how to regulate monopolies in the intelligence era, which would be more of a socio-political consideration than a commercial consideration.