The Personal Files of Matt Goldenberg

I write my thoughts here about Ed-tech, entrepreneurship, and systems of innovation.  You can read along if you’d like.

Become Who You Want to Be (Mission Statements) – Mental Model Monday #18

Hi, this is Matt. This is Mental Model Monday number 18. Today I want to talk about having a mission statement. A mission statement is some sort of document that states your ideal self, your ideal identity and the current position you’re at. And I’ve had a mission statement since I was about 13 years old, though, when I first read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And my mission statement has gone through in that time probably five, six, maybe even seven major revisions, sort of a complete re-imagining of what my mission statement was and how it operated and who I was within that mission statement.

So there’s sort of two schools of thought when it comes to identity and creating an identity for yourself. One is that you should keep your identity very small, and this has a number of cognitive benefits around being very willing to change your mind about things, being very open to new ideas. The other is that you should be very careful about your identity and very clear and consistent on what you want your identity to be, but be very religious about keeping that. That’s the sort of mission statement side of things.

And the power there is that those same cognitive biases that cause you to not let go of ideas are really powerful for actually creating the behaviors that you want in yourself. So if you can create a mission statement that really gets across the core parts of your identity, that are the person who you want to be, then you end up with something as you read this mission statement and you make this your identity, you end up with something where you’re sort of automatically espousing, or not espousing, but producing the behaviors that you want because you’ve carefully curated your identity to be something that produces those behaviors.

I think both models are useful, right? Some models are useful, all models are false. I really think that the people who are part of the small identity camp should play around with this mission statement idea. I’m at a place in my life now, having done 15 years with creating a mission statement, systematically working on myself to try and accomplish that mission statement, accomplishing that mission statement, printing a new mission statement that brings in more power and more core of who I am and all the things I’ve learned along the way.

I’m at a place in my life now where I’m very, very happy with who I am. I’m pretty much the person I want to be and all the ways that I’m not the person I want to be, I am working actively to become the person I want to be. And when I become that person, I’m confident that there will be more growth potential, more places to explore, I’ll get to that level and from that level I’ll be able to see new heights.

When writing a mission statement, one thing I think it’s very important to get in touch with is what Martha Beck calls your essential no and your essential yes. The Center for Applied Rationality calls this taste, which is a similar idea. So the idea is, think about times in your life when things were just flowing, when you were with people that you love, when you were doing projects that you loved, when everywhere you looked, you just seemed to be lucky, you knew the right things to say, you knew the right thing to do, and think about the feeling in your body that you get when you’re in those situations.

Now think of the reverse situations, where you’re in a spot where you were playing to your weaknesses, where you were with people that you didn’t enjoy, where you just felt stressed out for no reason. Think of sort of a situation in which all of these are happening at once and feel the feeling in your body. This is your essential no. This is sort of looking at your intuitions and your internal system one feelings and by imagining the worst and the best case scenarios for yourself, you can really get a feeling of what the essential yes and what the essential no feels like.

Now if you put words to that essential yes or a picture to that essential yes, that is your mission statement. Similarly, things you do that … is actions that you take that bring you that essential no, those are probably rules you could create for yourself in your mission statement about things you will not do.

So the mission statement is really about guidelines to act within. What will I do, who do I want to be; what won’t I do, who don’t I want to be. There’s several exercises you can go … Once you’ve got this idea of the essential yes and the essential no, there’s several exercises you can do to start generating things to go in your mission statement. One thing you can do is imagine that you’re at a funeral and someone’s giving a eulogy for you. What do you want them to say? One idea that was really powerful for me at one point in my life is, he brought out the best in others, and that’s really shaped how I interact, the type of person I am. Not just being an amazing person, but being a person who lets others be amazing around me, has really shaped my interaction style and how I behave.

You can also use the miracle question from solution focused therapy. So if a miracle occurred, and all the things in your life were different, what’s the first small change you would notice? In this case, what’s the first small change you would notice in yourself, because remember this mission statement is based on identity. So what’s the first small change you would notice in yourself? That might something you can start changing right away.

So whenever I do a new mission statement, I’m doing a new set of things I’m becoming, I typically will post a list of the emotional states I want to be in and I’ll work with things like anchoring, which went into other process to create those states. I’ll post limiting beliefs and I’ll use things like mental countering, the left lobe relief process, core transformation, to start working on shifting those beliefs, so that I can believe I am the type of person who’s becoming this mission statement.

So in terms of where I’m at now, I have sort of four architects in my mission statement. I have a divine child, who sort of loves themselves, loves life, is not afraid to be silly, is not afraid to be curious and ask questions. That’s really core to who I am, and I think if you hang out with me for more than probably five minutes, that part of me will come out. The loving leader is something I’m really looking to develop as I step into the CEO role in my new job and I’m the leader of six people and I’m driving a company forward. A strategist who can see different paths, who can look at the entire landscape and see what to do is also very important in that role. And finally, a dominant lover, which I won’t get into on this video because I’m gonna keep it PG.

So that’s just an example of my mission statement, and then I have … again, I have paragraphs that explain which of these are, I have mental states and emotional states that I want to get into. I have limiting beliefs that I want to get rid of, and then I have habits that I want to create that correspond to each of these.

So that was sort of a meandering take on mission statements. This is a little bit of a different video. I just wanted to sort of give you a tour of mission statements and maybe get you intrigued in creating one. So thanks so much for watching and I’ll catch you next time.



How to Deal With Your Enemies (OODA Loops) – Mental Model Monday #16


Today we’re gonna talk about the OODA Loop, a fascinating decision algorithm created by a guy named John Boyd. The OODA Loop is  a military tool, developed by Boyd. Boyd was a really fascinating guy. I recommend reading his biography called, “Boyd.”  It’s very instructive to  look at his career (and the career leaps he made) as a continual process of turning edges into nodes. But today, we’ll talk about one of those huge leaps that Boyd made – the creation of the OODA loop.

The Four Stages of the OODA Loop

The OODA Loop has four stages. The first stage is Observe, in which you’re taking in information from the environment. The second stage is Orient, in which you’re using your mental models and experiences to understand what you see. The third stage is Decide, in which you’re using that analysis to decide what to do. And the fourth stage is Act , in which you act upon that decision, This is how it becomes a loop: once you act, you’re getting feedback from your environment, which will cause you to step back and Observe and you go through the whole thing again.

The OODA Loop as a Decision Making Algorithm

Just using this as a framework for making decisions, when you’re going through and you’re making a big decision for a company, or for an organization, or for your life. I think organizing various tactical techniques like Perceptual Positions (Observe), Wardley Mapping (Orient), Metaphors of Movement (Decide), and Intentionality(Action), into this framework can give you a clear step by step process for taking iterative action. However, the real power of the OODA loop comes when it’s viewed in the context of an adversary.

Getting Inside An Opponents OODA Loop

John Boyd was a military guy, and the This was made for military decision making. And when you’re making decisions in the military, you always have an adversary. The adversary has their own OODA Loop, you have your OODA Loop, and these OODA Loops are playing against each other. What Boyd said was that the way to defeat an adversary, and this echoes some Sun Tzu’s principles, is you actually want to get inside the enemy’s OODA Loop. As I understand it, there are two basic way’s to do that.

Moving Through the OODA Loop Faster

The easiest way to get inside the enemy’s OODA Loop is just go through the OODA Loop faster than them. You want to go from observation to action just a little bit faster than your adversary, but with the same quality of decision.  What this does  is eventually get thstuck in the loop.  By the time they get to the action stage, their observations will be out of date. This means they can either act on the wrong information, or they have to go back to the observe stage. This is how they get stuck in the loop .The faster you go, with the same quality decisions, the earlier in the loop you can get them stuck.

Fooling Their Orient Phase

The other  to get inside their OODA Loop, is try to fool them into orienting in the way you want them to. So you know they’re observing, orienting, deciding and acting and you can present information to them, that will make them act in a way that you want. This requires a keen understanding of your opponents mental models, and you also have to be very careful as you can actually give away your own strategy if you do this wrong.

Levels and Game Theory

The really interesting thing here, when you start talking about getting inside their OODA Loop in those two ways, is that they are trying to do the same thing to you. So they’re trying to get in your OODA Loop and you’re trying to get in their OODA Loop, and it can seem a bit recursive. Do they know that you know that they know that you know?  How do you know how many levels deep to go in trying to get inside their OODA loop?  This is one of the central questions of game theory.

A good rule of thumb here from this book, “The Art of Strategy,” who looked into a lot of the research into this, is that most people think two, or three levels deep. So if you’re dealing with the average person, what you probably want to do, is try and realize that their OODA Loop is that they’re going to think about themselves, your  reaction to them, and maybe one level deeper about how they should change that direction. Ideally, with these people, you should be at level 3 or 4.

The other option is to find an advantegous  Nash equilibrium – a move you can make where the best option for them is ALWAYS advantageous for you.

OODA Loops and AI

There’s some really interesting tie-ins here with getting inside other’s OODA loops, andAI research, specifically some of the research the Machine Intelligence Research Institute has been doing into reflective oracles and logical inductors.

How Reflective Oracles Get In Eachother’s OODA Loops

Reflective oracles use computation theory to give a basis for mixed strategies. An example of a mixed strategy is doing one strategy 70% of the time, the other strategy 30% of the time, and this allows a Nash equilibrium where my adversary can’t gain an advantage over me by switching strategies.  Reflective oracles were arrived at by trying to consider machines who had access to reasoning about other machines’ OODA loops.  This naturally resulted in the machine’s coming up with mixed strategies, and provides a clear basis for you to use mixed strategies as well in order to prevent others who are trying to get into your OODA loop from taking advantage of you.

How Logical Inductors Get Into Eachother’s OODA Loops

The interesting thing about Logical Inductors is that they take into account incomplete logical facts – that is, if the speed at which you go through the OODA loop matters (which Boyd argues it does), how does one use limited reasoning to create a strategy that still can’t be taken advantage of.  The logical induction answer is to take all the possible facts, find a fixed point average that tells you what do, and use that.  I’m not quite sure what this means from a pratical perspective when working with OODA loops, but what is interesting is that there’s a clear strategy that works.  I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on how to translate this into practical tools.


OODA loops are an incredibly powerful decision making algorithm that can incorporate lots of tactical decision tools in a logical way. Even more importantly, by taking into account the speed and Orientation, they’re a very powerful way to reason against an adversary and determine how to get an advantage.   Start playing around with the concepts and let me know how it goes!


The Most Counter-Intuitive Creative Principle (Deliberate Constraints) – Mental Model Monday #15


Today I want to talk about what I consider to be one of the most counter-intuitive principals when talking about creativity, and that is the idea of deliberate constraints. If I were to take a budding artist and I were to say, “Create me a piece of art,” would I get a better piece of art than if I took a budding artist and I said, “Here’s your canvas, here’s the four colors I’m going to allow you to use and here’s the medium I’m going to allow you to use to create that art.” The idea behind deliberate constraints is that the second one, even though I’m giving them less freedom, less options, and constraining the types of art- would actually lead to better overall art. This seems to be true if you look at the literature – the question is… why?

The Brain as a Search Algorithm

One way to think about this is to view the brain as a search algorithm.  When you constrain the search space  of a search algorithm that frees up resources to go deeper into each branch of search space and find more permutations along that branch. Whereas if you have a broad search base you’re going to just find the most obvious options along each branch. This gets to the core of creativity, which is simply going beyond the most obvious to find other interesting possiblities.

This can be one reason why deliberate constraints help with creativity. They help you go deeper instead of wider.

The Brain as a Resource Allocator

Another possible avenue of inquiry is to view the brain as a resource allocator. If the brain is allocating resources towards what materials you’re going to use for your art, t’s going to give less resources towards finding a creative form for that art. Whereas if the brain doesn’t have to worry about those details, it will allocate all it’s resources towards finding creative mediums.

The Brain as a Heuristic Machine

A third way to look at the problem is to think about how your brain uses heuristics to solve problem. Your brain will often substitute a complex question with a simpler one. If the question is, “What is the best piece of art I could create?” What it might substitute is, “What is the most obvious piece of art I could create?”

By giving constraints to the art you can create, the most obvious answers already require more creativity than they would have otherwise.  Additionally, the constraints may be such that there are no obvious answers, therefore forcing your brain to answer the original question.


I use deliberate constraints all the time when I am brainstorming, when I am writing, When I’m doing these Mental Model Mondays. I put a deliberate constraint such as “only mental model’s I’ve used in the past week, Or, I’m only going to choose mental models that start with S. It forces my brain to go deeper and be more creative. So I highly recommend you try out using deliberate constraints in your everyday life and see what happens.

Conscientiousness Hacking – Week 1 Update

30 Day Challenge – Hacking Conscientiousness

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had a conscientiousness problem. I find myself for instance in a room of the house, wondering what I was originally planning to do there and grasping wildly around for context. Putting things down and forgetting where I left them. Locking my keys in the car. Missing meetings unless I have a physical alarm on my phone that reminds of them (and even then often needing multiple reminders to ensure that I don’t get engrossed in what I’m doing after the first one).

As I’ve grown and changed myself in innumerable ways, this has also been an aspect of my personality that I have hardly managed to make a dent in. Sure there are a few bright spots. I’ve managed to make huge strides in the goal directed part of my conscientiousness, significantly reducing my procrastination and becoming confident in accomplishing large and complex projects, becoming productive, focused, and directed.I’ve managed to change the dial on my “cleanliness” regulator to keep a much cleaner space. I’ve gotten better about putting every appointment in my phone calendar and carrying it with me everywhere, and I keep an extra car key in my wallet so locking my keys in the car is no longer an issue. But the basic “in the moment situational awareness” that is a huge part of what is commonly called common-sense has been stubbornly resistant to change.

Starting today, I’m embarking on a 30-day challenge to try to change that. Every morning I’ll be doing some offline deliberate practice of conscientiousness in different situations, like leaving my car, entering a room, or going to a meeting. I’ll be focusing acutely on what awareness feels like, and working to deepen and enhance my own understanding of awareness through techniques like focusing, anchoring, and association. I’ll also be focusing on some identity change work on any parts of myself that may cling to that idea of being an unconscientious person. I’ll be checking in here every Thursday to give an update on how it goes. Wish me luck!

Dealing With Uncertain Times (Effectuation and Antifragility) – Mental Model Monday #14


Today we’re going to talk about non-predictive control. Among strategists, I think predictive control often gets the most attention – with talk of superforecasting, prediction markets, and calibration dominating talk about decision making strategies. However, strategies for non-predictive control are just as important to an inspiring strategist.  How do you operate in circumstances of extreme volatility and uncertainty?  When you don’t know what’s going to happen next, how do you choose the best course of action?

Before we can meaningfully talk about how to deal with that type of uncertainty, we need to elucidate how to recognize that type of volatility, which we’ll do now.  Let’s go over the three types of risks that a strategist can face.

The Three Types of Risk


Certain Risk

The first type we will talk about is certain risk, is represented here by a clear bag with colored balls in it. Now, as long as we know how much the green, the red and the blue balls are worth, we know exactly, which ball to bet on.  We can make a simple expected value calculation of the value of the balls multiplied by the probability of getting the ball and that tells us which ball to take.

A traditional business plan assumes that you’re in a certain risk environment. You know exactly what to do. You just need to create a plan that’s going to consistently pull out the right ball for you faster than anyone else can get to those balls.

Uncertain Risk

The second type of risk is uncertain risk. This is represented by a a bag where we know there’s red, green and blue balls in it but we don’t know how many of each one. So, what we’re going to do is use sample the balls.  We’ll  start pulling a few balls out, making some small bets or just pulling without paying.  As we pull more balls out, we’ll start to get a sense of the distribution and once we’ve done that we can go back to the planning strategy of the certain risk.

This strategy in the business world is analogous to lean start-up and customer development techniques where you’re running small experiments with your business. You are making small bets. You are talking to customers to get a sense of the distribution of where the expected value is and then you move forward and create your company.

Knightian Uncertain Risk

Finally, there’s Knightian uncertain risk. The idea here is that we don’t know what color balls are in the bag. We don’t even know it’s balls or hubcaps or acid, and the contents of the bag are changing and shifting moment to moment.  In this case, the predictive strategies won’t work. The idea here is to use the strategies that we’re about to talk about in this post to exercise non-predictive control. There’s two complimentary strategies that I know of for how to deal with this Knightian uncertain risk, the first is called Antifragility.



The idea of antifragility comes from Nasim Taleb. The idea is that you’re going to build a system or organization that gains from the disorder inherent in Knightian uncertain risk. If something is fragile. disorder is really bad for it. If something is robust, it can withstand a lot of disorder. If something is antifragile, it is actually strengthened by disorder. For Knightian uncertain risk, antifragility is really the only one of the three that is viable long term. There are only two ways to be antifragile.

Natural Selection

The first type of antifragility is natural selection. In order to take advantage of natural selection, our system or organization must sufficiently diversify its strategies in a real way. We can’t just diversify along one category – we have to truly branch out into other categories and completely different strategies. As long as we have a sufficient numbers of diverse variations, we’ll have a few that survive even the harshest black swans. Whatever strategies are left are the ones that can handle everything that was thrown at us. We then diversify from those strategies to continue to take advantage of natural selection.



The second type of antifragility is Hormesis. Hormesis is creating ideas or strategies that grow from adversity and stress. Our muscles are hermetic, because as we put strain on them they actually grow to handle that strain. Building systems that learn, handle adversity well, and become increasingly stronger due to stress is the second way we can become antifragile.



If you remember back to the congruency episode we talked about masculine and feminine congruency. Masculine congruency is about a system that changes the outside world in order to achieve it’s goals. Feminine congruency is a system that can maintain homeostasis even with external pressure and volatility. Anti-fragility is the femininely congruent response to Knightian uncertain risk. The masculine congruent response is effectuation. Saras Sarasvathy first discovered this process by running through thought experiments with experienced entrepreneurs and picking out patterns.  The basic idea behind effectuation is that rather than coming up with a system that is fine no matter what’s in the bag, we’re going to pour balls into the bag.

The Bird in The Hand Principle

So instead of choosing a goal from all possible goals,  we start out with what you already have. Who do we know? What are our strengths?  What are our resources? Based on that we can come up with a number of goals that can utilize the balls we already have on our person.  This is referred to by Sarasvathy as the Bird in the Hand Principle.

Affordable Loss Principle

From those, we’re only going to choose strategies that minimize the downside risk such that we can afford the loss. This will allow us to keep pouring in balls to the bag until we can finally pull on out again.   This minimization of downside risk is referred to as the affordable loss principle by Sarasvathy.


Patchwork Quilt Principle

Now, once we’ve selected those goals that match with the color balls we have, we’re going to create the market that will allow us to pull the ball out.  We’re going to take those people that you already know and create precommitments and partnerships with them.  This has two effects on our new venture.

First, is it’s going to constrain the possibilities for our organization. The commitment will come with conditions, and those conditions will limit the total number of strategies that the organization can use and the total number of outcomes it can effect.

Second, it’s going to give us more resources and certainty for our organization. We’ll have more money, connections, and strengths that we can leverage to make our organization successful.  We’re constraining what the organization is even as we are broadening what the organization can do.

Then, we start the process again making more and more commitments. Ultimately creating our new market. There’s obvious parallels here to the recursive congruency process we talked about in the congruency episode. This principle of a series of precommitments defining the organization is referred to by Sarasvathy as the Patchwork quilt principle.


In uncertain and volatile times, non-predictive control methods are critical to success.  Every system should be on some continuum from Effectuative to Antifragile, depending on its own values and structure.  Please play around with these processes and use them for yourself.


Anchoring – Mental Model Monday

Anchoring is a way to give yourself new emotional capacities that you’ve never experienced before. Enjoy!

My Learning Algorithm – Mental Model Monday

Learning new things is an incredibly important skill that everyone should have. Here’s my learning algorithm:

The Most Important Things I Learned in 2016

2016 was a big year. It saw some major changes in my life, as I wound down Self-Made Renegade, searched for a new world changing business, settled on Verity, and built an amazing team.

Here are the most important things I learned:

To Build a Great Team, Articulate a Big Vision

My biggest lesson this year was to not be shy about my vision. In the past, I’ve been a bit shy about sharing my ambitions for fear that they may sound crazy. However, I’ve overcome that block this year, and started to be more real with people about what we’re actually building and how it could actually make a dent in the world. T

his led to going from just me searching for a business model at the beginning of 2016, to a team of 7 world class performers this year, all working for sweat equity because they believe in the vision. This is a large shift for me, and I’m going to work on how I can refine my message and ability to inspire in 2017.

Contingency Trumps Consistency

I used to think of habits as these things that they I needed to do and maintain indefinitely in order to see a benefit from them. However, all habits have both cost and reward, and as life circumstances change, I’ve found that some habits don’t make sense for certain life situations. For instance, why do something that motivates me every day when I’m already motivated?

I’ve started to see a large variety of my so called habits as tools in the toolbox. I can put them in there when they don’t make sense, and pull them out when I need them again. For instance, I stopped reviewing my Anki cards for a number of months when I simply didn’t have the time, then caught up on what I’d missed when I had the time again. I restarted filling out my five minute journal as I started to notice a lack of gratitude in my life. And as I tried to restart these habits, I renewed some Beeminder goals in order to make sure the transition to starting these habits would go smoothly. All these habits are things that I may stop again as life circumstances change, and I’m completely okay with that, rather than feeling guilty.

Vlad Zamfir – How to Create a Crypto-Economic Protocol From Scratch

Creating a crypto-economic protocol is hard, as we’ve discovered over the past year of writing the Crystal whitepaper. There are often non-obvious attack vectors, and closing those attack vectors can themselves open up other attack vectors

That’s why I was incredibly interested in Vlad’s talk at Devcon 2 about Correct-By-Construction Casper. Vlad hinted at a rigorous approach to creating provably correct crypto-economic mechanisms, and imagine my surprise when he gave an impromptu talk on crypto-economic mechanism design at the Ethereum Silicon Valley Meetup.

If you’re unaware of what mechanism design is, it’s often referred to as “reverse game theory” – Game theory is about choosing the best moves in a given game, whereas mechanism design is about creating a game, given the moves you desire.

The basic idea that Vlad built on in his talk is that cryptography is the part of your mechanism that ensures the integrity of past moves, and economics is the part of your mechanism that ensures you’ll take the proper future moves.

This can be boiled down into a six step process for creating crypto-economic mechanisms:

  1. Assume an oligopolistic setting. Low coordination costs between people in charge of protocol, high coordination costs between users.

    This removes Schelling-points as an option for a coordination scheme.

  2. Figure out desired behavior of all actors in this setting

    Vlad made a distinction between trying to produce proper outcomes, and trying to produce behavior that produces proper outcomes. He thinks the latter is much easier.

  3. Add economic motivators like rewards, escrows, equity, etc. to every actor that may have misaligned incentives relative to above behaviors.

  4. Create economic rules around above mechanisms that discourage the following behavior:

    • Invalid Protocol Messages: Giving information that is untrue or invalid.

    • Failure to Produce Protocol Messages: Not taking your proper part in the protocol.

    • Omission of Protocol Messages: Failure to let the network know about messages you’ve seen(censorship).

    • Equivocation: Failure to choose a single definition of the truth.

  5. Add cryptography to ensure the integrity of all data from the past.

This process seems basically correct, but also looks easier than it is in practice. Not only do you have to determine economic and cryptographic schemes that can satisfy all these requirements, but you also have to do that while taking into account practical computation limits.

I also wonder how DoSing fits into Vlad’s scheme above. It’s a peculiar form of omission where you can’t tell whom is doing the ommiting.

Casper seems to deal with this right now by just punishing everyone, but that seems to open a class of outside attacks. If I want the protocol to fail I can quickly bring it to it’s knees by just DoSing a few people, thus making everyone lose money until it’s unprofitable for them to secure the network. This type of griefing attack isn’t just theoretical, as we’ve seen with the recent attacks on Dyn and Ethereum.

Vlad made a point in his talk that you need to prove your mechanism under multiple behavior models (other than Nash Equilbrium) but to me that seemed to miss the point. Game Theory is one lens through which to view behavior, and I think formally proving Nash Equilibrium’s is enough to satisfy that you’ve made that lens. Proving another incomplete game theoretic behavior model won’t then somehow show that you’re immune to problems.

Instead, the approach I would recommend is a mental models approach, in which formally proving Nash equilibriums checks one box, but there are other heuristics which can increase or decrease your confidence in the real word correctness of a protocol. A surprisingly great book for these types of heuristics is Building Successful Online Communities: Evidence Based Social Design, by Robert Kraut and Paul Resnik, and I’m of the opinion that it should be on every crypto-economists bookshelf.

Crypto-economics is a new frontier, and opens up the possibility to solve long-standing problems in mechanism design like The Byzantine General’s Problem or Arrows Impossibility Theorom. I’m glad we have people like Vlad pushing the state of the art forward, and hope to see more standardization of crypto-economic methods over the coming years.

Crystal – Crowdsource Everything

Here’s my official presentation from the Ethereum meetup – this presentation also marks the first time we’ll be publicly sharing information about Crystal with the broader community.

How Crowdsourced Decisions Could Change Everything

Could crowdsourced decisions change the fabric of society? In this presentation that I gave at the Ethereum Meetup, I argue that they can. (Watch along with the slides at the bottom of the post).

The Most Important Things I Learned in 2015

2015 saw some major shifts in the way I think and interact with the world. Here’s a list of the top 3 things I learned.

Make Decisions based on Expected Value

Probably the most important concept I learned this year is that of Expected Value.  Everyone knows you have to balance risk and reward.  But how do you do that?  If you’re like I was, you probably think of it in terms of managing the extremes – don’t do things that are REALLY risky, and don’t do things that are BARELY rewarding.

But mathematically, as long as you follow some pretty reasonable rules, there’s actually a different way to think of the relationship between risk and reward – multiply them.  If you have a 10% chance of making $1,000,000 from a venture, and a 90% chance of losing $1,000, the above heuristic would tell you that’s a terrible venture to enter.  But using EV, you get (.1 * $1,000,0000) + (.9 * -$1,000) = $99,1000… which actually seems like quite a nice amount of money.

My fascination with EV started after reading the first linked article above, and ended up with my doing a 1 month experiment where I got into the habit of calculating almost every daily decision based on it’s EV.  While that habit turned out to be too cognitively taxing (factoring in computation cost btw is still an open problem in decision theory), it profoundly changed how I approached the big decisions in my life.

Playing Zero-Sum Games Really Well Doesn’t Raise Their Expected Value

This realization, along with the one above, is what led to me move away from Self-Made Renegade and decide to start focusing on systemic change in startups.  A zero-sum game is a game where in order for a player to win, another player has to lose an equal amount.  Think of Mancala – if you end up getting more beads in your side, the other player has to lose an equal amount of beads.  No matter how many beads you get on your side… it doesn’t change the total amount of beads on the game board.

It turns out that helping liberal arts graduates get their dream job is lot like playing mancala.  No matter how many people I helped get their dream jobs (and I WAS helping lots of people), there was a corresponding group that I wasn’t working with, who I was simply taking jobs away from.  I was getting really good at shuffling happiness around, and having the illusion of making difference, while not really changing anything.  This is what ultimately led me to consider systemic change as the best way to ACTUALLY make a difference.

A Mentor is Just a Friend Who Offers Advice Sometimes

One of the consistent negative patterns in my life has been the ability to develop relationships with mentors.  I consistently distanced myself from mentors because  I felt I somehow wasn’t worthy of their mentorship, or because I didn’t actually feel a connection to them, or because I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer.

All of these reasons really came down having some sort of weird transactional model in my head about the relationship between some more successful than you and yourself.  This year, I began to be able to let go of that model, and just enjoy being around, connecting with, and being silly with people at all levels of personal and professional development.  This is a shift which I’d like to continue to make in 2016.

The Business Case for Dapps – Decentralization as a Strategy

Can Dapps actually be profitable? If your code is free, and your data is free, what left is there to sell?

Vitalik Buterin thinks that there is no killer Dapp. Instead, he sees Dapps as having marginally better qualities among certain dimensions, like uptime and automation – and marginally worse qualities along other dimensions like privacy and speed.

He see's a long tail of apps that will slowly be replaced as people realize that the upsides in those cases marginally outpace the downsides.

Paul Sztorc thinks that Dapps can never be a viable business model. If other Dapps can steal your Dapps code and data, then those Dapps will be like parasites, removing money from the value creators – and disincentivizing new creators from creating on the platform.

Both Paul and Vitalik are deep thinkers, and I think that both of their ideas will come into play with the future adoption of Dapps. However, this exact conversation has played out before, with Open Source Software – and it turns out that OSS proved that there was a third factor that would push adoption of the OSS model – strategy. But before I get into that, I should digress and give a brief history of the OSS debate.

A Brief History of the Open Ideology

The philosophical split between traditional development and the OSS style of development can be traced back to a single, influential essay (and the project it was based on, Linux), called The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Many consider it to be the bible of the hacker philosophy – small, independent developers working together to solve their own problems can compete with – and ultimately beat – larger companies with less participants who don't care about what they're programming.

If you read through the essay, you'll find the same sentiment that underlies a large portion of the crypto-community today: The sentiment that decentralization has so many benefits that overtaking the centralized establishment is only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, there was another camp saying that OSS would never take off. The argument went that projects need money to survive long term, you can't make money if anyone can fork your code for free (and sell it for cheaper), therefore OSS will lose out in the long run. This is similar to the parasitic model of Dapps that Paul Sztorc has.

Finally, there was a third, more moderate camp. This camp said that OSS had strengths and weaknesses. It would do well in areas where security was paramount, but user experience wasn't, such as protocols. Again, you'll notice that this argument has the same structure as Vitalik's argument.

What The Open Ideology Couldn't Predict

What all three of these ideological groups were doing was looking at what types of software they thought OSS could sustain, then predicting the ecosystem would grow around these applications.

And if you read through these again, you'll notice that none of them predicted the success of Android – an open source OS supported by a for-profit company that gained significant market share against a closed source competitor without completely taking the market.

That's because all of these ideologies were based on the characteristics of open source software, and NOT on the characteristics of the ecosystem that OSS supported. Because of this, none of them predicted the use of OSS as strategic gameplay that could be used depending on the strategic landscape.

Schizophrenic Open

Several astute writers have noted the schizophrenic nature of companies like Google and Facebook to open source. One minute, they'll espouse its merits, the next, they'll lock up their data and their code and sue anybody who uses it in a way they don't want.

And an even more astute group have noticed that these aren't just random instances of opening up their codebase. There's a pattern there.

Open as a Strategy

One of my favorite tech strategists, Simon Wardley, codified these patterns into a series of strategic plays, and realized that only those companies which used open source strategically were actually gaining market share.

What Wardley noticed was that even if the company couldn't make money directly from the software, what they could do with the software was directly affect the gameboard, thus putting them in a situation where they could make money in other ways, such as with their core product.

Android's Open Strategy

Android is a prime example of this. Apple had a closed ecosystem with iOS, and Google knew that the more marketshare iOS smartphones gained, the more likely that Apple could shut Google (as a search component that lived on TOP of that platform) out of that market.

Google bringing in a new, closed system wouldn't get create enough of a coalition to take on an entrenched monopoly.A new closed system is too much of a risk for any partners to take on, and without those partners, taking on a clear market leader becomes nigh impossible (see also: Google+).

The solution to this conundrum is to open source your product, which takes out a lot of the risk for partners of being tied to a losing brand – or even worse, supplementing one market bully for another. Android compatible phones could continue to survive, even if Google's specific initiative died or Google became too restrictive in the market. Open sourcing Android allowed Google to credibly commit against being another bully like iOS.

At the same time, Google, being the leader of that project, could steer the project -using unofficial or official standards – towards a point that was beneficial to them. And indeed, to this day most Android phones use Google as the default search.

This insight – that open allows different market dynamics, is at the heart of why OSS is so prevalent today.

The Open Strategy Demystified

So open allows a coalition of companies who are being bullied by a monopoly to work together on the product that can take that monopoly down.

Wardley identified several other areas where open could succeed based on changing the gameboard. Here's the whole list, all of course based on my own understanding of Wardley's work:

  1. Open can bring a particular value chain function (eg Word Processing) to a more evolved(e.g. commoditized) state, therefore making it cheaper for companies that use that function, or creating a more favorable ecosystem for other forms of strategy.
  2. Open can be a source for talent recruitment
  3. Open can be a credible commitment against bad behavior (for a limited time, until network effects give power back to a project), thus allowing for stronger cooperation in a market.
  4. Once one of the previous strategies are used, open creates holes in the value chain where money can be made, by unbundling services that were previously bundled(e.g. before Ubuntu, the OS and support were bundled).

What I think both Paul and Vitalik are missing in their analyses is that what open did for products, blockchain style decentralization can do for every aspect of the value chain.

Decentralization as a Strategy

I expect Dapps to eventually allow these types of gameplay on every level of the value chain. But before the technology can relevantly effect the lower levels of the value chain, it will start on the level directly below the product itself – the data. The first wave of strategy driven Dapps will be all about open data.

First, I want to acknowledge that the concept of open data isn't something that's unique to Dapps or Ethereum. It's something that people have been trying to do for a while.

But until this point, a single group still had to curate the data and foot the bill for hosting it. Never has their been a git like mechanism for data where it's hosted without cost and guaranteed to be accessible to everyone. Where an API for reading and writing the data is built in to the protocol as a feature.

So what happens when companies can use open data in the same way that they can now use open source?

Data-Monopoly Busting

First, you get a way to take on data monopolies by credibly committing to treat your ecosystem with respect (so they don't fork you with a parasite contract). Google's Knowledge Graph and Facebook's Open Graph are two big examples that will become even more relevant in the coming years. Dapps will create a way for smaller companies who get bullied by these two companies data monopolies to create open alternatives in a way that won't directly make them money, but will save them money in the long run.

Furthermore, big companies will to provide support and direction to these Dapps, in order to drive them towards a favorable state for that company, similarly to what Google did with Android and Chrome.

User-Friendly Business Models

Second, because of the level of transparency and "forkability" (for lack of a better word) at every level of the value chain, Dapps get to a point where they can make credible commitments not only about their ecosystem, but about other consumer oriented concerns such as business model. This means we're going to see a lot of user run/user funded companies that provide similar services as existing companies but provide users with more favorable terms.

Dapp Infrastructure Support

Third, we're going to start seeing even more holes in the value chain that can be filled in by companies. There will definitely be a service gap, just like with open source. And initially I think we'll see a lot of Ubuntu type models where companies provide support for free Dapps.

But what's more interesting to me in terms of value chain holes is the interesting opportunities that user run/user owned companies provide. We're going to see a lot of Dapps that are great products, but need help with infrastructure/regulations/etc and don't have the inhouse expertise to even know that they need those things. I think we're going to be seeing a lot of interesting business models around this idea of Business-Infrastructure-as-a-Commodity.


Fourth, I think we're going to see a lot of companies creating Dapps for recruitment and branding purposes, putting something out there with their name on it that the whole world can use.

Cost Savings

Fifth, we'll see Dapps being used in areas that aren't a companies core business, in order to move lower level value chain functions to a cheaper state for the company to use, or in order to make the gameboard more favorable in other ways (e.g. by driving demand up against a competitors constraint)

Traditional Products

Sixth, I agree with Vitalik, we'll see a long tail of Dapp products that are simply better on the blockchain than off, just like we saw an explosion of low level protocols with open source.

The Risk of Dapps

All that being said, I also agree with Paul. Dapps offer some unprecedented strategic play- but if companies aren't careful, they could end up foolsmating themselves.

What Dapps do is essentially create an ILC environment for the entire ecosystem of Dapps, where the system could take any innovations built on top of smart contracts, leverage that data, and then commoditize the innovation. If companies don't have a strategy for when THEIR section of the value chain gets caught up in that cycle, then ultimately they're playing with fire.

In my next post, I'd like to explore a bit more of the ILC dynamic I see evolving in Dapps, some good strategies companies can use to remain profitable, and counter strategies that Dapp developers interested in breaking large monopolies can use to fight back.

Quadratic Voting Isn’t Just For Voting

Quadratic Voting is a concept created in 2013 by Glen Weyl and Eric Posner.

The basic idea is that you pay for votes based on the square of the amount of votes you’re buying. 1 vote is $1, 2 is $4, 3 is $9, and so on. Some people vote for, some vote against, and just like in normal voting some majority or super-majority wins.

Another important part of quadratic voting is that at the end, the funds are returned to the participants split equally among them. This helps them make up some of their lost utility if they don’t get their way.

What Glen and Eric showed was that as long as everyone follows the rules, QV approaches ideal preference aggregation as more voters participate.

That “as long as everyone follows the rules” part is also important, because one large drawback of QV is that it heavily rewards collusion – and in a decentralized system, Sybil attacks.

But let’s pretend that we had solved the collusion and Sybil attack problems. For what else could you use a preference aggregation algorithm?

Quadratic Utility Functions

When I first read the paper, one idea immediately jumped out at me – if you vote on values, instead of on policies, you can use the amount of for votes minus the amount of against votes to create a weighted linear payoff function. You could then use another system, such as forecasting tournaments or prediction markets to figure out how some policy or organization will effect those different values. Essentially, a Futarchy based system where the “Vote on values” part is handled by QV.

Quadratic Share Pricing

QV has the neat property of where the marginal cost o a vote is always the same as you payed for all previous votes, but the price increases so fast that wealth disparities have to be extreme for wealth to be a decisive factor in the majority.

One place where this seems like a desirable trait is in selling shares of the company (I recognized this this weekend when somebody misinterpreted the above idea as this idea.) You want people to be able to buy into the company more if they believe more in it, but you want to make it really hard for any one shareholder to get a controlling share of the company. If you priced shares quadratically, you get both of these desirable properties.

Random Thoughts on Quadratic Voting

  • Still haven’t seen Eric or Glen address the collusion issue, which is the biggest issue right now with QV.
  • One issue I see with it is that if you have a floor price of a dollar, you’re always guaranteed to get back at least your floor price. This means that voters who care LESS than a dollar are still incentivized to vote the minimum amount. This leads to a strong effect where if there’s people who care only a little on one side of an issue, they’re always incentivized to vote more than they care about, which could overwhelm the people who really care on the other side of the issue (the exact issue that QV is trying to avoid). One solution if you use cryptocurrency is to use infinitely divisible payments and infinitely divisible votes. This way, you have no floor price, and aren’t guaranteed to get back what you put in – you’re then incentivized to vote only what you care about (in practice, all cryptocurrencies have a floor price, but hopefully it’s so low that you care about the issue at least as much as the smallest denomination is worth). Of course, then you’ll have a lot of people putting in very small amounts in hopes of getting large amounts… but this will quickly become unprofitable from an other resources (time/electricity/gas) standpoint as more and more people do it.
  • The third issue is that QV encourages coalitions. I haven’t seen Eric and Glen’s models, but my guess is that they don’t allow for coalitions. If you modeled it out, it’s possible that QV could ultimately end up encouraging a two party system, which is exactly what we want to avoid.
  • The mechanism above shows that QV can allow wealth redistribution towards people who care less, but another interesting aspect of it is that it encourages wealth redistribution over time to people who HAVE less. This is a really cool property of QV, and also something I haven’t seen modeled anywhere. How long would it take for the effects of wealthy people buying extra votes to create total wealth redistribution.

What are the traits of a successful business?

This was a video I dug up from a few years ago, it was a MOOC on Entrepreneurship from Stanford, and I went a bit overboard with the analysis. I think it gives a good overview on some of the theories of what makes a successful business, and this is still some of the stuff I look at to this day when evaluating opportunities.

On… those off days

So, you’re having one of those “off days”. Maybe you didn’t get enough sleep. Maybe somebody said something and it brought up old insecurities. Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Whatever the case, you find yourself slipping back into old emotions and thought patterns, not being able to make eye contact, being clumsy and meek again, instead of the assured confident person you have worked so hard to become.

And you’re killing yourself over it. You hate it. You struggle harder and harder to pull yourself out of the slump. You fix your body language, you try to make some clever comments in the conversation like you normally do. But it all just comes out forced and awkward, plunging you further into your own despair. You try to explain why you’re not your usual self, but you know it’s not really an excuse. The harder you try, the more awkward it becomes, and finally you’re left sitting silently, or going to the bathroom to splash cold water on your face, or going somewhere to get a moment to yourself.

And still, you’re killing yourself. What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck happened?

At least, that’s how it is for me. I used to hate days like this, despised myself for becoming so weak again when I knew I could be stronger. And after dozens of these days, at various points in my own growth process, I’ve come to a singular conclusion:

It Doesn’t Matter.

Read it again, in case you missed it the first time.

It Doesn’t Matter.

It’s not a big deal, really. It’s not going to ruin your life, it’s not going to kill you. I used to worry about people seeing this side of me, about how their perceptions of me would change, of what they’d think.

Then I realized something.

Noone Knows.

No one knows that there are insecure thoughts in my head. No one notices every slight mistake I make, every little tremble in my voice. I was putting myself deeper into insecure thoughts for nothing. Very few people even noticed that there was any change.

There were a few tho. A few observant ones, who would see that someone was different about me. That I was a little less confident than I normally was… but nothing happened. The next day, or the next week, when I was back to my normal self, there was no change, no big shift now that they had seen another side of me. Nothing. And I realized my second big epiphany.

Noone Cares.

All these big consequences that I had been dreaming in my head were fantasy. Everybody has an off day sometimes, and it’s not a big deal, taken with all the positive impressions of you they have to the few off days. People notice, then shrug it off.

And finally, there were some people who both noticed and cared. They would worry about me, ask what was wrong, ask if it was something they did. The people who cared that I wasn’t my usual self, cared because they cared about ME. These were the people who were the closest to me, and for these people:

It Doesn’t Matter.

One off day is not going to change their feelings for you. These are the people who will stick with you through thick and thin, one little off day isn’t going to change a thing.

I finally realized that by making these off days such a big deal, all I was doing was giving them power they didn’t deserve. By constantly self monitoring myself, and fighting against myself, I was just making things worse. What started out as a molehill only became a mountain because I piled the dirt myself.

When a day like this strikes me now, I don’t worry about it. I accept it, I understand that things will be a bit different today. Sometimes, if I find myself dwelling on it too much, constantly monitoring myself, I’ll try to get in a little exercise. Do a few jumping jacks, wave my arms, go for a run. Anything to get myself out of my head.

Sometimes, you’ll find that what you thought was an off day was merely an opportunity to express a differet side of your personality. Maybe you’ll be a cool, laid back guy because you have less energy. Maybe you’ll be a crazy wacky guy because your thought patterns all over the place. But by not fighting it, it becomes merely another form of expression.

Other times, you’ll find the weird feeling will go away completely, and you’ll be your normal self in no time.

Still other times, neither of these things will happen. you’ll be that slightly more awkward persona you used to dread so much. But now you know the truth: It Doesn’t Matter. and in realizing this truth, you’ll find the problem won’t be nearly as bad as it had been in the past… a small speedbump, and nothing more.

At the end of the day, instead of beating yourself up, you can look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself the only question that really matters at this point: What can I learn from this?

And the next day, when you wake up refreshed, confident, and alert, you can back to what you do best, knowing with utter certainty that you can handle yourself even at your worst… anything else is easy.

Value Flows

Words are not words… they are just a flowing of value. Not an exchange, but a flow.

You do not judge people based on words, you are just feeling the inherent value that those words express. This comes from the core of the person, everyone can appreciate this inherent value. When you respond (and you respond with all your being, words are just a small part), you are acknowledging this value, and you are giving a part of yourself… letting your value flow forth.

Ever noticed how good music can get you into the moment? Listen to others like you listen to the music. You are merely enjoying the Inherent value that the music is holding in itself. You can start to sing along… Acknowledging the songs value without judging it, as well as giving a part of yourself. I have seen dismal rooms TRANSFORMED when one person comes in just singing a tune. Eventually everybody is doing it… allowing the value to flow throughout the room.

This is the same thing that happens in conversations where somebody is completely in the moment. Their value flows forth, affecting everybody. I have been this person, I have been affected by this person. You know the one I’m talking about.

You too can be this person. There are several ways to get yourself to this state, where you’re not thinking or judging, just letting the value flow throughout the interaction.

The first way to do this is to listen for the inherent value coming from others. Don’t try to listen to their words (hear their words all the same) just try to listen to their value. Passion is the biggest indicator of core value, the easiest to spot. Listen to the passion behind someones words, and you will soon be moved into this state. The Inherent value is always there, passion just brings it to the surface.

The next thing to do is to VOICE YOUR THOUGHTS. Thoughts are poison to the flow of value. Having long trains of thought will disrupt the flow of value. Instead of continuing to have the thoughts voice your thoughts stop thinking. By voicing your thoughts directly after you have them, you are effectively stopping the thought train in its track. Your inherent value is being voiced.

Another important aspect is to feel your value. I don’t know if other people have this, but I actually physically feel this as a WARMTH throughout my body, a stillness in my mind, a fluidity to my movements. Value should flow from you when you are sitting, just sitting. You will get stares, people will feel the value flowing to them.

Senses, use them. Hear, smell, taste, feel, see. Don’t judge. Hear, and be in wonder of the sounds. Smell, and let the joy of the smell spread through you. Taste, let your body be overcome by the sensation. Feel, and let all your warmth be amplified, the touch of a female when you are communicating like this is electric. Value flows from and to you and all becomes amplified. See. See the value. Not physical but tangible still. Value flows.

Feel the flow of value with all your senses.
See the inherent value in all people.
Be the value, until it is YOU who is flowing throughout.

Benjamin Franklin’s Secret to Correcting People Without Seeming Like a Dick

Benjamin Franklin would, when he heard someone mispronounce a word, make note of it without remark. Later, he would use that same word in conversation the correct way, as a way to correct others without invoking defensiveness. You can use a similar tactic to correct misconceptions.

Another Franklin trick to avoid defensiveness is to change the way you advance your argument. Rather than presenting it as infallible truth, present it as your opinion you’re unsure of, as another point of view, or as something you heard.

Thoughts on the Usefulness of Business Plans

Amar Bhide in 1994 wrote an awesome textbook called the Origin and Evolution of new businesses, in which he took the INC 500, removed the outliers, and systematically interviewed and surveyed everyone who was left. One of his findings was that long-form, formal business plans were irrelevant to success.

I was curious, so I did a google scholar search and found this paper which has a good review of the literature. It cites several studies from different lines of research, and they’re all over the map. Some show a positive effect, some show a negative effect, and some show no effect.
This seems to support the null hypothesis. If there was an effect either way, you’d expect more studies to increase certainty one way or the other. The fact that there is no clear trend one way or the other seems to support the idea that any positive or negative effects are just random noise.

I was about 60% sure that business plans had no effect, I would willing to change that certainty to 58% now (it’s possible that there’s a small large effect that we simply can’t control for due to the nature of natural experiments)

However, one idea that did change for me after reading that review is that there may be a class of companies for which business planning is very useful – those companies in industries in which change is very slow. You might even be able to map out on a Wardley Map how useful business planning is to a company. If it’s all the way on the left of the map, long form written planning is less useful, and informal plans are more useful, whereas as it moves towards the right of the map, the reverse becomes true.

How to Actually Network as a College Graduate

“What do you think is the best way to network? Everyone says “network,” but what does that mean?”
Sara Botts

Great question!
This is a common one, and I’ve seen the sentiment on reddit that when someone says “network” what they really mean is “already have an existing network.”

I’ve found that not to be true – even as a new grad , there are a few effective ways to network:

  1. By activating your existing network. Once you’ve figured out what job title you want, send out an email to friends, family, and classmates. Tell them exactly who you’re looking to talk to. This is an incredibly effective step that so many grads neglect to take.
  2. Through informational interviews. A highly effective way to make contact with people more experienced than you is to ask them for advice. Be very specific about what you want in your initial message, then, when you do meet, be intelligent, thoughtful, and grateful. Keep in touch with those people, and they’ll let you know when they have an opportunity for you.
  3. Through industry events. This is not your typical “networking event” that includes mostly other unemployed people and desperate network marketers. Instead, you want to go to industry conferences. This is typically very expensive for new grads, so the secret is to email the conference organizer – let them know you’re a new grad, and ask to volunteer. It’s an incredibly high density of people who can help you in your job search.
  4. Interesting projects. If you can create something cool and get other people involved, it’s a great way to network. I’ve had students create podcasts and interview the top people in their industry, or designers create a really cool visualizations and get help from other top designers – the idea is to do something that makes others WANT to help you.

Bonus Presentation – Building Your Network

A step by step guide to creating a large, connected network.

Click the link below for free instant access.

Can robots replace tutors?

That sees to be the ambition of Louis van Ahn.  I love love love what Duolingo is doing for evidence based education. That being said, there’s a lot that I have to nitpick at here, but the biggest is the assumption that we should be pitting teachers against technology. Right now, the best teachers I’m sure could CRUSH the best technology when it comes to teaching (the best one-on-one teachers, even more so).   But that won’t be the case in the next 5-10 years.

What we really need to do  figure out where teachers are better than technology, and where they’re worse. Having technology enhance teaching (in a real way, not moving from whiteboards to powerpoint) could really bring about a transformation.

James Altucher’s Advice on Starting a Business

James Altucher was asked in his AMA this question:

Do you have any tips for someone going into the business world? What type of degrees would be nice, what colleges in the country are nice, etc? I heard the business world was tough but very rewarding. Please share how early life was for you when you were starting up.

This was his reply:

Forget everything in your question. Forget these words: “business world” , “degrees”, “colleges”, “tough”.

Here’s what you do: every day try to figure out ten ideas that will create value for people. You need to build the idea muscle or it atrophies like any other muscle. School doesn’t do that. School atrophies your brain.

Don’t expect your ideas to be good. After about six months they will start ot be good. Become an idea machine. help people. Eventually charge people to help them. Now you are in business. Take a fulltime job so you can get paid while you are building your idea muscle.

introduce 2-10 people a day to each other who you think can help each other. Build out your network this way. Deliver value.

That is your schooling. Nothing else will ever work.

To Fix Education, You Need to Start From Scratch

I’m sick of all these “disruptive education startups” that think that the problem with education is distribution. Taking a broken paradigm and moving it to the internet just means that you’ve found a faster and more global way to screw up younger generations. Sure, access to education is an issue, but it’s like replacing the window of a car when the engine is broken, the door won’t open, and you’re driving on 3 wheels.

To truly create a more effective conception of school, you need to question your most basic assumptions:

  • Are children truly helpless learners who need knowledge force fed to them by adults?
  • What’s the ultimate measure of success of a “school”?
  • Are the only methods of funding a school dependent on government and parents?

I don’t think truly transformational education reform will come from within the system. Not from the government, not from private schools, not from charter schools.  Questioning these basic assumptions is too much of a threat to their existence.

Here I want to write a paragraph about how the next generation of school will be so much more effective than traditional schooling that it can’t be ignored. How sending your child a few hours on weekends could be 10X more effective, and how the entrenched education institutions won’t see it coming.  How creating a highly effective, incredibly fun, and totally optional version of “school” could transform the landscape of education almost unrecognizably in a span of 10 years.

But of course, that would be crazy.

Why Gamification Won’t Save Education

I was watching an interview recently between Sal Khan (of Khan Academy) and Elon Musk. In the interview, Elon Musk draws the analogy between his kids being addicted to video games, and getting kids addicted to education.

Suddenly it clicked.  The reason that all these online education companies are putting so much stock in things like badges, points, and challenges.  They think that these things are the reason kids are addicted to video games.

Unfortunately, this is wrong.  Gamification can’t save education, because thinking it can shows fundamental misunderstanding between being able to explain behavior and being able to predict/cause it.

Explaining Behavior Vs. Predicting Behavior

There’s a principle in social psychology which says that an explanation for a behavior can never be reduced to simply evolutionary explanations.  For example, saying “people protect their family because it passes on their genes” can perhaps describe why a particular behavior was selected for. However, it can’t describe:

  1. Why the behavior of protecting a loved one arose in the first place (the very first time).
  2. The particular set of cognitive procsesses, neuorology, and emotions which lead people to protect their family (and therefore it has little predicitive power).

Similarly, when looking at why video games are addicting, you can’t simply point to carrot and stick mechanics, because:

  1. You can’t explain why people bought the video game in the first place.
  2. You can’t explain the particular set of cognitive processes and emotions that caused people to play the game long enough for reinforcement mechanisms to kick in.

Particularly, people who think video games are addicting because of the reinforcement mechanisms are taking a Skinnerian, behaviorist view of human motivation. They’re ignoring the Bandurian, cognitive psychological model that is a big part of what makes humans tick.

What Makes Humans Tick

I don’t think anyone is arguing that humans aren’t driven to maximize pleasure and reward, and minimize pain and effort.  What I am going to argue here is that what gives humans pleasure, particularly in the sphere of learning, is not to get points and badges  (which can only help reinforce what people already want to do) as many gamification experts would have you believe. It’s also not to get money (which only matters up to a basic “enough” threshold) as many behavioral economists would have you believe .

Rather, there are certain innate human drives which give us pleasure in the simple act of fulfilling them.  In the case of video games, I think there are a few clear drivers:

Gamers want to increase their skills in order to:

  1. Create New Things
  2. Solve Problems and Challenges
  3. Satisfy Their Curiosity
  4. Change the Story They Tell About Themselves

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and in fact there are some non-hack theories of gamificationwhich are much more comprehensive.

But those are the four big ones which I personally observe.  To see this in action, let’s take a look at an incredibly addicting yet simple game called cookie clicker.


How Cookie Clicker Taps Into Innate Human Drives

At first glance, this game seems to support the theory that all that you need to do is have some points and badges, and you can get people addicted. After all, the game pretty much involves gaining points and badges by clicking on things, and then using those points to buy things which can make you more points and badges.

However, let’s imagine for a second that this game was called “number clicker”. Instead of getting cookies and building a cookie empire… you simply got “numbers”.  What would you lose from the game mechanics as a hack gamification expert sees them? Nothing.   However, what would you lose from your innate human drives? You’d lose the ability to create something new and vicariouslytell a story about yourself.  Would cookie clicker be as popular and addictive as it is without these factors? No.

What Does This Have To Do With Education?

I think I’ve made the case that merely adding badges and points to education won’t satisfy the innate human drives, and therefore won’t be enough to motivate human behavior.  One way to follow this chain of logic would be to say: Ok, instead of just adding badges and points, let’s make an RPG out of real life.  Let’s correlate real life learning goals to exploring in game worlds, solving in game challenges, and creating an in-game story about ourselves.

But ultimately, this misses the point.

Just look at the kids at the Sudbury School. These kids have no outside gamified structure imposed on them at all.  No grades, no classes, no nothing. And yet, they still manage to do an (while admitedly not optimized) astonishing amount of learning.  In looking at the essays and videos of their students, you can begin to notice trends about why they do what they do:

They’re learning new skills in order to”

  1. Build or create something in the real world.
  2. Solve a problem or challenge in the real world
  3. Satisfy their curiosity about how the world works
  4. Change the story they tell about themselves (I.E, they think it’s cool.)

Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But if you’ll notice, this is almost the exact same list that was made above. It turns out real life ALREADY provides the motivation to learn.  So to save education, you merely need to make it easy for kids to connect their learning goals to the real world.

How to Save Education

The ideal motivational platform for students wouldn’t rely on fancy points and badges systems (although it might use those as supplementary reinforcements).  Instead, the perfect motivational platform would do two things really well:

  1. Show you what skills and facts you are able to learn next, based on your current knowledge.
  2. Show you the experiments you could run, things you could create, or real life projects you could participate in, based on those skills and facts.

Unleash a simple learning system like that, in an environment like a Sudbury School, and innate human drives would take care of the rest.

Reinventing education ain’t easy. But it is simple, when you take it down to basic first principles like this.

Anyways, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Am I simplifying to much? Is there things I’m missing? Let me know through an email, in the comments, or anywhere else.

Why does hiring suck so much?

This is going to be a ton of armchair reasoning coming from someone who doesn’t work in corporate America. But I’ve gone through the hiring process with enough clients who are going into corporate America that I feel like I can say this: Hiring Sucks.

It’s like, the most arbitrary process ever.  We use these outdated things called resumes, to do this ridiculous process called an interview, to reject based on gut feelings and bullshit criteria, using people who aren’t even trained on how to make these ridiculous practices work kinda right – and in the end, we end up with a sub-optimally choosing one of the basic building blocks that makes a company work.

But why does hiring suck so much for the company?  Because hiring isn’t about doing what’s best for the company, it’s about what’s best for strengthening your tribe within the company.   The entire hiring process  subjective resumes, interviewing face to face, etc, all make sense if you realize that the purpose of hiring is to get “allies”, while making it look like you’re getting competent hires.  If you want someone of the proper status with similar viewpoints who will help bolster your viewpoints, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to take even an obvious step such as blinding a resume, and the more obvious step of removing humans from the process till the very end, and making 90% of the hiring process completely objective.

This is a problem for fixing education – because if you want to change the incentives for education to be optimized for innovation and productivity, the only way to do this is to make the incentives for hiring be optimized for innovation and productivity – as one of the largest incentives for education IS being hired. It makes sense that we have a largely signal based, status based model of higher education right now, because those signals are exactly the type of thing that companies look for when trying to find someone who would make good political allies at work.

To be sure, academia has it’s own entrenched systems and perverse incentives, and government regulation in lower education mucks things up even more – but  that’s all secondary to the fact that if your main goal is to get someone who’s competent enough while fitting into your tribe, you need a system of education that can help fit people into those tribes – and anyone who skirts the system will have a harder timer getting hired.

So if you’re really interested in getting companies to make hires that will cause them to be more productive, more innovative companies  (and not hires that are competent enough, while bolstering the hiring people’s individual political factions), what do you do?    This I think will be hardest part of reworking the whole system of education/hiring/teaching/credentialing.  It’s the one area that I don’t see a clear systemic solution to, but what I do have is the seed of an idea that I hope will grow more as I refine my thinking, talk to people, and experiment.

As I alluded to before, there are a few basic building blocks of an organization:  Their people, their processes, and their business model.  This, combined with the external competition and market forces, determine the success of the organization.

What this means is that, while people aren’t the determining factor of an organization, they’re enough of one that if you could get a sufficient slice of a particular market to take up a hiring method that’s optimized for productivity and innovation, on average those firms would out-compete their competitors in the space.

The problem being of course, is that if you could get a sufficient amount of an industry to uptake this in the first place, I wouldn’t have to make this post.  However, it does mean that there’s some “tipping point” – the point at which the other two factors (business model and processes) are averaged out among all the people who adopt the new rational hiring processes, at which point the new hiring method will come to dominate the industry, because those who don’t adopt it will be out-competed by those who do.

Now, based on some obvious observations,  I’d conjecture that people aren’t willing to hire someone outright incompetent even if they’d bolster their political tribe – hiring incompetent people too much would probably get you fired (ok, I know in the dilbert model of the world, everyone starting at junior management and above is incompetent, but I don’t buy that that’s the result of poor hiring decisions).

So the next question is, how do you find situations where there’s not competent people that will fit in your political tribe? And the obvious answer is in talent constrained components of your business – if competent people are hard to find, then you’ll have to hire them when you can find them, even if they’re not the best political allies.

This is why coding bootcamps and data science bootcamps can get away with skirting the traditional signals of a degree – they create competent (enough) people in an area that’s talent constrained, so the political factor just doesn’t matter as much.

Now, most of those data science and coding bootcamp aren’t in the business of reinventing the hiring process – if they know they’re in the business of reinventing anything, it would be reinventing education.  But that’s a missed opportunity – because if they could somehow slip in some changes to the hiring process, and allow those to propagate through the organization, they’d be able to extend their bootcamp model far beyond talent constrained areas –  they’d be able to extend it to any subject in which a four year degree is stretched to four years because of convention, not because that’s what’s actually needed to learn the subject (this describes a lot of subjects).

The propagating through the organization seems like the hard part – you’d need to prove that this hiring process is better than any other, and do it in a way that doesn’t tip off people that you’re taking away their ability to choose their tribe members.  The nature of talent constrained fields is that on average, you’ll have more incompetent hires using that method, so it would be hard to prove that it’s a better method – and trying to prove this while not letting people realize that their political factions are at stake would be even harder.

But at the very least, it’s reduced the problem – we started with how to change hiring practices globally when that goes against basic human nature, then we figured out that if we could get a subset of a certain industry to change hiring practices, that would likely effect the whole industry, finally we figured out that we’d need to choose industries in which a high percentage of their components where in talent constrained fields – thus being more open to disruptive hiring practices. Where to go from there, I don’t know.  But I do know that you can’t reinvent education without figuring out how to also reinvent hiring.

The Best Way To Land a Job in 2015

New Grad Blueprint

When I work with new grads one, thing always strikes me…

The advice they’ve been getting is TERRIBLE.

Like, I was talking to this grad the other day, and he had been told to not add LinkedIN people he didn’t know! I was floored by this! Not one career person he had met had told him that this advice is meant to serve LinkedIN as a company, not YOU as an individual.

I mean, I get it, the career world is changing fast… but there’s no excuse for the lousy, outdated, or even non-existent advice that plagues most college grads in 2015.

If there’s anything I pride myself on not being, it’s a whiner, so I decided to do something about it… and, I may have gone a little overboard (insert evil grin here).

Creating Something To Fix The Problem

When I started envisioning what a resource for new grads might look like, my visions started small. A few articles, that would take them through the basics of landing their dream job.

… But then it got bigger.

  • Instead of only using my advice, I decided to go to some of the top experts in the world to get THEIR advice on landing a dream job.
  • Instead of articles, we got voiced, animated videos.
  • Instead of only a few, we ended up getting videos from more than 20 experts

And the result, is, IMHO, one of the best resources currently available anywhere to help you land your dream job in 2015… and it’s 100% FREE.

A Career Without Compromise

It was important to me when I created the course that we make NO COMPROMISES. What I mean by that is, I’m not going to teach you to make money at the expense of your happiness. Nor am I going to show you how to take what you can get in a tough economy. Nor am I going to help you find a job you love, that does nothing for the world.

Instead, these 20 experts will take you step-by-step through how to get a job that pays well, ignites your passion AND gives your gifts and talents to the world.

And even though I’m talking in vague terms, the course is anything but. The course is chock full of individual tactics and SPECIFIC ACTION STEPS that anyone can follow to land their dream job.

Join Now (Deadline is May 15th)

I’m calling it New Grad Blueprint. And to avoid the procrastination that I know plagues many graduates, I’m opening enrollment only for the next 10 days.

Please, Click Here To Join.

Want to learn more? Come join the conversation on reddit and Hacker News.


The $84,257 Strategy to Achieve Impossible Career Goals in 2015

Flying To the Goal

In 2014, I took on the impossible task of placing bartenders, cashiers, and liberal arts students into high level positions.

If I was being realistic, it would have taken me the entire year just to coach these students up to entry level jobs, earning $10,000 – $15,000 more than their current positions.

Instead, I took on 3 premium students in 2014. When I totaled up all of the easily quantifiable wins that they got from ,using this process, I counted $84,257 in raises, promotions, and new jobs that they made THIS year.

Today, I’d like to show you the process we used to achieve these impossible goals. The secret to the process is that it goes beyond simple advice like “Make your goals specific,” and instead, leaves you with a step by step plan to set and achieve impossible career goals.

Figure Out Where You Are

2014 Inventory

One of the problems that most “goal setting plans” have is that they have you set goals without any thought to where you’re currently at.

To start, you’re going to create a document that takes a look at exactly where you are currently in your career, and what you accomplished in 2014.

List out:

  1. Key Metrics – What are you tracking in your career or business, and what were your numbers for 2014?
  2. Skills – What new skills did you learn this year? What skills did you maintain or improve? What skills did you let atrophy?
  3. Accomplishments and Projects – What are you most proud of from 2014? What did you accomplish that others could not? What projects got pushed to side or didn’t get the attention you had planned?
  4. Brand and Credentials – What did you do to get your name out there and create crediblity for yourself in 2014? What may have tarnished your reputation?
  5. Network – Who did you meet in 2014? How is your relationship with your coworkers and others in your industry?

The goal is to be objective about where you are. None of these things should be considered “failures” – instead, view them as information and growth opportunities for 2015.

You can also download the workbook if you’re interested.

Figure Out Where You Want to Go

2015 Goals

The next step is to determine where you’d like to go in your career. It helps to have a good idea of what you value and what you’re good at (more on that here). Then take a look at your “Where I am” document and ask yourself this:

“What’s the biggest change I could make this year to live my values and increase my impact?”

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Is it a new job? A raise or promotion? An increase in key metrics?

If you have more than one answer that’s fine… but have no more than three. If you want to achieve an impossible career goal, focus is paramount. You’ll want to also consider how difficult your goals will be; building a career graph can help.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to go, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll know when you achieve it. This should be objective criteria that you can look at to say “Yes, I made it” or “No, I didn’t.”

What resources will you need?

2015 Resources

The key insight here is that almost any career goal can be achieved with the same basic four ingredients.

  1. Accomplishments and Projects – What do you need to create and accomplish?
  2. Network – What connections do you need to make?
  3. Skills – What do you need to learn?
  4. Brand and Credentials – What do you need to do to increase your crediblity?

To start, create a list of what you’ll need in each category that will allow you to achieve that ultimate goal.

Check Your Assumptions

For every resource you’ve listed, you’re going to ask yourself a simple question: How could I achieve my ultimate goal without that resource?

For instance, a common one that my students list under credentials is a college degree. However, if we ask the question: “How can I get this job without a degree?” we often find that there are other brand indicators they can acquire that will allow them to achieve their goal faster.

Map the Path to Your Goal

We’re going to use a tool called a flowchart to create a broad plan for our 2015 goals. I recommend a computer program called CMAP tools, but you can also do this with a pen and (very large) piece of paper.

To start out, put a goal with “Where I am” on the very left of the page. On the very right of the page, put your “Where I’m going” goal.

Draw a circle around the two goals (these circles are called “nodes”). Then draw another node in the flowchart called “Tomorrow”, which you’ll connect to your “Where I am” goal.
Flowchart Where I am and Where Im going

Add in Your Resources

Take the list of resources you made above and make each resource a separate node on the flowchart. All of these nodes will connect directly back to your “Where I’m going” goal.
Flowchart with Resources

Work Backwards

Starting from the ultimate resources we need, we’ll work backwards asking ourselves two questions. The first is “What do I need to do to acquire this resource?”

For instance, if I ask myself “How can I get connections with 30 big name bloggers?” I have 3 thoughts that immediately come up:

  • Attend 2 Blogging Conferences
  • Make 50 comments on Other Blogs
  • Write 20 Cold Emails

I’ll add these to chart, and connect them to the next node.
Flowchart How can I Get This Resource

Then, I’ll ask myself “Can I do this tomorrow?” If so, I’ll go ahead and connect it to the “Tomorrow” node. If not, I’ll repeat the process above – asking myself “What do I need to acquire this resource?” and adding these steps as new nodes.Flowchart One Road Completed

What if You Don’t Know How to Acquire the Resource?

Sometimes, you’ll get to a step and simply don’t know how to proceed. For instance, I know I’ll need to connect affiliates (partners) to promote my product, but I don’t know how to do that.

In that case what you’re going to do is put a question mark in the flowchart, like this:
Flowchart with Question Mark

But that’s not all you’re going to do. Instead you’re going to bridge the gap to the question mark with two steps:

  1. Research
  2. Experimentation

For instance, if you don’t know how to add a hiring manager to your network, your flowchart might look something like this:

  1. Find 3 internet articles on how to connect with hiring managers
  2. Experiment with top two techniques on hiring managers, and see which one has better results.
  3. ?
  4. Connect with hiring managers

In my case, I have a friend named Kevin who does consulting on the topic of affiliate marketing, so the image looks like this:
Flowchart with Research and Experimentation

Complete Your Map

Using the tactics above you’ll continue creating nodes until every single node has a link to an action you can take tomorrow.
Completed Flowchart

You should now have a complete path to take, starting from actions you can take tomorrow, all the way to your formerly “impossible” goal.

The only thing left to do is follow it.

Make It Easy to Follow Your Path

HabitRPG Screenshot

The final step is to build a system that will propel you along your path.

To do this, you’re going to incrementally change your daily routines and systems until you can’t help but make progress on your goal every day.

One of the biggest things you can do to ensure success in this arena is to start small. A good rule is to make one (and only one) of these changes to your habits and systems every 2 – 4 weeks.

Here’s what you need to build into your system:

Carrots and Sticks

Flying To the Goal

One of the first systems to do is make it very painful to do the wrong thing and very pleasurable to do the right thing. This is a force multiplier, as it makes all subsequent habits easier.

Different things are painful and pleasurable for different people. Some people love earning points, some people hate losing money, and some people hate letting someone else down. That’s why it’s important to experiment with the following systems and see what works for you:

  • Meet weekly with a coach or accountability buddy who is proud when you do the right thing, and disappointed when you do the wrong thing. (I go the extra mile with this and actually pay my students $20 to show up.)
  • Use HabitRPG to earn points and experience when you do the right things, and lose health and items when you do the wrong thing.
  • Use Beeminder to charge you money when you get off track of your habits.
  • Check off actions in Todoist and watching your karma number go up.
  • Taking a moment after doing the right thing to feel proud and appreciate what you accomplished.

A Proactive Mindset

The next habit you should build is a habit of being proactive and excited for work. It might seem funny to call this a habit, but you fall into habits of thought just like you fall into habits of action – you can’t fix one without fixing the other.

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Here are a few of the mindset shifts you might want to make:

  • Change all thoughts of “I have to” to “I choose to.”
  • Change the thought of “This is such a big goal” to “What’s the very next action to take?”
  • Change the thought of “I don’t have this skill” to “How can I learn this skill?”
  • Change the thought of “I’m a fraud” to “I deserve this.”
  • Change the thought of “I can’t wait to tell people what I’m doing” to “I can’t wait to show people what I’ve done.”

A Productive Environment

Focus@Will Screenshot

The next step is to set up a specific environment and time for focused and productive work. This habit involves making a checklist of your unique productive environment, and checking it off before you begin. This alone can dramatically increase your productivity.

Here are some hints:

  • Create a home office, find a coworking space, or identify an awesome coffee shop.
  • Take a couple minutes before you start to tidy your workspace, get what you need, and center yourself.
  • Put on music that helps you focus and makes you motivated. (I use Focus@Will.)
  • Close everything on your computer (including browser tabs) that aren’t needed for the task at hand.
  • Use an accountability system such as the Lesswrong Coworking Chat.

A System for Focus and Recharge

The next step is to create a system for working in focused bursts, followed by periods of recharge. This allows you to avoid burnout and kills the destructive mindset that work and play are at odds (they’re actually synergistic).

Here’s some hints:

  • Take a look at some of the systems already out there for this, such the Pomodoro Technique, (10 + 2) * 5, or 60-60-30.
  • Figure out what your “time sucks” are, such as Facebook, email, or daydreaming. Make sure to catch yourself when you use these activities during your productive time, and schedule them only during your recharge time.
  • Make a list of the activities that recharge you mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Figure out what aspect of your psyche is burned out, and use them strategically during your recharge times.

Your One Must-Do Task

Make a habit of figuring out what your top priority is, and working on that first. What’s the one thing you can do that will most move you forward on your flow chart?

Here are some ways to figure out your must-do task:

  • Ask yourself what you would do if your life depended on achieving your goal as quickly as possible.
  • Ask yourself what next action is most scary to you – this often intersects with important tasks that you’ve been avoiding.
  • Calculate the expected value of each action, and choose the one that’s the highest.

Contingency Plans

Contingency Planning Table

It would be great if you could simply follow all these habits and execute your plan without a bump in the road – but as you know, that almost never happens. Life always has other plans. What all great sports coaches know is that even the best laid strategies and plans will need adjustment. So just like a coach, you’re going to create a playbook of different plans you can use in reaction to the roadblocks life throws at you. Instead of expecting perfection, you’ll learn to plan for imperfection by using a technique called the pre-mortem.

Imagine it’s December 31st, 2015, you’re looking back on your year, at your well-laid plans – and you’ve failed! Now ask yourself this question: What went wrong? Were there areas of your map that proved harder than you expected? Maybe you got sick at some point, and found it hard to continue your habits when you got well again. Perhaps you found that as work demands increased, you weren’t able to focus on your own agenda. List out every single thing that could have gone wrong to lead you to this faiulre

Using that list, you now know what might derail your plan. However, this doesn’t help you to achieve your goals, so the next step is to create contingency plans for each of the possible failure points you identified, known as implementation intentions. These are simple if-then statements that tell you what to do if you run into a road block. For instance:

“If I find myself getting burnt out from all the work – then I’ll take a day off to recharge and do yoga.”

Here’s another:

“If I find myself procrastinating on going to a networking event, then I’ll call a friend on the phone before I go, to get myself into a social state.”

As you can see, implementation intentions are a powerful way to expect roadblocks, and succeed anyway.

However, even if you have the intention to use your plan, that doesn’t mean you’ll think to use it in the moment. That’s why you’re going to spend a couple weeks visualizing yourself enacting your intentions. With the yoga example above, you would visualize what it looks like when you get burnt out. What situations arise in your life that lead to burnout? What does it feel like in your body? What does it look like? Then, you’re going to visualize yourself calling in to work, taking a day off, and going to the park and doing yoga. It should take you 10-15 minutes every day for a couple weeks to visualize all your implementation intentions, which will make you much more likely to remember and use them when the time comes.

So as a quick recap, here are the steps to creating contingency plans:

  1. Create a pre-mortem of why you failed at your goal.
  2. Create implementation intentions for what you’ll do to counteract each failure point.
  3. Visualize each implementation intention for 2-3 weeks, 10-15 minutes a day.

Choosing More Habits

It turns out that there are only ever five types of habits, skills, and systems that we should focus on. (I have another post coming out on this that gets more into specifics.) I’ve given you a list of force multipliers above, but once you’ve run through those, take a look at the list below to choose your next habit:

  • Force Multipliers – What could 2X, 10X, or 100X your acceleration towards your goal?
  • Minimum Viable Skills – What are the habits and skills you actually need to achieve your goal? If you don’t have these habits, it’s impossible to get from where you are to where you want to be.
  • Bottlenecks – What’s the slowest part of your process? What habits or systems could you create to remove these bottlenecks and speed up everything else as a result?
  • Competitive Advantages – What habit, skill, or system could you specialize in and be the best in the world at? Creating these is one of the fastest ways to achieve impossible career goals.
  • Future-proof skills – What habits, skills, or systems will allow you to not only achieve your goals this year, but also remain competitive for the future? It’s this focus that separates careers amateurs at the whims of industry trends, from professionals who create their own career destiny.


If you follow this process, I can almost guarantee that you’ll see leaps in your career that you didn’t think possible. I’ve seen it over and over again with my students.

That’s why I created this free workbook. Simply follow along day by day and by the end of the year, you’ll have achieved your impossible career goal.

Click the link below to check it out.

P.S. Did you enjoy this post? Email it to a friend.

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How to Make an Impressive Resume

Impressive Scrabble Game with Resume Word

Eric Auld was frustrated. As a 26 year old with a Masters degree in English, he had applied to hundreds of jobs, drank what seemed like gallons of coffee, and experienced rejection after rejection.

It was at this point, at the peak of his frustration, that Eric decided to try an experiment. He was going to see exactly what competition he was up against.

Eric decided to create a sample job that had good benefits and basic requirements. He posted the job up on Craigslist, and waited to see the results.

24 hours later, here were his results:

  • 653 Applicants
  • 62 Applicants with 10 or More Years of Relevant Experience
  • ~262 Applicants with a Bachelors Degree or Higher

If you’re shocked by this data, don’t worry – there’s still a way to break through the noise. It simply means rethinking the way you write your resume.

You Can’t Just be Qualified, You Have to be Impressive

With so many people applying to a job, it can be hard to figure out how to stand out.

It might seem like it’s just a matter of making your resume different from other people’s. But with so many qualified applicants, any resume that takes more than a few seconds to read will be thrown out.

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Instead, you need to stand out, without being so different that you get discarded. I’ve broken down this approach in 3 steps below:

The 3 Commandments to Make an Impressive Resume

If you’re interested in how to apply the commandments, I’ve got on awesome bonus for you.

Bonus Presentation – The Three Commandments of Resume Writing

A presentation that will show you how to follow the three commandments that will ensure your resume doesn’t end up in the discard pile.

Click the link below for free instant access.


The game has changed, and generic resumes will no longer cut it. Even if you know how to write a resume that gets you hired, the chances are you’re focusing on the wrong things. With one job posting getting over 600 applications, it’s more important than ever to stand out. If you can follow these three commandments, you’ll be ahead of 80% – 90% of job applicants.

How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”

Men answering tell me about yourself

I was recently at a conference when I heard one attendee ask another the dreaded question: “Tell me about yourself.”

Pause for a second and think what answer you expect to that question. Usually, it’s something like “I’m an accountant” or “I do web development.”

Breaking the Mold

What I didn’t expect to hear (at least not from someone who hasn’t gone through the Self-Made Renegade premium coaching or products) was this answer:

“I give people super powers.”

That answer didn’t end the conversation – it started it. It was a powerful pattern interrupt that created curiosity and led to a half hour focused conversation and solid connection. And starting focused conversations is one of the most powerful skills you can bring to your next interview or networking event.

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How to Use “Tell Me About Yourself” to Start Focused Conversations – The Two Sentence Story Technique

Today, I’d like to show you a powerful technique you can use to not only start that conversation – but immediately create a positive impression that few other candidates can create.


So here’s the breakdown of the two sentence story technique:

I am the (Memorable Fact or Hook) who helps (Specific Company Type) solve (Painful Problem) by (Unique Solution). I do this because (Compelling Story).

Go ahead and leave a comment, and I’ll give you some personalized advice with what I think.

Bonus Document – The Interview Secret Weapon

This template is the secret weapon my students use to blow away interviewers with their professionalism, preparedeness, proactivity.

Click the link below for free instant access.

This Interview Mistake Could Cost You Your Next Job Offer

Man is so nervous for job interview

When I first started working with my premium student David, he had a problem: He couldn’t seem to get past the first interview. He went to interview after interview, and was rejected again and again.

Finding Interview Weak Spots

The first thing that I did with him was a small mock interview, and it was immediately clear why he wasn’t getting calls back. He was nervous for his interview, couldn’t think of what to say, and just wasn’t coming across as the intelligent and competent individual I knew him to be.

Many people would say that deep seated confidence issues like this take months to fix — but David didn’t have months. In fact, he had an interview the very next day!

Using Shortcuts

Instead of trying to focus on the core problem, David and I spent 30 minutes focusing on shortcuts — little tips and tricks that he could use to fix the biggest mistakes he was making, without spending months fixing all his confidence and presentation issues.

When it was time for our call the next day, I expected him to tell me the interview had gone well, and that he would keep practicing. Or perhaps that he had been too nervous and blanked out on an answer again.

Instead, he called me in an excited voice, and told me that he had been hired on the spot! It turns out that with just a few small tweaks, a candidate can completely change the way they come across.

Fixing Interview Nervousness – The Happy Elf-Drill Sergeant Technique

Today, I’d like to share with you one of the shortcuts that I shared with David that day. The same shortcut I’ve used with other premium coaching clients to quickly fix a huge mistake in the way they come across. Check out the video to see how to use it for yourself.

Bonus Document – The Interview Secret Weapon

This template is the secret weapon my students use to blow away interviewers with their professionalism, preparedeness, proactivity.

Click the link below for free instant access.

Land Your Dream Job with a Free Self-Made Renegade 2.0 Membership

My Todo List

When I was younger I used to read a lot of productivity blogs. I have thousands of hours logged reading and learning about productivity. These days, I’ve cut that time significantly, to the point where I’ll typically only read those types of books and blog posts for around 35 minutes a week. Can you guess what’s happened to my productivity? It’s skyrocketed.

It’s for this reason that I’ve always been hesitant to write blogs. As good of a marketing tool as a blog is, I’ve always kept in the back of my mind that I’d like to do something more with SMR. I’m proud that up till now, I’ve kept SMR as actionable as a career advice blog could possibly be. In fact, SMR is the only blog I know that has todo lists on most of its posts, bolds all actionable content in orange, and organizes it’s posts by the goals they help you accomplish. Not to mention the bonus section, which since day one has had some of the most actionable and useful free career downloads I’m aware of in the career-blogging space.

But today, is the first step to truly making SMR go from merely a blog to something more: a complete job search tool you can use to create stratospheric career success.

Introducing Self-Made Renegade 2.0

Today, I’d like to introduce the Self-Made Renegade membership. It’s a completely free members area that takes the idea of the private SMR mailing list and bonus area, and makes it into much more. You can now log on to the site, and actually INTERACT with the various content in order to land your dream job.

Here’s a tour of some of the new features:

In-Depth Guides

My Todo List

The first thing that I thought was important to add was some way to take all the different information you got here, and know how and when to use it get your dream job. I have over 15 in-depth blog posts, and even more free downloads in the bonus area, so it can get really overwhelming. To that end, I created my in-depth guides (TM). These are interactive guides that organize all the content on the site not only by goal, but by different steps in the process to reaching your goal.

To use the guide, simply click on the Next>>> or <<<Previous button to view the step you’re interested in. Then, click on the resource or blog post you’re interested in, and it will take you right where you want to go.

The first one is on How to Get a Job Without Experience, and more are on the way.

I honestly believe that following this guide could be just as good or better for a liberal arts grad than reading some of the more popular career books out there.

In-Context Bonus Content

Bonus Link

It used to be that once you joined the private SMR mailing list, you’d be unceremoniously dumped onto a bonus page with a whole list of different downloads, presentations, and videos. Not only is this overwhelming, but it encourages content consumption over action. In addition that, if you ever lost your bonus link, you get totally stuck if new bonuses come out. You can’t resign up to the mailing list because it won’t let you, and you have no way to view the new content.

In SMR 2.0, we do away with all that and simply allow you to click on the link for any page that has a bonus. A small window will pop up, allow you to view the bonus content, then go right back to the original post by clicking back to the main window.

Interactive Todo Lists

So often it’s easy to read a blog post, resolve to take action, and then forget about it the next hour, day, or week. With an SMR membership, that will never happen to you. I’ve created some interactive todo lists that will save the actions you want to take, and let you know as you complete them. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Find Your Todo

In-Post Todo List

Simply scroll down to the bottom of any post with a todo list, and hover over any todo item. You’ll know you’re doing the right thing when the checkbox turns into a plus sign.

Step 2: Add Your Todo

Todo Add PAge

Once you’ve found the todo you want to add, simply click on it to bring up the todo adding page.

On the todo adding page, you can simply click Submit to add your todo item. If you have more than one task you’d like to add, simply select the next todo from the dropdown list, and click Submit again.

Step 3: Do Your Todo

Todo Add PAge

Now, your todo is up in your my todo sidebar. You can hover over the todo to mark it as completed, view the original blog post it came from, or delete it.

That’s Not All

I have even more exciting features planned, included an interactive tool to plan a career change, a career analyzer tool, and more. When you sign up for SMR 2.0, you’ll automatically be added to the exclusive mailing list, and I’ll occasionally post updates about new features and content.

But How Can You Give So Much Away for Free?

It’s a fair question. Most bloggers simply make money by taking their existing content and making it step-by-step, actionable, and interactive.

In my case, I’m doing all that for free. This is intentional. I want my premium content to be much more than just repackaged blog posts with todo lists. I think my premium coaching students would agree that no amount of blog posts can ever add up to the value that I’ve provided, including powerful accountability, mentorship, and personalized advice.

I’ll also be launching my first premium product in the near future, and I think you’ll see that it is going to go far, far beyond simple written content, videos, and checklists.

In short, I’ll make money by offering even MORE value than I already do with the website, and that’s the way I want it. It’s a challenge that can only push me to put out more value into the world.

So… How do I sign up?

Good question. Simply click here to sign up for the New Free Membership and get access to all of the features and benefits mentioned above. I can’t wait to see you on the inside…

How to Change Careers Without Going Crazy

Crazy Face

When you’re switching careers, it’s easy to look at an expert and think that you’ll never be at their level. Your heroes and role models combine so many different skills effortlessly that it seems crazy to think that you could ever be in the same career.

With such an outlook, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and decide the cost of learning a whole new field just isn’t worth it. But what if we shifted perspectives?

Instead of trying to get to an expert’s level, let’s start with something a bit more manageable: What’s the lowest level of skills you could possibly learn to still be effective at your job?

What are the absolute minimum skills you would need to see a project through from start to finish, and do it better than the person who hired you? This simple shift is enough to keep you sane in your career change. I like to call it the Minimum Viable Skillset.

How to Determine the Minimum Viable Skillset

Divining the Minimum Viable Skillset is a strategy that you’ll use throughout your job search. When you’re first deciding what careers your interested in, it’s useful to get a broad overview of the different skills involved to determine if you would enjoy and be good at the job.

Later, as you start to actually take on projects and tasks to facilitate your career change, you’ll want an extremely detailed description of exactly how to use these skills in the real world. The methods below are organized with this fact in mind, with the methods that give you a very high level idea of the Minimum Viable Skillset at the top, getting increasingly specific as you move downwards.

The Job Description Method

The first way to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset is by finding a bunch of job descriptions, and looking for the common threads. Then first step is to go to and search for your desired job title. Simply take the first ten job listings that look like they match, and paste them into a word document. From there, delete all the “job specific” information, and keep only the skills that are general.

Finally, you’re going to take that document, and use a few tools that can help you to prioritize the information.


Free Summarizer is a tool that will analyze the whole document to find the sentences that best describe the whole document. When you paste your word document into Free Summarizer, it will do an amazing job of giving you a list of the skills you’ll need for your career.


Phrase Freqency Counter
Phrase Frequency Counter

When you paste your text into Phrase Frequency Counter, it will find the most frequent phrases in a document, and rank them by how often they appear. This will give you more of an idea of how you should prioritize the different skills


Business Analyst Word Butt

Wordle is like phrase frequency counter, but pasting your text into Wordle will give you a visual word butt display, with the most frequent word being biggest. You can right click on useless words such as “skills” to remove them. If you’re a visual thinker, this will be a helpful tell to give you an at a glance idea of what to focus on.

The Career Research Method

The second method is the classic career research method. The career research method involves using existing research resources to find your Minimum Viable Skillset. Simply find the area that lists the necessary skills, and use that as the basis. Here’s a list of basic career research websites to get you started:

Business Analyst Word Butt

The Industry Organization Method

The third method to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset is to find an industry association for your job, and use their list of necessary skills.

In the case of business analysis, a quick Google search of “Industry Organization for Business Analysts” turns up the International Institute of Business Analysts in the first few results. Poking around their website turns up their “Certification of Competency in Business Analysis”, which leads us to this table detailing the Minimum Viable Skillset.

The Shadowing Method

The fourth method is called job shadowing. Job shadowing involves simply spending a day watching someone else work, as a fly on the wall. This allows you to take notes on the basic skills needed, and also gives you a chance to start learning those skills in context.

To enact this method, first, search LinkedIn or Facebook for friends, or friends of friends with your desired job title. Then, send them a message asking if they’d be open to being shadowed.

The Minimum Viable Project Method

Minimu Viable Business Analyst Project

The fifth method is called the minimum viable project method. For this method, you’ll find a typical project that someone with your desired job title would need to complete, by searching Google or looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people who have your desired job title. Here’s an example found by googling “What projects would a business analyst undertake?”

From there, you break down the project into discrete steps that will take you from beginning to end.

Strategic Planning Flowchart

Finally, you’ll create a list of the skills needed at each step of the project. This can be mapped out on a flowchart, as shown in this simplified example for business analysis.

This is powerful in that it not only shows you the minimum viable skills you’ll need, but also gives you a rough order of when to learn the skills. Once you’ve learned the skills from the very first step, you can use the skill bridge technique to start work on a real life project, and then continue to learn the remaining skills as you go.

The Informational Interview Method

The sixth method involves simply contacting people with your desired job title, and interviewing them to determine the Minimum Viable Skillset. The secret here is to ask questions that give them constraints in order to hone in on only the Minimum Viable Skills. Here are some of my favorite questions that my premium coaching clients have used with success:

  • What skills would you learn if you had only two months to learn your field?
  • What if you only had two weeks?
  • Who are the best thinkers in your field?
  • What’s the best book in your field?
  • Who became good very fast in your field?

Using these questions, you can create a prioritized list of the most important skills.

The Three Books Technique

The final method is called the three books technique. The trick is to find three books targeted to absolute beginners in your field.

  1. Firstly, you’ll find the best step-by-step “action book” that teaches concrete skills to beginners. This will teach you most of the minimum viable skills you need.
  2. Secondly, you’ll find the best abstract “theory” book for beginners in your field, that will teach you how the people in your field think, and allow you to apply the skills you learn in different situations.
  3. Finally, you’ll find most comprehensive “reference book” that help you fill in the gaps in your knowledge, and give you a resource if you run across something you can’t handle.

These three books together will teach you everything you need to find the Minimum Viable Skillset in your field. When combined with the minimum viable project method, you can further prioritize the information you get from the books.

Bonus Case Study – From Salesman to Business Analyst in One Year

This case study gives you the blueprint of how Nick used the Minimum Viable Skillset and the Skill Bridge Technique to go from a commission salesman to a business analyst in one year.

Click the link below for free instant access.

How to Get Your First “Real Job” Out of College

Mind Trick

“Do what you love and the money will follow.”

That’s the lie you were told that led to your liberal arts major — and eventually that dead end job at a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar.

It’s not that you’re not smart, capable, or motivated. It’s that no one will give you a chance. It seems no one will hire you without experience…and you can’t get experience without anyone hiring you.

That’s the predicament that Justin Marshall was in when we first started working together. A philosophy major working part time as a bartender, he was fed up with the irregular hours and thinking about going back for a PhD simply because he didn’t see an alternative.

One year later, Justin is the operations manager for a high-end restaurant group in DC, the social media manager for a hot web series, and makes extra money on the side as a social media consultant.

In my newest article on Primer Magazine, I walk step by step through exactly how Justin did it. Click here to check it out.

Want to see the unedited video interview with Justin? Just enter your email into the box below and I’ll deliver it straight to your inbox.

The Value of Formal Education

What would be the control group for school? Home-schoolers do much better than those who attend public or private schools by nearly any measure. But this is unfair; it’s what scientists call an “active control”. What we really need to do is compare you to people who got no instruction at all.

It’s illegal not to educate a child, so our control group will be hard to find. But perhaps the best bet will be the “unschooling” movement, a group of parents who think school is oppressive and damaging. They tell the government they’re home-schooling their children but actually just let them do whatever they want. They may teach their kid something if the child wants to be taught, otherwise they will leave them pretty much alone.

And this is really hard to study, because they’re a highly self-selected group and there aren’t very many of them. The only study I could find on the movement only had n = 12, and although it tried as hard as it could to compare them to schoolchildren matched for race and family income level and parent education and all that good stuff I’m sure there’s some weirdness that slipped through the cracks. Still, it’s all we’ve got.

So, do these children do worse than their peers at public school?

Yes, they do.

By one grade level.

-Via Slate Star Codex

Strength of Purpose and Trial By Fire

I have found over and over again in my life that this is the true way to growth.

The thing about trial by fire is that you can’t have a safety net. You can have a backup plan sure, but you must have a real chance of failure that no one will shield you from and is a very real possiblity.

The thing about strength of purpose is that you can’t fake it. You can strengthen it, but that’s for another post.

In college I had a safety net and no strength of purpose. I was destined to fail, but have only myself to blame for the failure.

After college, as several times in my life, I fell into the trap, as I have many times in my life, of feeling that I needed to grow before I could act. Strength of purpose, but no trial by fire.

This again, was doomed to failure. The mind, like the body, will only grow when it needs to. You can’t prepare yourself to face a challenge by not challenging yourself.

Then came Regal. It may be hard for many to see how a low skilled minimum wage job could fulfill the requirements of either strength of purpose or trial by fire. I can only assume that these people have never been in the position where they are dependent on others for the most basic necessities, nor had to deal with the unique challenges that ADD presents.

After that was City Year. It’s true, that I would never have been prepared for the strength of purpose or trials I would face if I had not first endured Regal. And it was my failures there that led me to avoid making the same mistakes… by putting myself in situations where I couldn’t help but make them, and grow from them. If it’s true that Trial by Fire and Strength of Purpose are the vehicles for growth, it’s also true that the road to growth is following your fears and chasing your failures.
So now here I am, at the next stage in my life. The strength of purpose, stronger than ever before, but the trials too. The problem being that I don’t feel the strain yet. only the ease of being doing what I’m supposed to be doing , accomplishing what needs to be done, and achieving what I want in my life. Sure, there were failures from City Year, and I still chase those… but they seem easier to overcome than experience dictates they should be.

Maybe it’s just that I haven’t fully hit my stride yet of challenges in my current path. Or maybe I’ve found a new sweet spot of effortless growth. Or perhaps, I’m simply not challenging myself, and I am in a period of stagnation. Whatever the case may be, I find more of myself every day. My confidence grows, even as I should feel out of my league.

Teach a Man to Fish – Education and Incentives

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

So goes the saying. But rarely does anyone mention the economic correlary:

Teach a man to fish, and he’ll pay you for a day; Sell a man a fish, and he’ll pay you for a lifetime.

And yet, if that teacher can teach two people to catch fish, haven’t they created more value than if they had simply gone on selling fish for the rest of their life?

This is a positive externality.  The teacher has added value to the economy, but through a secondary source.  And he doesn’t get paid for it.


Another scenario:

Two teachers teach their students how to fish, and they both charge $500. Each of them teach technically perfect fishing (and both their students can pash the Fishing SATs).  The first teacher inspires her student to become a lifelong fisher. The second teacher makes his student hate fishing, and the student never picks up another fishing rod. 

One teacher added value to her student. The other teacher added nothing. And they both get paid the same amount.


Final Scenario:

Brilliant fisherman gets out of fisherman school.  He can make $10,000/year teaching other fishermen (if he has a large class size and decreases the quality of his teaching), or $30,000/year catching fish, which one does he choose?


When you really apply systems thinking to teacher’s incentives, is it really suprising that %46 of teachers leave within 5 years of starting?

Why Gamification Won’t Save Education

I was watching an interview recently between Sal Khan (of Khan Academy) and Elon Musk. In the interview, Elon Musk draws the analogy between his kids being addicted to video games, and getting kids addicted to education.

Suddenly it clicked.  The reason that all these online education companies are putting so much stock in things like badges, points, and challenges.  They think that these things are the reason kids are addicted to video games.

Unfortunately, this is wrong.  Gamification can’t save education, because thinking it can shows fundamental misunderstanding between being able to explain behavior and being able to predict/cause it.

Explaining Behavior Vs. Predicting Behavior

There’s a principle in social psychology which says that an explanation for a behavior can never be reduced to simply evolutionary explanations.  For example, saying “people protect their family because it passes on their genes” can perhaps describe why a particular behavior was selected for. However, it can’t describe:

  1. Why the behavior of protecting a loved one arose in the first place (the very first time).
  2. The particular set of cognitive procsesses, neuorology, and emotions which lead people to protect their family (and therefore it has little predicitive power).

Similarly, when looking at why video games are addicting, you can’t simply point to carrot and stick mechanics, because:

  1. You can’t explain why people bought the video game in the first place.
  2. You can’t explain the particular set of cognitive processes and emotions that caused people to play the game long enough for reinforcement mechanisms to kick in.

Particularly, people who think video games are addicting because of the reinforcement mechanisms are taking a Skinnerian, behaviorist view of human motivation. They’re ignoring the Bandurian, cognitive psychological model that is a big part of what makes humans tick.

What Makes Humans Tick

I don’t think anyone is arguing that humans aren’t driven to maximize pleasure and reward, and minimize pain and effort.  What I am going to argue here is that what gives humans pleasure, particularly in the sphere of learning, is not to get points and badges  (which can only help reinforce what people already want to do) as many gamification experts would have you believe. It’s also not to get money (which only matters up to a basic “enough” threshold) as many behavioral economists would have you believe .

Rather, there are certain innate human drives which give us pleasure in the simple act of fulfilling them.  In the case of video games, I think there are a few clear drivers:

Gamers want to increase their skills in order to:

  1. Create New Things
  2. Solve Problems and Challenges
  3. Satisfy Their Curiosity
  4. Change the Story They Tell About Themselves

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and in fact there are some non-hack theories of gamification which are much more comprehensive.

But those are the four big ones which I personally observe.  To see this in action, let’s take a look at an incredibly addicting yet simple game called cookie clicker.


How Cookie Clicker Taps Into Innate Human Drives

At first glance, this game seems to support the theory that all that you need to do is have some points and badges, and you can get people addicted. After all, the game pretty much involves gaining points and badges by clicking on things, and then using those points to buy things which can make you more points and badges.

However, let’s imagine for a second that this game was called “number clicker”. Instead of getting cookies and building a cookie empire… you simply got “numbers”.  What would you lose from the game mechanics as a hack gamification expert sees them? Nothing.   However, what would you lose from your innate human drives? You’d lose the ability to create something new and vicariously tell a story about yourself.  Would cookie clicker be as popular and addictive as it is without these factors? No.

What Does This Have To Do With Education?

I think I’ve made the case that merely adding badges and points to education won’t satisfy the innate human drives, and therefore won’t be enough to motivate human behavior.  One way to follow this chain of logic would be to say: Ok, instead of just adding badges and points, let’s make an RPG out of real life.  Let’s correlate real life learning goals to exploring in game worlds, solving in game challenges, and creating an in-game story about ourselves.

But ultimately, this misses the point.

Just look at the kids at the Sudbury School. These kids have no outside gamified structure imposed on them at all.  No grades, no classes, no nothing. And yet, they still manage to do an (while admitedly not optimized) astonishing amount of learning.  In looking at the essays and videos of their students, you can begin to notice trends about why they do what they do:

They’re learning new skills in order to”

  1. Build or create something in the real world.
  2. Solve a problem or challenge in the real world
  3. Satisfy their curiosity about how the world works
  4. Change the story they tell about themselves (I.E, they think it’s cool.)

Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list. But if you’ll notice, this is almost the exact same list that was made above. It turns out real life ALREADY provides the motivation to learn.  So to save education, you merely need to make it easy for kids to connect their learning goals to the real world.

How to Save Education

The ideal motivational platform for students wouldn’t rely on fancy points and badges systems (although it might use those as supplementary reinforcements).  Instead, the perfect motivational platform would do two things really well:

  1. Show you what skills and facts you are able to learn next, based on your current knowledge.
  2. Show you the experiments you could run, things you could create, or real life projects you could participate in, based on those skills and facts.

Unleash a simple learning system like that, in an environment like a Sudbury School, and innate human drives would take care of the rest.

Reinventing education ain’t easy. But it is simple, when you take it down to basic first principles like this.

Anyways, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Am I simplifying to much? Is there things I’m missing? Let me know through an email, in the comments, or anywhere else.

2012 Year in Review

2012 was quite an interesting year.
I started three new projects that are still going strong:

  • Self-Made Renegade
  • Things That Piss Me Off
  • The Ghetto Dinner Party Potluck

I abandoned three projects that I had high hopes for

  • HabitCoach
  • ParkIt.Me
  • ActionReactor

And I continued some things that are treating me very well

  • Let’s Do Something
  • My Job at VHFLC
  • The Junto

Did I accomplish my mission?

I am a hero. I fight for who I am and what I believe.  I recognize that life is fleeting, and can end in an instant, so I consciously work to make sure that I am achieving life with every breath.  I know that I must work, fight, and suffer along this road, that I must do what needs to be done, to learn the lessons I need, to struggle, and return victorious.  As the hero, I seek to follow my purpose, and defeat the challenges along the way. I recognize that while death is to be fought and avoided at all costs, a life without purpose is a fate worth than death.”

Was I a hero this year? I do think I was hero, this year.  I worked hard and learned lessons… it remains to be seen whether I’ll return victorious.  If I died now, would I be happy with what I’ve accomplished? No.  I haven’t completed my journey yet.

“I am a monk. I immerse myself in the experience of life in this moment.  I appreciate the majesty of life as an end in itself.  I hold my focus as my greatest gift, and consciously direct it to experience of life.  I recognize that while planning for the future and learning for the past are important,  I must be willing to die at any moment, and, if I die, I must die fully immersed in the present.   I have an affinity with nature and with other humans, as when I am immersed in the moment, I can empathize with the rhythms of nature and the feelings of others. At all times my deepest core is at peace, even in the presence of great outside stressors.”

Was I a monk? I certainly had great focus this year.  And yet, the focus was often directed towards the future. Towards what could be or what might be or what should be.  Only at certain times did I fully step out of my head and into the current moment.  When having good times with friends at the GDPP, when laughing uncontrollably with my girlfriend, when watching the kids at my job be ridiculous.  I must recommit myself to being a monk this year. To enjoying each and every moment. A start would be to return to periodic meditation

“I am creator, I create the world around me and within me as I see fit.  I use my unlimited power and will to change the future, my will is my greatest tool with which I can create, and change the world.  I do not change the laws of nature, but I do not need to, as I everything I want is possible within reality as it exists now.  I create things out of passion, out of joy, out of expression, things that are astounding, that express who I am, and enhance others’ lives. As a creator, I know my body may die, but I will not, as I will live on in my creations, which are and always will be created in my image.  I radiate a force and power tangible to all who come in contact with me.  I am a man who moves the world.”

Was I a creator this year? I was. I created things for the pure joy of making them, and for the changes I wanted to see in the world. My creations are starting to take on their own flavor and expression of myself. I know as I continue to create and grow in my role as a creator, my creations will only become higher quality and have more impact.

“I am a child. I immerse myself in joy and love free of self-consciousness or pretension.   I play and laugh freely, drawing those around me into a state of playfulness.  My imagination is endless and wonderful, my greatest tool with which to play with the world. I do not use play as a means to an end; it is an end in itself.   Laughter is my greatest gift to the world, and happiness is my greatest gift to myself.  If I must die, I will die with laughter in my heart.”

Was I a child this year? I was. I enjoyed myself and laughed, and never fell into to trap of thinking I was too old or too professional to make a fool of myself.  If I died tomorrow, I know I would die with laughter in my heart.

“I am a lover. I immerse myself in pleasure and treat life as both a sexual and seductive experience.  I believe that sexuality, and the act of sex, is one of the highest forms of self-expression and mutual admiration. I am in tune with what the world-My lover- needs, and know how to lead myself on a passionate journey which satisfies both myself and my lover.  I seek to hone my skills as a lover and seducer, and treat it as both an art deserving of intense study and care, and a pure and unbridled expression of desire.  I seek variety and novelty in my experiences, while always looking to express myself and push the limits of what it’s possible to experience.  I can lead and control my lover in ways that are both powerful and sexy.  If I die, I will die knowing that I given all the pleasure I have to give, and received all the pleasure the world has to offer.:

Was I a lover this year? I was. I was attentive to the needs of the world and to the people I came in contact with.  I pushed the limits of what I could experience, and learned how to better lead.

Who knows what the coming year will bring…


The Imaginary Measuring Stick

Whenever I see someone with success (real success, the type of success I’d like to have), I find myself wondering how old they are.

If they’re older then me, I breath a sigh of relief, I know I still have time to catch up.

Then I put myself on a metaphorical graph, and do a hypothetical math problem.

Given where they’re at, and the age they’re at, and my current rate of growth… will I be where they are by the time I get to their age?

If they’re younger than me, I worry, and fret.

Am I just bullshitting myself?

If this success is possible at this age, am I letting myself down by not having it already?

I berate myself, I know that they must not have procrastinated as much as I do, to get where they are. I know they must have worked harder, chased more opportunities, and had better focus.

This comparison on one hand can be good… it drives me, and it forces me to recognize truths about myself.

But it has a much more negative, insiduous consequence. It means I have trouble holding mentors, and surrounding myself with people more successful than I.

Another young person with ambitions like mine, going places like me… perfectly fine. But a person who’s already accomplished what I want to accomplish? To much a threat to my self-image, too much worry about where I should be. My desire to succeed (or rather, my desire to be succesful, which is an entirely different beast) holds me back from success. Such is the nature of ego, or, as the Arbinger Institute would call it, the box.

This is a problem that I have decided to solve. It’s important for my growth as a human being. It’s vital for my ability to be happy for others accomplishments, and live in abundance, rather than scarcity. And it’s vital if I’m to truly succeed on the scale that I know I’m capable of, and become the person I know I shall one day become.

I’d love some thoughts on this. Any of my ambitious friends out there dealt with this? How did you overcome it?


How Far I Have (or Haven’t) Come

There is no organization there, just strength of will and purpose. If you know what you want to do, and who you are, it’s easy not to be distracted by your own bullshit. If you have illusions about who you are–that is an inflated sense of it–and are, deep down, averse to hard work, it’s impossible to not be distracted by it. Your fear of failure and your creeping awareness that you are a fraud makes it a certainty–a necessity even–that you detour just enough to prevent ever facing a legitimate opportunity to fail. If you fail, the entire edifice collapses.
-Ryan Hoiday

I worry sometimes that this is me: an inflated sense of who I am and a deep aversion to hard work.  

Yes, ActionReactor has come far, and is actually a usable (if confusing) product by a guy who doesn’t know a thing about programming, and didn’t know a thing about creating a webapp before I started.

Yes, I moved across the country with only a thousand dollars and the knowledge that I would find a way to make it work… and did.

Yes, I’ve co-created the Junto, a group of men dedicated to bettering themselves…

But doesn’t all this seem like a distraction from actually taking action?  From getting my first customer and doing something with ActionReactor? From starting a million dollar company and changing peoples lives?  I look back on where I was five years ago and think two things:

  1.  I’m way farther than anyone else looking at where I was would have expected me to be at this point.
  2. I’m way behind where my five years ago self expected me to be.

Back then I expected myself to be perfect… but my biggest fear is that, as Anthony would say… I’m not even ideal. That I’m not even close to what I should(not could) be achieving at this point in my life.

When I look at people my age (excluding my close friends, such as the guys in The Junto), it amazes me that they’re NOT at this point.  But I look at me, and it amazes me that I’m STILL at this point. That the amount of people whose lives I’ve changed is still below 100, that my bank account is still below 10,000.

I know I can do better.

I’ll Follow The Rules Until I Don’t Have To

Ever heard of Bo Burnham? You probably have.<p>He’s best known for his funny, witty, and&nbsp;inappropriate songs, like this one:</p><iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe><p>What interests me about these original youtube videos is that they’re witty, expressive, and show real talent… but they still follow all the rules. &nbsp;The witty, funny, parody song is time tested method for getting popular on youtube. &nbsp;The songs were good, but they weren’t truly unique. Anybody with a strong grasp of the english language and a great sense of humor could have created something similar. &nbsp;Bo followed the rules… while still being true to himself and not compromising his artistic integrity.&nbsp;</p><p>And it’s that following of the rules at that&nbsp;beginning&nbsp;of his career that allows him to sell out shows where he performs imaginative, expressive, unique, and rule breaking routines like this one:</p><iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe><p>Bo has become a true craftsman, honing his tools and talents, and expressing them in a unique way… creating something that is truly his own. &nbsp;Bo would have never gotten popular doing stuff like this… but his popularity ALLOWS him to.</p><p></p><p>Compare Bo’s career to someone like Justin Bieber. I would argue that Bieber is someone with real talent and stage presence. </p><p>&nbsp;Again, he followed the rules and became popular. &nbsp;He was handed a golden ticket, to which he could have done what Bo did, used it to get a following and then branched out and created something unique.</p><p>Instead, Bieber chose to continue to follow the rules, and create generic music that anybody could create to cater to the masses.</p><p></p><p>Right now, with my own business, I’ll follow all the rules. &nbsp;I’ll use my talents and abilities to take the proven path to success. &nbsp;But I’m not going to stop there. &nbsp;I’m going to break all the rules, I’m going to create an empire that nobody could create but me, and I’m going to hire people who can do the same. &nbsp;I’m going to change the world and shape it in a way that no one else can.</p><p>I’m going to become a true craftsman.</p>

Thoughts from twitter...

Today’s lesson about asking the right question to get meaningful data, brought to you by a 4 year old: Me: Should I put a banana in your lunch today? Him: Sure! They are healthy & I’m supposed to bring healthy food. Me: Will you eat it? Him: Definitely not. I don’t like bananas.
How to spot a Dragon using an illusion spell. #dnd #rpg
Yes NNT has SOO much trouble throwing shade at others but this time he just couldn’t stop himself :) (disclaimer: love NNTs models) …
Derek @sivers on pricing —> 
If you’ve ever had the peculiar desire for hearing the wisdom of Alan Watts paired with melodic background music, I’ve made the perfect playlist for you: …
felt as though I had literally been bashed in the skull by a large majority of trustworthy peers
if i ever die and a villain offers you the chance to have me resurrected, please don’t say “that’s not what he would have wanted” it is absolutely what he would have wanted
I secretly hope that twitter keeps extending the character limit as a social experiment, slowly conditioning our attention spans until we’re able to read actual books again
Lol this dude said Bitcoin has no politics… …
Thus, block production speed is only limited by the human imagination
Men – except gay men – show stronger positive “implicit” attitudes towards women, while women implicitly prefer their own sex. Whatever that measure may signify. …
this is legit one of the most impressive things on the
When scientists say that, on average, men and women differ on trait X, this is what they mean (see screenshot). Thus the fact that you know people who more X than most men/women is not inconsistent with their
“Debugging is like being the detective in a crime drama where you are also the murderer.”
1) The value of having a goal is that it gives you a new future to live into, starting now
It’s peak vague-verbiage-forecasting time at Davos again. And their response to this year’s offer to monitor the accuracy of Davosian forecasts is the same as last year’s…
I think the idea is that by making this energy electricity, you get negative externalities… Seems pretty easy to understand. …
Remember, you have a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT not to be used as a pawn in a contrived philosophical dilemma. Ask your trolley conductor: AM I BEING DETAINED?