A Degree from San Francisco

I do not live in San Francisco, although have dreamed of doing so for a while. One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from people about pursuing my dreams is to move over to San Francisco — the startup capital of the world. Yet there are so many people who complain about the variety of issues the city has — housing, cleanliness, living costs — which appear to make it a very difficult city in which to live. Some people will live in SF for their entire life, but I think that we are going to start to see more people who see SF as an experience and a chapter in their life, rather than their permanent place of residence.

Indeed, the SF Bay Area is unrivaled in terms of the startup community, culture of paying it forward and failing, and the general atmosphere which attracts the world’s greatest innovators in startups and technology. I believe that moving to SF will provide me with a lot of value, both in my career, and in my personal life. SF has a vast amount of opportunities for software engineers, founders, and more to accelerate their career or company, which are unavailable elsewhere in the world. They also offer a variety of different ways in which you can grow on a personal level — namely through the culture and sense of ambition. Most people in tech would agree that SF is the place to be in the world if you want to start a startup, or participate in the ecosystem as an employee at one of these companies.

I read a Tweet a few days ago from Sahil Lavingia, founder of Gumroad, who said that over the long-term, cities like SF will be recognized more as colleges. Rather than seeing SF as the place where you would spend the rest of your life, we will start to see people move to SF for a few years to experience the culture, and then use what they have learned to expand their impact elsewhere. SF is one big class where you can learn how to treat failure, how to be an effective contributor, how to manage ambition and risk, among many other different things — the city is just like a college.

As aforementioned, SF is not without its problems. The rising cost of living is pushing out a large amount of people who are still interested in experiencing the culture, and indeed discourages more people from moving due to their inability to manage projected expenses and living costs. SF has a lot of complicated problems which are outside of the purview of this essay, but suffice to say that these problems greatly impact how we see living in SF. These problems mean that people are less inclined to stay in SF — perhaps they cannot afford to stay, are not interested in the intense startup culture anymore, or something else.

SF is a place where the most ambitious people in the world come together to build great things and make an impact. In SF, there are a variety of opportunities for both acquiring knowledge — in terms of employment, startups, subverting cultural norms in general, et cetera — and for networking. Because all of these great people are in the same city, it is very easy for anyone to expand their network and cultivate a set of connections which can help them in the long-term. However, you don’t need to stay in SF for the rest of your life to continue to realize these benefits. The atmosphere in SF is unlike any other, and the lessons you will learn in terms of company building and personal growth are immensely valuable. Those lessons can continue to be used if you move outside SF. Your network will still continue to serve you even if you leave SF (many SF companies are pursuing long-distance communication ideas as well!). SF will be a four-year or so experience for people to embrace the culture and learn more about what works in startups and technology. Then they will move on to another city which is both more affordable, and also benefits from a different culture which the person could experience.

There will be no new Silicon Valley, I don’t think. Rather, a large amount of cities across the U.S. will become bigger startup hubs, built on the knowledge people learned when living in SF. People will move to SF, then move to smaller cities like Boulder, Salt Lake City, and Austin, which have lower living expenses, but still have a startup community. These places also have a unique culture from which people can benefit. If you spent your life in SF, you would be surrounded by the same cultures. However, moving to another city allows you to use the knowledge you learned about SF culture and embrace the local culture of a new area. Many people are starting to prefer moving to smaller cities after they have reached a certain level of success in SF — there is no need for them to be there anymore.

I still think it is important for people to move to SF and experience the culture, even if it is only for a few months. Although I am yet to move to SF, it has been one of my life goals because of all of the opportunities it presents for both personal and professional growth. However, I do not see myself as someone who would live in SF forever — there are other cultures which you can experience. I think that working in SF tech will have a similar effect that working in New York City finance has on one’s career. If an employer sees you have worked for an NYC-based finance company, your chances of being employed are much greater. You have likely experienced a diverse range of problems and have acquired great insights into finance which could be used to assist another business outside of NYC. The same thing will likely happen with SF: you go there for a few years and start a company or join an existing one, and use that on your resume to level up your game among other candidates in other cities.

New Credentials and Community

I have been thinking a lot about what the next Harvard will look like — what will the next credentialing business look like? There has been a lot of talk about the flaws of the current education system — especially universities — but it is really difficult to actually understand how we can iterate on these systems which are so well established in our society. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the key to building the next Harvard is to build a community, which will then help it become more recognized in society.

Indeed, the educational services that Harvard provides are of a high-quality — evident by the success of their graduates. The second key to the success of Harvard is its alumni community, and branding in general society. Harvard is not just a credentialing business, it is a network. When you realize this, you slowly start to notice that network effects will play a critical role in the next Harvard. The education is a key component of what the new Harvard will look like, but equally important is the student and alumni communities to which students will have access.

Alumni effects are powerful. Most colleges invest a lot of resources in developing their alumni community, whether it be through offering alumni-exclusive events, or access to a newsletter and portal with the latest information about the university and graduate success. Colleges realize how important their network is in terms of their success (which also explains why colleges still recognize “legacies”). The college’s alumni network gives them a few key benefits.

Firstly, they have the ability to build a stronger brand, which will, in turn, act as a magnet for future applicants. The Harvard Alumni community, for example, will provide members access to a variety of career and networking opportunities unavailable to anyone else. Businesses that want to hire great college graduates will partner exclusively with Harvard, or host private events with alumni, or make alternate arrangements so that Harvard graduates have the opportunity to interview for new positions. If you are an outsider, you don’t have access to this network — a network which would likely get you hired. If people believe in the power of Harvard’s network, then more people will want to apply — they will want the benefits of being able to access all of those people and employers.

Another benefit for colleges is that it allows them to cultivate long-term relationships with their students, which helps improve their position in society. Rather than college being a four-year experience, students have access to a variety of post-graduate services that help them succeed. These long-term relationships increase the chance that an alumnus of a college will donate to their endowment fund, or otherwise support the college either monetarily, or through donating their time and teaching a class. Long-term relationships also increase the chance that graduates will recommend other people to the college, which gives colleges access to a better talent pipeline, thus allowing them to further develop their brand. Alumni effects are a significant benefit to both students, and the school.

In terms of the student body community, outsiders want to be able to network with these young and passionate people who are in pursuit of knowledge, which will encourage more people to apply to the college — so they can experience that culture. Colleges have a unique culture in their networks which I also think is important to address. In most colleges — especially prestigious institutions — there is a special environment around students. When you bring passionate young learners together in such a large community, it creates a great culture based on shared knowledge and advancing society that is hard to replicate. I believe the main cause for this is that their community inspires a sense of pride. Harvard is not just a college, it is a brand. People are proud to attend Harvard, and their culture creates a sense of general cohesion. This culture is important to understand because it shows that the community is important, but so is the specific culture that institution has instilled.

Now that we understand the importance of alumni communities in the college context, we can now analyze how they can be used in the future of credentials. The main lesson to learn from colleges like Harvard and Yale is that their credential and network are normally the reasons why people apply to their colleges, not just the knowledge they provide. Therefore, the next college or credentialing business would have to offer a strong network both to current students, and alumni, accompanied by a strong culture that embodies the values of the institution, and its students. There have been a few recent examples of networks which are using these lessons to help them develop a replacement for — or alternative to — traditional college.

Perhaps the most notable is the Thiel Fellowship. Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a successful venture capital investor, offers young people $100,000 to drop-out of high school or college and pursue an entrepreneurial venture. The Fellowship has attained a significant amount of success because of the strong community it has developed. If a Thiel Fellow needs assistance, there is an entire network of fellow entrepreneurs into which they can tap. This support not only helps them in a business sense, but also gives them a personal support network when things fail Alternatively, they can use this network to celebrate their successes as well, which helps contribute to the development of the brand. The Thiel Fellowship are not just an investor, they are a brand. They have cultivated a strong community with a culture based on shared-knowledge and trying your best, outside of the traditional university environment. This is evident by the branding of the Thiel Fellowship. If you mention that you are a Thiel Fellow in any situation, you are likely to have a better chance of achieving your goal, because of the brand recognition and prestigious nature of the Fellowship.

Community is also important in college alternatives in helping convince wider society of their validity. If there is a strong community behind a college alternative, then the institution has access to a whole group of people who will advocate for the institution, refer prospective applicants, and help generate more cultural awareness of the institution. In return, the student has access to the powerful student and alumni networks, which will only improve as more members are added. In a sense, members of the Thiel Fellowship, Pioneer, YC, and other networks are incentivized to invest time in the network, because of the significant network effects that could be realized. Colleges are so engrained in our culture that having broad communities of advocates for alternatives will be important in establishing said alternatives as viable in the eyes of broader society.

Interestingly, communities create new contexts for developing new relationships. If you say that you attended Harvard to a Harvard graduate, you instantly have a shared experience which can serve as a new conversation starter. As pride grows among the community, this effect will become more prominent. Saying that you are a “Pioneer” or a “Thiel Fellow” in the future will create a context for developing relationships with other alumni — you have each went through the same experience. Networks not only provide people access with others who could help them, but also create the social context required to cultivate and maintain these relationships. Harvard and other colleges often offer alumni newsletters, access to exclusive events, and more, in order to help people develop these relationships.

The next colleges and credentialing businesses should optimize not just for their educational services, but also their network. Each network will take its own form, and attract different individuals at different stages of their life. Pioneer, an investor in the “lost Einsteins” of the world, is developing a community of young, ambitious innovators. The Thiel Fellowship, as aforementioned, is developing a community of young entrepreneurs. Y Combinator is developing a community of entrepreneurs ready to take their startups to the next level. These institutions can attribute a lot of their success to the communities they have cultivated. In sum, the next successful credentialing business and college will not be known just for its educational services, but also their ability to create a strong network. YC is becoming an increasingly popular credential because of the expansive network people have. Indeed, YC members can even sell their products to other YC companies, who are inclined to give them a chance because of their shared background. Community compounds, and new credentials will rely on these communities to develop their brand and be seen as a viable alternative to more traditional options.

Simple Words

Yesterday I saw a Tweet by Paul Graham where he went against the traditional convention of using “vocabulary words” in one’s writing. His rationale behind this stance is that the best writing uses the simplest possible words. Recently, I have started to gain an appreciation for this way of thinking, and have started to use simpler words in my writing.

I think that we default to using longer words because it allows us to demonstrate our knowledge of the language we are speaking. After all, if we have spent time learning long and complex words, then we should indeed use them. Indeed, in some circumstances using longer words is most appropriate, but those cases are few and far between. The problem with using complex words does not lie in knowing them, but rather using them frequently to convey important points. If you know a long word, great. You should ask yourself whether that long word will add value to the conversation, or whether we are using it just to showcase our knowledge of the language.

Another reason, as Graham mentioned in his Tweet, is that schools often teach students to use more complex words and expand their vocabulary. Indeed, learning more complex words is beneficial, especially at younger ages — it allows us to gain a broader insight into our language. Learning more complex words is important for us because there will likely be a time where a complex word would fit in very well with our writing and would add a lot of value to our text. However, schools end up teaching people that using longer words is better in every scenario, which makes our communication through reading and writing less authentic, and increases the barrier for participation. The fact that schools teach that “vocabulary words” are better makes it difficult for people to reject that notion, because their teacher has said it was the best thing to do. Because schools teach this, it also becomes engrained into the rest of the curriculum — teachers expect students to use complex words in their essays and other work. It makes it really difficult for us to practice using simple words.

The first major advantage to using simple words is that it lowers the barrier for understanding a conversation — or participating in a conversation for that matter. Using complex words makes it more difficult for people to understand what you are saying, which means that less people will be able to appreciate your thoughts. Even if you have a great idea, it will not matter if you do not describe it in a way that everyone can understand. This effect is amplified if someone is talking about a subject that you are interested in. If someone is using complex words, it can discourage another person from participating in the conversation who may not have such words in their vocabulary. In this case, everyone loses out: the people talking can’t benefit from the wisdom of the person who wants to speak, and vice versa.

This effect is also present in written means of communication, and has a great effect on the content that we read. If we see an article with a lot of complex words, it may discourage people from reading it because they would not be able to fully understand it. The writer should always assume that the reader is not as well educated as them, and incorporate the use of words which anyone would be able to understand. For the writer, spending a little extra time on filtering out long words means that it is more likely that people read — or indeed finish — their article, which is the greatest honor for a writer.

Using simple words can also make you sound more authentic, especially in writing. Often times writers use complex words in their texts and justify their usage by saying that it makes the writing “flow better”. However, the writer would most likely not use those words if they were to be speaking to someone about that topic. It is easier for us to write complex words when we are writing because we don’t get any feedback until the article is published, at which point it is too late to change something because people will have already started to make their mind up about how complex it is. I would likely not use “orate” or “archaic” over “talk” and “old” when talking with others, because it makes me sound inauthentic. If you use simple words when you are writing, you sound more human, which makes people want to continue reading what you have written.

I can think of very few cases where using complex words are appropriate. Upon further reflection, many of the instances where people think that using complex words are warranted are actually artificial. For example, why should an academic study include complex words that do not relate specifically to the subject-matter (“tabulate” over “calculate”, or even better “added up”)? To use the example of civil law and paying parking tickets, many people are unable to understand the topic — even though it is such a critical part of our society — because of the complex words people use to describe it. In this case, how many more parking ticket claims would be resolved if more people could understand what they need to know, and what their attorney is saying to the judge (assuming you are in traffic court, that is)? Simple words make it easier for people to understand complex subjects.

There is no harm in using complex words on occasion, but, as aforementioned, it is very difficult to justify using long words as much as possible. Writers should make it as easy as possible for people to understand, interpret, and appreciate their texts. Over the last few months, I have realized the importance of using simple words, and have since tried to reduce the amount of complex words in favor of other words that people could understand more easily. Before I publish an essay, I think about whether I have used complex words in unnecessary situations, and replace them with shorter, and easier to understand words. A good rule for use if you want to use simpler words would be: take into account your target audience, and adopt your vocabulary to suit that group of people.

If more people read their work and spoke to them about their thoughts, the writer would likely be happier too. In sum, don’t use long words to show off. Use simple words.

Playing a Different Game

I am playing a different game than everyone else. If you ask most high school students what they are going to do after they graduate, their answer will generally be one of two things: college, or a full-time “starter” job. They feel as if college will prepare them to get a great job in the future — perhaps in consulting, investing, medicine, law, or something similar. Or they feel as if their “starter” job will help them break into a new industry. Before I continue, I should state there is nothing wrong with these paths. Indeed, most people will benefit from going down these more traditional routes — they are safe and secure.

This essay is not about college or starter jobs, however. This essay is about the game that I am playing, and why I am not conforming with societal norms in terms of careers. Over the next few months, most of my fellow high school students will get jobs. Most of them will end up working for a local business — some may move to a bigger city to work. Others may go to college. They will start making their own money, be able to name-drop a local employer that has a good standing within the community, or be able to name-drop a good college into which they have been admitted.

I, on the other hand, will not be able to do this. My friends will be seen by others to be smart if they can successfully get into a good college. Their families and friends will fully support their journey toward earning a college degree or working their way up the career ladder. They will feel great that they are now more independent and have either started learning a new subject in more depth in college, or are earning their own money in a job.

I could follow the traditional “9 to 5” life path, but I have chosen not to. Indeed, there may be a point where I have to do this in order to advance. However, I am working hard so that my career choices are not limited to those jobs — I want to be able to do something meaningful and impactful. I will sit back and listen to my high school friends talk about the great colleges they have gotten into. But I will not let that affect me, because I am just playing a different game. Success for them is college, success for me is engaging in meaningful work that I want to do. For those who are not well versed in non-traditional paths, you may be asking “How are you going to succeed if you don’t go to college or go into a 9 to 5 job?”

The simple answer is: you don’t need to. I am producing independent research in the Income Share Agreement which has been recognized by leaders across the industry, and I hope to pursue that further as a career. The reason my work has been so successful is that I am playing a different game than everyone else. I was getting Bs and was the same as everyone else in other industries, but when I started doing research, I noticed that I was able to accelerate my success significantly.

Because I am playing a different game, it leaves me a significant path for growth. I am realizing success in the games that nobody else is playing or is interested in playing. Most people are either not aware of research as a path, are scared to do something so risky, don’t have access, or are otherwise unwilling to take a risk. If you are playing the same game as everyone else, you will have to work harder to compete with them, which leaves you less time to engage in meaningful work. I am working hard to get ahead of the game, and can work faster because there are fewer people doing the work I do.

How do I play a different game from others? You should only play games where the odds are stacked in your favor — where you have some sort of unfair advantage that allows you to succeed. If you are very tall, it is easier for you to advance in basketball. If you are short, you will find it very difficult to pursue a successful career in the industry. So you should find something else, work hard, and pursue it. Rather than doing what everyone else is doing, you should instead find something that you are uniquely great at.

Playing a different game is easier when you pursue a secret hidden in plain sight. Secrets give you a competitive advantage over everyone else, because you know something that other people don’t which can help give you a greater insight into a particular subject. In my case, I am pursuing Income Share Agreements because I know they will be big in the future, but there are still very few people involved. This allows me to get ahead quicker, because my work can have a greater impact on the nascent industry, and also help it grow.

Steve Jobs wanted to make it easier to listen to music and be productive, and so he invented the iPhone. Stewart Butterfield wanted to make it easier to communicate within the workplace, and so he founded Slack. People knew they wanted these things, but nobody had the insight required to do something different. Jobs was going against massive phone companies, Butterfield was going against email in the workplace. The odds were stacked in their favor because they were doing something completely different to everyone else — they were playing their own game.

This is not an easy path. As everyone drops the name of their college and employer, there will likely be times where I feel that I have not been as successful as everyone else — I may feel like perhaps I have made a mistake. The thing to remember is that everyone is playing their own game, but some people are just playing better games than others.

The most difficult part about playing a different game is that we, as humans, naturally seek validation for our work. We will talk to our friends or parents about our work and expect that they support us. In the case that they don’t, that can make you feel as if you are doing something wrong — if they don’t recognize your path, then you may think it doesn’t exist. The best advice I can give is to stop seeking external validation.

If you are going to play your own game, you need to be driven by your internal compass that tells you what to do. This can be really hard to adopt, especially if you don’t have the support of your friends and/or family. The best way to address this is to ask yourself: doesn’t your own approval and happiness matter more? If you are happy pursuing a specific path, and it provides you with great value, then why should you let others’ view of you get in the way of pursuing that path. Don’t let approval from other people get in the way of your success. In the end, if you work hard, you will be able to look back and show everyone why your path was the right choice for you.

Developing your internal compass is important because we have been taught in schools that college and finding a job in investing, consulting, medicine, accounting, et cetera, constitute a perfect career. It is difficult to go against this conventional wisdom and say “I am going to do something different.” Most people have a specific idea of what a successful career is: one where you go to college and get a job at a massive company. If you want to play your own game, you should applaud yourself on having a different view of the world. If you understand that working “9 to 5” is not the only option for success, you are already on your way to getting ahead of the game. If you are willing to go against conventional wisdom to pursue your dreams, you will likely be successful in the future, if you work hard.

Playing a different game also requires you to be understanding of the traditional paths that other people are pursuing. College and working in a “9 to 5” job are not bad paths — for many, they will be the only paths they can pursue that will help them get ahead. You should not compare yourself to others, but rather understand that you are all playing different games, and success means something else for each individual. For some people, success is the name of the college they are attending. For others, success is the salary they are earning.

On that note, if you want to play a different game, you should try to prioritize creating value over anything else. Let your internal compass guide you toward success, and focus solely on making a difference, rather than maximizing your chances of getting a job at Google or JP Morgan in the future. Do meaningful work that you enjoy doing, and focus on how you can create value, rather than the size of your salary. If you do this, you will gain a firmer appreciation of your life. You will also learn that playing your own game allows you to pave your future, rather than letting a system determine what your next steps are.

Do not conform with societal norms. Seek validation from within. Don’t give up. Listen to your internal compass — it is what matters most.

Income Share Agreement Library

Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are an alternate form of student financing based on sharing a percentage of one’s future income in the future. Rather than borrowing money to pay for their education upfront, students will instead commit a portion of their future income and will pay for their education after they graduate. The payments they make will be tied to their income, and so if they earn a low salary, or get a promotion, their payments will reflect that change. Further, if a student earns under a certain amount after graduation, they will not have to pay until either they start to earn more money, or the term of their ISA expires.

Inspired by my recent essay on “Internet Librarians”, I have compiled a short research guide to ISAs that includes podcasts, articles, essays, reports, and other content which provides a good insight into the concept. This list will be updated frequently as more information becomes available, and new categories may be added in the future as they are published.

Income Share Agreement Fundamentals

A variety of colleges and vocational bootcamps across the U.S. are using ISAs to align the incentives of the student and the institution, and ensure that everyone who is passionate about learning can pursue a further education. The articles listed below cover the basics of ISAs and how they work in practice.

  • Life Capital: A Deep Dive into the Past, Present, & Future of Income Share Agreements” by Erik Torenberg (2019)
    • This article by Erik Torenberg provides a detailed introductory description of ISAs, historical ISA antecedents, and outlines how ISAs could be scaled in the future to increase access to and the quality of education.
  • The Opportunities and Challenges of Income Share Agreements” by The Aspen Institute (2017)
    • This article outlines the history of ISAs, the challenges which would need to be overcome for ISAs to grow, and how ISAs can be used to increase the quality of education through aligning the incentives of the student and the institution.
  • No Tuition, but You Pay a Percentage of Your Income(if You Find a Job)” by Andrew Ross Sorkin, NYT (2019)
    • This article explores how ISAs have been used by vocational bootcamps to increase the quality of education, how incentive alignment influences the bootcamp’s offerings, and addresses some common concerns surrounding ISAs.
  • A Guide to Income Share Agreements(ISAs)” by Avenify (2019)
    • Get an insight into the history of ISAs, the economics associated with the agreements, the current regulatory environment, and the common concerns associated with ISAs which may impact their growth.
  • ISAs and the Future of Securitization” by Sam Lessin, The Information (2019)
    • Learn about how the internet has influenced the development of financial securities, the benefits of using ISAs to finance education, the overall benefits of ISAs, and how they will act as a financial security.
  • How Much Is Your Education Worth? Depends How Much You Make” by Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg (2019)
    • Explore the benefits and costs associated with treating humans as equity investments, how vocational bootcamps such as Lambda School are using ISAs, and learn about alternate human investments which are being explored based on the concept of an ISA.
  • What’s Scarier Than Student Loans? Welcome to the World of Subprime Children” by Malcolm Harris, NYT (2019)
    • Gain an insight into the other side of the ISA argument from this NYT op-ed, and learn more about the concerns people have surrounding how ISAs could lead to humans being seen as investments more than individuals, and how ISAs could lead to a change in our childhood.
  • Income-share agreements are a novel way to pay tuition fees” by The Economist (2018)
    • This article explores the potential benefits associated with ISAs as a method of financing education, and uses the Purdue University program as an example of how ISAs are used in college. This article also explores the nascent state of the market, and a brief description of government involvement in ISAs.
  • College Grads Sell Stakes in Themselves to Wall Street” by Claire Boston, Bloomberg Businessweek (2019)
    • This article covers the viability of ISAs in higher education, how Purdue University has developed their ISA program, and also covers the interest and potential within ISAs. This article further provides a series of short case studies regarding how ISAs have assisted students enrolled in Purdue University’s “Back a Boiler ISA Fund”, and also briefly covers ISAs as an investment opportunity.
  • Life Capital Conference Presentations – 3/27/2019” by The Life Capital Conference (2019)
    • The Life Capital Conference was hosted in SF in March 2019 and explored the past, present, and future of ISAs. The Conference invited a series of individuals involved in the ISA market and covered, in-depth, the opportunities and risks associated with ISAs, among other things. This page includes a link to the list of interview recordings from the event.

ISAs in Higher Education

Colleges such as Purdue University and the University of Utah have started to offer ISAs to students at their colleges. ISAs have the potential to help reduce the cost of college, and allow institutions to prove their value to prospective students. The articles listed below provide an insight into how colleges are using ISAs.

  • A New Way to Pay for College” by Planet Money, NPR (2019)
    • Learn about how Purdue University is using ISAs to increase access to their education, from the perspective of a student who has borrowed money through an ISA.
  • So You Want to Offer an Income-Share Agreement? Here’s How 5 Colleges Are Doing It.” by Sydney Johnson, EdSurge (2019)
    • This article explores how institutions such as the University of Utah and Colorado Mountain College have implemented ISAs, and the specific terms they offer students in their ISAs.
  • Traditional Financing Doesn’t Work for the Average College Student” by Leif (2018)
    • This article provides a brief overview of the issue of college financing, and why an alternative financing model such as an ISA is needed to help ensure that people can start and finish their college education.
  • Student and Parent Perspectives on Higher Education Financing” by Jason D. Delisle, American Enterprise Institute (2017)
    • This report explores how parents and students feel about ISAs as a method of education financing, based on a study that interviewed people from these groups.
  • The Yale Tuition Postponement Option” by Alex Usher, Higher Education Strategy Associates (2016)
    • This article explores the Yale TPO, the first institutional implementation of income-driven repayment for students. Although this program was a failure, it set a historical precedent regarding how not to structure ISAs, and provides an insight into the importance of structuring ISAs correctly.

Academic Reports

There have been a number of papers authored that aim to analyze ISAs in-depth, and explore their long-term viability. Researchers and institutions have thus far written about topics such as ISA policy, how they can assist in increasing access to education, what the future of ISAs may hold, among others. The articles listed below cover some of the most notable academic research in the space.

  • The Role of Government in Education” by Milton Friedman (1955)
    • The concept of investing in a person’s education in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings was initially developed by Milton Friedman in the 1950s. Although this paper does not exclusively cover ISAs — indeed, ISAs did not exist at the time this paper was published — it does act as a good historical reminder of the concept of ISAs.
  • The Income Share Agreement Landscape: 2017 and Beyond” by American Institutes for Research (2017)
    • This report commissioned by the AIR explores the potential of ISAs and includes a brief overview of the state of the current ISA market. The report also includes a detailed SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of ISAs and how they can be leveraged to increase the quality of and access to education.
  • Human Equity? Regulating the New Income Share Agreements” by Diane M. Ring and Shu-Yi Oei, Boston College Law School (2015)
    • This research paper covers the history of ISAs and similar economic models, how the transactions should be characterized, and discusses the benefits of adopting a multi-factor framework to regulate ISAs. This report also covers the current regulatory environment in-depth, and the nuances associated with specific classifications of ISAs under the law.
  • The Future of Student Aid” by entangled.solutions (2017)
    • This report discusses the main financing options available to college students today, and outlines how ISAs could be used to increase the quality of education, increase access to education, and also addresses how the ISA space may develop in the future.
  • The Potential Market for Income Share Agreements Among Low-Income Undergraduates” by American Institutes for Research (2015)
    • This paper explores how ISAs could be offered to undergraduate students, and their effectiveness in increasing access to education for low-income students. The paper also outlines the potential for more inclusive ISA markets, and provides a key insight into the economics behind offering ISAs in higher education.
  • Student Selection into an Income Share Agreement” by Kevin J. Mumford, Purdue University (2018)
    • One of the most common concerns associated with ISAs is adverse selection — how an institution may treat students differently based on certain factors. This report addresses the myth of adverse selection, and how no adverse selection has been observed in Purdue University’s ISA fund.
  • Untapped Potential: Building opportunity and access in education and careers through pay-for-success tuition plans” by General Assembly
    • This report discusses how ISAs work, how General Assembly has been experimenting with ISAs, and how they are balancing the risks and opportunities associated with offering ISAs as a method of paying for access to the bootcamp.
  • Picotte: A Model for Post-Secondary Education Income Share Agreements Based on Blockchain Smart Contracts” by Lih-Hann Chiu (2017)
    • This paper explores how blockchain-powered Smart Contracts could be leveraged to reduce administration costs associated with ISAs, make it easier to issue and manage ISAs at scale, and advocates for how this model could be constructed in the future.
  • Promoting Genuine Competition in Private Financing for Higher Education” by Alexander Holt, The Urban Institute (2017)
    • This research report includes a description of the issue associated with competition in higher education financing, and makes a series of recommendations as to how competition could be promoted. The report mentions the benefits of eliminating Parent PLUS loans, and leveraging alternate models such as ISAs to offer more favorable financing terms to students. 

ISA Policy

ISAs have started to gain more attention from policymakers, both in terms of how they should be regulated, and how the federal government could assist in the development of ISAs in higher education. Regulation will play an important part in the future of ISAs, and will impact both the offerings of current service providers, and future service providers. The resources listed below outline the current regulatory environment, and what we can expect in the future of ISAs.

  • Battle Lines Drawn on a Student Loan Alternative” by Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed (2019)
    • Explore the evolving regulatory landscape surrounding ISAs and learn about the concerns Democrats have started to consider which have warranted a further investigation by some Congresspeople regarding the viability of ISAs.
  • Income Share Agreement Policy in Higher Education” by James Gallagher (2019)
    • Learn about how regulators and policymakers are currently treating ISAs, the opportunities in ISAs, and how legislators could get involved with ISAs in the future to help increase access to education, mitigate the student debt crisis, and assist service providers.
  • Making Sense of Income Share Agreements” by Alison Griffin, Forbes (2019)
    • ISAs are becoming an increasingly popular method of financing education, which has lead to more regulatory interest in the concept. This article explores how regulators and policymakers should regulate ISAs in the future, based on the lessons taught by existing ISA service providers.
  • The Future of Income-Share Agreements: Policy and Politics” by Sheila Bair and Preston Cooper, Manhattan Institute (2019)
    • Gain a firmer insight into the failure of the federal government in administering student loans, how ISAs are leveraged by colleges and vocational bootcamps, and who should assume the role of administering ISAs in the future.
  • As Income Share Agreement Politics Heat Up, San Diego Debuts First Renewable Learning Fund” by Michael Horn, Forbes (2019)
    • In May 2019, the San Diego Workforce Partnership and the University of California San Diego Extension announced the launch of the “Workforce ISA Fund”, which aims to offer ISAs as a method of paying for college at the institution. This article includes an interview between Michael Horn and Andy Hall, the Chief Operating Officer of the Fund, exploring the inspiration behind the fund, why they are using ISAs, and what challenges they expect to notice in the future.
  • Bill to Regulate Income-Share Agreements Moves Through the California Legislature, Again” by Sydney Johnson, EdSurge (2019)
    • The California Legislature is currently considering Assembly Bill 154, which aims to create a state ISA pilot program which would allow students to use an ISA to fund their education. This article provides a brief history of the bill, how proponents and critics are reacting to the legislation, and the proposed structure of the ISA fund if the bill were to pass.

Vemo Education has also published a research guide for ISAs, if you are interested in more academic resources. If you have any suggestions for resources that could be added to this article, reach out to me on Twitter. As an ISA internet librarian, I am also happy to assist anyone who is looking to learn more about ISAs.

Internet Librarians

The internet is filled with information of varying qualities. When we are trying to learn about a new subject, it can be difficult to filter through the poor-quality content and get to the articles and essays that give us a detailed insight into what we want to learn. The internet is indeed a powerful tool — it has democratized information and made it easy to discover new perspectives. However, the way in which we access content on the internet is quite inefficient.

I have found that it usually takes a few minutes before you find an article that piques your interest — that will add value to your life. You spend time searching through Twitter to find an article someone has enjoyed in that subject area, or you instead go to Google and click a few results before you find what you are looking for. In both of these mediums, the great content — the content that will help you acquire a better understanding of the subject you want to learn — is surrounded by spam, ads, and poor-quality content that will not serve you any purpose. The problem isn’t the quality of information available, it is the methods that we use to find information. I recently asked myself the question: Why should finding new information be this inefficient?

I believe that there should be librarians for the internet — people who help others find the best content in a particular industry. Rather than going to Google to find articles about a subject you are interested in, you would instead talk to an internet librarian who would use their experience to help navigate you to the best resources. The librarian would be able to recommend resources that you would understand based on your current level of knowledge, and help you develop a path for future learning.

Interestingly, there would be no specific qualification required for someone to become a librarian. The best librarians would be those who had spent a lot of time researching a particular area in depth, and who had curated a list of resources which they thought were valuable. Indeed, most of us already collate good resources in our bookmarks or remember a great article we share with a friend or on Twitter a few days or a few weeks after we have read it. Librarians would take this to the next level, and use their knowledge to help make it easy for people to learn more about a specific topic.

Internet librarians would, as aforementioned, collate the best resources in a particular industry for other people to read. They would also provide personalized advice to people who are trying to learn more about a subject. For example, if you were interested in learning about the life of Benjamin Franklin, rather than searching Google, you would talk to an internet librarian who would tell you about the best biography to read, well-written short-form content, and any podcasts that would help you better understand Franklin. Perhaps these librarians could charge a small fee and work with an individual to help them develop a future learning plan.

If you were an expert in brain-computer interfaces — a highly specialized subject, I should note — then you would likely have a list of resources (either in your head, or stored on your computer) that you have found valuable in the past. Imagine how much easier it would be if you had started with that list of resources and learned from them. Internet librarians would share this information, and ultimately make it easier for people to learn more about subjects they are interested in.

There are a few ways in which this idea could take form. Firstly, a platform could be developed where experts could create short guides to learn a new subject by collating podcasts, articles, books, essays, Tweets, and other content which would help increase someone’s comprehension over a subject. This platform would have an intuitive interface so that experts could easily collate and share their knowledge. A more efficient way to do this, at least in absence of a platform, would be for people to actively advertise they are willing to help others who are learning a new subject by curating content with their specific needs in mind. Anyone with a firm understanding of a subject could become a librarian.

The inspiration for this idea came from my experience researching the Income Share Agreement (ISA) space. Due to the nascent stage of the space, the availability of high quality resources was limited. I have thus far discovered dozens — if not hundreds — of valuable articles, research reports, and Tweets, which have been curated from a variety of different sources. If I had started with these resources, I would have been able to become more knowledgable about ISAs in a shorter period of time. Many people have reached out to me asking about what resources I recommend for them to take a look at to understand ISAs in more depth. Imagine if I were to start openly sharing the resources from which I have learned.

As an experiment, I am going to try being an internet librarian for the concept of Income Share Agreements. If you are interested in learning more about ISAs, you should reach out to me on Twitter and I will work with you and share articles from which you would derive a lot of value. I will also publish a short list of great articles in the ISA space in the near future. I envision internet librarians to become more popular in the future. Librarians would build the guidebooks to master new concepts, and allow people to focus more on learning than filtering out low quality information and spending minutes, or even hours, finding the resources they need.

Strong Opinions, Weakly Held

“Strong Opinions, Weakly Held” is a mantra I try to practice on a daily basis. In essence, I hold opinions about a variety of different topics — it is natural to do so as a human being — but I am willing to change my opinion in light of new information. This makes a lot of sense — as I learn more, my thoughts evolve.

Many people continue to believe in the same things, even after new information has been presented that makes their previous thoughts inaccurate or inappropriate. I firmly believe that if you are going to hold an opinion, you should try to hold is weakly, which means you can change your thoughts as new information becomes available. The reason why most of us hold strong opinions very close to us is because they eventually become part of our identity — “I believe in open borders”, “I believe X is a good person”. If information comes to light that makes your previous opinion incorrect, it can be very difficult to adapt because you have developed a mental model around your past opinion, as it was part of your identity.

One of my biggest problems with strong opinions that are closely held is that people can sometimes end up believing in things that they do not have enough information about. For example, if you proclaim that you are a Republican, you are implicitly signaling that you believe in all of their policies. If, however, you don’t know about their immigration stance and you believe in fully open borders, you will have ended up defending the Republican stance merely by stating you were part of that party. The problem lies in making bold statements about our identity when we don’t have the information we need to render an informed opinion.

Most of us hold opinions on almost everything. In fact, most people will try to develop an opinion about something as soon as it has been said (this often leads to people working on inaccurate information from the start). This begs the question: what work is required to hold a strong opinion?

In order to ensure you don’t end up defending a policy, idea, or concept you do not agree with, you need to do a lot of research about the specific idea, before making it part of your identity. This will involve reading arguments both for and against the viewpoint you are trying to adopt. Indeed, exploring arguments that fight against what you want to believe in are important — they can help you better defend your thoughts, but also help you understand the other side of the story which you may end up believing in more. You should work hard to carefully cultivate your identity around the specific parts of an opinion you want to share, rather than making broad statements without the information you need to defend your thoughts.

Charlie Munger, Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, used to say: “I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.” Munger believed that you needed to be fully informed about a subject before you started to hold an opinion. If you are not informed about a subject, you may end up defending views you do not believe in, or that you are not qualified to comment on in the moment. There is a lot of work that you need to do to hold an informed opinion, and I find that most people try to develop an opinion as soon as possible, without conducting adequate research.

What we often forget is that we do not need to have an opinion on everything. Having an opinion on something without the information we need to rebut the opposing arguments provides us with very little value — we could easily be holding the wrong opinion if we do not know the other side of the argument. I try to remain nonpartisan in every situation and, before crafting an opinion, research alternate arguments so that I can affirm which side of the argument I am on. If you do the work, you will realize that it takes a lot longer to form a thoughtful opinion than most people think.

Perhaps I end up — after researching both arguments thoroughly — realizing that my identity resonates with neither side of the argument, and so I do not form an opinion. Or perhaps I realize that I fully agree with one side of the argument, and so decide to hold an opinion on that topic. However, if more information comes along that proves my opinion to be incorrect, I will quickly adapt and move on — why should I defend an old opinion? This is a difficult mindset to adopt because humans naturally want to consume more information that aligns with what they already know — it is easier than learning everything on the other side of the argument and admitting that we are wrong.

The key to adopting this mantra is to consistently question your beliefs. This is unnatural, as aforementioned, but is an important part of ensuring that your opinions are up-to-date and still reflect who you are as a person. If you do not question the opinions you have developed on a frequent basis, they become part of your identity, which makes it harder for you to change your mind for the reasons listed above. If you question your opinions, however, you are able to better evaluate whether they are still relevant, and whether you still believe in them — often you will find that over time, your thoughts on a topic will change. Another key to developing strong opinions that are weakly held is to remain neutral in all discussions until you have enough time to research both sides in depth — do not form an opinion immediately. Give yourself some time to research and reflect, and then carefully consider your thoughts on the subject.

Developing strong opinions that are weakly held is a great competitive advantage — you are willing to change with the times. It also helps you cultivate a mindset of questioning your own thoughts, allowing you to explore your mind and thought patterns in more depth.

Don’t form opinions too quickly. Take time to research and reflect. Question your beliefs. Do not let opinions become part of your identity — let them be weakly held.

Good Questions

Our conversations are not as productive as they could be. We often ask questions to fill out a conversation, without considering the exact value their answer will provide. We also fail to evaluate whether or not a person is qualified to inform us about that specific question — if they are not, their ability to answer will be limited. There are a few major problems with asking the wrong questions.

The first problem is that if you don’t ask the right questions, then you will not be able to tap into the full knowledge an individual holds. If someone is interested in an area you are pursuing, you should ask them specific questions that you are interested in learning more about. There is very little point in asking a random question without first considering whether or not their answer will assist you in any way. Asking the wrong questions can also make the person on the other end of the conversation uncomfortable — you may be asking them about something they do not feel qualified to answer.

Asking the wrong questions is even worse if you are engaging in a panel interview, a group meeting, or any other social occasion wherein multiple parties could benefit from the question you answer. If you ask the wrong question, your and their time will be wasted because they may not be able to provide a specific answer. In a group environment, other people may also have questions to ask, and if you ask the wrong question, then there may not be time left for other people to ask their more meaningful question.

Our conversations could be significantly more productive if we were more intentional with the questions that we asked. This does not mean that we need to prepare a professionally-formatted document with a list of questions, but rather we should spend more time considering the value a specific question will yield for us, the individual who will be answering the question, and anyone else involved in the discussion.

One way to ask better questions is to think about how you would answer the question if you had been asked it. This is a great litmus test which will allow you to understand whether your question is clear, relevant, and simple — three elements needed to engage in thoughtful discourse about that question. Thinking about the question you are going to ask also gives you a moment to question whether the question has any real value, or whether you are just asking it because you want to ask a question — this does not help anyone.

It is also great to ask more open-ended questions: “What are your thoughts on X, and why do you think that way?”, for example.. My thoughts on this topic will likely make their way into a new essay, but, in sum, asking open-ended questions gives someone more freedom to answer your question. The individual does not have to worry about whether what they are saying is on-topic, which generally leads to a more productive discussion. If the person answering the question goes on a tangent, this gives you a new opportunity to learn even more about the individual, and how they think. Asking open-ended questions also prevents people from filtering out things they may think are irrelevant, but would indeed add more value to the discussion. It is worth noting that, in some cases, asking specific questions would be better, but there are still many instances where an open-ended question would be more appropriate.

You should also not be afraid to follow-up on a question. If someone has provided you with a thoughtful answer that leaves you with another question to ask, then you should ask the question that you have. In a group conversation, it is likely that someone else will have the same thought as you. The worst thing that can happen is that the person delivers a short answer and the conversation moves on. The best thing that can happen is that you get to know the person in more depth. I think that too many people think about the specific set of questions they want to answer and stick to that schedule, and do not leave enough time to ask a follow-up question about an individual’s answer. If you are curious about something, there is no harm in asking more about it.

I have also noticed that in cases where the person being asked the question is famous or popular, the interviewer will spend time asking rudimentary questions. Indeed, these questions are important in conversation — they help people better understand the foundation of the individual’s work. However, I think that we spend too much time on these questions and do not ask enough unusual questions that the person would have a lot of great insights on. We often look for an easy question to ask, because it reduces the chance that the other person will be unable to answer. A lot of value in conversations is lost because people are not willing to ask a question that the interviewer may not have received before, but would likely be able to answer effectively.

The value of conversational flow is also not considered. This is more difficult to maintain in group discussions, but in one-on-one meetings and interviews, the questions that you ask should follow a specific flow. Perhaps you start by asking the individual about their past work, then you delve deep into the questions that you want to ask about their thoughts on a specific subject, why they think that, et cetera. Following that, you could then ask the person about what they are going to do in the future, and start to ask some final questions before concluding the discussion. Conversational flow helps ensure that everyone stays on-topic, and that the individual has enough time to effectively answer a question and discuss their thoughts, without being asked a completely different question after they have finished talking.

The interesting thing about asking good questions is that it does not take that much time, but can yield a lot of value. Individuals who spend time thinking about what they want to ask, account for serendipity, and are willing to ask follow-up questions will likely be able to cultivate a better relationship with the individual answering the question, and yield higher quality responses to the questions they have prepared.

Be intentional. Account for serendipity. Ask follow-ups. Consider the flow of the conversation.

Stop Doing List

To-do lists have become part of both our personal and professional lives. Most of us keep lists to stay organized, track our tasks, and visualize our progress over the day, week, or month. The idea behind the to-do list is simple — it is a set of tasks that your past self has said that you need to complete within a certain amount of time.

I find that to-do lists are a very effective motivator — being able to check off a new item feels liberating. There is one interesting application of the to-do list model that has not yet been explored in as much depth, but I would argue is one of the best implementations of the model: a stop-doing list.

In life we all have a set of goals that we want to accomplish. Perhaps we are looking to get a big promotion at work. Or we aim to start a company. Or write a book. We have been taught from a young age that we should set consistent goals over time, and that goals act as our North Star to ensure that we are on track with our lives. To-do lists help us organize our thoughts and break them down into specific, and actionable tasks about how we can accomplish a broader goal (or better yet, form a habit).

A question I have recently started to ask myself is: what would you stop doing?

We have a limited amount of time to spend. Indeed, the greatest philosophers in history have remarked on the shortness of time, and have reinforced the importance of living a life based on your passion. Time is our most scarce resource, and we should be constantly trying to improve our lives so that we can make the most out of the time that we have.

The problem with our time is that it passes quickly, and often we fail to consider how much time has passed in enough depth. Often, we are aware of how we are spending our time — we are conscious of it. This may be because we have set a task with a specific timeframe in which we need to complete the task. However, most of the time that we have passes unconsciously — we are focusing on other things and time is just passing in the background. Perhaps we are fully engaged in a task, or perhaps we are watching television and we have not considered how long we have actually been sitting down. A lot of the most common expressions in our language are oriented around the shortness of time — “Where has the time went!”, “Today has gone so quickly!”, to name just a few.

Interestingly, one of the most cited regrets by the elderly are that they have not spent their time as efficiently as they could. Most people reflect on the fact that they did not accomplish everything they wanted to in their lives. This is normally not because they don’t have the time, nor the energy. Rather, this is because people have not been intentional with how they spend their time — they let themselves become immersed in actions which do not add any value to their lives. They may have watched more television than they would have liked, or refrained from leaving their work to continue their company because they were scared of the financial implications.

Some of the biggest decisions in our lives are not about what to do, but rather what not to do. If so many people look back at the end of their lives and regret not investing time in something, then clearly it shows that we are not being as intentional with our time as we should be. Consider how many things in your life that you could stop doing, that would allow you to focus more on what matters to you. If you spend some time writing a stop doing list and start acting in accordance with it, you will quickly realize that you have more time to spend on the things that mean most to you — your family, your work, or that side project you have wanted to spend more time on.

To get started, you should first consider what your passion is in life — you can have multiple. If your work is very important to you, then you should reflect on that and imagine how much more successful you could be if you had some more time and stopped a few bad habits. Evaluating the values that matter most in your life can help you out here as well. If your family is very important to you, then you should reflect on how much stronger your relationships would be if you could spend more time doing things with them. This allows you to become more attached to the things that matter most, and will help you understand the opportunity cost of your current routine — what are you missing out on because of your bad habits.

Writing a stop-doing list can take some time. We need to spend time and reflect on exactly what in our lives is acting as a barrier to our success. This may involve us thinking about our daily routines and mental models, and reflecting on their efficiency. Perhaps we may also reflect on how we allocate our time to projects, work, and family. Writing a stop-doing list requires you to become more aware of yourself, how you work, and what habits and activities are in the way of you achieving your goals.

The final thing to consider about your stop-doing list is what activities add value to — or take away value from — your life. Although other values such as family or community may be important, you should evaluate what decisions will make the most economic sense in the long-term. Being in a good financial position allows you to stop worrying so much about work and will help you reprioritize your time. If you start to remove the habits that add no value to your life, you will be able to focus more on generating economic value, which will make you feel more free in your non-work life.

For reference, here is my stop doing list:

  • Stop watching the news;
  • Stop taking things personally;
  • Stop caring about things that are outside of my control;
  • Stop accepting tasks that add no value to my life — career, monetary, or personal and;
  • Stop watching so much television and read more instead.

The first item on the list, “stop watching the news”, has been on my list for a while now. After making a point of refraining from consuming the news, I quickly noticed that I had more time to focus on my work. I no longer felt like I had to catch up with the latest political story, or watch breaking news live. This is a somewhat small change in relation to the others, but has helped me develop a clearer mind and focus on the aspects of my life that matter most — family, work, and making a difference. These items range in difficulty, but having them compiled into one list helps me stay on track and accountable to my goals.

I recommend that you make your stop-doing list easy to access. I use Todoist every day for work and personal tasks, and use a separate label in Todoist to outline my stop-doing list. You may find it beneficial to write your list on paper and hang it up on the wall, or keep a post-it on your desk, which will serve as a constant reminder for you to stop doing what is on your list.

One’s stop doing list will likely change over time. As you start to remove bad habits, and adopt new ones, you will need to re-evaluate your list and ask yourself how it can be improved. The ultimate goal of a stop-doing list is to allow you to free up time to focus on the things that matter to you. The amount of time we have is limited, and spending a few moments on writing down what we want to stop doing is a great first-step in changing the way we perceive our limited time.

Experimentation

Every day we hear about scientists experimenting with a new research topic, or entrepreneurs experimenting with a new idea in the form of a business. Yet we don’t hear a lot about people conducting experiments with their own lives. People are not so crazy about continuous self-optimization.

We have the ability to experiment with every aspect of our lives, and it is through that experimentation that we can optimize our routines and develop better mental models. By constantly experimenting with elements in our lives, we can explore new ideas and evaluate how we can use them to improve our lives, without having to make a full commitment.

There is something really powerful about the notion of doing something unique every day — although quickly we get stuck in a routine and fail to experiment. There is no way to know if what we are doing is the best and most efficient way until we have explored other alternatives. If we stick to our routines and fail to experiment, then we may end up developing inefficient mental models based on incomplete information.

I like the phrase “Atomic Habits”, which was coined by James Clear in his book of the same title. Clear states that it is the small changes — the atomic changes — that make all of the difference in your life. If you want to start reading more, start by reading a few pages a day and see if that works. If you can’t find the time, you could try going to bed 10 minutes earlier and see if that helps you. Perhaps you end up reading an essay instead because you find them more interesting. Either way, you arrived at a final conclusion by making a small change, and rapidly experimenting.

The reason why we develop habits in the first place is so that we can leave more room for the brain to make important decisions in the day. Habits are essentially shortcuts that improve our lives. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the habits we do cultivate are both optimized, and consider our unique preferences. Starting small means it is very difficult to break out of a habit. If you say that you are going to write one sentence in your journal per day, you can start to realize the benefits of writing down your thoughts, without having to commit a long period of time to journaling. Perhaps you start to write more, or perhaps you realize that journaling isn’t for you. Experimentation helped you reach that conclusion.

Making small changes to our routines and mental models quickly compounds. If a person starts to read five pages of a book each day, they will have read 150 pages in a month — most likely half of the book. Making these small changes in your life can be difficult, because we let so many things become part of our identity. Our identities are harder to change because changing them involves altering the mental models we have been applying and have previously believed in for a long time. This is why experimentation is a great way to get started. You don’t need to think about fully changing your identity, you just need to think about small changes that will help you be happier and more productive. Your identity will naturally change over time, if you spend enough time experimenting with a new habit, routine, or idea.

I like to take some time every so often to evaluate my routines, and consider whether or not they could be optimized. When I started journaling, I recorded my notes in Day One until I tried writing in a paper journal. I preferred the paper journal, and have since started to spend more time journaling because I can feel the amount I have written. It was a small change, but had a massive impact.

Try to eat something different for dinner — or even try making it yourself. Think about your morning routine and think of the best time to start meditating for a minute. Read a book about a topic with which you have limited prior knowledge. It is only through rapid personal experimentation that we can truly believe what we are doing is optimal.

Do something different. Experiment with your life. Be considerate when adding new things to your life.