Increasing The Output of The World's Creative Professionals

In this video I interview Tiago Forte of Forte Labs.  Tiago is a personal and professional organizational coach and consultant.  His clientele includes multiple fortune 500 companies.  

In a short period of time Tiago has been able to bring multiple innovations to the field or productivity and knowledge management. Tiago focuses on personal knowledge management.  His flagship online course, Building a Second Brain, teaches creative professionals to organize their thoughts so they can increase their output.

Tiago believes that everyone should be able to systematize creativity and creative output.  Instead of having chaotic bursts of stream of consciousness creativity, Tiago believes people can actually develop routines! One of the guiding beliefs behind Tiago's work is that the ideas that can improve everyone's quality of life are out there.  

Most of them are floating around inside of someone's head.  If all those people with all those great ideas could just get organized, the world would be an even better place. In this interview Tiago and I discuss how he got started working in the Peace Corps and how that experience inspired him to help people to organize their lives.

If you are someone that feels that you have some great ideas, but you just have not been able to produce much with them, this is the interview for you. Subscribe for more - https://bit.ly/2NlhmFh

Transcript:

Ian Lenny:
All right. I am recording. Today I have on Tiago Forte. He is a speaker, writer, teacher. He's obsessed with the future of work. In previous life, he worked in micro finance, served in the Peace Corp, and consulted for a large company on product development. He draws on his background in design and technology to help knowledge workers improve their performance, discover better ways of doing things, and reframe their relationships with work.

Ian Lenny:
Tiago's an author of the Praxis Blog, where he discusses the future of work and productivity, and the founder of Forte Labs. Well Tiago, thank you for speaking with me today.

Tiago Forte:
Of course Ian, yeah. Good to be here and happy to talk with you today.

Ian Lenny:
Cool. Okay. So you already saw that I have this massive list of questions, we both agreed that we'll probably not get through them today. So I'm going to try to bounce around and focus on the ones that I think that will get people the most useful stuff. But before we get into that, I would like to just have a little bit about your personal and professional background. So I'm just going to start with my two question on that. The first was one was just... can you talk about your professional background, how you got involved in personal and professional organization productivity. What problems did you identify in that world? And how do you help people both personally, and their professional organization?

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. So it feels like it was a long series of accidents.

Ian Lenny:
Nice.

Tiago Forte:
I always had an interesting self help, self improvement, going back to when I was a teenager reading Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins, and Rich Dad Poor Dad had a huge influence on me, so I was already in that world, but had no idea what I could contribute, you know, what I had to say. Seems like you needed to have these big life accomplishments in terms of money and success to be able to teach anyone what you knew. After college, I didn't feel like I was ready to start my career. It was also the depths of the Great Recession, so I decided instead to get my bills paid by Uncle Sam, and do the Peace Corps.

Ian Lenny:
Nice. Nice.

Tiago Forte:
For anyone that doesn't know, the Peace Corps, it's a volunteer organization run by the U.S. Government where... since like the 60s, the late 60s, 70s, started by President Kennedy and basically, you sign up for a two year stint. You go to one of I think, 150 countries, or 100 countries and you serve. You really are a full time volunteer for two years, plus a few months and you work on anything from education to health, to agriculture, to really anything. So I started teaching kids there, and that was my entrance. I had taught English before in South America, which is kind of a known thing.

Tiago Forte:
But I started teaching just... you wouldn't even consider them very sophisticated, just basic how to keep a to-do list. How to keep a calendar. How to plan very simple projects to my students. That's kind of how I got into it, and I saw that I actually... just the way that I thought was naturally good at that, so it was easy for me to teach. Then when I came back to the U.S. and moved to Silicon Valley to start my career, I looked around at my colleagues, I looked around at people in the coworking space where we worked, I looked at people my age and I realized actually everyone had the same needs.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
That even elite knowledge workers in Silicon Valley often have no idea how to manage their work. They're just kind of... ad hoc moving through their days, trying to keep it all under control, reacting to things impulsively, and the breakthrough really was the book Getting Things Done, which just completely rocked my work, and my first online course, which was the beginning of my business was just a course on how to implement the getting things done method.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Interesting. Yeah, that is a wide ranging beginning to this. [crosstalk 00:04:05] down there, and I'm really surprised at the end. That took a turn, because I didn't know that you were that huge on Getting Things Done. Couple questions from that, first one, the Peace Corp. I think it's... I don't want to butcher the name... Kup'yans'k, Ukraine?

Tiago Forte:
That's right, how did you... that's not widely known, how did you find that?

Ian Lenny:
The magic of LinkedIn. So did you pick that? Why that area? Was there something special to you about it? Or that's just where the Peace Corps put you?

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, you know, they let you pick where you want to go, and I was like... I'm sure like everyone else who applies, "Yeah, I'd like to go to Central American or Southeast Asia."

Ian Lenny:
Okay.

Tiago Forte:
But then, I have a theory that they actually, they look at that, and they send you to the opposite of what you want.

Ian Lenny:
Oh yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Because they... my theory is that they don't want you to be in the mindset that you're on this extended vacation. They want you to be in the mindset that you're of service, and if you say no to that assignment, you're probably not the right person for the Peace Corps.

Ian Lenny:
Totally.

Tiago Forte:
So they sent me to Eastern Ukraine, pretty much the opposite of the beaches that I wanted to be on.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, so that's a little hack for people in the Peace Corps, you got to pick the worst place so they're like, "Oh, this is one of the... he's dedicated, we're going to send... to Southeast Asia."

Tiago Forte:
Exactly.

Ian Lenny:
That is wild. So Ukraine, that's no joke. In the winter it's like... you were there in winter, I mean two years, so its freezing.

Tiago Forte:
So cold. It's a different kind of cold. It's a whole different level. I mean, I was raised in California, so it was just a shock, but I loved it. I mean, I just... it was really hard at times. Pretty lonely. They place you as the only American in your town, they kind of separate you.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Because they want you integrate and learn the language and all that stuff, so... you know, alone in this little Ukrainian town on the Russian border. Got lonely for sure, but also built a lot of resilience, you know? I feel like living abroad, working abroad is one of the best ways to prepare for entrepreneurship that people don't realize, because... compared to living abroad and living in these places, entrepreneurship is not that hard, and the uncertainty is not that bad.

Tiago Forte:
That's what's so hard in entrepreneurship, it's not the hard work, you know? A lot of people know and are willing to work hard. It's the uncertainty. It's working for weeks, or months or longer not knowing if it's working. Not knowing if you're succeeding. Not knowing if it's the right path. Most people just cannot tolerate that level of uncertainty. And living in developing countries is a great way to build up your uncertainty muscles.

Ian Lenny:
That's interesting. That's true thought. That's so true. I mean... I find it even worse with remote work, because you don't have that tangible aspect of this big office that's this huge monolith of office you go to. It's like you're a knowledge worker by yourself too? Sometimes you're just like, "Is any of this stuff in my laptop real? That I'm doing everyday." So I totally relate to you on uncertainty. Definitely.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. I know. It's kind of the whole environment we live in now. I mean, even if you work in a company, it's the same thing. It's like there are not clear steps to achieving results anymore. There is not clear career ladders where you can predict... I mean, you can predicatively move up, but that's also... not necessarily going to give you the lifestyle, and the success you want. That's actually what had me leave my... the consulting job in San Francisco. I wanted to be self employed... is I had my first annual review after being there a little over a year, and they laid out the career path for me in consulting.

Tiago Forte:
They were like, "You're a junior project manager now. Couple more years you could be a project manager, and a couple years after that, you could be a senior project manager. Five or six years from now, you could be a project director." They were telling me this as if it was the most enticing thing ever, and I was like, "NO." That's not for me. That's not fast enough. That's not the path I want to follow. So I left the scene after that.

Tiago Forte:
But yeah, we have to learn how to do with uncertainty now. It's just part of life.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Definitely is. The way you describe the progression too is totally, I agree 100%. That's what does not appeal to me about a lot of big companies. So I was in the military for active duty for like 6, 7 years. Same thing, it's very higher, you know when you're going to get promoted. So I kind of had a feel for certain aspects. I kind of knew what it was going to be like going to another big company, and what you just said was the biggest thing that I just was like, "There's no way I can do this."

Ian Lenny:
When I talk to people in consulting especially, because it's such a big field. There's a lot of different companies that do it. I notice this so much, just like you're saying, people are like, "You know, if I stay on for... I kill myself for 15 years, I might be able to be a partner." And you're just like listening to me is the same... I'm just like, "There's no way I would ever want to do that." Just to slowly move up this ladder, and like you say, this isn't going to be your reality forever. The nature of work is changing.

Ian Lenny:
So one thing about the ambiguity is when you're helping people set up their organization and how they work, do you ever work with people on setting up some sort of structure for themself? These motivational goal posts that they can hit, since a lot of people will not have these set promotion levels they're going to keep moving to?

Tiago Forte:
I do, yeah. I mean, that's a lot of my work, is... reintroducing some of the structure that was lost through a mix of people becoming contractors and freelancers. People working remotely, people having multiple clients and customers, even... you know, working in open... what are those called? Open space floor plans.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
And then having control of your own schedule. Every single trend and work right now, is pointing towards autonomy, more flexibility, which is wonderful. But it also means you don't have that clear beginning and ending time box thing anymore of the nine to five. So ironically, so much of my work is reading that structure back, you know? I have one course on GTD, which is about structuring your to-do list. You know, deciding what you're going to focus on, from an elevated perspective rather than just doing whatever shows up in front of you.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
My second course is design your habits. It's on How to Create Routines. You know what do you do in the morning? What do you mid day? What do you do in the evening? What are the cycles, and the mini cycles of your life. My third course, building a second brain is how to organize and structure your ideas, and your knowledge. It's of course on digital note taking, and not trying to keep all the things you have to think about and remember, and reflect on in your head, but off loading it to intelligent external tools.

Tiago Forte:
Then I have a new course, Write of Passage with a partner, David Perell which is about modern writing. How to get all these ideas you collected and then output them, publish into the world to just build your reputation and accelerate your career using content. So each one of those, you could think of as a way of getting people a process for something that seems completely ambiguous and just like a black box.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Yeah, I know the writing process especially can seem like you're just gathering more material and sort of putting things together and it does see like the production cycle is sort of a black box. I know a lot of people who literally say, "It will be ready when it's ready." Which to me, is very... I don't think I could deal with that, some of the ambiguity of that. Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, that's the classic... you know, vision of the artist that you're this tortured soul, you know? Emaciated, living in an attic or a basement. Torturing yourself, just about suffering, struggle and it is hard sometimes. There's no doubt that creative work is challenging of course, but not 100% of it is completely un-unknown, right?

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
You can systematize, you can create a process around some large percentage of that, and that not only makes your life less stressful and more fun, it actually increases the quality of the work you produce, because you're not in pain and suffering. You are... it's a sustainable practice, and you're systematically building a body of work. Not just waiting for some brilliant idea to arrive out of the blue.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. No totally. Totally agree, and you mentioned a few of your products that I really want to get Building to a Second Brain, but before I do, I want to talk a little bit more about how you got into this field and... one of the ways I'd like to that is you now the speed of products, how did this evolve from a course on getting things done, which is very much strict organizational principles, to some of these other courses you're making. How do you expand the scope of your services, and your products?

Tiago Forte:
You know, I really took an approach of listening to what people wanted. For the first course, it was really based directly on a bestselling book. So I knew it was something people wanted based on it being a best selling book?

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
And for that one, it wasn't even my own ideas. It was a straight up translation of a book, directly into a video based course. For a lot of people who don't learn well from books, they learn from videos. They want to see it implemented in front of them. That was successful and from there, it was just what people wanted. So when people finished Get Stuff Done, the first course, I was like, "Well, how else can I help? Where else can I be of value?" And the most common thing people said is habits. Right?

Tiago Forte:
GTD has this idea of a weekly review. Every week you just go through this checklist and you can really reliably completely clear the decks of your life, and start over fresh each week. But then obvious question is, "Well do I make that a habit? How do I make a weekly review a part of my weekly routine." That's where that next course came from, and then once again, after that what's the next thing? Oh, you know I have my tasks figured out, and now I have my habits figured out, but I have so much... so many ideas, so much content, so many files have to manage, what can I do?

Tiago Forte:
Even from there, it was an iterative process. I first... so this is kind of a good example. The first thing I ever wrote on this topic of a second brain, was kind of a rant. I was on Medium, which is where my blog started and I saw this number one on the site was this article about Evernote, which is a program that I use. It was advocating for tagging. This whole way of using tags to manager your ideas, and I was like... I saw that all these people were commenting and liking this thing. I was like, "This is wrong." And right then and there, I sat down and I just did my whole rant.

Tiago Forte:
And to my surprise, it really resonated. There were a lot of people out there that were like, "I too hate tags."

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That's interesting.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, I just thought it was my little personal vendetta, and all these people were messaging me. The funny thing is, that then led to some accountability, because the natural question they were asking was, "Okay, how do you recommend we do it?"

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
It's really easy to be a critic, but do you have a good alternative, and I was like, "Oh shit." So I had to come up with one. I wrote this other long essay on Medium. Just here's what I think. Here's how I think notes should be organized, ideas should be organized. Again, to my shock, did super well. People loved it and then, Evernote got in touch with me and said, "Can we publish this on our blog?" That was the beginning of my relationship with Evernote. They did publish it, it went viral within the Evernote community, but even then, I still didn't really realized what I had, because it took a full year.

Tiago Forte:
So a year after that post was published, a friend of mine came across it. And he messaged me and he said, "Have you seen the comments on your post, on the Evernote blog? I was like, "No, I haven't." I went and I checked them out, and they were like... every comment was like, "This is the best article on productivity I've ever read." Or "I've been using Evernote for five years, and never knew how to use it." Or all these incredibly glowing testimonials. That's when I first started thinking I really was on to something, and that I should make this into a product.

Ian Lenny:
Okay. Wow, okay. It's that post that would evolve into Building a Second Brain?

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, it's pretty amazing actually. That post, it's evolved far, far beyond that of course. There's now many dozens of different posts on the method. There's the online course like we talked about. I do live workshops, corporate trainings. I'm working on the book, which is going to be published through a publisher, so it's become a whole ecosystem. But, pretty much every major element you can trace back to that one article.

Ian Lenny:
Wow. Okay. Wow. That's interesting how you describe it as this silent majority within the Evernote community of people that are like... I don't like tags. I'm not willing to talk about it in public, but they're not something... that's [inaudible 00:18:06] I love how you hit that too, because otherwise you might never have known.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, it's something too where it sounds hyper niche, and it is.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
You know, we're talking... okay. We're talking the people that use computers, which is not everyone, you know? Then within there, the subset is the people who capture their thoughts and ideas in software, which is smaller. Then within there, it's people who use note taking programs to do that which is smaller, and then you have Evernote users, and then you Power Evernote users, and then you have tags.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
It's like this micro, micro niche, but what makes it interesting is A, that you have people that really, really care. That is such a critical element of starting something, anything, product service, you know? If you're speaking to people that just... they don't really care that much, you're never going to be able to just blow their minds.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Whereas people who really are obsessed with one little tiny thing, you can really make an impact on them, and second, it actually is just one little tip of the iceberg of something much bigger, which is people want to use software to improve their thinking, right? I mean, if you go back to the early years of computing, that was the promise of software. It was going to be like a cognitive extension. It was going to be like an extension of your mind. It was going to make you think faster and better, and deeper and more thoroughly.

Tiago Forte:
Then if you ask people though today, when supposedly we have all these advanced devices does do computers improve your thinking? And they go, "absolutely not. They just distract me, interrupt me, stress me out." So hidden in this tiny little niche thing of tags, there's this thing of this deep seeded desire that people have, that computers actually make their lives better and easier. Instead of worse.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Totally. And that making your lives better with computers. That kind of leads into your... it seemed almost like a mission statement that you had on... it's your site? I think it was in the Building a Second Brain sales page, so when you talk about people actually getting computers to work better for them, and make the thinking more clear.

Ian Lenny:
Remind me of this one. It was a quote under your site. It said, "You live with some of the smartest people in the world. I also [inaudible 00:20:32] you say, "I know." I absolutely know that if their ideas got out in the world and actually impact problems that we face in society. Can absolutely change the world, and it sounded like that was a little bit as a mission statement for some of what you do.

Ian Lenny:
So I'm kind of wondering, what actually impacted [inaudible 00:20:50] for people using Build Your Second Brain. Do you have any really impressive case studies of someone that was kind of scrambled, that had the amazing ideas, and they were able to better implement them, or just people that you've worked with that were able to better implement, because of some of these ideas around how you use Evernote, but also this more mature Building a Second Brain product.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, that was a big catch. That video took many takes, and sometimes it's... the hardest thing to define is what you do and why it matters, and what's the big picture of what you do. I was just tweeting and interacting with people on Twitter about this. How... it's a real skill. It's a real skill to just be able to... kind of an elevator pitch for yourself.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
You know, most people either give you something, or really modest. "Oh yeah I do. I do ads" you know? It's like a response design to not elicit any response.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Or they go too grand and they go, "I helped founders to make a dent in the universe. You're just like "What?" That could be anything.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
It's really hard to find the middle ground, but I think that is, and where that mission comes from is really my own journey, which is like... it's kind of like the curse of intelligence. Where I... looking back at my life so often, being smart was as much as a handicap as a help. Being smart meant I was also kind of neurotic. I would overthink things, over analyze things. I would also, instead of taking action, just do some more reading. Do some more research, I was kind of... a lot of the times, and still am often stuck in my head. Stuck in the world of ideas and not actually doing anything out in the world.

Tiago Forte:
So it's kind of like a... I see part of my mission as liberating smart people from the shackles of their own logic.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Which feels like a funny mission, but-

Ian Lenny:
But an important one thought, that's important.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. If you really believe, it's smart. The smart people of the world just did half of what they talk about and researched about, the world would be radically transformed, and that's why I'm always in my courses, in my teaching, always deriving people towards what is practical, what is feasible, what is possible right here, right now. Instead of creating this beautifully architected system that's like a well oiled machine. That's so elegant and wonderful, but doesn't actually have any practical impact.

Tiago Forte:
It's a funny place to be in, because I love ideas as much as anyone, you know? I love theories and concept of things. I just think that the world has a lot of needs, and it needs leaders. It needs people to step up and make a positive difference, and that's really what I see as the ultimate, ultimate aim of Building a Second Brain is just empowering and equipping people to turn their ideas to reality.

Ian Lenny:
Nice. Yeah, that's definitely a super important motion.

Tiago Forte:
And in terms of case studies, I have a whole series. I think a 10 or 12 case studies on my blog, you can check them out. I wish I could think of one, or talk about one more in depth, but I mean, the typical... person who purchase my course is quite accomplished, you know? The problem that you're trying to solve is how do I leverage the impact of my ideas? They're probably like very, very high up on Maslow's pyramid, you know? You're probably not trying to figure out the basic essentials of food and shelter.

Tiago Forte:
And for people at that level, who are already making an impact, already successful, already financially okay. They often just need help adding some structure, you know? Often their instincts are good, they made a successful career or business out of just trusting their intuition, making decisions, working hard, all that is wonderful, but to go the next level of their career, they want to say build their reputation. They want to be known as a leader in their organization, or their industry, or their field.

Tiago Forte:
Or another common one is they just want to share their knowledge right? They don't have time to individually talk to every young person, every student, every person who wants their wisdom, so they want to publish writing. They want to record videos, they want to get on podcasts, they want to these more scalable forms of sharing their knowledge, but all those things I mentioned require a bit of organization, you know? You have to get those ideas out of your head, they have to be some kind of external medium. You have to turn them into something that people can consume, like I said, a piece of audio, piece of video, a diagram, a blog post, an essay, a drawing, anything like that.

Tiago Forte:
So I'm often working with high performers, who are just trying to increase their creative expression, their creative output, and that's really my target.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, I definitely do think, like you said, it's a very specific type of person that would want to use that course. So when you talk about this kind of person that is able to organization their ideas, and maybe they're prolific with some kind of content, is there anyone that comes to mind to you as the shining example of a person that has been able to do this? Maybe just someone you follow or something.

Tiago Forte:
You mean like in this field of idea management?

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, or it could be someone you see out there, maybe just [inaudible 00:26:29] career or anyone that's sharing their work that you see as a really great example.

Tiago Forte:
Gosh, so many. So many people doing amazing work. Let's see... it really depends. It really depends what area. I look to very different people depending on what I'm working on. I'm working a lot these days on course marketing. It's sort of like Building a Second Brain is a pretty proven course now, so I'm working on email marketing, and social media marketing, different things. So I'm working with a marketing coach named Billy Ross. Who's not... doesn't have a super prominent public figure at all, but has a really successful business teaching people how to market their courses.

Tiago Forte:
But then for content, like ideas, sometimes I'll go to more experimental, more out there people like Venkatesh Rao, who is the founder of a blog called Ribbonfarm, where I started my career. That's been probably my biggest influence in the realm of ideas. Let's see... who am I into these days? James Clear has a big influence writing on habits. Yeah, I have a lot of people I follow. Ben Thompson, I pay for his Stratechery newsletter just because I can basically get all my tech news and analysis from one source in a very tightly compressed integrated way, which I wish this was true of all fields. I wish I could just read half a dozen newsletters and be able to ignore all other sources of information.

Tiago Forte:
I think we're moving in that direction, but this kind of speaks to why I'm focused on content creation too is... we live in... seriously, this golden age of content. It's difficult for us to see living in it, and sometimes it can be overwhelming, but at what other time in history, could you just pick up this little black rectangle that you keep in your pocket, and have instant access to all the world's best thinkers.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
It's absolutely insane, and this is why... the Second Brain idea is so needed. Now, the bottleneck is not scarcity of information, it's not hard to acquire information like it used to be, it's you. You were the bottleneck. Your physical flesh and blood brain is the bottleneck, so the only thing to do is to expand that bottleneck by having a second brain.

Ian Lenny:
Yes. Totally. Yeah, I couldn't agree more. I mean, that's why I really was excited to talk to you. I've gotten so much deeper into this as I've... early in my career was less into knowledge work, and now I'm just super heavy into it. It's just become a necessity, so I'm always looking for ways to better [inaudible 00:29:19] information. So talking specifically about this Second Brain course, what would you say are the... biggest benefits that people are consistently getting on using this course, whether they're coming from brand new, not really with the note taking system, to maybe upgrading what they currently use.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. I love that framing actually. It's really not building from scratch, it's upgrading. There's no one that actually is able to keep it all in their head.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Right? Like if you were to get the average anywhere, in any country and follow them around, their using dozens of thinking tools, right? They have a post-it note on the fridge with a grocery list. They have some notes on their phone with a book to buy. They have their agenda, they have their calendar, I mean even email and any information on your computer, it's all a way of expanding your ability to think using external tools. So really, it's about... it's not about whether you will have a second brain, it's about how good of one you will have.

Ian Lenny:
That's totally-

Tiago Forte:
And there's a series of stages that people move through. So initially, the main benefit is just the solution to information overload, right? When new information impacts you, it enters your awareness as it does all day long. Instead of you having to decide "Okay, how am I going to memorize this? How am I going to remember it? What do I do with it?" It just gets instantly routed to the second brain. To your note taking app, and you're free to just think about what you actually want to think about. To intake, to decide what you want to intake rather than just being this wide open door for anyone to [crosstalk 00:31:00]

Tiago Forte:
But then, as you go from there, there's different things that open up, right? So what do you do with this now empty space in your head. This wonderful empty space.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
What most people find, part of what you want to do is just work less, take things easy, have more self care, spend some more time with your friends and family, just live a more balanced life and people do report that. They just have more time. They have more freedom, but then what I often see is soon after that, they go, "You know what? I actually want to have more impact," or "I want to take on more ambitious challenges. Or I want to create something." It's like... nature abhors a vacuum, so you want to fill that empty bandwidth with something.

Tiago Forte:
But then once again, that's where the second brain really becomes most powerful, because you're not just like, "Oh, let me create from nothing, a blank canvas." You have this second brain full of all these ideas and insights, and inspirations, and examples, and metaphors, and research and all these things. That's your creative raw material. Those are your Lego blocks that you can then take out and just start... putting together into little configurations ad see what comes out of it. So there's kind of... there's a painkiller side, where we have to address your day to day challenges first, right? Because if you try to create new things without changing any of the way you work, you're already overwhelmed. That's not going to to work.

Tiago Forte:
So first, we have to fix the overwhelm, and then we transition you from consuming things, from consuming information to creating. Really take on this identity of a creator and a maker once you see how much material you have to work with.

Ian Lenny:
That's interesting. I didn't realize that it had that side of the... a Building a Second Brain, also maybe gave people some of the steps they need to get into the content creation side. Really tap creation, how does that work? Can you give us a little, a preview or a flavor of what types of steps or frameworks you give your students? Or moving to that creation side of the equation?

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. Yeah, you know, it definitely takes some time, and it's a bit of a journey, but... what I usually recommend is before you get into pure creation, to start with curation. Right? So curation, which is just getting the best of what already exists and just curating it. Chasing it, selecting the best of what's out there on a given topic, and presenting that as a top 10 list, a special selection, some sort of special thing you've chosen.

Tiago Forte:
That is sort of like the lowest rung of creativity. I don't want to say lowest, because it does take a lot of creativity, but before you have your own material, your own products, just find the best of what's out there. In a way, that's what I did with my first course, I just said, "Look, this isn't me. This isn't my idea at all. This is David Allen, this is a best selling book. Let me just tell you what's in the book." I was curating the book for people. But other ways are people get on social media and they just share the best of what they found.

Tiago Forte:
If you're really interested in the field. If you're really interested sneakers, right? You have this background knowledge, this expertise, you probably don't even realize what? You know what to look for. You know what's rare, what's not. You know what the prices should be like. You know where to find these sneakers, right? To someone not in the sneaker world, all of that knowledge is like incredibly interesting and incredibly hard to come by. So you start curating, you create a top 10 list. You create a YouTube video of the best five things you found. You create a course where you teach the five methods that work the best, whatever it is.

Tiago Forte:
There's a very natural transition from curation to creation, right? Because you're curating, you're like, "Oh, here's the best of what's out there, and here's what I think." It's what you think, what you believe becomes an extra layer, and extra filter and soon, that becomes a product within itself.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, no that's awesome. That's great, because I kind of naturally done that before. That's how I've always approached the first steps, and content creation is really being very particular about what resources you're going to pull from, and how you're going to formulate ideas. What's the framework? Where you getting raw material? But I never, never really acknowledge it I guess, or given myself any credit for when I'm doing that. Because it is, you're right, it's such a big part of equation. Even if it's the lowest rung on creativity, it still takes quite a bit of thought to put together a real curated listed of any type of resources.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, and what you just said is the curse of the expert. It's the curse of knowledge. It's like the very expertise that you have, because you have it, it seems less valuable

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, yeah.

Tiago Forte:
Right? It's like, "Oh yeah, I know all about whatever it is." Doesn't everyone? That's... in the back of our head, that's how we think. "Oh this is obvious. This is easy. This is the basic stuff." But the basic stuff to you is not basic to everyone else. It's really interesting and sophisticated. So a big part of... you have to overcome the curse of knowledge, and just see the value of what you have already. And honestly, it keeps coming back to note taking. That's a purpose of note taking, is once you blah, put it from your brain onto the page, once that page becomes 20 pages, you can no longer say, "Oh, I don't know that much. I'm still a novice. I'm not really and expert." You have 20 pages.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it's like a small workload or something.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. No totally. I totally agree with that. That's interesting man. So you do talk about this content curation. You give your strategies and steps, and all this in your course. That's one of the things that you go over?

Tiago Forte:
We don't... I don't know if we really talk about curation specifically, it's more implicit, you know? Like what? So when I have people go through the process of practicing saving notes, many of those notes are things that occur to you in the shower, or walking down the street. So really, most of notes... most of the notes come from outside sources, right? Like they're highlights, passages from books you're reading, articles you're reading. Quotes from podcasts you listen to. It's... snapshots of web pages, or apps that you're using.

Tiago Forte:
There's this constant churn of things that you are just absorbing and consuming and digesting already. You're already doing that. All I'm saying is take a few minutes at the end to just hit save on that, and to just start funneling it to one place, because if you just start... I show in the course, the process of writing a post. How I can draw on all these different notes, and people are like, "Oh, well you have thousands of notes." You know, I have something like 6,000 notes taken, captured over six or seven years.

Tiago Forte:
You know, I don't have that. I don't have so much to work with, but if you divide the number of notes by the number of days, that's... my longterm average is only two notes per day. You create two notes per day, you're at the pace that I keep. And two notes, I mean, just think of the past 24 hours, did you read article that you thought was interesting. Did you see on tweet that was worth saving? Did you see one Instagram photo that could be useful somehow? Do you have one thought that you'd like to revisit? Just two, just save two of those and you're golden.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, that's interesting. yeah, I have a ton of those. I definitely do take a ton of notes, write up a lot of thoughts I'll have, things like this. One thing I noticed though is over time, how do you avoid just having the same thought or note? Because it's not like you're [inaudible 00:39:05] all your self, is there any way to avoid that, because I know I would have the same thought every three days repeated 100 times or whatever.

Tiago Forte:
You know, I actually find that that happens less.

Ian Lenny:
Okay.

Tiago Forte:
Because when you... I mean, this goes back to David Allen's work. When you have what he calls an open loop, right? So you go, "Oh," let's just say, "I'd really love to open a restaurant one day." Right? If you don't do anything with that, it's like a little loop. It's like a little thought, background process running in your brain that just keeps running and running. It has nowhere to go, it has no resolution. There's no sense of completion, so it just keeps going, and what Allen discovered and what I with tasks, and I what I discovered with ideas, is once you just offload those, and just get them off your brain, it's like the brain can let go.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
You can let go from that open loop, and then it stops recurring, right? Then the brain is like, "Oh, we don't have to keep track of that anymore. What else is there? What else can we dream up? What else can we ponder?" So I find it's almost like this river system. It's like the more I can send things downstream, the faster the flow increases.

Ian Lenny:
Oh okay, that's interesting. That's interesting. It's like a idea throughput Cool.

Tiago Forte:
It is. It really is.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. I have a bunch of questions about some of the stuff you get into here. Would you mind, I'm so embarrassed, would you mind holding on? I got to go grab a plug for this laptop, it's about to die.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, yeah. Go for it.

Ian Lenny:
I'll be right... there we go. Back recording. So okay, so we were talking about the throughput for ideas, and one of the things I'm wondering about is in the course, besides the system for note taking, and this second brain course, are there anything... are there any other stuff that you give people. I was... we were talking about doing curation as a basic form of content creation. Are there any other steps that you give people for how they can use these ideas, once they've already recorded them?

Tiago Forte:
Oh yeah. I mean, there's so many ways. There's so many ways.

Ian Lenny:
Okay.

Tiago Forte:
Besides living in a golden age of content, we live in a golden age of content creation tools.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
You know? It used to be that you... it was so hard to learn a specific tool to become skilled in a creative medium that you, your whole job was to find is that. We used to have writer. Writer was a thing, right? That... you just wrote, that's all you did. That was your whole profession. Now, writing is just... and we still authors of course, but mostly writing is built into everything else. Writing is part of marketing. Writing is a part of accounting. Writing is a part of PR. Writing is everything. Engineering, and the same thing is happening with all the other creative mediums.

Tiago Forte:
Now you can make videos so easily. I have a YouTube channel, I don't publish a ton, but I can just shoot a little workshop with my iPhone, cut it together in an hour and have a video. Think of what it used to mean to be a filmmaker, or a photographer. That was like a lifelong profession.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
I think people haven't woken up to this. They still think learning graphic design, you have to become a designer, you don't. I do most of my design, I always get so many compliments on it. They're like, "Who did you hire?" They're like, "Did you study graphic design in school?" No I buy templates on creativemarket.com for $19 for 100 slide templates, and then I put them in Keynote, and then I do all the design, just within Keynote. Then I export as an image, and that becomes all my material. It's... really not as hard as people think.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah.

Tiago Forte:
So the bottleneck is no longer the tool. The bottleneck has moved to the ideas. Right? Now that anyone can write, anyone can do a video, anyone can make design, now you can say anything. What do you want to say? Do you actually have something to say? Do you actually... have you thought about something deep enough that you have something to say. So this is why I think ideation, the creative process of developing an idea, is now the most important part, because once you do that and you have this idea that's interesting, that's refined, that's well crafted, there's an infinite number of platforms.

Tiago Forte:
You know, think of every social media platform is just like a hungry beast looking for ideas, right? And the beasts have to be fed. They all want to know, "Okay, what's the next thing? Who's the new up and comer? What's the new way of thinking? What's the new perspective? What's the new song? What's the new movie?" And if you can just develop an idea to that point, you don't have all these hungry monsters that you can feed your idea to. Your idea will then become available to just an unimaginable number of people.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. No, totally. Totally. I 100% agree. The refine the part is definitely the real value that people bring to that nowadays, because yeah, like you said, everything else is... you can Lego block it together pretty much. So...

Tiago Forte:
Yeah, or else hire someone so affordably. You know, you can get a really legit graphic designer overseas for very affordable price. Videography is more expensive, but you can have that handled. It's like we live in a world of contractors and on demand services. What is still so scarce is a real new idea that has been proven and validated, and refined in that way.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah, that's awesome. So this will probably be one of my last main questions, is for people to get better at this, because you've made it pretty clear that in today's world of work, this ability to do this with ideas is crucial. Pretty much regardless of what you're doing. So is there any type of skills. I know for example, you mentioned Just in Time Learning, are there any frameworks for thinking or skills people should have that will better equip the to do this with ideas. Really develop them to the point that they're a product.

Tiago Forte:
Yeah. I mean, I would tell them the most succinct version of my method, which is you can remember it with the acronym CODE. C-O-D-E. That stands for Capture, Organize, Distill and Express. These are the four parts that we move through in the course. First capture, is just any time something occurs to you, take out your phone, or if you're at your computer, open up a note taking app, and really, any note taking app works fine and write it down. You know? Until you respect and value your ideas enough to just save them, no one else is going to respect your ideas.

Tiago Forte:
Second one is organize, so a simple way of describing, I have a whole system for this, it's called Tara, but the simple version is make a list of your projects, right? Every project that you're committed to, even if it's really, really small and create folders, or in some cases, they're called notebook for each of those projects, and then use those folders to organize your notes. Don't organize them by topic like psychology, marketing, health, stuff like that. That would just lead to an endless number of folders.

Tiago Forte:
Organize them by the specific projects you are working on now. Ask yourself, where will this note be most useful? And then put it in there. Distilled just means, so the thing with notes is they're long, right? With a task, it's always just a few words. It's like one line, but a note, a single note could be pages and pages long. Right? If it's say your highlights from a book that you read, and so to be able to work with those in a fluid way, you have to summarize them. There has to be... what is the main point?

Tiago Forte:
And I have another method that I have, there's a free post on my blog called Progressive Summarization, that your readers can check out, which is basically just highlight. It's highlights, there's more to it, but essentially, it's highlight the main points from the article, so that next time you come across it, you'll be able to just see what are the main points?

Tiago Forte:
Then Express is basically just what we've been talking about, you need to share it. Don't create this private collection of secret knowledge like you're a hoarder, you know? Those people who just keep every candy bar wrapper, every to go box, every pizza box underneath their bed. Don't do that with knowledge. Knowledge is most powerful and most valuable when it's shared. When it's actually moving and alive out in the world. So I really insist, people... your notes are zero value until you share them.

Tiago Forte:
Don't stockpile, you know, write blog posts, do videos, get on podcasts or even things like bring them up in conversation, or bring them up in meetings with your team. Or apply them in your life, like if you read something from a self improvement book, actually conduct an experiment to put that into practice. There's infinite ways of using it and applying it, but you have to express it somehow, so those four steps together are the second brain code.

Ian Lenny:
Nice. I like it. Definitely something people would use. Well man, I have so many questions. I can obviously just go all day, but I'll leave it here. Is there anything that I forgot to talk about, or I should've asked you that I didn't, or that you'd like to talk about briefly before we wrap this up?

Tiago Forte:
Gosh man. We should do a part two, we should do a follow up sometime. There's a lot more we can cover, but that was a pretty good overview. I guess the one thing would be if people want to find out more, they can check out my website. My company is called Forte Labs. That's F-O-R-T-E L-A-B-S.co, not .com. .co and that's kind of the portal to my online courses, my e-books, my blog, my workshop, really everything about me you can find there. And on Twitter at @fortelabs is where I'm most active online, and I'd love to hear from your listeners.

Ian Lenny:
Yeah. Definitely, and we definitely should do a part two. I'll have to get more of this system going. Maybe go through the Building a Second Brain course and see if I can implement it a little bit in my workflow and maybe we can talk about... I can get some tips on how what I'm doing wrong. So...

Tiago Forte:
Absolutely, let's do it.

Ian Lenny:
Definitely. Cool man. Well thanks for coming on. I appreciate it. I'm going to... listen and then we can chat after.

← View all posts