IndieThinkers 101: Basic Principles

The Indie Thinker sits at the intersection of academia, agile tech startups, and the media business. Principles: extreme evergreen, inputs are outputs, quantity is a quality all its own, redundancy is a virtue, flywheels, lateral networking, doing things that don't scale, and seizing moments.

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Introduction

What I'm going to do today is give you a bunch of the principles I've learned, that seemed to be really crucial in how and why embarking on an independent intellectual career outside of all institutions is actually more advantageous. I'm gonna try to explain this logic in a way that I've never really put down in one place. So that's, that's the purpose of, of this talk today. I'm gonna try to give you all the kind of key principles of why I think things work like this and, and spell it out really concretely, 'cause apparently not many other people see this yet. So I want to make the case and explain what I've, what I've... Not only been observing but what I've been practicing with success. So I have been doing a kind of full time, uh, in, you know, internet, intellectualism kind of for a couple of years now and so I do have a pretty good database of what works and what doesn't work, so.

Before I do that though, I should give a little bit of context briefly for people who might not have any idea of what I'm talking about. Maybe you're here 'cause you're just curious. You know, what is even an independent intellectual, what do I mean by that? Or how is that different from just like any other random internet persona that you see out there? And I would say that the defining characteristics of the, of, of what I call an intellectual or in this case an independent intellectual, is pretty much that we are interested in genuine disinterested research or practice of some kind or another. So if you're an artist, I comp that kind of within this umbrella, you're pursuing a certain kind of truth and you don't really care if it's valuable on the market or not. You're not actually trying to sell anything concretely valuable in the short term. That's one of the defining characteristics.

So that's what separates an intellectual from, let's say, like these like digital marketers that you see out in the world trying to sell you an ebook or whatever on how you're going to like make more money. Um, they're selling a real product that you're going to buy because you think it's going to give you, it's going to make you more money like next year. Um, so that's the defining characteristic I think of the intellectual, the, the intellectual is pursuing a longterm truth of some kind, whether it be artistic or scientific or philosophical. It's, it's genuinely disinterested. You're trying to solve a puzzle, whether or not it makes anyone money in the short term, and that presents particular puzzles. If you're going to build a project on the internet and be... have impact and also be financially successful, you can't really do all the tactics in the same exact way as digital marketers or tech startups or whatever.

Um, but we can learn from those other disciplines. And that's essentially what I have done over the past few years, is I've studied a bunch of different adjacent kind of internet practices to try to take from them what I, whatever I can to try to carve out a new type of viable financially successful model for this type of more intellectual life, the disinterested longterm life. Okay. And what I want to do is I have some slides here for you, uh, that will help me, uh, walk you through some things. So what I was saying just a minute ago is that the independent intellectual or the intellectual in general is absolutely distinct from let's say someone just building a tech startup or someone who's doing all the kind of, uh, digital marketing tactics, which many of you fami- are familiar with, like, you know, aggressive popups asking for your email and building email lists and, um, you know, selling, selling these things like eBooks and online courses, right?

Unfortunately, all of those spaces are currently overpopulated with pretty much just people looking to make money as much money as possible in the short term by selling you whatever they can sell you. And what I think the independent intellectual needs to do to really be viable and successful both in terms of impact and financially is steal from these other disciplines. All of the knowledge of what really works of the mechanisms and the principles that those other kind of adjacent domains are, are using, but twist them a little bit for a longer term disinterested, a higher brow educated, sophisticated type of intellectual project.

Indie Thinkers are at the intersection of academia, agile tech startups, and the media business

And so the way that I think about this is the independent intellectual or what I will call the indie thinker just for short is pretty much the center of the Venn diagram between academia on the one hand, right? Academia is all about longterm research, disinterested truth-seeking, at least it's supposed to be right, and teaching, right? And, and, and also creating community of educated intellectual types of people doing educated intellectual types of things, right? So on the one hand you have academia research, disinterested, longterm and sophisticated and community, right?

With the new kind of tech startup culture that we're, that we're observing, these people have figured out a lot of really, really sound and powerful principles for how to start a creative business and to do it in a way that is flexible and fast and where you prioritize learning from mistakes and you have a very kind of open mind. A very kind of scientific method type of attitude towards launching your business. So the whole idea of these, of this new type of lean agile startups, uh, and in particular there's a kind of subset of these lean agile startups, which they call kind of bootstrap startups or, um, indie hackers for instance, that the phrase indie thinkers, by the way, I kind of took from, uh, this other subculture of what they call indie hackers, which is pretty much solo entrepreneurs basically building small tech businesses but often too large sums of money each month, making very good money in this kind of very lean, very agile bootstrapped method with no venture capital, no external support or institutional support.

Okay. So I've learned so much from the indie hacker community about how to launch successful, impactful and financially sustainable projects on the internet. But, um, again, I, I'm, I'm twisting it all to fit the goals of disinterested, longterm research work. Um, so that's on the, that's the second prong. And then the third prong finally is essentially the media business because ultimately the intellectual on the internet is producing media at the end of the day. Either text or video or audio or all three of those things. And you know, the media business has something in common with academia, right? They both kind of seem like they're sinking ships, right?

So, um, what I'm trying to do to build a viable intellectual model that doesn't require institutions is to pretty much, um, disintermediate or, or peel off from academia and the media business, the core value propositions that aren't going to go away, the, the core, um, offerings of these two traditional worlds, um, to take those with us and disintermediate them, figure out how we can essentially serve those demands. And... but in a way that is going to be more agile and more sustainable and effective than these mega, traditional, large institutional formats that are, I think, obviously dying.

So it's a matter of finding the, the gold nuggets on the Titanic and, and plucking those off for our own kind of creative, intellectual, independent platforms and projects while letting the, letting the sinking ships go, the sinking ships of academia and, and the media business. Okay? And so I think at the center of that Venn diagram is what I'm call... is what I'm referring to as the indie thinker or the independent intellectual. And I really do think that, um, if you are able to extract the principles of, you know, this, this, the center of the Venn diagram, if you're able to take what's true and what really works from these three different spheres and, and let go of all the other junk, then you really do have a viable model, and that's essentially what I have been iterating on for almost three years now.

And, and I should say, by the way, folks, you know, I'm not super rich. I'm not like super, you know, I, I'm just barely staying afloat. But to stay afloat and, and be doing okay and for your income to be growing as mine is, then I, I feel like that's enough to say like I have, I've had good results. You know, this is not a get rich quick scheme whatsoever. I think in all times in places, if you're interested in being a true intellectual, you pretty much have to be prepared to make a relatively low amounts of money. Now I s- I actually think that we might be able to figure out ways where you're going to see independent intellectuals make even much more money than academics do currently. I honestly think it's in the cards over the next few years, but this is, this is, this is early in the game is the early stages. I'm essentially trying to build a, or invent, um, perhaps not invent because other people are doing this also, but kind of give explicit strategic consciousness to something that is still very early, early days.

Okay. So, uh, this is not a get rich quick scheme. I'm not going to teach you the 10 principles that's going to help you to make $1 million being a internet philosopher. No, I'm sorry, maybe one day. But, uh, just to be perfectly clear, but what I am going to teach you, I think what I have worked out for myself through much trial and error and there were very kind of scientific attitude is the key, uh, just a few of the key principles that I think are most important for taking someone who is just kind of dabbling in intellectual work on the internet and, and bringing them to, uh, a new kind of mentality and a new system that is going to be growing much more rapidly, have much more impact and at least be on the path to serious financial independence. I mean, I am, I can at least say that I am doing all of this stuff full time and I am uh, paying all my bills. So not even many people can say that. So that's my only kind of claim to authority here.

All right. Okay. So I'm just going to go with somewhat rapid fire. As I said, I want to make this quick and efficient for you folks. A quick reference you guys can come back to if you want to. I'm not going to give you some long, long winded thing. First of all, the... one of the major advantages of doing a kind of signi- serious, honest, disinterested type of intellectual model in terms of, you know, internet activity on the internet is, it's extremely long lasting material. So this is something I'm kind of stealing from the digital marketing folks, but extending in, in a somewhat unique way.

Eight principles providing unique leverage for indie thinkers

Intellectual content is extremely evergreen

Digital marketers have this concept of evergreen. Uh, evergreen content is content that is not occasional, it's not timely. It's kind of useful at, uh, at all times. And what I want to suggest to you is that it's a kind of intrinsic, uh, super power, if you will, of people that are doing truly disinterested, longterm research work, that our content is extremely evergreen, like much more evergreen even than what digital marketers call evergreen content.

And as digital marketers will tell you the value of evergreen content, of course, is that it's going to be useful and it's going to draw attention and draw an audience and deliver value over time, um, as opposed to, you know, if you write an ebook that's about like how to optimize some software system. Well, that's all for system changes every year. So that ebook, maybe it'll make a lot of money and when you launch it, but it's not going to last, right? It's quickly going to become obsolete. And that's a problem with a lot of the work that people do on the internet to make money. Uh, that's a major problem is, i-i -it's, it's constantly being, uh, out of date.

But what's cool about doing longterm research work, and especially if it's truly disinterested, is that it's, it's eternal. Generally. It leans towards the eternal. And, uh, just like digital marketers will tell you, evergreen content is kind of uniquely valuable because it, it delivers value. Even when you're done with it, even after you publish it, it will deliver value over time, uh, because it's, it's relatively, uh, sturdy and, and it's kind of temporal, uh, dimension.

The... I would say that for intellectuals doing disinterested intellectual work, uh, this is true tenfold and this is something you should really be aware of because it, what it means is that when you work really hard on that blog post or that video or whatever, um, developing an idea or explaining a philosophy or, or what have you, if you're doing really highbrow, educated, sophisticated intellectual work, the chances are that's going to be valuable for a very long time, possibly for the rest of your life. Okay? So we have this advantage of, of doing content that is often extremely evergreen and that's something that you should be aware of because it's, it's an advantage that, uh, intellectuals have over other types of, uh, kind of internet creators.

Even inputs are outputs, or research is production

Another principle moving down the list is, what? I would just summarize as research is production. And what I mean by this is that when you are doing creative intellectual work on, as part of an internet system, everything you do to prepare for some type of project or output is itself potentially output. And I think when you really see how far this goes, it's pretty radical and it's, and its implications because, um, we have this tendency to think of the output as the thing that matters. And as academics we absolutely are, are trained to think this way. It's just a natural way of thinking that, um, you know, if I'm working on a pure reviewed scientific article that I plan to publish for in a journal, all that really matters is getting that publication and having that finished product out in the world and getting the, the, you know, status benefits that come from that and hopefully the impact of people reading it and citing it.

But in the internet game it's completely different. And you know, it might take you two or three weeks of full time work to collect citations, to work on this paper, to do data analysis, to publish your scientific paper. All of those steps that in academia are in the shadows, private secret. No one sees it then no one hears of them. Um, and in fact it's kind of, it's like low status Steven share them, right? If you're, um, you know, if you are trying to make too much, you know, content out of what is seen as, you know, just uh, the raw sausage, then it's kind of like, what do you, why are you wasting your time with that?

Whereas on the internet, it's completely different when you're pursuing an internet i-intellectual life. Then how you research for the article that you want to write or how you researched for the blog posts that you want to write or if you're writing a book, whatever, how you're doing, all of that work is really of interest to people.

So it's like, I'll give you an example. When I was writing The Base [inaudible 00:15:43] book, which is a quintessential kind of internet intellectual output, I would do things like just tweet quotes or whatever or, you know, find a nice picture of [inaudible 00:15:56] and, uh, you know, tweet the, the quote that I encountered in the writing of the book that I thought was really nice quote that people haven't heard of it. Maybe it's a, it's a neglected quote. It's a puzzling quote. Um, but I thought it was really interesting in that moment and I thought other people would find it interesting too. And so in the internet model, in the indie thinker model, that is absolutely part of the production process as much as the final product, uh, in a way that just doesn't hold true in, in academia.

And again, it's a, it's a benefit. It's an advantage when you, when you see that everything you do is potential, it's potentially valuable content and then you start building the habits or the practices of, of producing that stuff as content. And there are many examples of this. You can see people who are doing this kind of stuff. Um, if you look at for instance, the Twitter account Wrath of Gnon, you might've heard of him or seen him, his staple output are these, um, quotes with pictures.

But they're really good. They're just, they're just interesting. Often aesthetic. It's kind of art criticism or, or architecture criticism but it's, it's, it's a good perspective. It's a sophisticated perspective with a genuine uh, attitude, a genuine style, a genuine perspective that is developed over time on this Twitter account, Wrath of Gnon and it's valuable, it's fun to see, it's enjoyable, it's stimulating and, and, and it teaches you something and it's a, it's an actual constant contribution to how we understand architecture or how we, how we see things. And that's just one example.

So if you're going to be doing, uh, an internet intellectual project, you have to see every part of the research process, even the earliest stages as having potentially valuable content, potentially valuable things to share. And um, in, in particular also another example would be teaching how to do things right. Um, people love to learn how to do things. And this is not a n- a new weird niche internet thing. This is also academia, right? This is disintermediating the functions of academia because the professor of course is a researcher, but then also teaches students how to do research. So again, what I'm talking about is porting the academic principles into the internet. So if you're writing an ebook, everything you learn about how to write that ebook or anything you learned along the way, sharing that on Twitter or on your blog or whatever is as, as much a part of the output as anything. Okay?

And that's something that academics can't do because it's just seen as one, they're too busy doing [inaudible 00:18:34] and [inaudible 00:18:34], but two it just seen as low status and it's just seen as not legit or not valuable. Whereas on the internet people really just want what is interesting and valuable and they want as much of it as possible.

Quantity is a quality all its own

Which brings me to the next point or the next principle, which is that quantity has a quality all of its own. And when I talk with people, when people email me about, you know, wanting to get some sort of intellectual project off the ground, I, I think one of the most common hurdles that I observe, one of the most common kind of self-defeating perceptions that a lot of people have is that they think their early products or their early outputs have to be really good.

And I think the way they think about it often is maybe I don't have a huge following. People don't really know who I am. So I need to make a piece of work that is going to make a splash and really impress people. There's going to be, I'm going to put out a new piece of work. It's going to be so good that it's going to get me a bunch of followers, is going to gave me a lot of respect. And then from there I can do more with that. But honestly, this is not how it works. I really think this is a self-defeating way of thinking about it for a few reasons.

First of all, on the internet, only a small number of your followers are even ever going to see the one thing that you put out. It's just a sad fact. It's a bit frustrating. It's a bit sad, but, um, there are ways around it. So, so don't be defeated by it. But it's the simple fact, if you put a hundred hours into writing an amazing blog post, but you don't have that many followers and you know, uh, you're kind of new to the game, it is a perfectly possible outcome that only 10 people read that amazing blog post. And that's simply because, you know, when you tweet something, for instance, if you tweet a link to your blog posts, only a small number of, of your followers are even going to see it. It's not like everyone in your audience or everyone who technically follows you by definition sees everything that you put out. It just doesn't work like that. Um, it's in part because of algorithms, it's in part just because of scarcity of attention.

And so what this means is that... so, so that, that's one point here, one sub point here, but another sub point here is that you're going to get better over time. So trying to put a lot of effort into making your first few products or your first few outputs really, really high quality is probably not the best thing to do because you, you can get to a higher level of quality just by doing a larger number of products over time. Okay? Um, and the reason is because to really increase your quality, you need feedback, you need, you need, you need, uh, a response from, from the world. And by feedback I don't necessarily mean qualitative human judgment. I don't mean people reading it and giving you their opinions. Although that can be helpful for sure. I mean feedback from the world, like you need to post something into the world and then you need to see how many people are reading it. Are people leaving comments?

And uh, that's what I mean by, by, by external feedback, you need to get into that groove, into that cycle of putting stuff out, seeing what plays and getting that kind of constant feedback from the world to, to increase your quality over time. But quality in many dimensions right now. Just quality in terms of, you know, the rigor and the substance and, and, and these types of traditional markers of quality, but also quality in terms of framing quality in terms of how to be efficient, how to get the point across in the most effective and useful way for people. How these sorts of things, how to work efficiently. Those are all qualities, um, that you, that you only really build up through doing things multiple times.

And so when you take these two observations together, the fact that only a small number of people are even going to see your output on the internet and that you get better and better at things through every project cycle. Then to me, everything points at the principle of, at least in the early stages, maximize quantity and not quality. I mean obviously do your best but don't over optimize, don't try to be perfect. Just try to do your best level of quality that you can do without too much stress or anxiety or you know, double checking, triple checking, you know. And other than that, other than just maintaining your, your basic good quality, uh, to, to the best of your ability with a good conscience, you know, you're doing your best pretty much just how it should feel, but you're not worrying too much either.

After that, just maximize for quantity, uh, because every new thing you put out is going to, uh, increase the number of people who are even getting a glimpse into the fact that you're doing something. And that's really what you want to, uh, increase, uh, as soon as possible is, is just all the people who are connected to you. You want them to know that you're working on something. They don't have to love it at first. They don't have to even appreciate it at first. But you want to, you want to, uh, quickly increase the number of people around you who are at least aware that you're working on a project, uh, so that when a few weeks down the line, when you have a product that comes out, like, and I'm using the word product because we, it could be anything, right? It could be a blog post. It could be YouTube videos, whatever you do, um, you'll have that base of awareness such that when you, let's say accidentally put out something that's just really, really good, then you'll have that base of awareness where people will, um, understand that you're doing something and then they'll be more likely to kind of, uh, appreciate it and celebrate or share or whatever that that particularly good item. Okay?

So all of this says to me, I, I really do believe this and I've practiced it myself, that you want to be as ambitious as possible in terms of putting out as much content in terms of quantity and not stress about quality. Just do your best. And even if your best is not great, it's okay. Even if you're, even if you feel self conscious, like you're, you're mediocre, you're not that smart, you're not a great writer or you're not very good at whatever medium you are working on, it's okay. Just accept it. People will respect you for being honest. People respect you for putting yourself out there, even if it's kind of embarrassing.

And look, the other thing to keep in mind is that in the worst case scenario, I talk about this all the time. The very worst thing that can happen is that everyone ignores it. If you really suck, if you're really stupid, then no one's going to criticize you and no one's going to look down on you. They're just not going to pay attention because it sucks. But that's okay. Um, that's not a punishment. Nothing bad really happens, if you put out stuff that's not great. Uh, but if you commit to quantity and you commit to being consistent, you're going to get better. It's impossible for you to not get better if you're being conscious about it and you're trying to put out more and more stuff and you're trying to do, you know, better and better each time, so in the early stages, really focus on quantity. Don't worry about quality.

As you gained some traction later, you're going to naturally want to change that allocation. Uh, you're going to want to put a little bit more time into quality because you have the base of an audience that is highly likely to appreciate it. You can count on them valuing it and appreciating it. Uh, in the early days, you just need to hustle to get pupil to even be aware of what you're doing and to get better at what you're doing. So quantity over quality in the early days. You could shift that a bit later.

Redundancy is a virtue

The next key principle that I have observed is that redundancy is a virtue. And again, this is the exact opposite of academia and many other disciplines, or at least it's exact opposite of what they tell you in other disciplines. In academia, you know, if you kind of salami slice your research articles and all of your articles are kind of about the same thing and, and they're really just slightly different angles on what is essentially just one idea and that's all you do then for a long time, uh, it's not a good look. Um, but on the internet precisely because of the, the facts that I was just describing about how, um, because of the algorithms and just because of the nature of, you know, attention being all over the place, it's only a small number of people in your audience who want to see your work or even going to see your work when you put it out for that reason, repeating yourself somewhat is not a bad thing. It really isn't a bad thing.

And, um, another thing to note though is that when you're pursuing a longterm intellectual life on the internet, the fact is you don't really know half of what you're hoping to know. So much of your content is going to be groping towards something that's just the nature of long-term scientific or artistic or philosophical work. You're, you have an ambitious kind of vision. You can kind of see in your mind a certain idea and you're, and you're fighting to grasp it. You're fighting to get to it. You're fighting to fully model it and fully understand it and be able to describe it or explain it or perform it. And that's just the nature of of a longterm, serious intellectual life. And this is something like people on the internet, like marketers don't understand. Other people don't understand this about our particular type of, of project on the internet.

Because of that, because you yourself don't even fully know where you're going, redundancy is all the more virtue, because in that redundancy, when you're repeating yourself somewhat on certain themes, you're not really repeating yourself. You're, you're rarely going to say the same exact thing over and over again. And then by the way, that's not what I'm saying. I'm not saying literally develop like certain talking points and say them and write them over and over again verbatim. I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is that working on certain themes over and over again, finding new ways to express an idea that you have and, and talking about it and writing about it frequently is a virtue. That kind of redundancy is a virtue both because half of the time, half of your audience isn't going to see any one particular thing that you put out. So you have to kind of say something 10 times in different formats and different media over time just for your whole audience to have heard it at least one time.

That's the first reason redundancy is a virtue and it's similar to the, to the previous point. But the other reason is that in the redundancy you are figuring out your own ideas better. You're making actual intellectual progress on that redundancy. And this is a beautiful, this is a beautiful synergy between the last point and this point about quantity and redundancy. It's kind of a blessing honestly, that your whole audience doesn't see what you put out each time you put it out because it incentivizes you to work over time on certain things with consistency. And it's kind of, it's, it's sort of an internet version of what happens in academia where when you're a professor, you teach certain classes, right? Uh, and they're usually, you teach a set of classes, usually like an average professor will teach the same class every year or every other year. Maybe they have two different classes that they alternate, but every professor more or less has, you know, somewhere between one and three classes that they do over and over again on some sort of cycle.

And because of that, they get really good at talking about those topics and they become experts and they become a kind of smooth, effective teacher and speaker on those topics precisely because they are repeating it to do a different class each year. And this is... What I'm describing now is pretty much how to, how to develop this type of longterm practice on the internet. As an indi- as an independent intellectual, it's basically doing the same thing that i-it's stealing the same type of privilege of practice that, that professors have, um, but for the internet.

And it's really important that I tell you this because a lot of people have a naive notion where they think they shouldn't be repeating themselves because I dunno, they have stupid ideas about how they think everything has to be super unique and everything has to be super original. And if you want to be a real intellectual, then every time you speak or write a blog post, it's going to be some genius, novel idea that no one's ever heard of and that you've never talked about before and that you're just going to be like this constant fountain of completely, um, you know, novel sui generis insights.

No, it doesn't work like that. It doesn't have to work like that and you don't want it to work like that. Um, it's actually good to have a few themes that you're constantly talking about constantly working on 'cause every time you do it, it's going to be, it is going to actually be a little bit different. You're going to be making actual progress in this way. You're going to be developing a kind of expertise and a kind of authority in speaking about these things 'cause you've fricking talked about them so much and it's only through that way that you're going to actually get your word out to your audience anyway. Okay? So yes, redundancy is a virtue.

Flywheels

The next key principle that I think a lot of, uh, intellectual types don't fully understand is this concept of the flywheel. And this comes from kind of the tech startup culture. I think it was Amazon that really popularized this idea of the flywheel. There's a famous, uh, there's some famous diagrams you can find about Amazon's flywheel. This was, uh, the flywheel was a kind of a strategic principle of how Amazon was built. And the idea is very, very simple. It's basically just that you want to create systems, whether you're running a business or you're running an intellectual career, you want to create systems in which results in one part of the system feedback into other parts of the system in a positive feedback way. It's essentially just the idea of positive feedback.

So for Amazon it's a bit more complicated 'cause it's a complex business, right? But the Amazon model would be something like, um, you know, uh, l-lower prices bring, uh, better customer, more customers, right? Lower prices bring more customers, um, and the greater customers allows them to their prices or something like that, they actually have a somewhat complex model. You can find diagrams for that.

Um, but any, anything that has that kind of structure where a result here circles back into the inputs in another part of the system to accelerate the outputs that then feed back into the inputs. So it's just the idea of basic, uh, positive feedbacks, but it's basically systems thinking like you need to think about intellectual work. Uh, you need to build a system. And that's kind of the thing I think that best separates people who are just kind of dabbling in creative intellectual work on the internet. And those who are really embarking on a, on a, on a truly, uh, sustainable kind of growth model. Uh, you have to basically think about the things you do as a system where you're repeating things in a reliable way and in a way that, uh, has these kinds of positive feedback.

So just to give you one example, in the kind of intellectual realm, one example might be the, uh, let's say you have a blog, right? And you're just kind of casually posting on your blog. Well, that's great. You might have, you might be increasing your audience over time. You might get more and more readers more and more interested in what you're saying, but maybe you're not, maybe it just every blog posts you get, you know, a small number of readers and it's more or less stagnant over multiple years. Well that's probably because you don't have any kind of flywheels going.

So a minimal example of a flywheel in this context would be if you introduce an email newsletter for instance, to the system and in that email newsletter you periodically pepper in some links to some of your blog posts that you think are the best blog posts you've written that you really think people would take value from. Notice what changes in just that, that addition of, of one other moving part. Well, when you get more blog readers, you're going to get more email signups and when you pepper your blog post links into your email newsletter, you're going to get more blog traffic, which is going to get you more email signups, which is going to get you more blog traffic. And you see it's a, it's a, it's a positive feedback loop.

So that's an example of a flywheel. I'm very minimal, simple flywheel, but as you, and, and if you have success with that and the, and the flywheel takes hold, then you can think about other ways to bring in other variables into your machinery. And so that's something that, that frankly, I, I think I've done very well. I kind of saw this kind of systems thinking pretty early in my experimentation with doing serious intellectual work on the internet, and it's something that I've built up over time. It just takes time, you know? And uh, so that's pretty much how I'm able to have a podcast and, and a blog and a YouTube channel. I've pretty much designed the system to have, uh, flywheel properties to, to the best of my ability.

And it's going to look very different for different people. But it's just the basic principle here is you have to go from, uh, just dabbling to building actual systems where, where a minimal system is basically understood as some type of, of positive feedback between outputs and inputs somewhere in your systems. That's the basic idea of the flywheel.

Lateral networking

Alright. So the other concept that, uh, or one other concept that I often have found myself talking about when people ask me different types of questions is a certain concept that I've called lateral networking. And this I think comes through most clearly in the podcast world. A lot of people, when they're launching a podcast, they have this mental model of, of how to do a podcast. And the, and the common mental model is you use a podcast to basically get more famous people on your show and in that activity of getting more famous people onto your podcast, your networking up, right? You're making contacts with more powerful people, and those more powerful people generally have bigger audiences. So hopefully they're going to share their podcast appearance on your podcast. They're going to share that with their audience. And by, you know, gradually increasing the status and power of the types of guests that you get. You're going to increase your own power and influence and audience. And if you do that long enough, then you're going to be rich and famous.

I think this idea is really stupid. First of all, it's corny, right? First of all, you can kind of sniff it from a mile away and no one likes this kind of bottom feeder type of person who's just trying to climb their way up through, uh, some social hierarchy by clever, you know, strategic alliances. Um, you know, obviously some people have done it with some results, but I think frankly, um, it just doesn't suit the radical, true, honest, intellectual life. If you're really trying to pursue a longterm intellectual career, you don't want to think like that. First of all, you don't want to act like that. It's just, it's ugly and it's a bit, um, it, it is actually at odds with a genuine, uh, intellectual attitude towards the world. I, I do think that.

Now, I'm not saying you can't do it here and there, um, somewhat. And then there, there, there might come times where sure you want to have someone on your show or you want to have some sort of Alliance with someone or contact with someone for some sort of strategic purpose. I'm not, I'm not, you know, totally crapping on that or whatever. Uh, I'm just saying if that's how you think about doing a podcast or something like this, um, it's, it's going to, uh, really mislead you. There, there is a different way of thinking about this stuff that I think is both more suited to the, to an honest intellectual, but also in the long run is actually, uh, better and, and more productive for the particular goals that independent intellectuals have.

And so this is the concept of lateral networking. All it is really is that you should not try to climb upwards through your networking or your collaborations. You should rather look to people that are immediately around you, whoever's at hand, possibly even beneath you in the, in the status hierarchy or whatever. Obviously I, I think like good people with open minds who are interesting, uh, you know, warm hearted, intelligent people don't even really think this much in terms of like up or down or who's above who. Pardon me. But, um, you know, obviously it is some kind of reality. Some people have more followers than others or whatever and it does come into play. It does matter in terms of who's willing to do stuff with you.

Um, and what I have, what I have pursued. And I, and I don't think many other people have done this as, as kind of self-consciously as I have. I built my podcast from day one with whoever was around me. And, uh, I specifically looked for people that were interesting and cool and smart and had valuable things to offer who were not very famous or who were not very powerful or who did not have a lot of followers, because that's where you have an opportunity to do something really new. Okay? First of all, it's a, it's a kind of arbitrage opportunity, right? You, you're essentially looking for under-priced people and, and content. And so that's just basic business sense actually. Um, and as a kind of, we're not, even though we're, we're kind of, uh, trying to not be overly business like it has an ironic feature of being actually in the long run, good business sense. Because what it means is you're going to attune yourself to what is valuable around you that other people are not making the most of.

That's the one reason why this concept of lateral networking I think is really good and, and actually does work. Um, it... and the other is that it's going to be more authentic and we all know that this is what, if an, if an independent internet intellectual has any, any... has anything at all that is really, really special. It is this capacity to be absolutely radically authentic. Um, and that's nothing fancy. That's just ho- that's just being honest. It's being super real all the time no matter what. That's all it is. And so if you're trying to figure out certain intellectual puzzles, if you're trying to do certain kind of artistic work, whatever it might be, the fact is that by looking for value around you, with people that are kind of at an equal level in the status hierarchy or even beneath you in the status hierarchy, you know, the larger kind of social status hierarchy tree, you know what I mean when I talk about that, we all have a sense of that.

By having that type of attitude and strategy, you're by definition going to be curating and collecting a kind of cultural energy that is in fact truly unique to you. It's that simple. And if you just go by your own tastes and you just go with who around me, who I could easily get on my podcast, am I actually curious about interested in who can I see some potential value in? If you just think like that, you are practicing genuinely a kind of absolutely honest, authentic, um, and, and grounded, uh, uh, approach to finding and curating and sharing and creating creative value and, and an intellectual advancement. Okay?

And the final extraordinary benefit of this method is that it's easy to do and people are going to say yes to doing your podcast. The thing that sucks the most about kind of climbing socially through podcast guesting or getting guests on your podcast is that you just get a lot of rejections and it's pretty demoralizing. It, it sucks to send out like on an assembly line emails to famous people and you know, just naturally of course, um, most of them either ignore you or say no thank you or whatever. Um, that's just inevitable no matter how cool or smart you are or whatever. That's just how things work cause they don't have time. Right? And they're getting some of the other requests.

Well that's, that wastes a lot of time honestly. And it's demoralizing. So the other final really cool thing about this concept of lateral networking that I often urge to, you know, inte- intellectual types of people starting out with some kind of internet project is that it, it, you don't waste a lot of time, more than half of the people you ask are going to say yes. And, um, so again, it feeds into this idea that quantity is a kind of quality and um, you know, I think it's also just more authentic in every way, it's better.

And in this way you'll build some traction and you'll find out what you like talking about. You'll find out what you like doing, um, you find out what types of people really kind of get what you're doing and, and that you have, uh, you know, synergies with. And, and from there then you can consider maybe you max out everyone around you and you, you, you've kind of, you've already talked with or you've already explored everything immediately at hand. And then you need to kind of look outward and you need to be a bit more ambitious about trying to bring other interesting, uh, sources into your, into your project. And then you can, you can do that later if you want. Okay. So that is the concept of lateral networking.

"Do things that don't scale" (Paul Graham)

Finally, there's this idea of do things that don't scale. And this I'm taking directly from the tech startup culture. This is a, a quote I believe from Paul Graham who is one of the Y Combinator guys and a very, very, uh, influential and, and well-respected figure in kind of startup culture.

And this idea is pretty much what it sounds like. Um, this is advice that Paul Graham gives to early startup founders is that when you're trying to get a startup off the ground, it's easy to think, you know, everything's going to be automated and it's all going to be this kind of like exponential takeoff where, you know, um, word of mouth is generating its own dynamics and you kinda just sit back and you watch this, the system kind of explode 'cause everything's automated and there are all these positive feedback systems in, in place, but the reality is it takes a while to get there right at the beginning, at the early stages of any project, even successful tech projects, even like Airbnb, right? Is a famous example of precisely this idea of doing things that don't scale in the early days. You have to do weird stuff that's very, very manual.

Um, and so like the Airbnb example for instances, you know, it took Airbnb a very long time to get off the ground. They struggled for a few years before they obviously blew up and became a, a completely, you know, world transforming successful, uh, technology.

In the early days. They would literally go to people's houses. The early, the early hosts, they would go to their houses and, um, meet with them or like take photographs of their bedrooms. They learned that professional photography is something that, uh, really improves, uh, interest in, in the houses or the rentals on Airbnb. So they, the founders themselves would literally go to houses and arrange professional, uh, photographers and stuff like this. Obviously it's, it doesn't scale, it's... that's not automateable it's very time consuming. It's difficult and it's weird, right? But that's what they knew they had to, they had to hustle, they had to figure out things to do to get things off the ground. And I have noticed a lot of parallels in the intellectual game on the internet.

So I'll give you one of my favorite examples in my own experience is when I decided I wanted to do my first, uh, self published book experiment based on us. Uh, I, when I first had the idea and I first shared kind of the idea of publicly, um, I noticed that there were certain people on Twitter who would like my tweets, uh, around the idea. And I remember the day actually that I floated the idea of, of, Hey, here's an interesting book idea. And I think something like 10 people retweeted it and not huge or anything, not far from viral or anything like that.

But in that tweet, I proposed the idea of writing a book about [inaudible 00:46:43] and here's what it would vaguely be about. And those 10 people who retweeted it, it occurred to me, you know, these are 10 people who would buy the book, [laughs] right? And what I did was I actually just went into Twitter and I, uh, wrote down in my writing app the usernames of those people who retweeted the app, right? So that doesn't scale. It's not a sexy, fancy, you know, automated, uh, system. Um, but here are 10 people pretty much telling me that they would buy the book if I read the book. So I'm like, okay, I'm just going to keep a list of all the people who are signaling that they would buy the book.

Um, and then what I did was when, uh, when I decided, you know, this is a good idea and I think I would really like to do it, I made the book available for pre-order before I even wrote it. And you're damn right, I went to those 10 people, I DM them and I said, "Hey, you said you'd buy my book," or "You expressed interest in my book," or whatever I said, I think I said, "You expressed interested in my book. Thank you for your interest. You really inspired me to move forward on this. Here's a link for you to pre-order the book right now." And almost all of them did. Okay?

Um, so this is a very small thing. It's a very minor thing, but the logic is, is really important, uh, especially when you're trying to get things off the ground. There are a lot of, uh, fairly manual things that you can do to, to really launch projects successfully, and this is just, I think a kind of internet intellectual version of the, of the startup advice of, of do things that don't scale. And you know, what else? I mean, when, when that worked really well to this day I kind of still do it. Um, or like when, when I launched [inaudible 00:48:20], um, I noticed like whenever I would tweet a something related to the book, I would look to see who retweeted it and who liked it. And I would add those people to the list and then I would invite them to buy the book, you know?

Um, and it's not spamming because they're... you're, you're actually trying to deliver value to the people who want the value that you're de- you're delivering. So all I'm talking about here is one example of doing things that don't scale, which is when you're putting stuff out into the world, pay close attention to who is appreciating it. And even if you have to do weird, time-consuming manual stuff, like literally make a list of the people. And what platform they're on, Hey, to get something off the ground, you know, it's worth it. Because when I do my next book, all those people who bought [inaudible 00:49:05], you know, I have their email on my Gumroad account, right? Where I sold the book.

So you know, the 200 some people who bought [inaudible 00:49:13], are already in my database. So they're going to already be more likely to buy the next book, right? So it's worth making those investments in manual activity that doesn't scale, especially in the early days. Um, I often tell people this, like if they're, if you're really new and you're really starting things off the ground on Twitter, just pay attention to who likes your tweets. Add them to a list if you need to, 'cause those people are going to be the people that are most likely to be interested in what you're doing later if you do something more ambitious. Okay. So let's do things that don't scale.

Seizing moments

And finally, a very closely related point is, uh, the principle of, of seizing moments. And again, this is an advantage that intellectuals on the internet have, that academics don't have. Academics, the entire academic game moves so slowly. It's insane. It's so frustrating. If you have an idea for an academic book today and you're successful in every step of the way in producing it, it's not going to see the, the, the world at large for probably about four years at best. It'll take at least six months. And the... And again, this is in the best of cases, this is if your hot shot and everyone says yes to everything that you want to do along the way, all the kind of gatekeepers that you have to impress.

It'll take at least six months to kind of get an agent or, or, or get some kind of contract with an editor. It'll take another at least a year to write the thing, sometimes longer if you're a busy academic, uh, then it'll take, uh, another year to, uh, you know, uh, get it printed and distributed and all of that. And, and you know, there's just a backlog always with publishers. Um, but then there's also usually delays and, uh, things get backed up at every part of the process. So add another year onto that just for, um, you know, the sake of, of being realistic, right?

So when I, when I came up with the idea for [inaudible 00:51:12], obviously it's a shorter book which helps it be quick, um, but nonetheless, between the conception of the idea and the publication was about three months and it could have been much quicker if I just focused on that and nothing else. I was doing a bunch of other things at the time. Okay?

So because of this much more rapid scale is timescale that independent intellectuals on the internet have the privilege of what it means is that you're able to do things that are much more responsive to actually happening affairs, right? So with [inaudible 00:51:44], for instance... Um, just to continue with it as an example, you can think of any other examples though. Um, I kind of realized that [inaudible 00:51:51] was, was zeitgeist a lot of people on the internet and Twitter in particular, there's a lot of [inaudible 00:51:57] or at least people who, you know, pretend to be [inaudible 00:51:59], pretend to like [inaudible 00:52:00] or talk about [inaudible 00:52:01].

And uh, you know, there's a certain, you know, there've been a few memes over the past few years about, about [inaudible 00:52:07] and he has a certain kind of, you know, um, cultural capital and the zeitgeist at the moment, but that might not be the case in three years, right? So if I were to go to a publisher with the idea for a book on [inaudible 00:52:19], uh, maybe in three years when the book actually comes out, uh, it doesn't have half of the interest that it has at this moment, but also the, you know, the hook of the [inaudible 00:52:29] book, the concept of based, uh, is a very internet meme kind of, uh, word and it has a kind of zeitgeist at the moment. It has a certain resonance at the moment, but the internet moves so fricking fast that it's very possible. No one will be using the word based in, uh, even six months from now, let alone a year from now.

So if you're doing independent intellectual work on the internet, you're able to think in this very responsive, quick way that other academics are just not, they're not able to do that. And it's a super po- it's another super power that we have to be really responsive to moments and to seize moments. Um, you know, the, the idea for [inaudible 00:53:13] kind of came together in my mind, I tweeted it, there seemed to be some interest because a few people retweeted the tweet and that was all I needed to embark on a project for the next three months. Um, that's relatively self-contained and I could have confidence that at the end of the three months on the timescale I'm able to deliver it 'cause I'm not accountable to anyone else. That it would still be a book of the moment. It would still, it would still reflect and respond to the cultural moment that we're in and it would have, uh, uh, the, the corresponding impact and, and find the corresponding readers.

Okay. So this is just another... so you, the idea here, the basic principle here is that people need to, if you're pursuing an independent intellectual life, you have to realize that this is a power that you have, that other academics don't have, and um, if something comes together in your mind as both you want to do it, it's exciting and interesting to you. And it has some resonance in the moment. And there are some people in that moment. And I mean literally in that moment, like I decided to do [inaudible 00:54:11] pretty much because 10 people retweeted it.

I mean, honestly I was, I was thinking about like, what do I want to do next, um, as an experiment in book publishing. I knew I wanted to try something, but I didn't know exactly what and I'm not precious about it. Like I have my whole, I have my whole life ahead of me. Right? You can, you can do so on this intellectual model based on the internet, on the indie, on the indie thinker model, you can do so much over time, um, because every, because you're able to do everything so much quicker that you don't have to be super precious.

Like if in a moment you feel like something is a cool idea and there just happens to be 10 people who have signaled that they would support it, that's like enough of a moment. That's enough of a justification to give a month or two to doing it. Right? That's what I mean by seizing the moment. Um, and I think honestly just because I'm using [inaudible 00:55:02] as an example, I think this idea of really works. Um, I think [inaudible 00:55:07] punched a way above its weight in terms of impact and the number of people talking about it and the number of people reading it because I was able to seize this moment. And I think that that's something that, uh, people need to, uh, be aware of if they're pursuing an independent intellectual career, 'cause it's a real advantage that you have that other people don't have. And, um, look, there is real need. There's real demand out there for, for serious significant sophisticated content that responds to what's actually going on in the world today.

And notice there's a bit of a tension here between the idea of seizing the moment and the idea of extreme evergreen, but the... it's only a superficial attention. It only appears to be attention because the fact is if you, if you take a genuinely disinterested kind of truth seeking attitude towards issues of the moment, it's still going to be ever greened. And, and this is, this is I think a really kind of magical advantage or a magical formula defining the independent intellectual life because based [inaudible 00:56:04], for instance, you know, the word based might be out of fashion in six months, fine. But everything I say in that book about [inaudible 00:56:11] is, is a genuine, uh, disinterested kind of perspective on and trying to explain a very famous philosopher whose name will you know, be recognized for the rest of my life almost certainly. And everything I say in that book is intended to be true forever. I mean, it's not, it's not like a current affairs analysis book or something like that that's going to be irrelevant later.

So long as people are interested in [inaudible 00:56:38], there will be some people interested in based [inaudible 00:56:41]. My particular version of [inaudible 00:56:42] in this particular moment. So although it seizes a moment and it has, of course, it's kind of, uh, bounded, you know, temporarily localized features as all creative intellectual work does, it's nonetheless extremely evergreen. Okay? So this in a nutshell, folks, is my mental model of what it involves being, uh, an independent intellectual or rather not what it involves. I could actually say much more on different topics about what the independent intellectual lifestyle looks like or what it involves or, or what. But today, today's seminar has been pretty much about the key strategic principles.