As I'm getting started in trying to get Build In Public University off the ground, I wanted to start by outlining the beliefs that drive me. I came up with the following 10 principles that are the beginning of the manfesto.
Uniqueness Over Polish
This is the primary value I hold. Our extreme focus on algorithmic content distribution leads to a focus on being the "best". As a result, we end up creating content with the goal of performing for the algorithm. There is always going to be a type of content that the algorithm ends up preferring, creators figure it out, and they all end up creating the same content. That's what happens as the result of making content compete on the "quality" of the content. We force everything to be ranked against everything else.
But who determines what true quality is? The reality is that the best content is the content that answers the questions you have or is the most relatable or the most interesting or whatever. Instead of competing in the algorithmic feeds, create the content that is the most uniquely yours. Create the content you are interested in creating. Share your story. Share what is uniquely you. Fuck the algorithm.
Transparency Over Secrets
There is too much of a focus on "secrets". Corporate secrets, trade secrets, everybody wants to hold on to their secrets.
I'm going to let you in on a secret.
Want to get ahead faster? Share all your "secrets". By sharing information, by sharing our findings, by sharing our insights, we can adapt much faster to a rapidly changing ecosystem. That's the best way to quickly surpass the existing giants. Transparency leads to faster growth.
I'm an open book. Want to know why I'm doing something? Just ask! I'll happily tell you.
Collaboration Over Competition
As a corollary to the previous point, collaboration will win out over competition. There are too many opportunities out there right now. Almost every system and idea is outdated as soon as it sees the light of day. Instead of trying to hold on to your "moat", find ways to make bridges.
By sharing, by connecting, we can create dynamic, interactive, adaptable systems that will quickly leave the old ways of doing things in the dust.
Competition is an outdated concept. Instead of trying to ensure you win, try to help everyone win. There's plenty to go around. Refusing to share is just holding you back.
The new economy isn't zero-sum. It's time to realize that and start approaching things differently.
Experimentation Over Knowledge
Again, the world is changing quickly. All the "best practices" and ways of doing things are outdated and inefficient at best and actively harmful at worst. So, in order to combat this, it's actually way more efficient to just try shit out and see what works. So instead of trying to learn the "best" way of doing things, just try things. See what happens. Measure results. Follow your gut.
The faster the experimentation cycles, the faster the learning, the more of an advantage you have over established people and companies.
Doing Over Learning
Again, don't worry as much about learning before you start to do. That's one of the biggest mistakes I made early on. I tried to learn about each and every thing I wanted to do. After I spent a ton of time learning it and then trying it out, I realized that I had wasted a bunch of time on the learning process. I was able to learn way more by just doing things and seeing how they worked (or didn't). There are a ton of people sharing their knowledge and experiences, some more legit than others.
The easiest way to figure out who's actually legit? Try stuff and seeing whose knowledge lines up with your actual experience. Hard to do that when you don't have the experience of doing something yourself.
Acquire Knowledge, Practice Skills
So, after all the talk of not learning, now I'll give you the contradiction. It's not that you shouldn't learn, you should learn as much as you can. You just don't take it as guaranteed fact.
So, read, watch videos, think critically about the content you are seeing. The goal is to acquire as many viewpoints as you can. Only by doing that will you be able to develop different ways of viewing the world and different models and filters to use when viewing results.
But don't rely on knowledge for skills. That's going to come from practicing. So if you want to be good at something, just do it as much as you can. Want to learn how to market a product? Start marketing a product. Want to learn how to build a product? Start building a product.
Remember, it doesn't have to be successful. It just has to be done.
Sustainability Over Limitless Growth
It's really easy to look for more. Especially when you start growing, it seems like you can just keep growing forever. And you'll push yourself to grow more and more.
But instead of looking to just keep growing indefinitely, try to figure out how to grow sustainably. So how do you define sustainability?
Try to minimize your inputs while maximizing your outputs. How can you get the same level of growth with as much work or less? My goal is to get to a point where I can continue growing with as little input as possible.
This will maximize the amount of time and energy I can spend living my life and doing the things that matter.
Doesn't that sound pretty great?
Scale For A Purpose
Another corollary, this one to the point above. Why are you trying to scale yourself or your outcomes?
It's important to hold on to your why and figure out why you're doing what you're doing. There are all sorts of things you are scaling and you can do so indiscriminately.
But if you don't know why you are scaling, you don't know which parts to scale. And it's really easy to get out of balance and end up scaling to a point that you don't like anymore, because it's not the place you were shooting for.
You're building an audience? Why?
You're building a product? Why?
Know your why. Use that to determine what you scale and how much.
Community As A Shared Media Outlet
What's the point of media? This is something I've been asking myself for the past two years and I came up with the most basic principle I could:
Media exists to amplify what's important.
The real issue is who decides what's important?
So-called "mainstream media" is competing for views right now because the world is changing so rapidly and they are outdated institutions (see, this whole rapid change thing is a bit of repeating theme, isn't it?). They haven't adapted well, so their business models don't scale well. The only thing they know how to do is optimize for clicks and views.
But when you do that, there's an interesting effect: we end up focusing only on the most extreme or divisive topics. Where do you think clickbait comes from? When you have to compete on the "most-clickable and viewable" facet, you end up being extreme. Because that's what triggers the highest emotions and gets the most people to respond. And that kicks off a cycle that inevitably ends up with 2 sides on every topic because nuance gets lost in the middle. Everything pushes to extremes.
So how can we combat that? Community has to become the vehicle for amplifying what we care about the most. It's been trending toward the individual, but that gives individuals weird powers of influence based on how they can be perceived. Communities have the benefit of being more sustainable, less susceptible to extremism, and creating a space where nuance can not only be maintained, but celebrated.
That's why Build In Public University is a community-owned media asset. We'll provide a place that can amplify the things that we believe are important.
And I believe that the people transparently building the future they want to see are the most important thing of all. So this exists to amplify their voices.
Students Are Teachers And Vice Versa
For this last point, I want to start with a question. Why do we have teachers? They are required to spend years of their lives learning how to teach concepts, right?
This has to do with the traditional nature of knowledge transfer. In order to transfer knowledge at scale, we had to get people together in a room and have a single person share what they knew, but in a way that allows every single person in that room the opportunity to learn what is being taught. This means that the teacher has to be skilled at teaching groups of people with differing needs.
I've been studying teaching for a bit now because I want to share what I've learned. I taught a small cohort-based course on automation. And I realized, not everyone is suited to learn from me. I have a divergent style that makes it hard for me to share ideas in a group setting without a lot of preparation, testing, and iteration.
But on an individual level, I can answer questions, demonstrate how to do things, and help them get the answer they are trying for. It's much easier to teach on a 1-1 basis. So how do we make that scale? Instead of scaling just the learners a single teacher can teach, what if we scaled the teachers as well?
And the best way to do that is to have the students become the teachers. This way, you'll have access to a wide variety of teachers that can help you build up the skills, share the ideas, and experiment in the best possible ways for you. So that's what I'm planning to do with Build In Public University. There will be a clear path to go from student to teacher, because I want the teachers to scale.
Starting out, I'm reaching out to creators with specific skills and ideas because I know them and trust them and they have the skills I don't. But soon, we'll be able to grow into a true institution: larger than the individuals and an amplifier of the shit that matters.
Collective Floor and Individual Ceiling
As I've been watching the whole Web3 movement and seeing the issues that have unfolded, I've been wary to integrate any specific blockchain tech into anything because I view it as noisy at best and counterproductive at worst. When speed of change is the most important thing to focus on (i.e. early in the idea exploration phase) adding databases that don't allow for changes seems to be a pretty bad idea.
But that said, I do appreciate some of the themes that are being touted (even if rarely delivered). And I think community ownership is a huge deal and with Build In Public University, I am planning on adding community ownership of it. I think that's what we need to do in order to build new institutions - they need to be community-owned and possibly operated (sounds a bit DAO-ish, doesn't it?). But I think we need to be very cautious in how we design that. I have come up with a single guiding principle for that though, and I decided to add it to the manifesto: collective floor and individual ceiling. This means that by being a member, you get a base level of benefits. This floor should rise over time because as the institution grows, it will get bigger, stronger, and more valuable. But it should also offer members ways to grow outside of just the institution, because limiting that growth is a lie. There will be people who grow outside of the institution and if we don't include ways to reward that growth, it just gets hidden, and that is against the idea of transparency. But since we can all grow and scale to whatever level we want, the institution will exist only to provide a floor, a baseline for growth.
That's it. That's the manifesto for now. Send me your thoughts, ideas, criticism, whatever you've got. It's a living document that I'm sure will evolve many times over the coming days, months, and years. But it's a start.
So let's see what happens from here.