Discover more from Raising Unicorns
Shattering the ceiling
Plus a behind-the-scenes look at TKS' principles for growth
Welcome back y'all!
I hope you had a great holiday. I did my best to use the break to read, learn (about BCIs and Blockchain mostly), and spend time with friends and family. As is natural during the transition to a new year, I spend time reflecting on the past year and what’s next. I find the start of the year is a great time to take a step back and think about what you want out of the next 12 months.
What are you hoping to get out of 2023?
Understanding the economic models of reality
This week I shared two small mental models with my students that I think will be valuable for you as well, regardless of where you are in life.
As an ambitious student in the haze of high school, it's very easy to get caught up in doing more, more, more. You look around you and always feel like you're not doing enough to stand out. You pile on extracurriculars, clubs, and athletics so you can be "well-rounded". But do you stop to consider what it is you actually want?
This approach of more is akin to diversification in investing. The primary purpose of diversification is to mitigate risk and minimize our downside. That's not what we want! We want the highest potential chance of success for ourselves, whatever that means for us. Instead, we are afraid of risk.
But let's get real for a second: there is no true risk in high school.
We're entering (if not already in) an era where university degrees are becoming less important. An increasing number of people are self-taught and able to make huge impacts in the world. And the fields that require post-secondary education? If you've managed to make meaningful progress in high school, it would be hard not to find opportunities. So why is the default approach for “ambitious” students to spread themselves thin with extracurriculars and try to minimize their downsize?
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1. Returns in life are usually non-linear.
Our brains are not wired to think exponentially; most of the numbers we encounter in life or are taught are linear. Time passes in a linear fashion. Counting numbers is linear. When we shop, we know how much things cost and how they scale. If something is $10 each we know that $100 will get us 10 items.
But what happens when things become non-linear? What about exponential?
The reality is you won’t always see an equal return on your investment of time or energy. Many of the returns in life on things that matter are exponential; they take time to see significant results.Let's assume it takes 100 hours of basic learning for a new skill before you start to accelerate your growth. If you only spend two hours a week practicing, it takes you almost a full year before you start getting into that acceleration mode. You only get two weeks in the zone that year.
If you added one hour a week (3h), you have 19 weeks in the zone. Think about how much compounding can happen over 19 weeks instead of two. That's 50% more time you're spending for a 9.5x return in learning. And that will continue to compound over time. Imagine what would happen if you went to four hours a week. Or five.
If instead, all you're ever doing is spreading your time out among 5 different activities, only spending 1-2 hours in each, you're sacrificing so much progress for the sake of risk mitigation.
The most successful entrepreneurs, innovators, athletes, or musicians didn’t get there by hedging their bets. You want concentration into a select few activities, not diversification to maximize your impact and growth.
2. Consider the ceiling on whatever you do.
Another important reality about the world is the law of diminishing returns. Over time, the impact of every extra minute or dollar decreases until it becomes negligible. But not all opportunities are the same. The maximum for every opportunity looks a little bit different.
When pursuing an activity, hobby, or goal, ask yourself what does it look like if I go all in on this? Most of the things we choose to pursue in high school have very a pre-defined ceiling on their upside.
What happens if you’re on the best debate team? You win a national debate competition.
What happens when you're putting 20h a week into the math olympiad? Great! You win a math olympiad medal.
Controversially: if you study 30 hours instead of 10 for your test, you can squeeze out an extra 3-5% on your final grade.
We already know what happens if you go hard in these areas. We can already see the top of the mountain. Ask yourself – is that really what you're after? (maybe it is and that's okay)
In contrast, what do you think happens if you go all in on meeting new people? Or learning and writing about quantum computing? Or playing an instrument? Or building prototypes for product ideas you have?
These things have no cap on their upside. It's impossible to predict the outcome. You could be starting the next revolutionary tech company. You could be on your way to becoming a virtuoso. You could be meeting your future partner, employer, or co-founder.
This is why we are so adamant about the Focus process at TKS. There is no cap on the upside for going hard on a topic you're passionate about. You are maximizing your shot at asymmetric returns.
As you start the new year and think about where you’re spending your time, consider what your best-case scenario is for the path you’re on. Is that worth it? I want to be going all-in on the things that matter to you and have the highest shot at outsized rewards. Not just things you're doing to mitigate the downside for your future.
TKS’ Development Principles
At TKS we have a series of development principles that we are aligned on and which guide our approach as a team. These are part manifesto, part values, and part thesis. These are the principles we embody and aim to impart to the students.
When I first heard them, I found most of them applicable to the high-performing cultures I've been part of. So if you aim to grow in any capacity, take note of which of these resonate for you and think about how you might apply them to your own life.
There are 24 of them, so strap in.
01/ Make it real
Nothing we do is just “for” TKS. Everything you do and learn here is the real world, whether that's skills, working on real problems, or gaining specific mindsets. We work closely with companies and experts to create experiences and learning opportunities that will accelerate your growth outside (and inside) the walls of TKS. You have to chance to make a real impact; nothing is theoretical.
02/ Figure it out
If you could train one skill to set yourself apart for the future, it would be your ability to figure things out for yourself. This is something you will be trained on throughout the program as you work on problems that don’t have solutions yet. We will still be there to support you as grow, but we want you to lead the charge. Once you are somebody who can figure anything out, you’re unstoppable.
03/ Structurally unstructured.
Our program was created with a structure for you to work and learn within. But there is no one set path. Like life, you will learn at different speeds and about different topics based on your interests and commitment. This flexibility is what gives you the freedom to explore your passion while still following the structure that we know gets results.
04/ Growth through failure
At TKS we want you to grow and learn from your failures. We will be quick to provide the feedback you need. Failures are how we get better. Every failure or setback you experience is an opportunity for growth and feedback. If you’re always succeeding, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.
05/ So what?
You’re going to learn a lot during TKS. You'll be absorbing information like a sponge about different problems the world faces and life-changing technologies and sciences. Your task is to take that information and make it matter. Tell people why they should care. Give us the so what from the knowledge you've accumulated.
06/ Learn backwards
Borrowed from Amazon, we know that to hit your goals, the best approach is to start at the end and work backwards. By identifying where you want to end up, you can take deliberate action to move closer to your goals and avoid distractions. At TKS you’ll pick something you want to build, then figure out what skills you need to learn to get there.
07/ Opt-in + earn
Nothing at TKS is mandatory. Everyone is invited and encouraged to partake in different activities – a challenge, a guest speaker, or a specific opportunity. You have to want it (opt in). But as part of that commitment, you need to earn access. Show us you take the opportunity seriously and are going to put in the work to show us you value it.
08/ Understand why
We want you to understand why things are the way they are and why you believe what you believe. This mindset of curiosity is applied not only to things we want to learn more about but also to those that seem to pass by our internal filters like the news or the books we read. Ask and understand why.
09/ Learn by doing
Rapid growth comes from getting your hands dirty and building. Real-world action is where we start to get feedback and compounding knowledge. Throughout TKS you will get hands-on with the topics you’re learning about both in-session and through your projects. This is how you start to make things real.
10/ Grow in public
We want you to share your learning journey in public. This creates proof of your work and allows others in your network to come along with you as you learn. You'll inspire friends and start to establish credibility with the experts you meet who are following your progress. This is one of the keys to unlocking real-world opportunities.
11/ Set high standards
We know you’re capable of more; don’t settle for mediocrity. You want to achieve great things, and we will push you to higher standards in the things you create. Whether that's a blog post, a presentation, or even how you run a meeting. High standards are what can set you apart and enable others to take you seriously. We want you to be able to set high standards for yourself.
12/ Show what great looks like
Without a clear target, we are shooting in the dark hoping we stumble upon excellence. Excellence requires intention. We will help provide you guidance and a target of high standards in the field you're pursuing so you know what great looks like. You need a model of what you’re aiming for to achieve high standards.
13/ How to fish > give a fish
There's no value for you if we just give you the answers. No matter the problem you're facing, we are going to coach you on how to figure it out for yourself and build confidence in your abilities to solve hard problems.
14/ Merit > fairness
We will recognize when you're putting in the effort for TKS and match that with our time, support, and opportunities. This is the real world. You need to do the work. Don’t worry, we're here to hold you accountable and coach you to accomplish more.
15/ Positive feedback as motivation
There’s a lot of learning and work to be done at TKS! But this is also meant to be fun and exciting for you. We use positive feedback and recognition as a way to keep the fire going and your motivation high.
16/ Motivation -> Discipline -> Habit
Motivation and inspiration are the activation energy to get you started on something new. They will get you started but will fade over time. We want you to be able to sustain the energy as you work on big, challenging problems. We will help you establish the discipline and ultimately the habits you need to be successful in the long run.
17/ Goals <> Guidance
As you enter TKS, we aren't going to set your goals for you. TKS exists to help you achieve exponential growth in meaningful areas, but we can't define those areas for you. We will push you to set more meaningful and ambitious goals while providing guidance on how to reach them.
18/ Raise the bar for difficulty
Let's be real: we don’t get enough practice doing difficult things. Comfort is our default state. The hardest things we do in high school are study for tests or learn complicated topics. We want to show you that you can do way harder things than you previously thought. Difficulty will no longer prevent you from pursuing what excites you.
19/ Coach - not teach, not facilitate
We’re all on the same team at TKS. We will coach you through the program, sharing advice, stories, and important mindsets to help you level up and grow. As we run through activities in sessions, we won't just be facilitating activities. We will continue to coach you to be curious and dig deeper into the topics we are covering. We all win together.
20/ Desire is direction
A good leading indicator for successful students is whether they are following their desire and interests. We aren't trying to force you down any one path. There is no "right" way to do TKS. Our goal is to help you find areas you are passionate about so you have a clear direction to follow.
21/ Asking questions > giving advice
As we coach you throughout the year, we will start by asking you questions. Instead of jumping straight into the advice and problem-solving mode, we are going to probe deeper so we better understand the situation, and you better understand yourself. To be honest, I'm still working on this.
22/ Awareness -> Intention -> Action -> Reflection
One of the keys to growth is setting an intention for where you want to go, but that starts with awareness of the possibilities. Until you know what opportunities exist, you can't possibly pick the best one for you. We will expose you to possibilities and help you set your intentions. From there, you'll start taking action and reflecting along the way as you start to accelerate your growth.
23/ Compound growth
The most valuable skills are those that compound over time. It might feel like your growth is starting slow, but we are giving you skills, mindsets, and knowledge that will compound over time. Not only that, but these will also combine into new permutations, making each new skill set or topic more valuable as it combines with your existing skills. This is the secret to exponential growth.
24/ Build your T
We built the curriculum at TKS based on the idea of becoming a T-shaped person. You have a solid foundation of a wide variety of skills and in-depth expertise in a select few. By becoming a specialist you're able to combine your deep knowledge with your understanding of other fields to create new and unique ideas.
These are just the start of what TKS is like. If you've done any reading or watched YouTube videos on personal development, a lot of these should resonate. These principles are not mutually exclusive; they overlap and interact by design, building off one another and compounding into incredible impact.
More to come after our next session! Our sessions are starting again tomorrow and I'm excited to be back with the students.
Hit reply and let me know what principle stood out most to you.
Consider what your worst-case scenario is
This is not a slight against schools, just a case of diminishing returns.