Second Chance Studios

Several years ago, I started volunteering at Defy Ventures, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals start their own businesses.

Through Defy, I met an entrepreneur named Coss Marte, who beginning to build a personal fitness business called Coss Athletics. At first, it consisted of 1:1 and group sessions with Coss in parks, and has grown steadily since then. Now called ConBody, it features both a studio on the Lower East Side and a growing online business. Importantly, ConBody exclusively employs other formerly incarcerated individuals as trainers, and in addition to being a successful and growing business, the team members have a 0% recidivism rate.

(As an aside, I can personally testify that the ConBody workout is legit. I literally threw up halfway through my first class. Though it’s debatable whether that says something about the workout or my baseline fitness going in.)

Today, Coss is launching a new initiative called Second Chance Studios. Second Chance Studios is a nonprofit video and audio production company that exclusively employs formerly incarcerated individuals in New York City. It will also serve as a job training and placement program focused on digital skills in audio and video production.

Second Chance is currently fundraising for its launch on Kickstarter and as of now is about $36k towards its $50k goal. You can back it on Kickstarter here and learn more from the video below. I’m proud to be a backer and am excited to see the project launch.

The Slow Hunch

One of my favorite ideas from the last 10 years is “The Slow Hunch” which my friend Steven Johnson popularized in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Here is a good summary of the book, and the idea of The Slow Hunch is this:

“World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches rather than sudden breakthroughs”

Great thinkers and inventors such as Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee used The Slow Hunch to process big ideas over long periods of time. A kernel of an idea takes root, but doesn’t mature right away — but rather, needs to bump around with other ideas and experiences over time until something profound clicks. In some ways, USV is like an ongoing Slow Hunch — Andy likes to describe USV as “a conversation that’s been going on for 15 years”.

Back when I first read Where Good Ideas Come From, this idea of The Slow Hunch really stuck with me. It’s been there with me for nearly 10 years and I keep coming back to it.

Today, I’m officially renaming this blog The Slow Hunch (www.theslowhunch.net). I’ve had these domains (and @theslowhunch) for some time, and have flirted with using them, but have never actually done it — but today I’m flipping the switch.

This blog renaming coincides with a bunch of work we’ve been doing at USV on this general topic. Albert wrote the potential for and importance of tools for networked knowledge here. And “Access to Knowledge” is a pillar of our Thesis 3.0.

For The Slow Hunch to work, information not only needs to be captured, but also revisited and reprocessed over time. In WGICF, Steven talks about the Commonplace Book as a tool used by Darwin and others for this purpose. Like a notebook and scrapbook kept over time, but with the key feature being re-reading as standard practice to help connect ideas over time.

For the most recent USV book club, we read Steven’s newest book, Enemy of All Mankind, and Steven joined us for our group discussion. During that conversation, we revisited the idea of the Slow Hunch, and in particular, how he thinks about the process of building ideas over time. He describes it in terms of turning ideas into “magnets” that can live for a long time, and “catch” other ideas, building up into snowballs over time.

For all the information we consume and produce on a daily basis, we are still lacking simple tools to assemble and package it in ways that produce real knowledge. To give idea fragments the potential to become slow hunches. It’s a huge need and also a huge opportunity.

I first wrote about the need for this kind of thing back in 2010 (Wanted: An Open Commonplace Book). What I pointed out then, and what is still true now, is that our current information universe is fragmented (google docs, email, notion, evernote, browsing history, social media, etc), and what’s really needed is a tool that can help package this all up in a way that’s useful.

Today, tools like RoamResearch and Walling are pioneering connecting old information with new information (a network “graph”). And tools like Memex are indexing your browsing history. (as an aside: all of these require an enormous amount of trust, as networked personal knowledge is both valuable and dangerous)

To me the most promising idea here is user experience and user interface innovations that make it easy, intuitive and fun to link old information to new information, and to revisit it over time in a way that makes sense. Unlocking this at scale will have massive implications not only for personal productivity (and happiness), but for networked knowledge much more broadly (research, news, corporate innovation).

With that, hitting publish on the next chapter of The Slow Hunch here on this blog.

The 1k Project

It has been a long few months, and many people’s lives have been turned upside down in untold ways.

One way to help is through the 1k Project. The 1k Project matches sponsors with individuals & families in need, using a $1k / month for 3 months model. Recipients are sourced through the Project’s trusted network, and donations are anonymous, unrestricted gifts delivered via GoFundMe. I’m sponsoring a family starting this month.

I am a big believer in unrestricted cash as the best method for channeling support to those in need. For the same reason I believe in Universal Basic Income, I believe that every person knows what they need money for and how to use it, and having any measure of cash flexibility can be a lifesaver. You can get a sense of the impact of the 1k Project from some of the stories from recipients.

I feel fortunate to be in a position to support this effort, and am proud to be involved. If you would like to join me, by nominating a family or individual in need, by becoming a sponsor yourself, or if you could use financial help from the 1k Project network, you can do any of those things here.

Listening

In the wake of the events of the past few weeks, I am trying to focus my efforts on listening. Here are some things I’m listening to:

One place I feel comfortable speaking on this is putting my money where my mouth is, and in that spirit, here is a list of where to donate to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Quarantine Creativity

Continuing to look for glimmers of hope and positivity in the middle of this crisis, one area that is for sure glimmering is at-home creativity. I know from seeing the numbers from some of USV’s portfolio companies in the “creator” space that creative activity is way up. People are stuck at home, and they are writing, making music and getting busy in the kitchen.

Here is one example which just floored me. My daughter’s best friend is in the Boston Children’s Chorus and they just released this beautiful video performance:

Not only is this a fantastic and uplifting way to express creativity during a dark time, I would argue that this is better — more beautiful, with far greater reach — than a live performance, or certainly a traditional video of a live performance would have been.

So I am encouraged that not only are we seeing creativity blossom where it can, I think we’re going to see brand new forms of expression emerge from this crisis.

There is so much pain in the world right now — both economic and physical/emotional. This feels like one small bright spot to focus on this morning.

Post-COVID: Which Behaviors Will Stick?

It’s an overwhelming time right now. Everyone in the world is focused on COVID-19, and to varying degrees, is changing the way they live.

From an economic perspective — beyond the obvious massive damage due to a halting of large swaths of the economy, which will need to be addressed with some form of government bailout — there will also be some amount of permanent restructuring.

Many people are experiencing, for the first time, how many activities — work, learning, healthcare, and socializing — can be done remotely and in new ways using digital tools. For sure, when the dust settles, we will largely go back to doing things how we’ve always done them, but I suspect that certain new behaviors will stick, and will result in longer-term behavioral and economic changes.

The most obvious one is business travel and remote work. Everyone who can is learning how to do this now — including companies/teams/individuals that may have resisted it mightily in the past. Moving forward, it’s going to be much harder to justify an in-person-only culture. Virtual conferences & meetings have drawbacks, for sure, but they also have advantages. I suspect that coming out of the crisis, many professionals will have a permanently higher bar for justifying work travel.

The next one is remote health. We now have the infrastructure, at scale, for communicating with doctors virtually, and collecting test samples at home. Laws limiting what doctors and patients can do together over voice and video will change. Nikhil Krishnan has a great piece exploring this in detail. This will stick.

Everyone with kids is scrambling to figure out how to keep them engaged, connected and learning. Every school is scrambling to implement a remote learning capability. Subscriptions at online learning platforms are through the roof. School will resume but remote learning will stick.

Finally, it also feels like we are rediscovering our social and entertainment lives. I have never been more active with friends and family — especially, for some reason, those who live at a distance — as much as recently. I have never done video chats with groups of friends and now that’s regular. My kids are connecting with their friends over FaceTime every day. Group and one-on-one chats are on fire. To a degree, this is because everyone’s at home with nothing to do. But I believe this will also stick.

What is most interesting to me is not the social changes, but the institutional ones. In the cases of work, learning and healthcare, we are talking about massive institutions that are learning new behaviors on-the-fly. This is a big deal — we’re probably seeing years-worth of change occurring over a matter of weeks. It’s astonishing, really.

And, as a result, a massive number of individuals are learning new moves, which will put pressure on the institutions not to roll everything back when this is all over. Not everything will stick, but I suspect a lot of it will.

The Great Shift to Video

It has been astonishing (and largely encouraging) to see nearly every activity that can be shifted to video begin to go there. Over the past few days, in our house, we’ve seen the following:

  • Piano lesson over FaceTime
  • Band practice over Zoom
  • Many business calls over Zoom
  • Scavenger hunt over FaceTime
  • Academic and fun classes on Outschool (also Zoom)
  • Virtual cocktail hour over Zoom
  • Coloring contest (3 marker challenge) over FaceTime

Further, all kind of activity is moving to chat: iMessage, Signal, Slack, etc. The USV team Slack, which has been largely dormant for recent history, is fun and vibrant right now.

Everyone is at home, and a lot of people are connected to video. So it’s actually easy to reach people, and everyone is looking for social connection.

This feels like a watershed moment for remote / online / video. A lot of folks who haven’t tried it are trying it. For many use cases, this will become a new habit and an appropriate way to do more things going forward.

Of course, not everything will or should shift to online/video. But for many activities, it’s a totally fine way to do things, and can have other potential benefits, especially compared with long-distance travel for work (time away from home, carbon footprint, etc).

This is a terribly hard time, and it’s hard to even contemplate the economic consequences that will come from it. But it is also encouraging to see people learn new behaviors that could be really beneficial in the long run.

Simple Systems

I think a lot about systems — for personal organization, for business automation, for urban information, for financial infrastructure, for the internet, etc. On a big macro level, I have always been fascinated by the way that many forces, people and ideas come together to make things. And on a micro level, what it takes to say, keep your finances in order, or keep your to-dos rational, etc.

One thing I have found to be true is that simple systems tend to work better. They are easier to understand, easier to maintain, and easier to work with. TCP/IP, Bitcoin, putting to-dos directly into your calendar. Less is more.

At the same time, complex systems are appealing — sexy, sophisticated, alluring. But can be hard to use and costly to maintain.

I find that it’s a constant struggle to remind oneself that simpler is usually better. A system is only as good as its implementation and execution. And the best systems can be used broadly over a long period of time.

I was reminded of this recently when reading Greg Kogan‘s post on how Simple Systems have Less Downtime. He goes into some detail on this subject, looking at examples as far apart from one another as a container ship that can be manned & maintainer by a tiny crew, and marketing automation scripts that can be maintained by a team over time. It’s great reminder.

This is a variant on the old mantra from Derek Sivers that ideas are a multiplier of execution. In other words, it’s execution that matters, and the quality of the idea can multiply the outcome, but without execution it’s just talk.

This month, my simple system is: travel less and wash hands more. Hopefully that will help.

Forcing Change

I’m supposed to be in Europe this week to speak at a conference and attend another one, but I decided to stay home, to be safe. I am hearing all sorts of stories of events being called off and flights being canceled. It’s estimated that the airline industry’s 2020 revenues could go down by 40%, or over half a trillion dollars.

People are changing their behavior.

It is not easy to get people to change behavior. Typically it only happens when there is something really amazing or really awful stimulating it.

In this case, take the climate crisis. Clearly, transportation, including air travel, is a huge contributor to greenhouse gases. And while there is tangible progress particularly around EVs, there has not been large scale behavior change when it comes to transportation patterns, until now.

Of course, this may not last. Hopefully COVID-19 passes with time just like SARS and MERS and the Swine Flu did. And it’s likely that, by and large, we return to our previous patterns.

But it’s also possible that this episode causes some lasting change. Online video is amazingly good now, and is increasingly a viable substitute for certain kinds of in person meetings, or even an improvement, all things considered. For one thing, online/video meetings are much more accessible, meaning you can generally get a more interesting and diverse set of attendees than you can for IRL events. And, for less than the cost of a single plane ticket, you can outfit your desk with big huge monitors and a good camera (I just did this recently).

As such, it feels like one output of this situation will be a broader comfort with videoconferencing, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s certainly been good for the Zoom stock price.

But thinking more broadly, it just goes to show that change does not come cheap. And it often only comes by the force of something really powerful, either positive or negative.

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