Tiago Forte is founder of Forte Labs and creator of the Building a Second Brain course, which I wrote about (briefly) here.

I’m subscribed to his newsletter while waiting for his next Building a Second Brain course to open, and today’s was a link to an interview he did, a filmed podcast. It’s quite long, so I’m just going to pick out some parts that I found interesting.

The original show-notes with time-stamps can be found here: Video  Interview: Eclectic Spacewalk with Tiago Forte

and the transcript of the entire interview on Medium here: Conversation #3 – Tiago Forte (Transcript).

The main topic is knowledge work and knowledge workers, the new economy. The first half of the podcast is about Forte’s background and upbringing, but the first key idea he talks about is Buckminster Fuller‘s concept of doing more with less.

  1. The key thing here is that Forte understood that this concept could be applied not only to manufacturing but also to knowledge work.
  2. The second idea is Toyota’s quality control which broke the belief that you had a choice between quantity and quality: Toyota showed that you could improve both at the same time. And again, Forte applies this to knowledge work, and points out how some of the best knowledge workers out there (he mentions no names but I think of Simon Sinek, Cal Newport and Dr. Ali Abdaal) are also incredibly prolific: they write, they blog, they give public talks, they publish books, they have podcasts.. AND they have a life (and in the case of Dr. Abdaal, a full-time job as well).
  3. The next point is “principles not prescriptions”:  “people want a quick fix, they want a plugin… one action that will fix everything… working temporarily.” But rather than focusing on the app or the steps or the insights, Forte wants to teach people the principles of a system, which is why he went with a course rather than a book (tho he’s working on a book): he works with people to help them create their own second brain. “Creative products are always shiny and new. The creative process is ancient… You can read the ancient Greeks about creativity and it still applies.” But people don’t know about their own creative process, even creative people. All knowledge workers need a creative process.
  4. Distraction, not being focused, with the attention split a million different ways, is an all-too-common condition or tendency that can be countered by creativity.
  5. The 10 principles.
  6. Principle 1: stand on the shoulders of giants.
  7. Principle 2: the capture habit – you need a way to not only store info but systematically so that you can retrieve it. Knowledge workers are constantly creating new bits of knowledge by piecing things together, re-interpreting information, etc., yet all too often that hard work goes to waste. Captured info and the understanding or reason why you thought it was interesting in the first place needs to be stored in a way that you can and will retrieve it later to create something of value to yourself and others.
    1. This is perhaps the main reason why I’m interesting in Forte and his course: I have thousands of Evernotes, tagged and everything, but 95% of them are dormant, not associated with anything and with no schedule or clear plan to revisit, review, and put to use. I do review but in a very haphazard way. And that’s just my Evernotes! There’s tons of other stuff, too – blog posts, jottings, diary entries, voice memos, etc. Just thinking about it all gives me a headache.
  8. Idea recycling: ideas are not single-use only. Every bit of intellectual labour should not be wasted, but re-used – as a template for other things.
  9. Projects over categories. Libraries store information but the way they do that is not suitable for individuals: libraries require a large full-time staff. A much more effective way to organize information for the individual is by attaching it to a particular project, something they are working on, where that information will be most actionable and useful. Projects are finite, as are human beings, so it’s a much more practical way to organize information. (Update: cf Forte’s thoughts on tagging and storing info by categories or hierarchies of folders: Tagging is Broken)
  10. Slow burn. Slow and steady wins the race is the key idea here. The image is from weight-lifting. Lifting a small weight slowly can be more effective than dramatically hoisting a big weight. Forte attributed his attraction to that idea partly to recognizing that he’s getting older (34) and can no longer pull the all-nighters that he did even five years ago. (Update: this is much more important and useful than I thought. See here for my later thoughts on this).
  11. Start with abundance. Although there is a common idea of creativity as, say, the writer facing a blank page or the artist a blank canvas, Forte sees that approach or mindset as contrary to the way the human mind works. Start with a pile of stuff and as you sift, you find something takes shape.
  12. Intermediate packets. To avoid overwhelm, break work into smaller, manageable pieces. See slow burn above.
  13. “You only know what you make.” I didn’t understand this the first time I read it, but in this interview, Forte clarifies: simply knowing something, having memorized or stored the information, is by itself of little value. “I’ve read 100 books!” Ok, but what you have made, built, done, produced, to show for it? (The quote is a paraphrase of Verum esse ipsum factum  (“What is true is precisely what is made”), coined by 17th-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, by the way and I know you were dying to know that.
  14. Number 9: make it easier for your future self. “If you make your notes a little better each time you touch them – a little more organized, a little more succinct, a little more clear – then your future self will find it easier and easier to access the knowledge you’ve saved.”
  15. Principle 10: keep your ideas moving. “Your Second Brain will evolve to suit your needs only when you put it to use in your daily work.”

The rest of the interview sounds interesting, too, but it’s my bedtime so let’s call it a day, yeah? I’ll be back tomorrow with another article on the second half of this interview.

The original show-notes with time-stamps can be found here: Video  Interview: Eclectic Spacewalk with Tiago Forte

and the transcript of the entire interview on Medium here: Conversation #3 – Tiago Forte (Transcript).

I’ll just end with my favourite quote from the above interview: “Productivity is the ideal sandbox for life.”