Clint Murphy, Tiago Forte
Clint Murphy 00:15
Welcome to the growth guide podcast. I’m your host Clint Murphy. Every week I talk to authors, subject matter experts and millionaire mentors to share the lessons that will help you and me be better achieve more and become financially free.
Clint Murphy 00:36
Today, I enjoyed my conversation with Tiago forte, one of the world’s leading experts on productivity, who has taught 1000s of people around the world, how timeless principles, and the latest technology can revolutionize your productivity, creativity, and personal effectiveness. Tiago is the author of Building a Second Brain, A Proven Method to Organize your Digital Life and Unlock your Creative Potential. This book was a game changer for me. It’s one of those rare books that you’ve read and change your life immediately to adopt. I hope that you enjoy the conversation as much as I did. Tiago, welcome to the Growth Guide Podcast. I’m excited for this conversation for our listeners, we will be diving deep into your book Building a Second Brain. Before we do that, can you share with the listeners a bit about your background and how you got to the path of the book? What happened in your life that brought you to this path?
Tiago Forte 01:44
Yeah, so happy to be here, Clint, so many things. It kind of feels like it was my destiny to write this book. Because of a number of things that happened in my past. I mean, maybe the earliest was growing up in a family of artists. My dad is a professional painter. He paints, figures and still lives and abstracts and landscapes, has been his entire life. My mom is a talented musician, plays guitar, sings. Both of them did ballroom dancing most of their lives. My brother’s a professional dancer, my other brother is an architect and contractor. It’s like everyone was creative in some way. So I had that exposure, but I was also the black sheep, because I didn’t seem to have any creative talents. That was at least the narrative that I adopted growing up, because I didn’t have like one specialized sort of art form that I was naturally good at. Not even writing, that came much, much later. So I just thought, wow, I know what art is. I love it. I appreciate it. But I just apparently have no talents.
Clint Murphy 02:48
You’re not alone there. It feels as if we are all creators. Somehow in our childhood, if we’re not creators in the way that our parents or our siblings are, we get labeled not as creators, and we don’t realize it till later in life. And so I definitely feel you, I may have texted a video of some sort that I created the other day and sent it to my family and said, see, I am creative. And I’m 44. And that’s the first time I’ve said that. So back to you. I feel you on that one.
Tiago Forte 03:21
Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting, because the world has these even society, the school system, universities, the workplace has these categories. You know, Do you draw? Do you write? Do you make videos? What is your sort of medium, but I think relatively few people can be world class and especially can make a living doing just like one specialized form of creativity. Right? Like you have to be like the best in the world or very close to it, to just do that one thing. Most of us are multi media, we actually we have ideas, we are creative, we problem solve, we know how to innovate, but it’s like, across different, you know, maybe some writing, maybe some visuals, but maybe just some thinking, maybe some conversation, maybe some reading and research, like we are creative across all sorts of different formats. And so what so much of Building a Second Brain is about is collecting all those formats, organizing and distilling them and then synthesizing them, merging them into something that you build or create that can be shared with the world.
Clint Murphy 03:51
Okay, so we’re gonna dive right in, then let’s get into it. And so what we’re talking about is a second brain where it’s a personal knowledge management tool. You refer to that as a PKM. And you share that there are a number of superpowers that a PKM gives us. Can you talk to the listeners what are a couple of those superpowers and why do they want a PKM at their disposal?
Tiago Forte 05:02
Absolutely. So one of them is, so the superpowers are the flip sides of our weaknesses. What are we just not built for as humans? One of them, one of the things we’re truly not good at, is memorizing details for the long term. Right? Like, I can’t remember the address of the last place that I lived, I can’t remember the like, you know, my wife’s phone number. I have to like, look it up, human brain was just not designed to remember details. And that, luckily happens to be one of the things that software, that technology does so naturally, effortlessly, is remember, so precisely the exact thing that you write down in there. And so why beat our heads, you know, almost literally, against the wall, trying to memorize things when we can just write it down and look it up when we need it.
Clint Murphy 05:55
And so you talked a little already, you said three of the words that tie into the system. And the system for our second brain that you use is code, capture, organize, distill, express. Can you take us through at a high level, what those are and what the code system allows us to do? And then we’ll ultimately dive into some detail on each of those Tiago.
Tiago Forte 06:21
Yeah, that’s a good way to approach it. So code is my answer to a question. I don’t know if everyone’s wondered this question. But I think they should, which is, there’s this term, the creative process, right, that you may, you’ve probably heard people use. The creative process, I always heard that word. You hear, you know, a painter and artists say, Oh, my creative processes to do so and so. Or, you know, a musician would be like, my creative process works this other way. And I always wondered, maybe, because I didn’t think I had any creative talents. I always wondered, what is this process that people speak of? Where did they find out about that? What class did I miss in school that taught you the creative process. And now that I say that, I think it was attractive, because I thought, well, hey, maybe I could follow that process and be creative, even though I don’t seem to have natural talents. And I sort of read and researched and looked, and no one knows what it is. No one teaches, oh, this is the creative process. So code, to me, it’s not just my creative process, it is the creative process. It’s like, every medium of any kind throughout history, I think has to do each of these four things, which are the four letters of code in some way or another. We can go through them one at a time, but they basically stand for information has to be captured in some external medium somehow, has to be organized, which just means has to be structured and have some kind of order added to it, needs to be distilled. You have to decide what are the key points, the message, the plot, the takeaway, and then it has to be expressed has to be turned into some some form that other people can consume.
Clint Murphy 08:02
All right, let’s dive in this system. When you read a book, and you immediately start implementing it in your life, you know, it’s something that really resonates and in my position where I’m reading 50 + books a year to have conversations with authors, and then putting the book back on the bookshelf with my notes written throughout the book. I never see them again. And so right away, I said, well, why aren’t I capturing the key points of every single one of these books in my second brain, so that I can use them later. So that’s where we’re starting with code. But the biggest pitfall that you see that jumps out to me is you say, you see people falling into once they begin is capturing the digital notes is they’re just saving way too much. And if we try to save everything we come across, we’re just going to inundate ourselves with irrelevant information and the second brain will be no better than scrolling, doom scrolling a social media feed. So two things you tell us to do you have a not to capture list, and some capture criteria. So as people are going about their day, and they’re thinking of this second brain, how can they use the NOT to capture list? What are some thoughts you have on that? And what are some things they should be focusing on capturing so that what they’re putting in the second brain is something they actually want to pull out later?
Tiago Forte 09:26
Yeah, great question. I never quite thought of it that way. But you’re right. I do have they do not capture the DNC list. And I think it has to do from watching so many people read and take notes and highlight things and like really looking at what they write down. I’ve just noticed this pattern that pretty much we all do, which is they take note of things they already know. They already know. It’s basically confirmation bias. They read a book. Anytime you see those popular highlights, right. It tends to be the most obvious sort of like, the things that everyone agrees with. But it’s just like, Oh, of course, that’s true. Those tend to be like, you can even see it right in the Kindle book, that tends to be the little dotted line, most popular highlight, right? And there’s nothing wrong with finding more evidence for what you believe. But that’s not really the power of learning. Right? If all you ever do is learn things you already know, is that even learning? Like, what is the point of that? The point of learning is to find out what you don’t know. To find out what you don’t even know you don’t know. It’s to really change your mind, change your perspective, change your opinions, and your beliefs. That to me is the definition of learning. And therefore, if you think of your second brain as a learning system, as a learning machine, as to answer your other question, as you read, what you should note down or highlight or take note of, is what is seems paradoxical, what goes against your beliefs, but it’s kind of interesting or compelling? What is an angle or a take or an analysis that you never thought of before that surprises you? Surprise, might be the single best indicator, because if it didn’t surprise you, then you already knew it. And why would you write something down that you already know? Write down what you don’t know, what you don’t even expect to encounter? Which is what surprises you.
Tiago Forte 09:28
I love that idea because then we’re challenging what we do know. We’re also adding to our mental latticework. Oh, I didn’t know that, now I can put that in my latticework and think about it. And something I saw you reference throughout was that word interesting. Throughout the book, things that interest you? What is it about things that interest you that makes it something we want to capture?
Tiago Forte 11:46
Yeah, that’s such a fundamental question. I don’t even know if I, I sort of use that word without explaining it possibly. What I think it has to do with is, you know, a second brain is a, I always emphasize it’s a personal system. It’s personal knowledge management. It’s personal productivity, personal reading and the reason for that is no job is going to require this pf you, right? No, it’s not no one at your work or in your business cares if you take notes, they’re not going to want to, you know, examine your second brain for compliance, right? It is purely an interest based on your personal interests, it kind of has to be like, that’s the only source of motivation that we have to work with here is what inherently interests you, your curiosities, your passions, your side projects. And I think what’s challenging about that is so many of us honestly have lost touch with what is inherently interesting to us. I talk to a lot of adult like, I’m talking about adults, here, professionals. So much of what people think it means to be a professional is that you’re very, very good at ignoring your desires. ignoring what you want to do, and forcing yourself to do what you don’t want to do. That’s what people think it means to be a professional. That’s what they think it means to perform. And to do what I’m talking about, you got to go back, undo that, unlearn that and go back to the roots of what inherently fires your imagination.
Clint Murphy 13:23
What that’s bringing up for me is when you see the studies that show as we age, the amount of questions we ask drop, the level of curiosity we have as humans drop. And it seems to me as I’m starting this creative journey as a bit of an older person jumping into it, you need that curiosity. And you need to constantly be asking questions in order to create something new. That wasn’t there before.
Tiago Forte 13:59
Yeah. So it’s so true. Otherwise, what are you doing, just regurgitating what’s been said a 1000 times the exact same way. You’re adding nothing.
Clint Murphy 14:11
That’s right. You’re just putting out, you’re a curator, a curator of other people’s ideas. So once we start capturing that information, that’s where, never done it before, it’s like, okay, I’ve got an idea. I heard Tiago talk about what I should capture, what I shouldn’t. But then I may get overwhelmed and how do I organize it all. And so you offer a framework that you call PARA and we love the the acronyms so we’ve got CODE. Now we’ve got para, what is PARA mean, and how can our listeners use it to organize what they’re capturing?
Tiago Forte 14:49
Yes, so PARA was really the first was sort of the beginning of everything, you know, years before I had code or anything like that. The only problem I was trying to solve when I first became self employed, I was doing productivity coaching in the San Francisco Bay Area, helping people with their their digital notes. And they would typically have either like an inbox like an Evernote, or sometimes a documents folder on their computer, or like a Google Drive or cloud storage folder. That was just a gigantic disaster, just a dumpster fire, you know, dumping ground where documents went to die. And they were in this place of tremendous confliction, where they knew there was value there, they knew there was years, a whole career full of insights and ideas and work that they had done. But because it was completely unorganized, they couldn’t find or access, you know what they needed. And so PARA, it’s like a minimalistic way of organizing really any kind of information. So I mentioned to your notes app, your documents folder, your call storage, but people organize their calendars this way, finances this way, my wife organizes our, our kitchen and our closet, like the number of applications for this is truly universal. And the way it can be so universal, is by saying everything can be categorized in four buckets, four categories is all you will ever need. And the reason it can get away with four, you think of four categories, like a library has hundreds of categories, you know, bookstore has dozens of different sections, how could it be four? It can be for if you don’t think in terms of subjects, right? Like, this isn’t a school where you have math and chemistry or like, it’s not a bookstore, where you have like nonfiction and business and different things. When it comes to our productivity, the productivity for human life, there’s really four things, we have projects that we’re doing, outcomes that we’re trying to create, that’s the P in PARA. We have areas of responsibility. So things that don’t have like an exact outcome, but that we’re, you know, trying to maintain over time, like our finances, like our health, our relationships, our home, all that kind of stuff. We have resources, that’s the R, right, just interesting materials we’ve collected from the web, notes we’ve taken on books, you know, courses we’re taking, conferences we attend. And then finally, we have archives, which is the second A, which is simply anything from those previous three categories, that is no longer active. So we want to kind of out of sight, out of mind, but we don’t want to actually delete it. That’s it.
Clint Murphy 17:32
And then the other thing I love about it is that it’s not simply here’s the four buckets, the four buckets are irrelevant. But it’s the placement of the four buckets, in order of the time that I’m going to be working with the materials. So projects I’m working on right now, areas of my life might be daily, might be weekly, monthly, what have you. And resources are something I can draw on all the time. So what was it about that time element that was so important to you in setting up the structure of the organization?
Tiago Forte 18:13
Yeah, that’s such a great observation. And it’s very true. Where did that come from originally. I mean, it’s funny, because PARA emerged from an empirical process. I didn’t sit down one day and be like, hey, I really need to come up with four categories that, you know, encompass my entire life. Like, each of the categories was created in a moment of great need, often, almost like, haphazardly, casually because I just needed to get something done. Right. Like I think projects was probably first, I think I was in school in college. And every test, in order to succeed on a test, I had to think of it as a project, I’m trying to achieve something. And I have all this information that have to study for the test. Right? When I got my first jobs, I had projects, areas came later when I actually started have responsibilities. Okay, okay, You know, you get your first apartment, and you’re like, shoot, that is not a project. There is no outcome to achieve with an apartment. But it is an area of responsibility. I have to pay my rent, I have to clean it, I have to maintain it, all this stuff. Resources, I think arose when I just started having things that I was learning and kind of curious about but that weren’t like active current projects. And then archives was simply like the, it was like the cold storage anytime I finished something, I was like, I might need this Sunday. Let me just throw it over here in this kind of, you know, like side place. And then one day when I started teaching this stuff, I just you know what it was I started to notice. I have no stress, zero around organization. I never worry about where to put something. I never have to think about where to find it. I never want to sit down to get something done. I never have to spend half an hour piecing together all these different places across half a dozen platforms. And I started to just wonder why that was. And then I opened my Documents folder. And I was like, well, I use these four folders. But that’s just like common sense, right? But apparently not. No, it’s not.
Clint Murphy 20:15
And when you think about that, people talk about this concept, and when I learned it, it, it’s like, why am I learning this when I’m in my late 30s. Open loops and closed loops and the second brain, and later, we’ll talk about the process of weekly reviews and getting it in. But really, you’re looking to close all your loops. So one of the reasons you’re relatively stress free, I would think is you have a lot less open loops on the go at any point in time than the average person.
Tiago Forte 20:46
Yes. So this is such a subtle distinction. Yes, you need to close loops. The more open loops you have, which for anyone who doesn’t know is like you can think of it like a cognitive process, like a little worry, a little anxiety, a little thing you’re thinking about, the more you have open, the more stressed and anxious you’re going to be. So you have to close them. But here’s a misconception, Clint, that I think people have they think to close a loop, you have to finish the task.
Clint Murphy 21:11
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, good clarification.
Tiago Forte 21:14
You can’t, you’ll never, it’s like every day, there are 10 times more open loops opening than you can close every single day. That’s right. That’s right. Like, and that gets that actually gets worse over time. Because as you advance in your career, don’t you have more opportunities, that you have a wider network of people that you’re interfacing with? Don’t you have more options for what you could do. So like, early in your career, you might be able to close like 50% of loops, because like you’re an entry level employee, like your boss is, you know, asking you to do things, you don’t have that much latitude. The later in your career, you might only be doing 10%, or 1%, or 0.1% of those open loop. It’s like you have to be more selective for which things you say yes to, which inherently means you are closing a smaller percentage of the loops. Oh, so the misconception. The other way to close an open loop is to write it down, store it somewhere, and then have a system for revisiting what you wrote down on some sort of periodic basis and have confidence that that thing will come back to you,
Clint Murphy 22:19
And part of what we’re doing there is people may be confused by when we say closing the loop, they’re thinking tick it off your to do list. And that’s where we’re both saying, well, that’s impossible. It’s more the idea that when I mentally think I need to change the batteries in this remote control, I might not have access to the batteries right now. But if I put into because I’m using a mobile device for my second brain, I just put a little note at a task, replace batteries in remote control. Now I don’t have to have my brain whirring in the background, trying to keep track of that amongst hundreds of other open loops. It’s written down somewhere in my weekly review, I’ll get to it and all remember to get it done.
Tiago Forte 23:03
Exactly. The loop is closed, and you can’t fake it, you’ll know the loop isn’t actually closed, probably because you don’t trust that system. If your brain won’t let go of it, your brain reminds you that evening, in the middle of the night, the next day, it’s like the brain doesn’t trust,
Clint Murphy 23:18
Yes, you can’t fall asleep, because all these loops are firing away. And you’re like, Oh, I got to do this, I got to do this, I got to track this. And we’re just saying, well get that all down in a system, you might not deal with it right away. But it will shut down that anxiety that runs in the background of most people.
Tiago Forte 23:37
Clint Murphy 23:38
Oh, I love that. So now we’ve captured it, we’ve organized it using our PARA system. We’ve got it in order of urgency, we’ve closed some loops. But here’s where we get into trouble. So we’re a dedicated note taker, I’m reading these 52 books, I’m trying to shorten the amount of notes I’m taking, as you talked about. I think I’m putting them in the right spots. For me, I put all my books into my resource material, so that I can draw on it later. Unless it’s a reference book for a book I’m writing in which case it would go into projects. And then the interesting part you talk about is that we need to take that information. And we need to break it down further, which is the distill. And you call it a progressive summarization techniques to take it from let’s say, we think that’s a nice meaty paragraph. But by the time we’re done your process, it’s one sentence in our own words, that captures the meat of that paragraph. But how do we go from the paragraph to our sentence?
Tiago Forte 24:54
Yeah, that’s exactly distillation. You know, it’s funny because if we were totally decisive, we wouldn’t eat any of this, you will read a whole book and be like, the one takeaway is this, and then just directly take that action, no hesitation, you would have to think about anything, there would be no processing, you’re just like directly take it. I personally find that that’s impossible. Distillation is difficult. It takes real effort, it takes thinking, you know, to read even a paragraph. And it’s not it’s like critical thinking to first understand what they’re saying. But then it’s like a whole different thing like advanced critical thinking, to translate it and say, well, what this author is trying to say, like, this is kind of wild, because in a sense, you’re having to improve on the author’s thinking, because to say the same, essentially, the same thing in a more succinct way, is actually more difficult, right? It’s like that famous Mark Twain quote, I would have written a letter that was half as long but I didn’t have enough time. Right, getting it down is hard. And so I think this is why so few people do distillation. And why it adds so much value is when you have a second brain that is full of not just well curated, you know, thoughtfully chosen material. But even the thoughtfully chosen material has been boiled down where you can just, the test that I always uses, if you can just glance at it, like one look, not sit there and read line after line, just like in one glance, get the gist. Okay, if you can pass that test for most of the notes in your second brain, it creates this effect that you have to experience to believe. But when I open up Evernote, which is kind of my main second brain now, it is like the world’s most fun playground. It is like pure exhilaration. It’s like intoxicating, because it’s the only environment in my entire life, that I myself have chosen every single little item in there. Because I love it, because I’m excited by it. Not even my house is like that. I barely have any control over what’s in my house, actually. So that’s the psychological effect. Because think about what emerges from that psychological state. The imagination, the ingenuity, the insights, the breakthroughs that can happen, when you have that concentration of fascinating ideas all in one central place. It’s like a pressure cooker of creativity.
Clint Murphy 27:18
And one of the things. This is probably jumping ahead and a bit out of order. But it really jumps out at me. And I have been talking about it for weeks since I read the book is is the idea of our second brain, housing all of these information packets. And one of the spots that really jumps out at me. Thiago is is when you think about Twitter. And we’re writing threads. And a lot of people will say, well, how do you write so many threads a week and so, well, you have to remember, most of these threads are compiling information packets. And if I’m reading a thread that talks about six habits, and one of the habits is reading, I’ve probably written about reading 30 times. So I can go look at my old information packet, reformat it, I’m a better writer now than what I wrote it last time and add it into this thread. And so the ability to store these information, packets of ideas throughout our second brain, so maybe cluing the readers in, what is an information packet? And how can we use them in order to increase our creativity when we’re getting to that expression stage?
Tiago Forte 28:29
Yeah, it’s really this is one of the more subtle ideas as well is to see your notes as building blocks, like Legos, you open up a box of Legos, and it’s not just random stuff, the pieces have been created to fit together, they have been created to be easy to find, you know, they have a certain color or a certain shape. They’re made to be combined, right? That’s what Legos are, they’re shaped in such a way that they can be combined. You can do that with your notes as well. You know, something as simple as having an informative title. Right? A title is almost like this interface, where you could see, let’s say, two notes with two good titles and just look at the titles and see how they connect. Right? Like if without titles, you can’t, you’d have to read this entire note, hold that in your brain, read this entire note, hold that in your brain and try to fit together all these words. And there could be many different ideas and concepts in each one of them but a title, it’s like the interface that allows them to join. And so I think it’s just a very different perspective that it’s like so often I don’t know, I don’t know what I should be doing. I don’t know what my goals should be or are. I don’t know what I should be working toward like the modern world is very chaotic and uncertain. The ability to predict and plan is going down. It’s becoming worse because of all this just change we’re a watching, but when I wake up in the morning and this is really how I think is like if I can just amid all the chaos and uncertainty of my day, if I can create one intermediate packet today, one evergreen reusable unit of information, which is just a note, that was a good day, right? That is progress. Even if I didn’t have this, like one overarching goal that I, you know, was working toward the whole time, my job was really just to create intermediate packets. And then at some point, see what’s been created, and sort of snap it together into some kind of, you know, creative work or deliverable.
Clint Murphy 30:34
It’s interesting that you say that, because I hadn’t put that linkage together until you said that right there is that for the last eight years, as a CFO, I would often joke with my team, that if we were talking about something, and I managed to add value to it, or have one good idea, I would say, hey, I’m 1/3 of the way done. If I have three ideas a day, that’s all I need to do. Like, if I can generate or add value, if I can add value in to you, as my teammate into the team, into the company three times a day, life’s good. Because if I do three a day, and I do that every day, by the end of the year, we’ll have really moved the team and the company forward. And it’s really tying into that now, maybe I shouldn’t target three, that’s pretty exhausting. But so maybe it becomes two. I love that. So for the next question I want to throw at you, there’s a really powerful passage in the book that I’d love to share to draw the lines for the readers, and then let you color in the context on it. And what you said was, “The final stage of the creative process, Express, is about refusing to wait until you have everything perfectly ready before you share what you know, it’s about expressing your ideas earlier, more frequently and in smaller chunks, to test what works and gather feedback from others. That feedback in turn gets drawn into your second brain where it becomes the starting point for the next iteration of your work.”
Tiago Forte 32:33
Yeah, this is, a lot packed into that paragraph. That is speaking to, I think, what’s changed about the nature of work that makes something like a second brain system, important and necessary, which is it’s become so much more iterative, so much more iterative. You know, think about a website, you publish a website, and then from almost the very beginning, you make changes, like aren’t you constantly, you know, you’re swapping out the images, changing the colors, changing this or that fixing bugs, you know, changing the headlines, the titles, the links, fixing broken links, all these different things. There’s no real final website. Isn’t that interesting? There’s no final like to even say, Oh, what is the final perfect version? That question makes no sense. It makes no sense for something that is designed to dynamically change and adapt, the concept of of perfection disappears. And what’s true of websites, I think is increasingly true of everything. You know, I can publish like an ebook on the Kindle. And then a year later say, Oh, let me fix this, you know, thing or just change something, update something. And that change gets pushed to every single Kindle device and Kindle app in the entire world. Right, so even a book now there’s no such thing as the final perfect copy. Products can get updated and messages can be changed, strategies, communications, communities, everything. As the internet eats everything. And software eats everything. Everything starts to take on this quality that is just a constantly evolving dynamic, almost organism, rather than this, like Mona Lisa. Oh, it’s just there on the wall. It can never change. It’s perfect. It’s final. And I think most people have not adapted to this. We still have this old mindset that I have to do it perfectly, correctly the first time and then can never change it.
Clint Murphy 34:27
So relevant. We launched our website yesterday. And even I mean, we were working with a professional builder, professional copywriters, and in the week leading up to the launch, my wife, they handed over sort of the keys to her. And we were changing copy ourselves. She’d figured out how to pop into it. And we’re like, oh, we don’t like how we worded that. Even though we had had the copywriter write it, edited it, provided feedback. It’s like Oh, well that doesn’t quite ring true today. Oh, hey, go update all these numbers ,change this photo. So it was is definitely iterative. And I’m already thinking, well, how does this get better? In a year? How does this get better in two years? So it’s always changing. And when we look at that always changing, how does someone use their second brain? Because part of what’s jumping out at me is this concept we hear a lot about in the Creator Community, signal and noise. You know, sending out as much noise as we can, and looking for the signals, and maybe educating the listeners what, what’s crazy, Clint talking about with signals and noise? And how does the second brain help us find the signal in the noise?
Tiago Forte 35:42
Yeah, I think what’s happening with the internet is, it’s like we always think of downsides and upsides are like, whatever you’re going to do, you’re going to start a social media account, or you’re going to start a business or you’re just going to, you know, make a piece of art and put it out there. Any new endeavor, you think, okay, what are the downsides? And what are the upsides, right? The pros and the cons, the risks and the rewards, let’s just use upsides and downsides. With the internet, the downsides, get less and less over time, right? It’s like not that big. If you put something on social media, and it doesn’t do well, no one, you know, they don’t ridicule you and shake them. I mean, maybe a little bit, but like, it’s not like in the past where, you know, the village would, you know, come out with their pitchforks and drive you out of town. Usually, that thing just disappears. There’s millions of things being shared every single hour. So it just like falls beneath the waves. And generally, you know, no one sees it. So, and generally, I think culturally too, there’s more tolerance for failure. You know, someone can crash and burn their company. And then they start their next company. It’s like, oh, here’s funding, you have experience.
Clint Murphy 36:47
Yeah, well, not the right experience. But sure, here’s another round.
Tiago Forte 36:51
Exactly. So it’s like we’re getting more that’s there’s like that mantra of fail fast, or slowly as a culture, accepting that failure is necessary. So downsides are getting less. But upsides are exploding. Right? Like in the past, if you made a, let’s say, the most amazing song, what were the upsides, like, maybe if you’re like Mozart or Bach, you could get famous, but probably not, probably just your family would hear it. But today, you could put it on Tik Tok, or SoundCloud, or whatever it is, one viral piece of content can completely change your life, completely change transform your career, your business. So in that environment, it’s kind of like if you’re in Las Vegas, imagine if you couldn’t lose, but how much you could win was infinite. How many bets would you place, you would just be running frantically just placing every bet you could on every table, bet on every number, every roulette wheel, because all you need to do is win once you capture that upside.
Clint Murphy 37:49
Wow. So really looking at our creation or writing whatever the creation is, we’re looking at it in a world that is becoming more asymmetrical, to the upside. So if we write a tweet or a threat every day, people might get tired of it after a year. But the ones that fail, don’t harm us, you may still pick up 100 or 200 followers, the ones that bang, are blowing up your account. So continuing to create and this as in almost every area of creation, is looking for that opportunity to go exponential, to go viral. And when we think about that, you have another paragraph later where you talk a bit about this. “And it’s a bit of a paradox where we people think you need to focus on quality. When in reality quantity, the more you focus on the quantity, you’ll actually have higher quality than the person who only focused on quality. And but it’s getting harder, because now the way it works and this is what you talk to and this is why it can be exhausting, as a creator, unless you have boundaries is this fundamental tension between quality and quantity is a tension we share as knowledge workers, we also must produce work to an extremely high standard, and we must do it fast, continuously, all year long. We’re like sprinters who are also trying to run a marathon.” And that jumps out to me because so many times in my career people have said hey, Clint, slow down. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, not recognizing, well, maybe that might be right. But given what I’m trying to achieve in my career, I need to be sprinting right now even though you’re telling me it’s a marathon, because I have some spots I’m trying to get to and spots I’m trying to hit. So as a knowledge worker, what does that paragraph say to you? Why was that so important to be in the book and what are the listeners need to be thinking about related to that in their lives?
Tiago Forte 39:58
Yeah, It’s so interesting. It’s like, you know, doesn’t sound maybe that enlightening to say, actually, I think it is. So I think the relationship between quality and quantity, I think is so misunderstood. And quantity is basically the route to quality is what I’m saying that before you even know what quality looks like, or what it even means, or how to even define it, you have to put in the reps, you have to just get enough iterations, you have to, you know, invalidate enough assumptions, you just have to build the muscle of creating, which I think has always been true. But something has changed. You know, it’s like, in the past, it was so hard to bring something into existence, like, you can be like a Harper Lee, and do To Kill a Mockingbird. You know, it was so hard to get that book done, and then printed on pieces of paper, and then bound into books and then shipped all over the country. I’m not sure it would have been as helpful for Harper Lee to have produced 100 times as many books, right, it probably made sense, given those costs to really concentrate on just the one book, I don’t think she published anything for decades after that. Van Gogh, and I don’t think sold a painting in his lifetime. Like in the past, when costs are high, you have to wait until you’ve achieved very high quality before sharing something. But when costs go to zero, which they’ve done with the internet, suddenly, it’s like the advantage of being prolific just explodes. Because everything you publish or share is a shot on goal, is a chance, is a spin of the roulette wheel. And so what I’m trying to accomplish with that part of the book is just to have people who are just beginning especially, or just beginning a new thing, let go of any concept of quality and to just go for sheer volume, just produce as much bad work. And it will be bad in the beginning as they can to break through that early stage and develop essentially the intuition, the taste, to one day later on, be able to do something of high quality.
Clint Murphy 42:07
In often I’ll call that Tiago is being willing to embrace the suck. So we’re going to suck for a period of time. And if we do it long enough, and consistently enough, we may not, but we may get good. And then if we’re good for long enough, we may get great. But it’s just being willing to go for years, sometimes without the results. And so really focusing on that process and having the tools to allow us to do that is powerful. So if we take a step back, we talked a little bit about that and getting the quantity out there. You break down the E or expression into three different stages. What are those stages look like for you? And how can the listener use them when they get to that stage of their creative process?
Tiago Forte 42:57
Was that remembering connecting creating?
Clint Murphy 43:00
I believe so.
Tiago Forte 43:02
It’s all on my second brain, so I can’t remember. Yeah, so I noticed there’s different stages that people move through as they embark on this journey of building a second brain. They first start using digital notes just as a memory device, you know, they are going to the grocery store, write down a shopping list. Someone said a few things in a meeting, write down some bullet points, they’re just like, recording something and then retrieving it. It’s a very slick, simple sort of transaction. And that’s important. Like, you have to start, you know, at the beginning, that actually has benefits you save all those open loops, you know, that we talked about, you offload those onto notes. But then what happens is, once you’ve written down and recorded a certain number of these things, you start to see connections, you start to be like, Oh, this thing I wrote down that just kind of seemed interesting, actually, is the solution to this other know where I wrote down a question. It almost becomes like the matching game we played as kids, you’re just like, oh, this note is the solution to this, these two notes go together and become this other thing. You just start matching ideas in your notes, and solving real problems, things that would have taken you many hours to come up with from scratch, you can just snap together two or three or four notes, and suddenly you’re done. And that is an important moment. That’s the moment I see the light bulb kind of turn on. And people go, Oh, this is a thinking tool. This really is like an extended mind. This is a system that can do kinds of thinking that I can’t do. And then there’s a third state, which is creating, right when you snap together, combine those those notes that might make sense to you doesn’t make sense to anyone else. Right? If you’ve ever tried to share some notes with someone, you know, you will quickly find out they don’t make any sense to anyone else. They’re just like, Why? Why are you sharing these like random scribblings, these bullet points that have no context? You quickly find out notes are for your personal use. But you can turn them into something, you can compose an email, you can write a report, you can record a loom video or whatever, that essentially synthesizes, translates those kind of messy informal notes into a form that someone can actually understand, which is some kind of communication. And to me, that’s the highest level that is the ultimate use of the second brain is to basically communicate faster, more effectively, more compellingly with a bigger impact is the ultimate kind of end goal.
Clint Murphy 45:35
That’s the goal we all want to get to. And when we look at that, even people may undervalue that first one. But simple example, going on a podcast about a month ago, I’d read your book. So I’d started taking, I created my second brain the next day. And they wanted me to talk about goals and habits. And I knew a lot of the things I knew. And I thought, okay, well, if if I’m, you know, in the hot seat lights are on shining, I want to be able to just collect some thoughts on from some experts. So I did a little bit of research through to my second brain and in the resources section, I threw it under habits. That way while I was in there, and they asked some very specific questions, I was able to, well, let me pull that up, and just pop into my second brain. So that was only remembering, but as able to use it in a way where it was contributing to the conversation without being flummoxed on the spot. So there was big value to me at that stage and so some of our readers are probably wondering, okay, now I’ve built this massive second brain, I’m putting information in it all the time. How do we get that information out? What are some ways people should be thinking about it in advance, so that they can get the information they need when they need it?
Tiago Forte 46:54
Yes. So I would call that retrieval, which is a big challenge people have, you know, they’ve amassed this collection of notes, how do they retrieve what they need when they need it fast? Right? And in a sense, the answer is everything we’ve we’ve already talked about, right? Like start a capture, if you’ve captured only small passages, small excerpts of only the most provocative, surprising novel things,the job of retrieval is already so much easier, because you’re not waiting through 50 pages of something, you’re not having walls of text, you just have these, my notes are usually just like a snippet, like one sentence, or a few sentences, or maybe a couple paragraphs at most. These aren’t like Word documents was just like page after page of stuff, right? If you’ve organized, right, so search generally takes care of around 80% of most retrieval. You just do a search, the search features of these notetaking apps are extremely powerful. But for the other 20%. That’s how we have PARA, right, because sometimes the word you’re searching isn’t in the notes, right? Like you don’t know what to search for, basically. And so you need these kind of like little pools, it’s like a room in your house that only has content related to one of your PARA categories. One of your projects, one of your areas, one of your resources, you need these, like little holding areas. These little, you know, like dedicated spaces where you corral the ideas related to like one thing, so then you can go into that room and just work with them. And then distill might be the most important, right? Even if you find something via search, let’s say you do a search, the first note that comes up, oh, that’s just what I’m looking for. If you click on that note, and it’s 1500 words, and you’re in the middle of your workday, you have five minutes between meetings, it’s of no use, you might as well not even have it, right. But if you distill, and you have, say the key point highlighted, or in your own words, or in an executive summary. And like I said, in a glance, you can go oh, that’s what that’s about, and decide right, then in almost an instant, if this is relevant to your next meeting, or your next decision or your next task, then the retrieval just becomes so much easier.
Clint Murphy 49:07
And so one of the good things we might want to do, even if it’s a longer idea that we’ve captured, use that military concept of writing emails where we do they call it the BLUFF or bottom line up front. So right up at the top of the note, hey, what’s the meat and potatoes of this note? And then we can have a little bit of a longer note below it?
Tiago Forte 49:29
Sure. Yeah, it’s like in design, this is called an information hierarchy, or visual hierarchy, right? You always want the main point at the top, front and center, and then more detail, right. And then if you want more detail under that, and then the most detail at the bottom, I think the challenge is most is something very interesting you notice once you you’ve seen this pyramid, and you know about these hierarchies, is most content is created the exact opposite way. Like most articles you read, the main point is at the absolute bottom.
Clint Murphy 50:03
Yeah, the back of the chapter, here’s the three bullets that were relevant. It’s like, well, why wouldn’t you put those up front? And then I, as the reader can say, okay, what I’m gonna get out of this chapter is these three things. If I already know two of them, I’m just gonna go look for the, to your point earlier, like, why are we spending time on what we already know? Now I can just go look for that third point, get the meat off the bone, throw it into my capture system. And I got the one thing in that chapter I needed. I didn’t waste my time reading the whole chapter to be like, Oh, I knew 80% of that. I only wanted one thing.
Tiago Forte 50:38
Exactly. Yeah. So given that most content out there, it’s not designed for easy consumption. The reason we are taking notes and sort of structuring them in this way is where we’re basically getting the piece of content and turning it upside down. We’re getting the main point that’s at the end, putting it at the top at the beginning. And then all the other contexts and details, or at least the ones that we find interesting and relevant, are in the note, but they’re not at the top there, you know, need to know basis.
Clint Murphy 51:07
That makes sense. And so as the listener starts to implement this second brain, what is a good rhythm and routine for someone starting out with it?
Tiago Forte 51:19
Yeah, like how they can get started?
Clint Murphy 51:21
Yeah. And like their weekly review process. And like you said earlier, hey, we’re going to close the loop by throwing it into the system. And then we’ll come back to it. So what is coming back to it looked like? And how would you do that throughout the week? If you were starting over?
Tiago Forte 51:35
Yes. So a couple of things. First is, I would start with just projects, okay, the four letters of Para are too much to start. Start with your projects. And the reason is that those are real, those are happening like now today. They’re not speculative, they’re not for some imaginary future that you think is going to arrive, right? Like you have urgent needs things you have to get done right now. And so I would just create a single dedicated folder, or depending on your platform, a tag for each of your active projects, and then to just start capturing information, someone sends you an email, you can copy and paste a passage into your notes. If you read a good article, highlight a passage, put it in your notes, if you read a book, highlight something, put it in your notes out. But instead of doing what most people do, which is just dump it in there, and don’t think about it, okay? Or the other thing that people do, which is try to find, like, create, like 35 categories, and then find like the exact right place that it goes. Simply ask yourself one question, which project is this going to help me move forward? Think of each note you take, not in terms of its like subject matter or its meaning. But in terms of its utility. This is a big mindset shift for people. How is this useful? How is this going to save me time? How is this going to save me effort? It’s almost like you’re at the hardware store. Right? You’re not there for fun. Although might be fun. You’re looking at every little product, like how is this rivet or this hammer or this piece of siding going to make my life easier? And then to based on the answer to that question, put those notes in the project that’s going to be most relevant, then next time you sit down to do some work, and you’re going to work on a given project, open up that folder. And this is where the magic happens. Because you’re going to have one dedicated environment, the only place that you can sort of step into virtually that every single thing in there only has to do with that one project.
Clint Murphy 53:39
Okay, perfect. So that gives people a place to start. Do you have time for a Final Four, which are not related to the book and we use with everybody? So the first one I’d love to throw at you is what’s one of the most influential books that you’ve read on your life.
Tiago Forte 53:54
I mean, my favorite one is one called The Source, which is a historical fiction novel by James Mitchener There’s a pretty well known author. And it’s kind of random. It’s basically it tells the story of an archeological dig on this mound of dirt in Palestine, in modern day Israel. And he basically the archaeologists are uncovering one layer of dirt at a time. And then the story, each chapter goes back in time to tell the story of that one layer in the soil. Now that I think about, now that we’ve just talked about progressive summarization. There’s something very progressive summarization about this. It’s this idea that like, all the information is there. It’s sitting there stacked one on top of the other, and that by just systematically uncovering them, you can, I mean, the stories that unfold are just incredible and moving and, and just kind of on spiring and it’s all just barren soil.
Clint Murphy 54:54
That sounds like a read that I have to get into my life. Thank you for sharing that. What’s on your bookshelf work right now that you’re reading?
Tiago Forte 55:02
Um, let’s see. I’m reading one called, I’m just finishing one called The Business of Belonging, find quite good.
Clint Murphy 55:10
The business of belonging, okay.
Tiago Forte 55:13
It’s basically how to create a community centric business.
Clint Murphy 55:17
Which is very, very present moment, as everyone talks about building communities instead of a business. Okay, The Business of Belonging, I will look that up as well. Thank you. So what’s one thing that Tiago has spent under $1,000 on in the last 12 to 18 months that you’ve said, Wow, I wish I had bought that earlier.
Tiago Forte 55:42
Let’s see. Let me think here. What have I bought? Well, it’s funny, the thing that comes to mind is, I found this, this masseuse, who describes herself I think, as a body worker, that costs $300 an hour, which sounds outrageous, right? Actually, it’s not per hour, it’s per session. And the sessions are like two hours, but it’s worth every penny, because I didn’t realize like massage, you think it’s just sort of mechanical, it’s just like, they’re just following instructions. They’re just like, doing the same thing with everyone. Apparently not. There are levels of talent and skill in the sasch. The same way, like basically, I think it’s a creative art form, like the same way, there’s a LeBron James of, you know, basketball. This woman is like the Lebron James of massage, where she basically is like, restructuring what she calls your fascia, like the connective tissue between your muscles in a way that when you walk out of there, you’re like a completely different person.
Clint Murphy 56:45
It resonates, there was a period of time back in 2016, through 18, I ran every day for about a year and a half. And it got longer and longer, some Ultra training. And so all of a sudden, I was going to a physiotherapist every two weeks, and most of it was him doing massage and using needling. And it was the most painful experience during the hour. And then how you felt for the next week before he went back for your next session was magical. So there was there was definitely value there to go. And so because the show is about growth, what’s one mindset shift, habit or behavior change that you made in your life that is had an oversized impact on you?
Tiago Forte 57:34
You mean, like personal growth or business growth?
Clint Murphy 57:36
Yeah, personal growth, but it could be business growth, if you want it to be,
Tiago Forte 57:39
I think the biggest thing I was just right before this call talking to my coach, my business coach about this is for lack of a better term delegation. You know, for so many years, sort of growing the business, just trying to make the business survive, honestly, it was about taking more responsibility, you know, that there’s a time where you have to learn what it means to take on more and more and more responsibility. And then you reach a point sort of a peak of responsibility, where now to make progress to grow. Actually whether personal growth or business growth, it’s the same, you have to start in a weird way, taking less responsibility, giving responsibility to others, holding them accountable, being connected to them in a way that there’s a two way accountability. And if you don’t learn how to do that, you’re just going to be crushed, you’re going to be crushed by this amount of responsibility that you’ve taken on. And so I just promoted one of my team to COO.
Clint Murphy 58:38
Oh, wow, excellent.
Tiago Forte 58:40
Yes. First C level title we’ve had, we’re still quite a small business, but it’s like, the thought experiment we’re running is if I disappeared for a month, without notice, could she continue to run the business, which leads to some kind of fascinating realizations.
Clint Murphy 58:57
Well, I forget who wrote it on Twitter, but it really resonated for a lot of solopreneurs and entrepreneurs, which was, if your business, I think it might have been Christine Carrillo, if your business can’t run for 72 hours or seven days without you, you’re an employee. And so everyone who’s a solopreneur, entrepreneur thought, wow, that hits home a little too much. If I can’t go away. I’m really employed by my own business. And so that that’s powerful. So we’ve gone far and wide on the book pretty deep. Is there anything we missed that you want to leave the listener with?
Tiago Forte 59:34
Yeah, I think I would say if you’re sort of hearing all this, you’re like, oh, this sounds way too complicated. This sounds like you know, overly elaborate. You’re already doing it. It’s not a question of am I going to do what we’re calling knowledge management or not? You are doing something with knowledge. Maybe you’re ignoring it, avoiding it and like, actively pushing back on it, but now it’s such knowledge intensive lives such information abundant environments, that the only question is if you’re going to get good at it, if you’re going to do it a little more intentionally a little more strategically. I tried to write the book to just be accessible to people who are beginning. And I’d encourage them to just pick one problem. Don’t try to architect your entire life into this software. You know, from day one, just pick one problem you’re trying to solve. My first thing was a chronic health condition. All I wanted the first several years was to go to doctor’s appointments and be able to look at my notes from last visit that was it, right? Prove to yourself with this one use case that you can actually have tremendous benefits from using software to manage information, and then just build from there, if you want.
Clint Murphy 1:00:47
Oh, that’s great. And where can our listeners find you?
Tiago Forte 1:00:51
Everything is that buildingasecondbrain.com we have the book, the course, a podcast, YouTube channel, blog, tons and tons of both free stuff and courses and trainings you can purchase. But it’s all found at buildingasecondbrain.com
Clint Murphy 1:01:06
Perfect we will get that in the show notes and we’ll get your links to your social media in there as well so people can find you. Thank you for joining me on the show today. That was a wonderful conversation about building a second brain My pleasure.
Clint Murphy 1:01:27
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