Monday Musings (The Craziest Hiring Decision I've Ever Made)

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Hi friends,

Greetings from Austin!

For the past year, I’ve been working with Johnathan Bi on a lecture series about the philosopher René Girard.

We released the first lecture last week. It’s a comprehensive guide to Girard’s work without the jargon or the stuffiness you often find in academia. Johnathan has been studying Girard for the past five years, and you can feel that obsession in the quality of his analysis.

In our upcoming lectures, we’ll dive deeper into the specifics of Girard’s philosophy. We plan to release one lecture per month for the rest of the year.

Here’s what I want to share this week:

  1. What Girard Taught Me: One lesson sticks out from all the time I spent preparing these lectures: beware of chasing prestige. I explain what I mean in this short Twitter thread and this mini-essay.
  2. Write of Passage Newsletter: We've taught more than 1,000 students how to launch their own newsletters, but until last week, we didn't have one ourselves. You can read the first edition for yourself here. Each will be jam-packed with strategies that help you improve your writing, find your people, and build your Personal Monopoly.

If you want to receive this week’s edition, click here.

Why I Hired Two High-Schoolers

I'm launching a second product at Write of Passage and I just hired two 16-year-olds to build it.

Their names are Kate and Peyton, and moving forward, they’ll be a core pillar of our team. They’ll design the curriculum for an always-on program that teaches high schoolers to write online. I can honestly say: there might be no two people in the world better to shape this new product.

On paper, Kate and Peyton are two of the best students in the country. As sophomores, they are already getting 5s on AP tests. Their writing is exceptional too. When they took Write of Passage, both of them were complimented on their writing skills by adults who didn't know they were so young.

But intelligence is table stakes. I'm excited by how uniquely they think.

They attend one of the most forward-thinking schools in America where they haven't had a formal teacher since the 4th grade. For ten years, they’ve learned with software apps instead of lectures, so they rank in the top 0.001% for how much time they've spent with learning apps. Kate even has a Substack called Austin Scholar where she writes about how schools should change.

They’ve taught me that age and experience don’t guarantee competence. Sometimes, they are a disadvantage.
— —

1. You Should Spend More Time with Young People

I've long agreed with Tyler Cowen's assessment: "For all the talk about youth, I still think that 14-to-19-year-olds remain underrated."

Cowen’s take is particularly true in the world of ideas, which follows a power law. There are big upsides to discovering a new idea, and relatively small downsides to getting something wrong. Though it’s hard to build a good Personal Monopoly in an existing field, one can attainably become a globally-renowned expert in an emerging domain — such as online education. Kate and Peyton will design a curriculum that vibes with their generation. The adults on our team can help them shape and refine it.

Though Write of Passage is a successful Cohort-Based Course, there are tons of changes these two 16 year olds recommend for the high school version — shorter live sessions, fewer lectures, more interaction, and a wider diversity of exercises.

Since they’ve spent their lives learning online, they have deeper insights than we do. They reject our lecture-based model. They think synchronous time should be focused on group exercises and community feedback. Videos should be pre-recorded so they can watch them at 2x speed.

There’s a broader principle to explore here though. Whether you're hiring or not, you should spend more time with young people– especially if you work in technology.

No, I'm not talking about mentorship. The benefits should flow both ways. Young people have an intuitive sense of the future that older people will never have. The saying "age is just a number" is wrong. Age matters because our biology exerts such influence on how we think.

I think back to Douglas Adams' rules about technology, which he laid out in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: “ (1) anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works, (2) anything that's invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it, and (3) anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Even the exceptions prove the rule.

The people I know who are older than 35 and have a sense of what the future looks like consistently spend time with young people. It’s not enough to hang out with any average kid. Like adults, only a fraction of teenagers have strong and informed opinions. You have to search the world for high-potential kids. Then once you find them, take them seriously by listening to their thoughts and giving them responsibility.

— —

2. Kids are Smarter Than You Think

Adults don’t hand over responsibility because they think teenagers are dumb.

Though the variance between people is huge, the smartest teenagers are smarter than the adults they surround themselves with in many ways. Last month, we did an impromptu math competition at dinner with Kate and Peyton. There were eight adults at the table and they beat all of us. The adults weren't schmucks either. The host was one of the most successful entrepreneurs I know, and he insists that Kate and Peyton have a higher mental processing speed than he does.

Teenagers have higher mental processing than many adults. In fact, fluid intelligence peaks in adolescence.

Kids work faster too.

They act with more urgency because they have a faster clock speed. We begin to work on a slower time cycle with age, partially because each year is a smaller and smaller percentage of our lives. A year is an eternity to a ten-year-old, but it's a comfortable planning session to a 70-year-old.

(Don’t tell them, but we're paying these teenage hires by the hour because they work so much faster than adults ツ).

— —

3. The World is Governed by Old People Now

Unfortunately, we live in a gerontocracy.

The average age of senators in American positions of power has creeped up since 1980. It seems like every presidential election is headlined by two candidates who'll each become the oldest president in history. Indeed, Biden and Trump are the two oldest presidents in American history. Bernie Sanders is even older.

The pattern persists in should-be innovative environments like universities, research departments, and corporate boardrooms:

  • Of the 30 heads of top American universities, 28 were born between 1946 and 1964.
  • The proportion of grants awarded to scientists under the age of 36 has fallen to ~1.5%. (During this same period, the productivity of scientists funded by the NIH has fallen too).
  • The average age of new CEOs for Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies has risen by 13 years since 2005.

— —

4. We Need New Approaches to Education

Putting a new generation in charge is the fastest way to change our approach to schooling. I recently spoke to the pastor of my local church, who said: "I don't run my church conventionally. Everybody wants me to use standard methods, but I refuse. I hated church as a kid, so why would I run my church in the same way?"

Schools deserve the same question.

I've met so many parents who educate their children in a school system they despised, where the parents insist that they learned very little. Sure, some parents don't have the choice. Maybe their local area only has one school. Or maybe they don't have the money to try alternative education. Nevertheless, the conformity persists amongst otherwise forward-thinking parents who have the resources to try something different.

Einstein once said: "You can't solve problems with the same thinking you used to create them."

The school system is broken. Kids learn very little and don't enjoy it. Learning is one of life's greatest thrills, but most kids learn to hate school. Graduating from college was the best thing that ever happened to my learning because I no longer had to suffocate under the system’s heavy hand.

I'm so disillusioned with the traditional school system that we've hired very few people from traditional academia. Instead, we want to hire citizens of the Internet with an intuitive sense for what a better approach to education looks like.

Kate and Peyton, welcome to Write of Passage!

Photos of the Week

One of the most surprising discoveries from my recent trip to France was the difference between American bookstores and the ones I found in Paris.

American bookstores have loud covers with a focus on business, self-help, and celebrity memoirs. French ones have calm covers with a focus on classic literature, esoteric philosophy, and critiques of the modern world.

Have a creative week,

David Perell Logo 2x

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