About Tiago Forte

Tiago Forte is the founder of training and consulting firm Forte Labs. His main interest is the intersection of design, technology, and modern work. Follow him at his blog or on Twitter

The Throughput of Learning

Learning in the 21st century is not about acquiring more information, knowledge, or even insights. The goal is to maximize the throughput of invalidated assumptions. But you have to get there one step at a time.

When you first start learning, early in life, there is a bottleneck in the amount of information you have access to. You soak up everything like a sponge, because you are open and there is relatively little to absorb.

But very quickly, in elementary school, your access to information stops being the limiting factor. You take home a few giant textbooks, and suddenly the bottleneck moves to ways of structuring and contextualizing the information.

In high school, you learn a variety of methods to structure information — outlines, diagrams, underlining and highlighting, reports, essays, notebooks and binders. The bottleneck moves to your ability to synthesize this information, to turn it into new ideas.

In college, if you make it that far, the bottleneck moves to insight generation. You start questioning the world as given, and find that the juiciest intellectual rewards are ideas that shift how you view it. You start hunting for the revolutionary, the controversial, steering your learning toward the red pills of paradoxes and contradictions.


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Meta-Skills, Macro-Laws, and the Power of Constraints

Nearly every science-fiction novel seems to agree on one thing: in the future, work will be indistinguishable from art. Such wide agreement suggests that work is far more than a means of income generation. Even in a robot servant utopia, with all our practical needs taken care of, human work will still have a purpose. To find or make meaning, to know thyself, to create beauty or value in the world. Productivity is helpful in these deeper pursuits because the fundamental questions it seeks to answer—how order arises from disorder, complexity from randomness, and ends from means—are the very same questions essential to understanding sentience, life, the universe, and everything.

It’s been noted that the best writers know the rules of writing well enough to break them in creative ways. The rules in this way are more than rules. In the beginning, they are crutches. Later, they become guides and useful defaults. Eventually, they become springboards. They crystallize the moments where a writer has to decide what she believes, who she isn’t, and by process of elimination, who she is.v7.001

This is the same role, I believe, that “tips and habits” play in productivity: rules that are designed to be broken in a journey of self-discovery. They resist a little bit, asking “Are you sure you want to choose your own adventure?” Which is helpful, because many times you shouldn’t. This changing role makes it irrelevant whether a piece of productivity advice is “right” or “wrong.” What matters is how fruitful of a domain it circumscribes, and thus whether it’s worth the effort to redesign it. It’s not important whether you “believe in it” or not, but whether you can articulate how it fits (or doesn’t) within your personal system of truths.

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A Framework of Experimental Habit Formation

One of the key challenges of living and working in the future will be continuous learning and experimentation. I’d like to propose a framework for guiding these efforts that is both feasible and focused on the individual: experimental habit formation. I believe it can help resolve one of the fundamental paradoxes of modern life: how to balance our need for stability and routine with our thirst for novelty and exploration.

Experimental habit formation is a precursor and gateway to behavior change. The question “ How do I change?” is not enough, because it presupposes that you know which behaviors to adopt; even if you do, that these behaviors will lead to the outcomes you expect; and even if they do, that these outcomes will remain personally relevant and meaningful forever. By replacing these risky assumptions with tests, experimental habit formation provides a sandbox to “debug” new behaviors before wider deployment.

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The Holy Grail of Self-Improvement

The holy grail of self-improvement in modern times is a framework for individual experimentation and learning that can be used by the average person. The key question such a framework would have to answer is “How do people change?”


In this essay I will suggest possible answers to this question by looking at the recent history and theory of behavior change, the main obstacles this framework would have to address to be feasible, and a few promising directions from research and practice.

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Productivity for Precious Snowflakes

We’ve been told for years now that what our parents and kindergarten teachers told us is not, in fact, true — we are not each and every one of us special unique snowflakes destined for greatness. In this essay I want to offer a new theory of productivity for those of us who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, still believe there is something valuable about our particular point of view. I will argue that the fundamental driver of creative work today is not values, goals, or processes, but unique states of mind.

Two identical snowflakes, via the NYT

Let’s start by taking this idea to unreasonable extremes: hyper-advanced aliens and digital souls.

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