Our vision is that every single person in the world has the opportunity to create a Second Brain – a personal system of knowledge management – of their own.
Everyone should have the chance to gather information and ideas, turn them into valuable knowledge, and use that knowledge to improve their own lives and the lives of others. Our biological brains are fundamentally limited, and we need to harness technology to help us think faster, better, and more clearly. By offloading our thoughts to intelligent software, we can refine our ideas and see them more clearly.
This vision has already been in motion for centuries, from the most ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics to the printing press and modern “tools for thought.” It didn’t start with us, and it won’t end with us. We exist in a unique historical moment: the technology to realize that vision finally exists, but awareness and knowledge about how to use it aren’t well distributed.
We are seeing the rise of a new generation of digital notetaking and knowledge management apps, from Evernote (which first demonstrated that there was a market of hundreds of millions of customers), to programs like Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes, and Google Keep, to newer ones like Notion, Obsidian, Roam, and many others.
These companies are raising extensive rounds of funding, regularly releasing new features, and becoming an ever more engrained part of mainstream culture. Virtually every computing device in the world today comes pre-installed with some form of notetaking app. This is a stunning development that makes the creation of a Second Brain mostly a matter of awareness and training.
We have an important role to play at Forte Labs: to help democratize and popularize the tools of personal knowledge management (PKM) through education. And through the power of the Internet, to deliver that education to every corner of the globe.
What led me here
I spent most of my 20s living and working abroad in developing countries – in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, in the conflict-scarred cities of coastal Colombia, and in politically destabilized Eastern Ukraine.
I cannot forget the faces of the many talented, curious young people I met, buzzing with creative energy and hope for the future. I saw how much it meant to them to learn English as a second language. The ability to speak English became a portal to a universe of possibilities – to new countries, jobs, ideas, and the Internet. Learning a new language allowed them to access a global information economy that wasn’t limited by their location.
Most people in the world now have Internet access, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use it to its full potential. There is another language needed to participate as a full citizen of the Internet: the language of digital fluency, from the basics of browsing the web to creating businesses and communities online, and everything in between.
We live in a golden age of content, with almost unlimited free learning resources available online. But not everyone is prepared to benefit from it equally. It is only those who know how to harness technology and organize knowledge for their own purposes who will be empowered by the information tidal wave we are now facing.
I believe Second Brains have the potential to fling open the doors of the Internet to millions of more people, and in the process, to shape how they work, learn, and create in the 21st century. To extend and amplify our minds and help us remember, connect, and create ideas for an information-based economy.
Stepping back to look at the broader history, it’s clear that the Second Brain movement is part of the long arc of technology’s progress in helping us transcend our biological limitations. It’s an essential tool in the remote, autonomous, project-based economy we are increasingly moving toward, as important to knowledge workers as a hammer is to a carpenter.
Second Brains are a critical part of the democratization of education, providing a place for learners to take note of, organize, and engage with knowledge as they navigate the endless self-guided learning resources they find online. And Second Brains even play a part in humanity’s spiritual journey, helping us externalize our thoughts and emotions so we can understand ourselves better.
Our unique role
Our purpose as a company is to “transform how the world uses knowledge.”
Knowledge already exists all around us in abundance. We are changing how people take in, handle, contextualize, and deploy that knowledge at the most practical level. We are building the cognitive infrastructure of knowledge work – not the devices or apps they run on, but the “mental software” running on people’s minds that allows them to use those apps effectively, strategically, and intentionally. Our work is in the cultural, sociological, historical, and technological narratives that give meaning to the tools we use.
Our unique role at Forte Labs is to create the overarching frameworks that give the practice of PKM credibility and exposure. An idea cannot truly go mainstream until it’s wrapped in a “meme” that compels people to recognize, understand, share, and invest time in it.
Our live, cohort-based course provides a way to train an elite corps of early adopters who will become the evangelists, influencers, coaches, and teachers in their own right. About 5,000 people have taken our course so far, which represents barely a drop in the bucket of our potential audience. The course provides a way to fund our efforts so we can continue to improve the material, grow the team, and create other products and services that are more accessible and affordable.
As of this month, exactly 5 years have passed since the very first cohort of our course. For our next chapter, we’ve chosen to pursue publishing a mainstream, non-fiction book. Books signal to people that an idea has been vetted, tested, and accepted by the people and institutions they look to for guidance. The very gatekeepers that make it so daunting to get a published book into bookstores also force the contents of that book to be translated into simple, everyday language that anyone can understand within a minute of picking it up.
Consider the power of a corporate executive who picks up a book at an airport bookstore before boarding her flight. Or a newscaster looking for guests who comes across a “New York Times bestseller” stamp of approval. Or a university chancellor seeing a talk at an academic conference by the author. As much as the Internet has transformed how we access information, these kinds of gatekeepers still hold tremendous power. And they look for signals of credibility when deciding which subjects to pay attention to.
The success of the Building a Second Brain book has the potential to expand the audience for “Second Brains” between 10-100 fold, due to the vastly greater accessibility of a book format versus an online course. Every decision I’m making – from which publisher to go with, to the terms of our deal, to the promotion and launch strategy, to the formats and languages we will publish in – is designed to maximize reach and accessibility.
Over the next decade, we have the chance to start a third stage: translating the same content to other formats and mediums. I envision a workbook that guides people through the process of making a Second Brain, coaching services that can be purchased stand-alone or as part of the course, in-person workshops and seminars, and a private learning community that people can join as the most obvious opportunities. But eventually, we could also deliver physical products such as specially designed paper notebooks, a licensing and certification program for coaches who want to incorporate our ideas into their own practice, and a Second Brain Summit to bring the wider ecosystem together. Once we’ve established a critical mass, the possibilities are endless.
What becomes possible if we succeed
If we succeed in our mission, the role of technology in people’s lives will never be the same. Technology will be less invasive and distracting, as people learn how to set boundaries and tailor their exposure to information based on what serves them. But technology will also be more intimately intertwined with people’s work and lives, as they give up trying to remember things and entrust their ideas and knowledge to intelligent machines. Technology will work silently, invisibly, in the background, as our servant instead of our master.
Education will be impacted by the introduction of PKM as a core skill. From elementary to higher education and beyond, the Industrial-Era emphasis on rote memorization and individual efforts will give way to a focus on creativity and collaboration. Students will be expected to extend their minds’ capabilities using technology, so they can double down on the kinds of thinking that only they can do. Notetaking will be seen as a lifelong practice of personal growth, not just preparation for a test. The practice of taking notes will infuse every aspect of daily life, as people realize that education is not just a stage of life – it is a way of living.
The way professionals, entrepreneurs, and companies utilize knowledge will dramatically change. Every professional will feel a sense of agency that they can capture the highest-value information they encounter, and distill it into actionable, bite-sized nuggets to enrich their future thinking. Entrepreneurs and creators will save tremendous amounts of time – not just hours and days but months and years – by acquiring and assembling building blocks of knowledge instead of reinventing them from scratch. Companies will invest in training their employees in the skills of capturing and sharing knowledge, trusting them to figure out the best software to serve the unique way their minds work. Knowledge will be seen as something to be open-sourced and shared to accelerate people’s careers and give them more control over their future.
The economy at large will shift to value the qualities that humans are uniquely capable of. When people learn informal, practical ways of learning almost anything online, and organizing it in a way that serves their own needs, they will feel more confident letting go of low-skill work and making bigger, bolder bets on themselves and their careers. From software development to design, teaching to coaching, independent freelancing to starting companies, the career paths open to people will explode in number and variety. People will have more agency and control over their lives, knowing that there are countless ways for them to create durable value and monetize that value in whatever way suits their goals and lifestyle.
The Internet will become a more sane, calm, and considered place as people master the process of developing and refining their thinking before broadcasting it in public. More and more people will consider themselves “creators,” regardless of whether they make it a living. They will see their intellectual output as a body of work, which they can grow and evolve over time independently of themselves. The original vision of the Internet as a knowledge sharing network will come to fruition, as more and more people’s knowledge is open-sourced and a culture of building on the ideas of others spreads.
The Second Brain movement will play a pivotal role in humanity’s evolution, reaching millions of people and empowering them to unlock their creative potential. People’s time will be freed up from mundane, rote tasks to focus on their personal growth, to take care of themselves and others, and to follow creative pursuits without worrying how they’ll pay the bills.
Ultimately, we will play a part in unshackling humanity from its biological constraints and creative blockages, freeing people to pursue their self-realization and manifest their ideas into reality.
If this vision speaks to you, and you want to be part of shaping our corner of the Second Brain movement, subscribe below and join us.
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