I recently interviewed Federico Gonzalez, an Argentinian educator in Buenos Aires, about his experience teaching some of the methods from my Building a Second Brain course to three groups he works with in Argentina.

The first group is sixth-year students at Escuela Técnica del Gran Bs As in the La Matanza municipality of Buenos Aires. They are mostly low-income immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay learning technical or small business trades. In the interview we discuss:

  • How learning to plan projects and set clearly defined goals using PARA as an organizational system gave them direction in finding jobs and planning their future
  • Small wins as the introduction to the novel idea of “designing” better habits
  • The importance of habit formation for young people, who often lack productive habits for focusing and pursuing goals
  • The Digital Productivity Pyramid as a framework for digital literacy education that focuses on producing outcomes

The second group is a basic computer class offered to senior citizens by the Catholic-run foundation Caritas. We discuss:

  • How technology helps them keep track of their commitments and keep in touch with their families
  • Introducing the elderly to digital notes as a memory tool
  • The difference between people who started with desktop computers versus mobile devices

The third group is a network of entrepreneurs and freelancers spread across Latin America and Spain, in which Federico participates as a coach. We talk about:

  • The role of entrepreneurship and freelancing as a necessary tool for survival in unstable Latin American economies
  • The spread of Design Thinking in Latin America
  • Why PARA combined with habit formation is essential for entrepreneurs

Watch the full video of our conversation below, or scroll down to read a transcript in Spanish.

Abridged English Transcript

Tiago Forte: I’d like to hear more about your experience. How did you discover those ideas and applied them in your classes? At some point I’d like to create resources specifically for schools in Latin America. A syllabus in Spanish for students at different levels, for those at the university but also for younger ones. Tell me about your professional profile.

Federico Gonzalez: I teach philosophy at a public school, where most students lack focus and life goals. I told them about habits, and they got very excited. We even created a group in WhatsApp called “Good Habits” where I share videos and resources with them. I also told them about your PARA method, which really got their attention

T: Tell me more about the students.

F: They’re almost eighteen years old, finishing their studies at a technical school. They’re part of low-income families and most of them work with their parents. Many of them are immigrants from Bolivia and Paraguay.

T: How did they react to these concepts?

F: Very positively. They’re always busy with their phones, listening music… and I told them that building good habits is the only way to get out of the situation they’re living in. That really grabbed their attention. Sometimes they asked me permission to take a picture of the blackboard.

T: What kind of habits were they looking to add?

F: A few of them use drugs. In a way, talking about habits woke them up, they realized that there are good habits too. But most of them are worried about passing their finals and finding a job. I’ve been talking with the principal to create some kind of extracurricular activity to connect them with companies and professionals.

T: How did you present them all this?

F: It all started with Fortnite, that online game played by millions of users. These kids don’t pay attention to philosophy, so I used the technology to attract them to this topic. I explained to them about how companies try to form habits in their consumers. And then I connected that with the concepts you talk about.

T: Tell me about PARA. What do you like about it? Why did you find it interesting for your students?

F: I have notes everywhere, it was becoming a problem. PARA has allowed me to organize all the paper I was accumulating.

T: What led you to share it with your students?

F: We had to prepare a workshop on cultural diversity, so we defined goals, projects, tasks… they got really into it, asked lots of questions. I told them to apply those same processes in their lives because they’re tools they can use to improve their economy.

T: I see. Did you use computers?

F: No, everything was analog. They took notes and pictures of the blackboard.

T: How did you introduce PARA in the other class [teaching digital literacy skills to senior citizens]?

F: They had to present a project at a given date, so I said: “Houston, we have a problem”, and presented PARA as the solution.

T: How do you measure success? How do you see if a person has understood and applied these concepts?

F: I see it in their eyes during the class, in the way they’re paying attention. They see it as a way out of their situation.

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