One of my favorite science fiction books of all time is Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.

The series follows Takeshi Kovacs, an elite rebel fighter known as an “Envoy.” Takeshi lives hundreds of years in the future, at a time when a crucial invention has profoundly changed society: cortical stacks, known simply as “stacks.” They are small metal disks inserted at the back of the neck, containing the full contents of a human mind – their personality, memories, skills, and knowledge. 

Stacks can be removed from one body (called a “sleeve”) and inserted into another, a process known as “resleeving.” This allows people to swap out bodies based on the skills or appearance they want. Stacks can be stored safely for hundreds of years, allowing people to “time travel” to distant eras. A stack can be “double sleeved” and placed into two bodies at once, allowing multiple “selves” to work together.

The book was recently made into a Netflix series, and you can see some of these ideas demonstrated in this quick recap of Season 1 (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!!!):

The Altered Carbon universe is based on questioning one assumption – that our body and our mind are inseparable. The implications are profound.

Instead of moving physical bodies across space, it is much cheaper and faster to send only a stack’s data from one planet to another. Platoons of soldiers are “transmitted” to download centers at the speed of light, where they are resleeved into new bodies to join the fight.

Specially equipped sleeves provide all the strength and agility that anyone would need. The decisive factor becomes their “inner game” – their psychological resilience, their ability to adapt to change, and their ability to regulate their thoughts and emotions (and even turn their fear and anger to their advantage).

In one scene, Takeshi is pinned to a wall by government agents. They have him imprisoned in a virtual reality interrogation room where they can do whatever they want to him. But using his mental abilities, he realizes that he can “control the construct.” He begins to “delete” elements of the scene, to take back control of his environment using only the power of his mind. He breaks free from the virtual reality, finds his sister, and together they escape their captors.

There are a stunning number of parallels in this story to our quest to build a “Second Brain.”

Technology has become so powerful that our particular knowledge and skills are no longer decisive. Modern technology is like a “sleeve,” allowing us to pick up capabilities in minutes that would have otherwise required years of training. 

The Envoys became a potent strike force based on their ability to download into an unfamiliar body, in a foreign environment, on a strange planet, and be ready to act within minutes. Likewise, those who have a Second Brain are able to drop into unfamiliar projects, adapt to rapidly shifting priorities, and strike ferociously at difficult objectives at a moment’s notice. 

In both worlds, it isn’t those who work the hardest or who have the most years of training that will succeed. It is those who know how to adapt to change and leverage the capabilities of technology no matter what challenge they encounter.

Join the Envoys on April 6

On April 6 we will kick off Version 10 of Building a Second Brain, our flagship online course on how to organize your ideas and put them into action in your life. I’m nicknaming this group “the Envoys.”

We will officially be opening enrollment for the Spring 2020 cohort on March 25, and the program will run from April 6 until May 6, 2020. Version 10 includes the biggest round of improvements we’ve ever made.

Click here for a sneak peek at the new features we’re adding

I have much more to share with you about how and why we’re taking this program to a whole new level this year. I’ll give you the full schedule, answers to frequently asked questions, and invite you to free events we’re working on in the coming weeks.

Enter your email address below to hear more about the new version of the course and the upcoming cohort. I’ll also start sending you my 7 Lessons Before You Build a Second Brain right away.


There’s one more character in Altered Carbon you should know about: Quellcrist Falconer. She is the creator of the stack technology, and the leader of the Envoys fighting the evil Protectorate.

Quellcrist trains the Envoys in all the skills they’ll need to complete their mission. She trains them to use hardware, such as martial arts and gunfighting. She trains them in software, on how to sense their surroundings and adjust quickly to their new sleeves.

But most of all, Quellcrist is training their minds, the only permanent and essential part of their identity.

She teaches them to master themselves and their fears: “They control the construct, you control only yourself.” She shows them how to reframe their situation when they can’t control the outcome: “They think you are trapped; you know you are waiting.” Quellcrist reveals to her ragtag group of rebels, one lesson at a time, what they are truly capable of – anything.

That is exactly the role I will play in the Building a Second Brain course. I will start by showing you how to use the capabilities of hardware and software to take digital notes, save and organize them, and systematically turn them into completed creative projects. But most importantly, I will help you reframe your relationship to information, to productivity, to creativity, and to the goals that matter most to you.

Ultimately, my job is to unleash your creative potential. To show you just how much you are truly capable of when all the constraints and limitations fall away. That is what building a Second Brain is all about.

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