Salon #12 - Your Braintrust
21 min read

Salon #12 - Your Braintrust

This was the first time that I recorded a Salon session, in order to provide the audio recording of the event. Martin recommended Descript to me and that literally blew my mind. Here's an impression of me editing the recording with Descript and you have to watch this hilarious product video. I'll definately talk more about this tool soon. It is impressive technology as its best.

That's also why this time I don't only present you the audio file here but also the full transcript of our Salon about the Braintrust.

I don't consider the full transcript as valuable as the normal write-up. It is different. It is far too long to comfortably read on the screen but it still contains all content of the conversation. So it can actually be helpful in case you are looking for something specific.

I intend to refine this text going forward and extract the nuggets that stood out to me in particular.

Full transcript

Achim: [00:00:00] Welcome to the knowledge entrepreneurs Salon. Where is our goal to increase our knowledge through conversation.  The topic of the salon is your Braintrust. And I'm happy that Yina joined us here today as well because the Braintrust actually happened this weekend. It is a workshop. I mixed two things that I experienced in the past. A workshop from Farnam Street. I described this on my website and in the email that you get, when you sign up for more information for the Braintrust. That was a workshop that happened three times with Shane Parrish. It was a very intimate setting. 10 people met.  In Paris and then Lisbon and then in Vienna and I co incidentally were at the right time to sign up learned my lesson, that it's nice to join a community early. Everybody presented a challenge for one hour and the others could give advice.

We prepared us for the challenges before we traveled there. And that was very powerful , very remarkable. And we left but bonded quite well. I've got one friend he came to Berlin from time to time. So actually that it was something special and I joined every workshop that I could.

And it reminded me of the Pixar Braintrust. You might've heard this concept it is a meeting where very seasoned Pixar directors join a director of a movie. And then the director of the movie presents what, what they've got and they get candid feedback from these other elders, if you want to in the, in the Braintrust.

But the key is they have no authority over the director. This is a very crucial part of that. And they don't say, Oh, this has to be changed like in a normal organization, but they rather say well, I think this would work better this way or that way and then they leave . So the director has the authority and can use this as feedback or not.

These were two things mixed and we tried it on the weekend. We had six people on the call and exchanged a challenge and I was blown away actually. I was really happy with the result. And we will talk about that in a bit, but I want to emphasize this: I think it's actually the system, the type of the workshop that works the magic there.

It's not me. It's not the team that came together. It's rather a very good system. Of course, nothing works all the time, but chances are high that if you trust this system that you get something wonderful out of it like we did.

And having said that I would now ask you, Yina , if you want to say a little bit about what happened and of course I'm happy to chime in.

Yina: [00:02:55] Yeah, of course. So I think one was , I walked into this without too much understanding of what it was other than Achim's proposal, but just the concept that he explained was already really, really interesting, where you have basically just a huge mastermind session to figure out a understanding other people's challenges and also getting some advice and input on yours.

I kind of attribute it to the idea of editing, where you improve as a writer, the more you edit. And I feel like you improve on your ideas and your problem solving capabilities when you give input to other people as well. So Achim mention that in the actual event you tend to get more value the more you give input to other people beyond the input that you receive.

And I really felt that was where I learned a lot about how, even though we may all be on different journeys, there are certain fundamental aspects that are all kind of common denominators that we're all navigating.

And so it was just super fruitful , really just engaged the entire way through. Which is hard because we're jumping from four or five different time zones.

The system that was put together was really, really helpful. Achim who was really great at organizing a notion document that is a live document that we can continue to develop. I'm still kind of having to update it now. But overall it was just like a great system.

And you come away with it also with actionable insight. So what that means is that at the end of the process Achim proposed a three, times three, times three structure where you have a goal within three days, you have a goal they want to accomplish in three weeks and then another goal within three months.

And that sort of structure and that accountability was really, really helpful. In setting up momentum after the call.

If anyone has additional questions also feel free to let me know. I'm happy to answer them. One-on-one too.

Achim: [00:04:26] Maybe I just add to that, that your session was already powerful, right? The session that you've got to get feedback, you'll be called out on blind spot. We were guided by this system of candor , you know, we have no authority over each other that's for sure. So we showed up with a goal and we took it seriously. I mean, this was also a paid workshop, right? we were all committed. . And we spent six hours on a zoom call on a weekend, right.

Josie said very well that you came with a challenge, but pretty quickly you reached a deeper level. Because if five people were asking questions, understanding your challenge, even if it was on the surface, you reached a point that was very interesting.

And I mean, these were great people in the call . So everybody was vulnerable. Everybody was willing to share and that was powerful and then on top of that, every other session was equally powerful in different way.

Like person A watches, how person B gets feedback from person C and sees themselves in it. And sees, ah, that's such a good question. And that's such an interesting answer. How can I apply this to me?

So again, this is a very calm, complex, virtuous situation. That will leave you with very much feedback, very much content.

And this is something that is second nature to me, but also to a lot of people at Ness Labs, to take notes. We have this collaborative notes. This is now a treasure chest full of feedback, full of references, full of memories. If I open it up I immediately get triggered. Oh yes, this was a nice part as well. This was also a wonderful aspect.

Let's open it up to questions. Do you have a picture of it already? What needs to be clarified?

Yina: [00:06:14] I mean, I guess I can add additional kind of insights. It's a very interesting experience coming into a situation where you don't have a lot of context of the other people, so it can be an extremely vulnerable experience. I think it takes a lot of courage, but once you do the the serotonin or the dopamine hit that you get afterwards from that level of conductivity for such an intensive period of time. I've never experienced something like that. Just wanted to say thank you to Achim, for a lot of thought afterwards that I had but I'm still processing from that weekend.

Achim: [00:06:41] Thank you. It's really a powerful system. And it's accessible to everyone. A learning from me was, this is a group.  You cannot call yourself out on your own bullshit. You cannot pull yourself out of a situation. Going forward, I would call this challenge bottleneck challenge.

You should bring a bottleneck challenge, something like, ah, this is holding me back. I really don't know how to do it. And then you have wisdom of other people, a group of other people. Not too many. I would go maybe up to eight this is already maybe a stretch. We were 10 back in the Farnam Street workshop. But we also had lot of time and it was in person.

And then like so many different angles are brought in and it's really a big learning experience. Also because you put in the time, you put in the energy and this anchors the memories much better. You can anchor the memories to new people, two situations, to one person talking to another. This is really a different kind of processing. We talked in the last Salon that writing is a form of processing thoughts. This was a key insight for me. Other people are processing through conversation. This forum is a good example here this Salon . I always learn so much when listening and talking.  It's a great learning opportunity. It's a processing opportunity .

A Braintrust workshop surprised me. It's maybe one of these zoom moments where you think, of course zoom is not as good as in person, but it comes surprisingly close. It's surprisingly good enough. made friends for life zoom, right. I had two people at my wedding from a mastermind group that formed in altMBA.

Very interesting same situation, right? AltMBA was remote, was a learning opportunity, one feedback group. We were five. We stayed together over the years, three years past now and we meet more or less every week via Zoom. We have a big friendship.

Do you have a similar experience? Can you draw on something? Can you link this to something that you experienced in the past ?

Ziga, you're nodding.

Ziga: [00:08:47] So with three of my colleagues we used to go to hackathons together. You do 24 hour ones were all physicists and let's say pretty good coders. And then when each time one of us has a problem. And the funny thing is none of us are a university anymore.

One works for a finance econ for another one [...]. And when you have a technical problem or you don't know how to do something, you basically ride there and then they don't just tell you.  Let's put it this way. I had a website problem. I asked the question and I got like 50 more things I need to fix. We didn't plan it, but over the time we stayed in touch and it's insane. It's personal and yeah. I mean, that's it.

Achim: [00:09:30] Nice. We had the feeling that we generally cared for the other person. The feedback that we received was very personal and very engaged. On the one hand we were all in different countries. India, USA, Denmark, Germany, Italy, all around the world. We had a certain overlap in our interests, but I couldn't really tell what it is. then we were very diverse that added also to the value and the care on the human level. After the call I asked for feedback and immediately the first thing was, how can we stay in touch?

How can we go the next step? Because it was a little bit like this atomic reactor, where ideas going up and down and bouncing off of each other. And it was such a fruitful and rich experience that you would say, how can we continue?

This hackathon is a good example. This is similar challenge that forms certain bonds. Somebody said to me that it might even resemble the Scouts. If you are in the Scouts together, you have a challenge. There are also bonds formed on a certain level that are just hard to form in adult life.

If everything is cozy , normal and you don't have a challenge to overcome together in a group.

Angela, you raised your hand.

Angela: [00:10:55] Hi. I was thinking about this idea of the Braintrust. Because it's not a new concept really, right? Like there, there have been masterminds around before, where people come together to build their businesses or to live a better life or get accountability. And those might meet once a month or once a week. I like the idea that it was like a bottle bottleneck Braintrust. So it's like the weekend and you come with your bottleneck thing and you get that connection.

But then I was thinking, for any individual to think about those support networks that they have, so knowing that you have building a bottleneck Braintrust for yourself, maybe building some sort of mastermind, whether it's paid or just people you collect to help you with your journey.

Having the moral support Braintrust, that is just the people who always have their welcome mat out for you. And they're just like, you're great. Keep going.  Making sure you have some sort of Braintrust like that. And then even people who aren't necessarily alive, if you've been influenced by writers or philosophers or religious leaders or whatever, but just sort of naming and knowing who that values Braintrust is for you.

It's an interesting exercise for me to think , who do I have at all these places?  And how can I build them up if I don't have it.

Achim: [00:12:11] Nice. The mastermind, I would say it's distinguished because it's happening regularly. The Braintrust is on demand. I love how you phrase it. You have a bottleneck challenge and you can tap into a support network . Summon a Braintrust and then work through it and then find a solution. And that's it. That could be the end of the story. You're still connected to these people, right?

Four the not living anymore. I would only say for me. We all have books and ideas and memes and so on. We are constantly surrounded by knowledge. But having people around you that care. This adds another level that is hardly available.

If you are connecting on nice social situation. I wouldn't challenge you right? You mentioned something I'm working on this. And then I would say like, Oh, let me challenge you. I give you some candid feedback. This is not the right situation.

Angela: [00:13:04] Yeah.

Achim: [00:13:05] Florian.

Florian: [00:13:06] I just wanted to, to pick up on, on your Scouts example where we think that you need to have overcome some obstacles to, in order to grow. So inspired by last weeks discussion, I created a little Braintrust for tomorrow with some very old friends. Because we all have kids around the same age. we've turned into a quite diverse group by now. Afterschool we've departed. Some have become sales person, some have become entrepreneurs, some have become doctors. We all have kids in the same age. I called the group together to discuss the topic that we tend to overprotect our kids or if we do so.

Cause I have the feeling that I maybe help my daughter too much. Even, and so really around this specific topic to really discuss it. I know those four guys would give really open feedback without being judgemental. So I think it's really good. And it's good to bring back the community of those old friends again, after a few years,

Achim: [00:14:02] Wow. Good idea. This is a fascinating topic. I'd love to go into this. I have a daughter she's 12 years old is fully relevant. For me as well. Like talking to old friends and summoning them. Like having this as a kind of excuse or a good situation.

You invite people to a party but why don't invite people to a Braintrust? Working on a particular challenge that you're facing, especially old friends.

Ziga: [00:14:28] I wanted to just add on top of what Florian said. In my experience, at least the Braintrusts that I have. I never actually thought of them as Braintrusts. They are when they are. I didn't plan them. They grew up organically. If I look now back why they happened or why they work is because we had some sort of experience at the past where we worked together as a team, or basically worked together on something. And that was basically the foundation for the rest. And I think you kind of need this. Once you work on something together or project or whatever you, you develop a different bond.

Achim: [00:15:05] Yeah, totally. And that's also a good question. Maybe we all have some things that are close to a Braintrust but we call it differently. Giving something a different name, learning from other variants of that could help. Maybe you bring something from the Braintrust to your regular meeting with your friends.


Angelo: [00:15:25] Hi, thanks. I was sitting here thinking myself and a couple of friends actually gamified this kind of Braintrust in public. So what I mean is , we work in tech and we got the tech community organized around a challenge called the virtual design master. And it's a take on the apprentice or master chef, you know, a lot of those competitions. I dunno if they're very popular outside of North America.  Then we got Let's say elders, they're not elders, but let's just say more prominent folks in the community to be judges.

So each candidate was issued a challenge every week, like a technology challenge with a little twist and a little creativity around it, with zombies. They would then have a week to develop their IT plan, submit it back and then the, the judges would challenge them or review the submissions, et cetera.

And then people would progress each week until someone became the virtual design master. Then those documents and things were made public. So other people in the community can learn from those designs, et cetera. So it's kind of similar to the Braintrust.

A lot of the, the folks that participated actually reached out on Twitter to folks saying I'm having a problem. I don't understand how to connect NFS to this or that. And then people would chime in. So it helped a lot of people advance in their careers and change their careers even.

So there's a big alumni around it. We ran it for five years, but it kind of gamified a little bit of this kind of brain Braintrust. Cause everybody is now connected. Really neat. I think our website is still up. It ran for five years. We were allowed to claim it was the first and only online competition. So that was fun. If I find the URL, put it in the chat .

Achim: [00:17:13] And maybe just to comment on that. I think this form great bonds, definitely. And it's a wonderful challenge and a wonderful format. What could be different to what we experienced in the Braintrust is that you don't bring a new challenge, right. But you really bring your challenge. Which adds a lot of this vulnerability.

Yina: [00:17:33] I was going to add on to what Zika said is that I love working with people that have context of who I am as a person. I think it helps them have that understanding. It also gives them kind a little bit more background about how I might approach my problems and how I might go about seeing my own perception of what's around me.

One thing I think that was really interesting with Braintrust was that it was actually people that you don't really have a strong connection with. Because it's that initial reaction or like the initial kind of very introduction to another person It's so much more transparent because if it's a close friend, if I go to them, with a problem they might be like, Oh, you know, it might be because of X, Y, Z happened or like ABC issue.

But when you have essentially strangers that, you know very distantly it provides this level of honesty, no context, and then really forces you to look yourself in the mirror and Hey, without a relationship to sustain the context of the conversation it forces you to be really transparent. So that was really new.

Ziga: [00:18:31] Oh, yeah, to continue I actually think you need both. Right? So one thing I realized with people that really really know me. I had more moments where I was Oh, sorry for my French notes. Fuck. This is actually a thing that nobody would realize that knows me.

And I have at least I don't know core things. At some point I was whining to a friend of mine. You know, I have a problem with blah, blah, blah. And she was like, why don't you change your field?  I never thought of that. But the point is somebody that doesn't know me wouldn't never say that.

Or let's say wouldn't be able to dig it out. On the other hand, when you have people that don't know you at all, they're not afraid to tell you what they think. Then you have the middle people that don't know you the most, but don't know you well enough that they don't have the balls to actually tell you what they think.

Achim: [00:19:18] Yeah, it's just another form, right? Another layer that you can tap into and that you can make use of.

We talked at one point about is this more about coaching or mentoring ?

Because we had one leadership coach in there and he said coaching would be more asking questions, leading you to your own answer and mentoring is more giving advice. And of course this short format. We don't have time that we don't know the person, to do coaching.

We can just spit ideas out in a kind and candid and well-meaning way. And this works so beautifully. There was so much coming out of this. I had several, several aha moments . Fully for me. Even if two other participants were talking with the channel.

Yina: [00:20:06] I will say that even with the stranger part, I did have some like, fuck holy shit moments to Ziga. So I can see how like with personal relationships you'll have that, but I did find that even in this experience, I still had those like aha moments as well.

Ziga: [00:20:18] I'll just add another thing which I forgot to add before. I think the advantage of another group with people don't know you. They're maybe a little bit more transparent, but it's like with therapy and coaching. The more you do it, the deeper you can actually go. Right? I did some coaching and scouting and it's really funny because in the first five sessions we're nice. But we didn't get to the real problem because people don't open up. Then they want to open up you're, ah, that's the real core issue. So I guess combining both, there's probably the best.

Achim: [00:20:51] Yeah. Totally right. This is all the older I get. The more I see that on every level in every system you can have nuggets and there's no right or wrong answer. You cannot say mentoring is not good, I do coaching . This doesn't cut it.

Ziga: [00:21:06] It always depends on the context.

Achim: [00:21:09] Yeah.

Who has a mastermind here?

Oh, nobody really. Maybe I can just share a little bit of this mastermind group. We don't do it so formally. I don't know if I could call it mastermind group or rather a group of friends meeting and talking about what happened in their life. But it is one hour every week. That's also a good thing. Not everybody can show up for every meeting. We have sometimes only three or sometimes, maybe even just two in the meeting. But it's  always happening. That's for sure. Again, it's a good thing a diverse group of people.

And that was the learning for me in this mastermind group that these people grew closer than some of my friends. In a different way, of course. Childhood friends, you are completely open to them. They know you and you get up to speed very quickly. Anyway, I meet these people every week and my childhood friends maybe once a month, every six months. There there's a variance. So this was powerful. I mean, a mastermind has this core of personal growth. You form a bond, you form a relationship. It goes on over a longer period of time.

The Braintrust is something that I think has the potential to ignite a mastermind. It has the potential to go for a longer period of time. To go over into a community. Especially  now online communities, I wrote about it in my last newsletter, this is a big thing. We have to learn to play that game. We cannot subscribe to 20 communities at the same time. We cannot probably be married to one community for the rest of our lives. It's a new system that will evolve. And I'm interested in how that plays out. Zika.

Ziga: [00:22:52] I have another experience from scouting, which is pretty weird. Deepest relationship actually formed in terms of friendship was through actually volunteer projects where even some people broke mentally. But let's put it this way. Through work where no money is involved, you really get to know the people.  It's kind of weird.

Does anyone have an idea? Why does work so well, anyone with non-metro science background here.

Angelo: [00:23:17] I see a lot of mastermind groups around investing. Folks sort of working together and  investing in the same opportunities . That's that's where I see quite a few masterminds.

Achim: [00:23:30] I mean, some things at stake there.  And you need this knowledge also. At one point I called it  an array of five brains working for you. It was a network. It was not one brain working for you. It was five. Focused on one problem. And that's definitely an advantage.

I don't think that money made a big difference, right? Friendships can be formed in situations where money is involved or not involved.

The thing is , how do you care for each other? What posture do you have for, for each other? And the challenge of course. This is something that bonds. Tiago Forte or David  Perell podcast they talk about course building, and this was a great podcast out of so many levels, they went on many different tangents. But one was this insight that the more pressure you put into a group, the more bonds are formed. So pressure plays a role .

Indy: [00:24:22] So one thing I'm curious about, relative to a mastermind and very often a mastermind is composed of people who have quite divergent interests that. Whereas what was interesting about the Braintrust is the selection of people. I don't know what problems were brought, but all have some sort of thread amongst them. They're all on Ness Labs. They're all interested in creation, content and knowledge entrepreneurs. If you had any observations about that.

Achim: [00:24:53] Actually that's my hypothesis that this played a big role in our conversation because we were different. Of course if topics were going in the direction of knowledge entrepreneurs, I had an opinion or something to offer. I was surprised that at every level you can get a lot also of an totally external opinion, right?

You will get different output from a Braintrust, depending on who joined the Braintrust. That's for sure. But my guess is that it will be always valuable. Sometimes it's valuable to get the contrarian opinion. Sometimes you have people that don't know anything about that, but know something about figure skating and say we have this and this system in place to do something similar. So I think that will be interesting over the long run.

Dan, yeah.

Dan: [00:25:46] Hey there guys. One thing that I've been thinking about a lot over the last four months even is the fact that we are social creatures. We are creatures and we act as mirrors for each other. And this has been blaring over the last year when we're forced to go against our creature nature. To not be with each other and God bless zoom and Ness Labs and all of this stuff but if we are mirrors for each other, then it's all about finding the right people to give us the perspective needed in wherever, whatever we're looking for.

And so we could find like, Oh, Dan, you're perfect as you are, you don't, you don't need to grow or so whether it's a mastermind or whatever you want to call it. I think it's simplified into that.

Achim: [00:26:38] Yeah, that's a very good aspect. Today a lot of knowledge entrepreneurs, they want to be independent. And I don't have that. I don't see that in a knowledge entrepreneurs. I see people dependent in jobs and corporations. They are totally dependent on that. Then there are people that want to be independent. But that's a myth. We are always dependent on something else. So I will go with the term interdependent.

You should seek some situation where you are interdependent. You are depending on the wide arrange of people, your customers, your friends, your peers, your mentors, your community, you are interdependent. You can do nothing alone. But you are not depending on single organizations or single things, you are still powerful and anti-fragile in a way.

Ziga: [00:27:28] In other words, you basically spread your risk. So if one thing fails, others are still in place.

Now I wanted to add to what Indy said, you answered to him. So the diverse versus let's say focused Braintrust. I was again to say that if you have an option to go for both. Because if you have to explain the complicated stuff, let's say, when people ask me what I do for research I have to really, really make sure how to explain it. And it gives you the perspective that just talking to an expert, you wouldn't get.

Achim: [00:28:01] Yeah. Good point. Just to add more to Dan's perspective,  as human creatures you need certain feedback. You need certain input and some of that can not come from reading books and so on.

I also see this how powerful the Salon is. Like this gives so much back, but it gives also between each other. That's why I'm constantly said you can do that as well. Go with the mastermind, do another Braintrust or whatever. People should connect wherever they can.

And that's also with the introductions in the zoom room. You should reach out to each other. You already have now one connection and you probably have more already

Dan: [00:28:36] To just kinda jump on that. One of the magical things about these cohort based  courses is the fact that you're getting feedback, you're getting the perspective.  It's almost part of the culture. What can I do to be helpful? Where can I give feedback? I want to get feedback. But you go in with the givers gain mentality.

Achim: [00:28:55] Totally. Regarding court based courses, only one remark that maybe, and this is still a hypothesis. Maybe the Braintrust could be this 80, 20 results that you don't have to put in a long time but you get, in a pressure cooker, a big result.

And then you can build up on that. You don't need to follow up with everyone. You don't need to learn everything at this point, but you can follow up on that. Different tools for different purposes. I'm intrigued because I knew this feeling only from cohort based courses, like the altMBA, I'm going to be doing Keystone. But this was special in the Braintrust on the same level.

I want to be mindful of your time. So we will wrap up now the official time. But and at one point I will start a virtual fireplace somehow because I stay on the call for, for at least, I don't know, 10, 20 minutes, depending on people's stay that way.

We can answer a little bit more questions or just chit chat.  I hope to see you again in another salon session or on my newsletter . But thank you for that.

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