Writing Your Way to Clarity with Jakob Greenfeld

Reading Time: 32 minutes

Today, I am talking to Jakob Greenfeld. I’ve been reading Jakob’s blog posts for years now, and they’re as spicy as they’re thoughtful. There’s not a single post on there that feels unfinished. That’s quite impressive. Well, I think we’ll figure out why that is during our conversation. We’ll also chat about how to unlock critical thinking by writing and what it means to give yourself permission to do things your way.

Here’s Jakob Greenfeld.


How to make friends and influence people. 1:05

How writing helps you come to terms with the problems of having additional perspectives. 5:32

Don’t publish just for the sake of publishing. 11:36

The most important thing about content creation is to arrive when you have something to say. 16:34

How the algorithm has impacted the behavior of people on social media. 24:15

The people you compete with are the people who would like to do actual research. 28:43

What is your approach to writing a book? 34:49

How to get to where you want to go with learning. 43:02

Writing for yourself is different than what most people consider writing to be. 47:21

The two modes of writing: Write because you want to write and write because you have to. 51:33

Arvid Kahl  0:00  

Hello everyone and welcome to the Bootstrapped Founder Podcast. Today, I’m talking to Jakob Greenfeld. Now, I’ve been reading Jakob’s blog posts for years now. And they’re as spicy as they are thoughtful. There’s not a single post on there that feels unfinished. And that’s quite impressive. Well, I think we’ll figure out why, during our conversation. And we’ll also chat about how to unlock Critical Thinking by writing and what it means to give yourself permission to do things your way. 

Here’s Jakob Greenfeld. You wrote an article on your blog called, The Mirror. And The Mirror is about if you wanna be liked, you have to like people. And if you wanna be interesting, or if you want other people to be interested in you, you have to be interesting. And it’s kind of about reflection, about projection and about how people perceive you and how you wanna be perceived. 

Now, the topic that you wrote about is, to me, feels like a very personal one, because to come to the conclusion that you know, you have to be good to have good people around you. This has to come from somewhere. Can you tell me more about this, like where this article came from? Because I found it very intriguing.

Jakob Greenfeld  1:05  

Yeah, I guess it’s one of these ideas that I mean, appear in many books. I think it’s a very common idea in the Personal Development space, but at the same time, it at least took me a long while to fully grasp it. And I mean, it appears and how to make, what is it called the famous one, How to Make Friends and Influence People, right? It’s one of like, the core ideas in the book. And I read it eight years ago, but still, just very recently, it felt like, I connected all the different puzzle pieces and started to understand it like, yeah, sure. 

It  is super important in these personal relation to the kind of things but it’s also super important in business and everywhere else. And yes, obviously, it’s coming from a very personal point of view, because this is what I’m always trying to do, right? Trying to write about my personal experience not trying to come up with fancy stuff instead. And I mean, I think I gave lots of examples from my personal experience in the post. And one very specific example is that I still have a very hard time spending money. Maybe that’s because I’m German, right?

Arvid Kahl  2:36  

Well, I know that feeling. 

Jakob Greenfeld  2:38  

Yeah, exactly. And so what that implies, and or at least for me, I feel this is true, is that when you’re not comfortable spending money, it’s harder also to charge money for the same kind of thing, right? If you never paid, I don’t know, a lot for a course or a call, right? For some just to get someone’s advice or for a newsletter ad whatever, right? It feels weird to start charging a lot of money for the same kind of thing yourself. And it’s definitely one of these things identified. You have one of these bottlenecks, really, I had. That was holding me back very, quite badly, I think. Because, I mean, definitely, I had always had a hard time judging more than a few bucks for anything I created. And I think it’s directly correlated to my problem spending money myself, and I’ve definitely worked on it, and it’s definitely getting better now. 

So I’m very happy how that experiment, but, I mean, it also appears in other areas, totally true. I mean, that in personal relationships is 100% true. I mean, it’s, yeah, it’s very hard to describe and grasp on unless you really make a conscious effort to try it. And of course, lots of people like have just natural ability are already doing it. And maybe they learned it from their parents, whatever. But other people like me, didn’t. I’m very, very skeptical by nature, as you might know, permitting my snap, right. I was kind of famous for in school for calling everything bullshit, like my first reaction. Like, bullshit is the default mode. 

And afterwards, we can talk about and figure out why it might not be bullshit, right? And again, I’ve worked on that and it’s getting better now to start from like a healthier place in terms of looking at both sides before making this kind of judgment. And you’re also, I mean, trusting other people, like ability is a big issue, big topic in itself, obviously. And if you have problems like finding other people interesting, liking them, then yeah, other people probably won’t like you either, right? And it sounds kind of yeah, esoteric whatever. But it’s 100% true in my personal experience. So yeah, I’m curious, have you made similar experiences?

Arvid Kahl  5:32  

Yeah, in particular, with being German and dropping all the kind of Germanist stuff that we’ve been taught as kids, right? Like I was raised in East Germany. So my family was very, I would call it secretive, like they were trying to like, keep to themselves. Like, don’t tell anybody about your success. They will take it away from you. Because I guess that was the status quo back then, right? If you were too far away from the average, you were a problem for the East German socialists kind of state. 

So there was a lot of that notion that was instilled in me, which kept me from reaching out to people like going for opportunities, like trying to do things, because I was like, “Ah, maybe this is where overreach,” where I give them too much right? Where I share too much. And I think, you know, that kind of feeling, it’s this kind of skepticism that just permeates every single thought you have, which is, I was probably quite similar to you in school. 

Fortunately, I got out of this pretty quickly, when I actually experienced the community that we are both in now, like the Indie Hackers, even just a programmer, the IT community all over the world, where people were freely giving information to each other and not really predatory in many ways, right? Like, you would think that if people share building in public, that’s the example, right? People share their journey. And there may be clones. There may be copies of stuff. And that always happens. 

But it’s not really that dangerous for most people who are sharing their journey, because in some capacity, of course, it attracts attention. But it probably attracts more good attention than attracts bad attention. And I learned that at some point, but yes, I know the feeling. And what I also know and that’s one thing that I kind of wanted to ask you. In writing about this, like in writing The Mirror, or in writing your many other very interesting, like, looking at a certain thing from many different perspectives, articles that are on your blog. Did that help you? Did the process of just writing about it help you come to terms with these problems with having additional perspectives? Because for me, when I write, I start seeing things around it that I may not have thought about before. Is that the same for you? Is that how you write and maybe even why you write?

Jakob Greenfeld  7:45  

100%, yeah. Writing is, it’s the only reason why I write because, you know, I don’t sell any. I don’t monetize my writing. And if you look at my site, I don’t have ads. I don’t sell anything, really. And there’s, I really write for myself primarily. And it’s really just to figure things out and get more clarity on certain topics. And, yeah, I mean, there are these two writing modes, right? Where you either write because you have something to say, or want to figure something out. Or you write because you want to write and being in the second mode is very hard. I mean, if you ever tried and, again, something we all experienced in school. If you get this assignment, and now you have to write about something, that’s super hard and I’m really bad at that. 

But if you just write for yourself, if I’m just sitting down, and I have like just a very rough feeling, usually, that there might be something there, right? And it’s really just odd, usually. I don’t have like any notes or anything. And I just start writing. And usually I’m surprised where I end up with. But it’s always worth it, right? And even if I don’t end up publishing, because I feel like this is probably not interesting for anyone, or it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. But at least, I now know that it doesn’t make sense. And there’s nothing there. And this also helps, right?

Arvid Kahl  9:15  

That’s a great approach, like writing to see where it takes you. And only then making a judgment about if it was worth writing about or not. There’s too many people stop themselves from even writing. That’s like the kind of the fear of the empty page where people don’t know what to write about, so they don’t write at all. 

And I think one of the concepts that I learned pretty early, as a writer, was to just start writing anything, doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t even have to be coherent. It can just be like random words on a line just to get it going right, to get started. I like it. I really appreciate it. There’s one other thing that I found in your writing, that is to me was both hilarious to read and very true because I’m kind of part of it, was what you called the Creative World’s Bullshit Industrial Complex, right? This concept of people saying something, then somebody. Just explain it. Maybe you can explain it better than I can. What is it? And why is it a problem?

Jakob Greenfeld 10:08  

Yeah, I mean, there is a very popular idea that gets repeated over and over again. And that is like, it’s super important to build an audience, right? And yeah, as usual, I’m also very skeptical of the idea. But I also tried buying into that idea to be honest, right? Because when I started my journey, I had this little homework assignment for myself, right? So really publish a tweet every day. And I was really in the spirit, because I looked at what other people did. And this is something you see, right? 

And obviously, there is a reason why this was the only thing you’ll see because you only see people publishing content on online. So still, yeah, and I think there is like, there’s this hierarchy or whatever you wanna call it, where, of course, there are people having original ideas, doing really deep research and whatever sharing earned insights through years of experience. And then you have like this second layer of people just reading their stuff and summarizing it. And then it goes deeper and deeper, where people summarize the summaries, right? And it gets kind of ridiculous, but it’s surprisingly common, right? If you’re with medium.com or Twitter that people publish just for the sake of publishing, right? Not because they have something to say, but simply because they decided or they feel like they have to build an audience. And they don’t really have a good reason for doing that. Besides that, they were told it’s something important that they got to do it. 

And I mean, the post that I wrote was quiet. No, no, I think it’s quite balanced. But the headline is pretty strong, right? And my judgment, it says, don’t build an audience, build a business or something like that, right? But, I mean, of course, there are people that make good money from building an audience and then selling to that audience is the whole influencer playbook. And it also exists in other niches. And there are people using like, they influence their audience very effectively. They definitely can work. But it’s, for most people, not the right approach, I think. If the goal is really just to be an entrepreneur, right? Build a profitable business. So I think, definitely, it’s better to focus on actually doing interesting stuff, and then write about it and share your story, your journey, your own insights, instead of just reading and summarizing that or summarizing stuff, someone else already summarized, right? And just, yeah, repeating the same phrases and cookie cutter create fortune cookie phrases over and over again, right?

Jakob Greenfeld 13:27  

Yeah, that’s what Twitter is, unfortunately fall off at this point is people like summarizing other people’s summaries. I love that description that you have in your blog post is like, somebody has a summary of the summary and somebody tweets, like a thread of it. And then that guy gets invited on a podcast to summarize that thread, like it’s just this endless recursive. It’s not even densification. That’s probably super lossy too, right? The further you step down, this kind of ladder of information repetition, the more shallow it gets. And you end up with these fortune cookie kind of sentences where somebody actually had something meaningful to say in the beginning, right? 

If you read a book, and that’s kind of the thing with Blinkist, this app that allows you to get like a 15 minute summary of a book. I use the app only to really figure out, do I wanna read this book or not? Is it interesting what the topics are, but believing that you now know what the book said, by having heard somebody tell you 15 minutes of like a summary of the contents? Like that’s kind of how they sell it, right? You read the book in 15 minutes. That’s what the Blinkist app is trying to sell, at least, you know, in some capacity. Obviously, they know it’s not the same. 

But I feel that is a very reductive approach to information like to knowledge transfer all by itself, right? Like if you only look at the surface, and then condense it, and then somebody else looks at that condense that even further. That’s just frightening, but that’s what most of Twitter is at this point. Like these gigantic threads. I have spent 100 hours doing X so you don’t have to. And then you have like 20 tweets of essentially recycled information that somebody else has provided. I don’t buy into this. I don’t use it. And I hate reading it. A lots of successful audience fellas use it, as you said, like some people use this pretty pretty effectively to build a bigger audience. Question is why? For what purpose, right? 

But you know, it is, that’s the thing. When I read it, when I first read your article, I was thinking, that is true. It’s super annoying, but in some way, it is just how ideas spread, right? It’s kind of the mimetic potential of ideas. If people repeat it a lot, if people put it into different shapes, that’s how ideas propagate throughout society. That’s one side. And on the other side, you say, it’s also a potentially just procrastination for an entrepreneur for a founder using it, right? Because it’s just, “Oh, yeah, if I write these cool threads, totally gonna build an audience.” 

But you don’t work on your business. You don’t build relationships. You just write stuff that nobody really needs to know. Where’s the balance, say, between these two things? It’s already hard, that the whole concept of it is productive. But then you’re somewhere between mimetic propagation, which is good, and total procrastination, and none of it is really helping your business. What do you think is a way out of there? Like for a creator, who wants to build a business that has an audience as a side effect? How can you approach communicating with people in a more meaningful way?

Jakob Greenfeld 16:32  

Yeah, I think the most important thing, and this is something like how I approach content creation, is to only arrive when you have something to say, right? To only, yeah, produce content, when you have actually something to say. And I mean, this goes against, like, again, the common wisdom, like consistency is so important, yada, yada, yada. But at the same time, I personally prefer reading, like blog posts, whatever, from people who don’t publish every week, right? But rather publish something every year or a month, right? And for example, when I’m looking at books to read, I think it’s actually an anti-signal if someone has published a lot of books, right? This usually tells me this person is just writing for the sake of writing, because no one has that many good ideas. 

And I mean, I come from a Physics background, right? And, I was at a summer school. And when I was just starting my PhD, and there was actually a Nobel Prize winner at a dinner. And he was talking about, like, you have something similar going on, and in the whole academic world, where people have to publish for the sake of publishing, right? It’s publish or perish. And he said, like, I mean, obviously, having a Nobel Prize, he’s allowed to say these kind of things, or they are credible. So he said, maybe he has a good idea maybe every three years, right? But you can’t survive in the academic world by publishing a paper every three years or something. So people are just churning out paper for the sake of churning out papers. And if you go to archive, where people publish or upload their preprints, it’s just noise. It’s like 99.9% is just noise. And it’s very frustrating to see. But it’s yeah, totally the same thing going on in like, probably any publishing industry.

Arvid Kahl  18:53  

Why do you think that is? Like what’s the mechanism that forces people to do this?

Jakob Greenfeld 18:57  

Yeah, I mean, in the academic world, it’s pretty easy to understand, because, and there are clear rules. And you know, it’s a very zero sum game in a sense, because there’s only a very limited number of positions, right? Permanent positions where you can, where you will become a professor and can actually carry out research freely, whatever. So and to get one of these physicians, you have to publish a lot and get citations, so you have like these metrics. That this is like all people really care about. And it leads to all kinds of ridiculous phenomena. And I mean, this is just one of them, that people just churn out paper for the sake of churning out papers without having really discovered anything. But it’s what you have to do, if you wanna make a career in academia. 

On the other hand, it’s also why there hasn’t been much progress in most of the scientific fields in the last 50, whatever years. And I mean, the system has been similar for a long time. But there were not as many people trying to get the same number of positions, right? So it’s become a lot more competitive. And now people are really optimizing for these metrics. And I mean, if you go back in time, and I mean, Einstein, also wasn’t able, for example, to play the game by the rules, right? Because he tried to do like the right thing with just sitting back actually thinking and then writing once he actually discovered something. But he wasn’t able to do this in the context of the academic world. You have to get a job outside of it. 

And it’s 100% true that you can’t carry out real research in academia. Because no one has time to think. No one is able to think. It’s really ridiculous. And I mean, I know it for sure, like in Physics, there hasn’t been any progress in the last 50 years in Theoretical Physics, zero, right? And you would imagine that people now say, “Okay, stop, we got to do something different here,” right? Why is there no new Einstein? What’s going on there? There are more people interested in Physics than ever before. And more people studying Physics than ever before. But less insight, like more papers published than ever before, but less insights, right? Get generated. 

So it’s just like, the whole funding game is set up. It’s unfixable unless you burn it down completely, I would say. And I mean, there are obviously ideas, but usually no intention from anyone to do something about it. And I guess it’s similar. If you now look at, if we go back to Twitter, right? People are optimizing for these metrics for getting likes, getting followers, and you can get blinded by if you just focus on metrics very easily. And I mean, the truth is also that like a full is not a fuller, right? It’s not all for us are worth like, equal equally. 

And I think it’s one of the examples I have actually in my blog post, right? If you have 1000 followers, and it’s just an accounts, whatever. And I have just 10 followers, but it’s Elon Musk and portray him whatever. Would you trade accounts with me and of course, right? And this is true at all levels. I know people with actually hundreds of 1000s of followers, and that make surprisingly little money, let’s say like they tried to monetize the audience. And they like they went through a long phase where they were just optimizing these metrics, really grinding hard posting these threads. These generic threads because they were working, they’re getting likes, retweets and followers. But they felt like they were sitting on like this stretch into potential energy. 

But when they actually tried to do something with it, they quickly found out there’s nothing there. Because people actually don’t care about like them or what they do. They like these generic insights, you can get them anywhere. And they are getting like buying a product or something this person recommends is actually not worth a lot. So they have a hard time monetizing, like the influence they built, right? And yeah, I think yeah, I think I have another post, which is called Metrics, how metrics lead us astray, right? Which is about this topic and it’s also, I mean, also true, at like company levels. If you look at whatever Google and Amazon, why product deteriorating quality over time and stuff.

Arvid Kahl  24:14  

I feel the same way. Like particularly on Twitter, it’s very noticeable. It’s also noticeable how the change of the algorithm has impacted the behavior of people, right? But like a couple of months ago, maybe beginning of 2022, people were seeing pretty solid engagement just by being a normal person talking about normal things on Twitter. And then all of a sudden, there was a change in the algorithm and people who do not buy into this whole make threats all the time, like hyper engagement centric, content style, like really formulaic, really structurally identical to each other stuff. I don’t do this and I saw a significant drop in my engagement. 

Like whenever I post something, maybe a couple of 100, maybe a couple 1000 people see it. And that is at 85,000 followers at this point, which is really unfortunate because particularly as I’m sharing, just building public stuff like what I’m doing, I would like my audience that people that follow me because they’re interested in this, to see it, right? I don’t wanna have to dress it up as 10 learnings about what I did yesterday night thread, so that it can then be viral for no reason. It just feels like the algorithmic orientation at this has to be potentially super viral, or we won’t show it to anybody. That really does damage to the quality of the conversation on Twitter. It’s very frustrating.

Jakob Greenfeld 25:38  

I totally agree. And I think that’s also something, something else important going on. And I think the situation on Twitter now is like the same that it was on Google 10 years ago. And, you know, I think it was like 10, or maybe a bit more a few more years ago, where people started. I mean, people were always trying to hack the Google algorithm, like search engine optimization, whatever. But roughly 10 years ago, people went really hardcore with these private blog networks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the idea, right? People were spinning up like a dozens, hundreds of sites that were just linking to each other. And because this is a strong signal for Google, like backlinks, and then you can point them anywhere, and boost your rankings that way. 

And it was working spectacularly well for people. And they were like, all these shitty sides, which were like fake reviews of products and having an affiliate link to Amazon. They were making sales. And so we’re making so much money. And then obviously, people also started renting out these links and selling backlinks. And it’s probably still working. And the quality of the Google results was never the same. And the same is happening on Twitter, in the sense that people are now buying retweets quite a lot.

Arvid Kahl  27:00  

I’ve been asked, like people asked me in DMS all the time, like what my going prices for a retweet is, that’s an instant block for me. 

Jakob Greenfeld 27:08  

Exactly. And this is also one of the reasons why you see these generic tweets going viral all the time. Because they actually, people build like private networks of accounts. These are primarily novelism. And you know, these very generic accounts that just fortune cookie wisdom, like loads, these kinds of things. And you actually just need one, you just need to grow one of them, right? And then you can use it to grow the next and then you have five, and then you have 20. 

And this is exactly the same, like with your private blog networks on Google, right? It’s happening on Twitter, and they do nothing against it, currently. And obviously, now you have like these people aren’t caught focused on gaming the algorithm and leveraging these kinds of tools, and Twitter is not fighting back, or is not able to fight back similar to how Google had serious problems with these sometimes very smart private blog networks, right? 

So you have like these private account networks, and boosting these generic threads. And I mean, attention is a finite resource, right? If people can only see so many tweets per day, and if a lot of their timeline is filled with these generic tweets, and it is what it is, right? This is my little theory.

Arvid Kahl  28:43  

Those are the people you compete with. And I think the way you’re talking about academia is the exact same thing. Like there’s people out there who would like to do the research, who would like to spend two years. But then there’s like, nine or 20 other people right next to them who have no problem just churning out papers, writing about like, random bullshit theories, just to get something out there, right? And those are the people you compete with, not the other people who would like to do actual research.

Jakob Greenfeld  29:08  

And fun fact, there are also these private networks, the exact like citation rings. 

Arvid Kahl

Oh, yeah. 

Jakob Greenfeld

And it works very simple because, you know, a paper can have multiple authors. And if you look at papers, like the author lists get longer and longer now. And I mean, it’s simply, if you’re friendly with someone, you just include him or her on your paper, and he will do the same. And you always have a paper more easy, right? And this is how you both can make progress. And if you’re not playing this game, you lose. Again, no chance. Absolutely not, man.

Arvid Kahl  29:49  

That’s such a inflationist approach, right? Kind of feels like burning more oil or burning more coal. Like not just that’s infinite, infinite life. There’s infinite oil, infinite resources from where we know there’s like a finite amount of like, also in terms of like global health, right? Like the health of the globe, in that respect. That is such a sad thing to hear. But it’s also not surprising because when people see a way to optimize metrics, like you said, right? What gets measured, gets optimized.

And if we measure the wrong things, like follower counts, or amount of citations, and then that impacts the actual career of a person, instead of the quality of the research or the quality of the content that they share. We have a problem. Well, what’s the antidote? Or if you are a founder right now, and you wanna build a business, let’s pull it back to this, right? Like, what can you do instead of falling for these weird little thread of the month kind of story? 

Because, you know, sometimes it’s fleets, glad that is gone, like threads and it used to be, what was it, that weird crypto, Web3, NFT, Twitter spaces and all that stuff, clubhouse, you know these weird things. I’m glad they’re kind of like ebbing away. But do you have an idea how you can build something meaningful and sustainable as an online presence, as a creator, as a founder without falling for this stuff? Like what would your approach be? Because you have 13,000 followers, you must be doing something right.

Jakob Greenfeld 31:22  

Yeah, I mean, it’s something. I’m still trying to figure it out, to be honest. And I don’t think I have lots of good answers. I’ve tried a lot of different things. And it’s like a love hate relationship was fruitful, definitely. And I definitely feel like the quality on my timeline has declined a lot like the content I see even so I have, like, I don’t have like the algorithmic timeline. I have like the chronological timeline, but it doesn’t matter. Because if people are not getting rich when they share, burn insights, whatever, they stop, right? And I think this already has happened to quite some extent, and it will be very hard to dial it back to when people back who knows simply stopped. 

And I mean, I feel the same thing like you and I haven’t invested much into Twitter lately, for that exact reason. I mean, it’s really true that two years ago, you could really just share, like, what you’re doing, what you were thinking, what you learned. And it was fine, right? And you got interesting feedback, common people started talking to you in the DMS. It was really cool. But I see less and less of this. 

And now we have like this feedback loop. Ya know, I’m doing less of populous publishing on Twitter, so it becomes even less. So it’s very unfortunate. And I am really not sure what the answer is right, for me. But one thing that’s definitely true, is to focus more on my blog posts. Because I don’t think they will go away. In like awesome, I mean, I met the most interesting people through my blog posts and not through Twitter. Like when I publish something, and it got some attention than I had, oftentimes very interesting people reaching out to me, compared to a tweet or threat where this happens, not so often. So I feel like yeah, like a blog is a platform, I fully control. And I know exactly what I’m getting there. 

Of course, you still gotta work on getting attention in some way if this was your goal. But if your writing was, if you’re coming from the place I’m coming from, we’re having this frame. I’m just writing primarily for myself, then I’m sharing it and if other people find it useful, that’s nice, too. I mean, it’s okay, I guess. But yeah, I mean, I’ve really tried funny things like, there is my approval, right? I’ve written something similar for myself, just to get to make a list of 100 people I actually care about, what they put out and then just getting an email with what they published. And I think that’s actually a good approach to be good because yeah, you get a lot of chunk, a lot of noise currently in your timeline, even if you’re in chronological order. But no, what are you doing?

Arvid Kahl  34:49  

Well, I’m doing what you’re doing. I feel your approach like both with earned insights, like only talking about stuff you actually have any kind of idea about, like talking about the things you did before and how that worked for you. I think that’s kind of what I’ve been trying to do. That’s what my writing is about. Like, I don’t talk about things that I’ve never done, or at least, I hope to avoid that like sometimes. You know, you explore, but in exploring things. And I really like that particular approach of yours too. 

And I’ve been doing this for yeah, the last couple of years. In exploring things, in doing things, you come up with experiences that it’s worth talking about, right? Now, I feel again, there’s a blog post on your blog. I guess we’ve been quoting a couple here about writing a book and why everybody should do it, right? Your approach to writing a book is not that you want to have a book. You want to have the experiences that enable you to write a book. That’s what that sounds like to me. Can you talk to me about Permissionless Play? Where it is, how it’s going, how your whole approach to this working for you? And how that also, back to like talking to people in social media, how that kind of into, how interacting with the community happens to impact or not impact that particular approach?

Jakob Greenfeld  36:07  

Yeah, I mean. There are two questions here, I think, right? The first is about the book project. And I like the idea was actually sparked by something I read by Russell Brunson. He mentioned that, like he got super excited about writing his first book. And he actually hired someone to edit it for him. He bought the domain and like, did everything and then it took him five years or something, to actually write it. And not because he was procrastinating, but because he was missing actually, that like enough earned insights to fill the pages, right? And at the same time, like having a book project is super valuable, because it gives you a frame that allows you to look at things differently, right? And it’s one of these things, right? 

If you’re launching something, if you’re doing different experiments, it’s a very healthy mindset that sometimes you win, and sometimes you’ll learn, right? But with a book, it becomes even better, right? Sometimes you win, and sometimes you get something interesting to write about. And I think it’s, this is one part. And the second part is also, when you’re making really decisions from the spine of your head, this actually could be interesting. This could become a neverending story, right? 

And this makes things more playful, but also helps you keep focus and helps you like, figure out I think, like, what you wanna do, in the sense that but out also of this book, right? That I’m going to write, what would you do with it? Would it be afraid of doing that, right? And kind of having the mindset I’m already the guy, like whatever your phrase is, your little phrase is. And it’s for me, this idea of acting without asking for permission, right, like permissionless? And it’s just one pattern I noticed, that when I looked at what I did in recent years, and how things turned out, and that I didn’t do it consciously. But, I definitely did it a lot of times, where I simply did things rather than asking for permission, asking for forgiveness, in a sense, and one example is hearing an idea on a podcast, right? And then like what most people do is that they then write an email. “Hey, I heard this idea you share. Can I do XY that?” And usually you won’t get any reply, right? But people are seeking for permission and usually never going anywhere. They lose momentum, even if they get a reply, and then don’t do anything with it. 

So what I’ve done is just build the thing, right? Just launch it, put it online and then take the person, “Hey, I heard your idea on this podcast. Here’s what I did.” And this was actually one of my actually, the first project where I charge money for my first premium product if you want. It was sparked by an idea by Andrew Wilkinson that he talked about on the My First Million podcast and it’s good for multiple reasons, right? Because you have like this momentum and you just do it. And momentum is super important, right? If you have like this spark of inspiration, you gotta act otherwise. It’s just becoming harder and harder, and you find reasons not to do it. 

But also people are really, in my experience, really appreciate it, when you do it, right? If you actually, like people who do stuff and not just talk about stuff, so when people see that you actually did something with their ideas, they appreciate it. And this is also how you get a foot in the door, right? This is a great way to connect with people. Like he’s doing this permissionless creations. And in this example, Andrew Wilkinson actually, like shared my project, then. And this obviously helped a lot with where it was going. And this is just one example. But I mean, another big one is Permissionless Learning. Because yeah, a lot of experience in academia, but also, because after I left the system, I decided to design this learning experiment for myself, right? And I mean, there are things you can do. You can sign up for programs to learn entrepreneurship whatever, right? 

But yeah, it is 100% true that you don’t need anyone’s permission to learn something seriously and deeply. But in many cases, like what a university or what a structured program really does is just give people permission to study something and like the content and what you really, everything else you’re getting is usually not that good. You get it, you can get it, like for a lot cheaper and a lot better. If you just do it yourself, like your average professor is not a good teacher, right? And, like, also these boot camps, whatever you have, you can save a lot of money just hiring someone who will help you one on one, right? 

And though it’s like a Permissionless Learning experiment, and I mean, it’s super hard, but I really wish more people would do it, especially when they are younger, instead of wasting so much time. Because you have, like, so much stuff you’re forced to do at university is nonsense. Like all these homework problems you’ve got to solve have zero to do with what you’re gonna do in the real world. 

And this is true in Physics, but also everywhere else. Like it’s almost a meme at this point, right? That people don’t do anything they learned at university. But like, you don’t learn how to carry out research through these homework problems, right? Not at all, you don’t, actually nothing useful. And you’re just wasting a lot of time and energy. And so yeah, Permissionless Learning is another big one.

Arvid Kahl  43:02  

I like that. I really appreciate the idea of allowing yourself and not, you know, having anybody else involved in that choice to go after something. And of course, there are certain things that talking to an expert or being taught by an expert is helpful. But it doesn’t mean that that’s the only way to learn. That’s kind of what all learning for me, at least is about. There are many ways to get where you wanna go. And it starts with allowing yourself to not only see one option, but see multiple options. 

But you can learn coding from YouTube. You can actually learn coding from reading books, which is super weird, because the format is so different, right? But there are video courses, there are the podcasts about coding, if you’re really interested in that stuff. You can go to a school. I went to high school as a kid, like ninth or 10th grade. There was a little for students of that age part of a university in Dresden in Germany, who allowed kids to come in the afternoons to learn how to code. So it was kind of semi academic, right? It was part of university but for schoolchildren to learn how to write Turbo Pascal programs. That’s really where my coding knowledge comes from. And that was an opportunity that was given to me through school, through the educational system. I probably wouldn’t have found it if it hadn’t been introduced by my math teacher at the time. Wonderful. 

But then after I left school, I finished my high school diploma thingy. And I went to university. Most of the actual coding experience that I got there was not through the courses at the university or computer science courses. It was actually working for a web agency, as an employee, to building PHP backend modules for some weird CMS at the time. That’s where I learned how to code which was the interesting part. The other computer science stuff was a bit too sciency and not too computery enough for me at that point, right? It’s just my experience with academia is not by far not as far as yours. I do not have a degree. I dropped out twice. Big, big. Yeah, not a big accolade I guess for myself, but certainly a learning opportunity because I understood this is not my kind of learning, I learned differently. 

And then fortunately, I allowed myself back at the time. I didn’t understand it as permissionless play, or the whole Jack Butcher, permissionless apprenticeship methodology, right going to other people learning from them without asking them really, that I didn’t know the concept was alien to me, but I still did it. And I’m glad I did because from all this autodidactic kind of stuff came then my capacity to think. Okay, this is something I can do. I learned how to code. I learned how to do this, how to do this, how to do that, I can also learn the other thing, right? Just flipping that switch makes it easier to learn whatever you want. Really cool. 

And I love the idea that you are, did you kind of are writing a book about it. But it’s more an aspirational, long term goal than like a discrete product. You don’t see it as “Oh, yeah, I’m gonna write a book,” at least that’s how I feel. You could talk about it. I’m not gonna, I’m writing a book eventually. But I want it to be as good as possible. So I don’t have like this weird deadline that it has to be done in three months, or that I already know what price is going to happen. Like that kind of stuff doesn’t seem to be part of your vision of the book, or am I misunderstanding this? Or is it more like a long term goal for you? 

Jakob Greenfeld  46:37  

It’s a long term. I mean, the truth is, I could write this book in like two weeks. Because I’ve no problem putting words on paper on the screen. I can write fast, and I can write stuff that kind of makes sense very fast that it wouldn’t be very good. And this is not the goal, right? My goal is not to publish this book so I can sell it or become a speaker or whatever you wanna do with your book. 

But the two main thing are really the only thing that matters to me is having this book project as the frame to look at different things. And it’s working, is all I can say. It’s also something I wrote about, right? Is that, like, what you said, everyone should have a book project, right? Even if it might take you 10 years, but I think it is a very healthy thing to do. Again, coming back to the idea of writing for yourself and being therapeutic. And yeah, just to work on it a little bit whenever I actually do one of these experiments, and learn something new. And I mean, yeah, I could do some research and summarize what other people did with where they achieved something without asking for permission. Easy. It’s not hard, right? I know how to use Google. I know how to write. Easy, but that’s not the point. You’re totally right, right? It’s this long term thing for me. Where, yeah, like, this is where all the value comes from, for me.

Arvid Kahl  48:26  

Yeah, I love the fact that your writing is primarily for yourself. That is so different than what most people consider writing to be. Most people consider writing to be a sales tool, or a product tool, or an audience building tool, or whatever kind of external tool you can imagine. But for you, I sense it as a reflection tool, a tool to self-reflect, a tool to unearth knowledge in yourself or to clarify, and you kind of call this a clarification, as a service that you can also do, right? I saw that you make your own thoughts clearer, more precise, and more actionable. And I really, really appreciate this as something that many people might not even consider writing to be capable of doing for them. Do you journal like, do you use writing in other capacities than just like business stuff?

Jakob Greenfeld 49:21  

No, this like, the stuff I publish is my journal, though. But I don’t publish everything, right? But..

Arvid Kahl  49:29  

What’s the ratio there? How much do you not publish?

Jakob Greenfeld 49:33  

Maybe 70% or 80%, something like that. But, something very important, I think. Again, also coming back to permissionless ideas like permissionless publishing, right? And where a lot of people feel like they got to go to uni or take this writing course whatever, to learn how to write but this is total nonsense, right? 

And also, there are all these rules people talk about, this is how you write. You write a crappy first draft, then you would edit it and you edit again. And I’m always thinking, “Oh my God, that sounds horrible. That sounds like so much work.” And people say, “Yeah, it’s so much work, it’s painful.” It has to be painful. But I think that’s wrong. I mean, I’m not editing my stuff, I’m just writing, right? And, like, I really also like reading from people who do the same, because every time you’re editing your stuff, it gets more polished. And, like, the most interesting ideas are in these rough edges. And every time I’m reading through one of my posts, I’m getting a little bit more scared. And like, it’s becoming more unlikely that I’m gonna publish it, right? 

So this is why I don’t write and edit as little as possible, because besides just obvious grammar errors, with like, automated checkouts and whatever, to have like this basis, quality secured. But beyond that, I think, yeah, just writing for yourself, but also understanding that it doesn’t have to be like hard work or whatever. If you’re doing it for yourself, this is kind of more obvious. But also, if you wanna put it out there. There’s no reason to spend hours, whatever, painfully editing it, having some complex browsers, hiring someone. 

Arvid Kahl

That doesn’t need to happen, right? 

Jakob Greenfeld

No, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Arvid Kahl  51:36  

I think you said something earlier, about the two modes of writing, right? One is writing because you want to, and the other one is writing because you have to. Even the second one could be yourself forcing yourself to write but I remember like back in school. Let’s keep piling on under the German educational system here for a second. Back in school, like we’ve been asked to write the weirdest things about books we didn’t like, books we didn’t care about, about topics that we had really no knowledge of other than the couple of things that somebody told us in that one lesson. 

Like the writing that I had to do as a kid or as a young adult was all writing that I resisted, resisted doing. It was not enjoyable. It had to be polished. Because even if you had a great argument that you kind of you really cared about, if it wasn’t in the shape or form that your teacher wanted to see it, it was a fai. No matter how good your argument was, if there were too many typos in the argument in the actual written version. Or if you didn’t use the right line spacing. Hate that, right? You got to fail great on your paper. And that’s how most people were taught to write, right? It takes a long, long time to unlearn that this is writing because it’s not. It’s academic writing for people who don’t care about your thoughts. They only care about your capacity to regurgitate what they told you. That stuff sorry for yelling at you here. But it frustrates me still to this day, that this is how we introduce kids to writing.

Jakob Greenfeld 53:08  

Yep. And it’s 100% true. I mean, I was really bad in school in all these writings, writing subject like English, whatever German classes. It was really bad, because you actually have to use like complex sentences and structures and stuff. And in the real world, this is not appreciated at all, right? It’s, again, also in the academic world, you have to write in a certain style, right? And it has to be dry and boring, whatever. And it’s even harder, right? I was double indoctrinated.

Arvid Kahl

Yep. Yeah, right. Quite literally, right?

Jakob Greenfeld

But it’s important, very important to break out. And it’s kind of funny, because people, the best writing advice is to write like your talk, right? And this should be the easiest thing in the world. And you just have to learn how to remove these filters, right? This is it. Once you learn how to remove these filters, and actually just put what you have in your mind onto the page without having these internal loops, “Oh, how am I gonna write this compared to how the thought is in my mind,” right? This is where all the complexity comes in. But it’s actually not helping. That’s the funny thing you just have to write. Learn how to remove these filters.

Arvid Kahl  54:36  

Yeah, that is such good advice. I’ve actually learned this over the years of writing my own things like my own articles every week, my scripts for my podcast. This and it brings me back to the thing that I said at the very beginning of our conversation where I talked about your article, The Mirror, because what this really is that I found worked so well for me is almost quite literally self reflection, mirroring. I record myself as I write, and then I listen to what I say like, I kind of read my own writing to myself. 

And if it sounds off, if it sounds too complicated or unconnected, disconnected, disjointed, then I edit in that moment because I know nobody would say this. And things that nobody would say nobody wants to hear, or nobody wants to read. So it’s funny because that is to me mirroring, right? It’s quite, almost literally reflection, because I hear myself say the things that I think. And if I write them down that particular way, then other people will hear them the same way. And everybody’s gonna be happy. 

So I really appreciate you triggering these thoughts in my mind. So I can express them to you, so you can reflect them between each other. Now, I really appreciated the way you write and the way you approach business and knowledge and the communication of that information. I would love to give people an opportunity to learn more about you and find your writing. So where should people go if they wanted to learn more about you?

Jakob Greenfeld 56:09  

Yeah, my personal website is probably the best place. It’s just my name, jakobgreenfeld.com. And also on Twitter. If you wanna see my tweets that don’t get hidden by the algo. It’s also just my name, @jakobgreenfeld.

Arvid Kahl  56:25  

That’s wonderful. Yeah, I definitely recommend that follow because you always have interesting stuff to say. And I think the way you write on your blog is a wonderful example for people who want to, it’s kind of leave traces of the things that they care about, because that’s what I see. When I see your blog, every single topic is something that you spend a lot of time thinking about, and a lot of time reflecting through writing. And as a result of that, there is a good blog post out there. So thank you so much, Jakob for being here today. That was wonderful conversation. And I hope that we can defeat the Twitter algorithm together and bring usable information back to people.

Jakob Greenfeld 57:05  

I hope so. Yeah, this was really fun. Thanks.

Arvid Kahl  57:09  

And that’s it for today. Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder podcast. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl, ARVID KAHL and you’ll find my books here too, sold in The Embedded Entrepreneur and my Twitter course find your following there as well. If you wanna support this podcast and me, please go to ratethispodcast.com/founder and leave a rating and review, if you can find the time. It would be an amazing and very helpful gesture. Thank you so much for listening, and have a wonderful day. Bye bye!


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