By Will Mannon, Forte Labs Course Manager
This memo outlines the Capstone Project that students will complete for Cohort 10 of Building a Second Brain (BASB). It was originally written for our internal team, but in the spirit of “working with the garage door open”, I’ve decided to share it here.
Each student will be asked to complete a Capstone Project of their choosing. Each student will have flexibility when choosing their project, but all projects should be:
- challenging (slightly beyond their current abilities)
- something that positively impacts others
- something that can be shared publicly with others
- something they couldn’t complete with their current skills, resources, and system of organization
Building a Second Brain students build systems for personal knowledge management. But we don’t create Second Brains merely for the sake of being organized. A Second Brain is meant to be used for some type of productive output. A Second Brain serves as a foundational platform from which creative work occurs.
In past cohorts, students have asked questions about hypothetical scenarios involving their Second Brains – how would the system work if some hypothetical circumstance arose? Oftentimes these abstract questions are difficult to answer because they’re too theoretical.
Capstone Projects will make those hypothetical scenarios concrete. Each student will select some type of creative project that they’ll use their Second Brain to complete. This project will be the channel through which their new note-taking system is tested. Rather than asking about hypothetical scenarios, all questions will be filtered through the lens of their project.
Projects will serve as a real-time “stress test” of their new note-taking system. Projects will also encourage students to stay engaged with BASB through the end of the course. Projects will serve as a forcing function to build a Second Brain system that actually works. To complete the project, they’ll have to capture and organize information, distill it into knowledge, then use that knowledge for creative work.
There’s no reason to collect information and develop knowledge for its own sake. Knowledge should be used to have an impact on your life, and on the lives of others. Tiago shared the definition of knowledge transfer as “the process through which one person is affected by the experience of another.” The BASB Capstone Project will ensure that students’ Second Brains are being used to create an impact in the world, beyond the confines of their digital note-taking system.
Areas of Focus
Capstone Projects will fall under three general categories:
- Creative projects
- Work-related projects
- Personal life projects
While all capstone projects will involve creativity, creative projects will be focused on producing creative work to be shared publicly. These projects will be an expression of a personal area of interest, and can come in different forms and mediums.
Examples of creative projects include:
- Write a long-form essay
- Start a blog
- Start a website
- Start an email newsletter
- Make a video (film or animated)
- Record a podcast (or podcast episode)
- Conduct an interview
- Create a work of art (painting, drawing, sculpting, etc)
- Create an online course
- Develop a software program or app
- Create a Github portfolio
- Develop an animation
- Hold a fundraiser
- Prepare and give a speech
- Create a unique data visualization
Work-related projects include any creative initiatives that contribute to your professional life. Examples include:
- Start a company newsletter
- Plan a team event (virtual, for now)
- Organize a customer-facing event
- Prepare a sales presentation
- Foster virtual community among a team or company
- Create a company WFH manual
- Complete an industry-specific project
- Create a company best-practices guide
- Design a training program
- Develop an internal software application
- Film a commercial
- Compile a knowledge base (ex: for internal company systems)
- Write and publish a personal career vision/roadmap
- Launch a coaching business
- Create a job search toolkit (resume, informational interviews, cover letters)
Personal life projects will include any project relating to your personal life, likely involving family and friends, but which aren’t meant to be shared with a public audience. Examples include:
- Create a gift
- Plan an event (wedding, family reunion)
- Write and share a family newsletter
- Complete a creative household project
- Compile your family’s ancestry
- Write a family history
- Organize a book club
- Organize and direct a play (for kids)
- Create a family cookbook
- Design a language learning plan
- Create a family budget plan
We will present the Capstone Project within the larger context of a project-based approach to work (whether that’s creative work, professional work, or personal work).
Most people have ambitious goals that they never act on. These goals amount to feel-good wishes, always perfect in the imagination, but rarely put into action. The best way to produce impactful work is through an iterative, project-based approach. The project is a fundamental unit of work in the Information Age. We should explain this philosophy to students, so they understand why the Capstone Project is important, and so they’re encouraged to continue working on projects after the cohort ends.
Students should think of their projects as a probe into an area of interest. Projects help you see what it’s like to work on something in a limited fashion. If the project goes well, you can always double down and continue working in that direction. If it doesn’t go well, you can pivot and work on something else. Each project is an experiment with a fast feedback loop.
To arrive at the proper scope for a project, we can ask students to envision a big-picture goal they hope to achieve. Then, they should scale down to about 1/10th of that ultimate vision. That’s the appropriate scope for their initial project. Completing a successful capstone project will give students momentum toward achieving their ultimate goal.
Students might have trouble choosing a project. Everyone will have until the second week to choose their Capstone Project. If students are having trouble deciding what to work on, they can refer to our list of suggested projects, talk with their alumni mentor, or ask for feedback on Circle. We could also hold a project brainstorming session in breakout rooms either during or directly after the first office hours. They should also trust their intuition – most people will have some sort of project they’ve been meaning to start, but haven’t yet. It’s easier to focus on a pre-existing area of interest, rather than trying to start on an entirely new path (although this rule won’t apply to everyone).
Students might feel overwhelmed working on their project. It’s important that students aren’t choosing projects that are too broad to complete within five weeks. Projects should be challenging, but also manageable enough to finish by the first week of May. Alumni mentors should be trained on how to help students select a project, so they can give guidance on project topics and scope.
Students might focus too much on their project, at the expense of the BASB curriculum. The Capstone Project is important, but students still need to focus on developing their Second Brain system. The Second Brain is the foundation upon which all future projects will be based. An ineffective Second Brain will undermine future work, so it’s important for students to develop their PARA system, note-taking instincts, information capture habits, progressive summarization abilities, and just-in-time project management ability. While returning students may focus more of their energy on the Capstone Project, we should make sure that new students develop a solid BASB foundation.
Students might get discouraged when they see other project ideas. BASB attracts a high-caliber group of students. People will work on impressive projects. We should emphasize that everyone is taking this course at a different place in their life – we have PHDs and high-level executives, but also college students or people in their early career. We should explain that everyone’s project will be different, there’s no right way to complete the Capstone Project, and your project should serve you, and where you currently find yourself in your life. Comparison is the thief of joy.
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