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What I’m Hoping to Accomplish With VIP

An experiment in learning, training and human potential.

For the past five months, I’ve been running a small group coaching experience on Coach.me. Un-creatively, it’s titled VIP. Every four weeks we do a very deep dive into a productivity topic.

Coaching this group is my favorite part of every day. But it’s a work in progress and I wanted to talk a bit about the process.

This isn’t a sales pitch, so I’m not going to link to anything until the bottom.


What is the right target for success rates?

The self-improvement space is tough because change it hard. And, counter-intuitively, most people don’t want to change.

So I go into everything knowing that a lot of people are going to fail. Thankfully, in our world failure doesn’t mean that suddenly you lose your jobs and your friends hate you. Actually, this might be part of the problem. In self-improvement, there’s almost never a cost to failure.

I’ve tried building solutions where I thought the success rate was going to be as low as 15%. That’s still 1,500% higher than most people were going to do on their own.

And I’ve tried solutions where I thought the success rate was going to be 95%. In these, when clients learn what’s actually expected they run away screaming.

Of course, confidence is one of the major components of every motivational coach or guru. So I’m probably doing a huge disservice to the entire industry by even mentioning how low the actual success rates are.

Every other author, speaker and founder will tell you that their advice is 100% guaranteed to work. So hopefully not too many people will read this post. I don’t want angry letters form supplement salesmen.

The actual success rates across the board for anything you’ve ever heard of from AA to Weight Watchers to a best-selling book are in the 5–15% range. The implication then is to stop looking for silver bullets and start expecting to try a portfolio of approaches.

Anyway, back to VIP. This is one of the major design decisions: how much success should we expect?


The median VIP change

We charge real money for VIP. And you could look at that charge as either cheap or expensive depending on your world view.

The charge is $5/week. That’s $260 per year.

What I want is for the value to price ratio to be incredibly high. People who are feeling ripped off aren’t going to be fun community members.

That means adopting my world view, which is that personal growth is valuable and worth paying for.

At design time, my expectations for someone who stays in the group for a year is as follows:

  • We’re going to do 13 modules, where each module is four weeks, covers four sub-topics in depth and includes five exercises per week. That’s 260 exercises.
  • You will immediately and fully connect with one module, but it will be hard to predict which one. The connection will depend on both timing and topic. This full connection will result in a permanent and life-long change.
  • You will partially connect with ten other topics, doing at least one exercise from each. Those exercises will produce moderate, but significant improvements in your life.

So, essentially, for $260 you will make one massive change in your life and ten small changes.

Of course, you could get that same impact by jumping in and out of VIP on a weekly basis. In that case the cost is only $70. But I think that’s bad math. In my world view it’s foolish to focus on a $5 savings at the expense of massive self-improvement.

That micro-optimization would be like choosing a coach who offered 61 minute sessions over one who offered merely 60 minute sessions. The real evaluation is “is this person going to transform your life?”


Picking topics

The self-tracking aspects of Coach.me are meant to be all things to all people. It doesn’t matter if you believe in science or magic — there’s a goal for you (433,289 at the time of this writing).

But VIP is different.

There’s a coaching phrase that I like for certain (but definitely not all) people: “Healthy self-entitlement.”

VIP, since it depends on me and one other person (covered below) requires that we filter for topics that evoke our own passions. Otherwise we just wouldn’t do very good work.

I have to remind myself that the content won’t be good unless it fits my passion. In that way, the commercial success of VIP is simply a discovery process of people who are attracted to my world view.

There is a real tension between commercial success and originality.

We’re just wrapping up a module on morning routines. During this module we covered the science of sleep, strategies for efficient and motivational mornings, and brain science around cognitive load. This is a topic that a lot of new VIP members signed up for. It’s commercially successful.

A few modules back, we covered writing your own Codex Vitae, a work of art to define your life philosophy. Each exercise was an examination of a segment of your life and your philosophies covering that segment. Writing your own Codex is a weird and strange idea that nobody in the world is currently thinking about doing. I loved running this module.

Probably 90% though is just, “DO WE LOVE THIS TOPIC?”

For example, we’re going to do “Set priorities for your day” starting this Monday.

The discussion started:

“How do you do four weeks on priorities? Get a piece of paper. Write down three priorities.”
“But how do you know if they’re the right priorities? How do you know if you can complete them? How do you get yourself to follow them?”
“Oh, so you mean, let’s get pedantic as hell? Velocity based estimation, procrastination prevention, decision making matrixes and all that stuff?”

The thing that got us excited was the word pedantic, which for us was to do a meticulous and thorough examination of a topic that is only simple on the surface.


Overcoming my own bias

I have a very narrow life experience. I’m a white male. I haven’t worked for other people in ten years. I’m partnered but not married — we don’t have kids. I’ve been fortunate to avoid health or other forms of life crisis. I’ve never been to church. I grew up in a city that prides itself in being weird.

These limited experiences are huge dangers to the content inside of VIP.

Here’s a phrase I just heard that’s semi-related.

“Behind every woke man is an exhausted feminist.”

That’s a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that I’m grateful to have wildly different voices in my life because they help expand my world view.

For VIP, that diversity of life experience comes from my partner in writing and research, Terrie Schweitzer. Terrie is a bit more than a decade older than me which puts her in a different generation. She has an actual spiritual practice, has been through therapy, has overcome actual life challenges, and has been early-adopting productivity fads since the 80s.

She’s the one that can bring a Zen perspective around acceptance and say, “Over the course of history, I’ve seen this done seven different ways. Your way only works for a small subset of people. And also — are we fixing an actual problem or just a perceived problem?”

And she’s right. We don’t operate in a world with one-size-fits-all solutions. Sometimes in VIP we have to say “here are the three best ways to do it and who each approach is best for.”

The VIP research is much stronger for having Terrie’s strong counter-balancing force.

The other key to an effective VIP group is to embrace the group nature. From the beginning, I seeded VIP with some of our top coaches. So, on a recent day a discussion erupted about Bulletproof Coffee and a very experienced BullteProof coach stepped up to answer all of the questions.

The group brings a diversity of perspectives, and, in self-improvement, that’s critical.


The product

We hacked VIP into the existing Coach.me app, making use of tracking and Q&A.

It’s totally a hack and I think I should be more up front about that. We needed three features basically: tracking, daily exercises and discussion.

And to get there we co-opted Coach.me’s Q&A feature to handle both the daily exercise and the discussion. It works, sort of. The worst thing is that Q&A sorts by last-updated, so sometimes the exercises get out of order.

I think it’s appropriate for where we are — a small community of passionate self-improvers trying to figure out best practices together.

Plus, the real product is just to have great content and research and people.