New applied rationality workshops (April, May, and July)

In the early days of the Cen­ter for Ap­plied Ra­tion­al­ity, Anna Sala­mon and I had a dis­agree­ment about whether we were ready to run our first ap­plied ra­tio­nal­ity work­shops in six weeks. My in­side view said “No way”; Her in­side view said “Should be fine”; My out­side view noted that Anna had more rele­vant ex­pe­rience than I did, and there­fore cowed my in­side view into grudg­ingly shut­ting up.

It turned out well. Granted, the first cou­ple of work­shops were a bit chaotic (hey, sleep­ing in a dog­pile on the liv­ing room builds char­ac­ter, amiright May mini­cam­pers?). But it’s clear in ret­ro­spect that we got a lot more value out of div­ing in than we would have from the ex­tra time spent plan­ning.

The “try stuff fast” habit is re­spon­si­ble for a lot of the tech­niques in our cur­ricu­lum; we test out classes on each other and on vol­un­teers, ob­serve “Oh hey, this helps other peo­ple too” or “Oh hey, no one else thinks this is use­ful, turns out I’m just weird,” and tweak our cur­ricu­lum ac­cord­ingly.

And be­cause we can­not help go­ing re­cur­sively meta, we’ve built a lot of ma­te­rial into our cur­ricu­lum to make peo­ple bet­ter at try­ing things that could make them bet­ter at pur­su­ing their goals. Quick, off-the-cuff value of in­for­ma­tion (VOI) calcu­la­tions help you de­cide when it’s worth it to spend the time, or money or risk, to try some­thing new. Again­st­ness helps you no­tice and alle­vi­ate the stress re­sponses that can keep you from try­ing some­thing, once you’ve no­ticed that you should. Com­fort zone ex­pan­sion is ba­si­cally a “try a bunch of new things” drill.

For more de­tails on our cur­ricu­lum, check out a sam­ple sched­ule. I also made a sim­plified map of some of our classes, so you can see how I think of them fit­ting into the big­ger pic­ture of ra­tio­nal­ity (click to en­large):

To the ex­tent that I’ve im­proved my own ra­tio­nal­ity skills over the last year, I give a lot of credit to “try stuff fast.” Like many Less Wrongers I have his­tor­i­cally been more of a “think­ing about things” per­son than a “try­ing stuff fast” per­son; given the choice of an af­ter­noon spent de­bat­ing ig­no­rance pri­ors or one spent figur­ing out how to im­prove my pub­lic speak­ing skills, I’d pick the former ev­ery time, even though the lat­ter would be more use­ful to me.

I’m par­tially re­formed now, thanks in part to the in­fluence of Anna, whom you’ll fre­quently over­hear say­ing things like “I think I’ll try teach­ing the class as if I were Val” or “We should try a differ­ent meet­ing for­mat to­day, it’s high VOI.” So now I’m much more likely to no­tice, “Hey, in this situ­a­tion I always do X (e.g., ask for feed­back later, by email), so this time let me try X-prime (e.g., ask for feed­back in per­son on the spot) -- the cost is low and it’s plau­si­ble I’ll learn that I like it bet­ter than my de­fault.”

In that spirit, I recom­mend com­ing to one of our up­com­ing work­shops in April, May or July, where you will not only be in­tro­duced to all the stuff that we’ve tried and found promis­ing so far, but will also be plugged into a grow­ing net­work of sev­eral hun­dred other thought­ful and cre­ative peo­ple who have de­vel­oped their own habits you can bor­row and try (we cer­tainly do – past par­ti­ci­pants have been the ori­gin of some of our best ma­te­rial). And be­ing sur­rounded by other peo­ple with similar as­pira­tions, dur­ing the work­shop and in the alumni net­work af­ter­wards, is the best way I know of to keep your mo­ti­va­tion and your dis­ci­pline strong.

At $3900, it’s an in­vest­ment, but a low-risk one, since we have a money-back guaran­tee. If you don’t feel like what you got out of it was worth it, we’ll re­fund your money with­out hes­i­ta­tion or com­plaint.

Here are the ba­sics:

You can ap­ply here for any of our next three ap­plied ra­tio­nal­ity work­shops:

  • Fri­day, April 26 - Mon­day, April 29

  • Fri­day, May 17 - Mon­day, May 20

  • Satur­day, July 20 - Tues­day, July 23

Each work­shop will con­sist of an im­mer­sive four days at a re­treat near San Fran­cisco, train­ing you in the art of ac­tu­ally us­ing ra­tio­nal­ity. That means figur­ing out what your goals are, and what you can be do­ing to pur­sue them more effec­tively; notic­ing when you’re act­ing out of habit or im­pulse; cul­ti­vat­ing cu­ri­os­ity about the world and how it works; and learn­ing to use both your in­tu­itive (Sys­tem 1) and an­a­lyt­i­cal (Sys­tem 2) think­ing sys­tems to their ful­lest.

We’re so­lic­it­ing ap­pli­ca­tions not just from Less Wrongers, but from other en­trepreneurs, stu­dents, teach­ers, sci­en­tists, en­g­ineers, ac­tivists—any­one who is an­a­lyt­i­cal, friendly, and mo­ti­vated to make their own ca­reers, per­sonal lives, and/​or so­cieties bet­ter.

For more in­for­ma­tion on our con­tent, check out our work­shop web­page, our check­list of ra­tio­nal­ity habits, or a de­tailed sam­ple sched­ule.

We’re con­stantly tin­ker­ing with our cur­ricu­lum (as men­tioned ear­lier), and col­lect­ing fol­low-up data on what works well. So while you should be aware that our ma­te­rial hasn’t yet been sub­jected to rigor­ous long-term stud­ies, our alumni do tend to re­port that they’ve got­ten a lot of value out of their ex­pe­rience. Here are a few write-ups from Less Wrongers about their CFAR work­shop ex­pe­rience and any changes they’ve made as a re­sult: toner, pal­la­dias, Qiaochu_Yuan, the­jash, Bran­donRein­hart, ci­pher­goth, and a bunch of other peo­ple.

The to­tal cost is $3900, and that in­cludes:

  • Three days of classes—Six hours of class a day, with small class sizes (4-6 peo­ple) so you get a lot of per­sonal at­ten­tion from the in­struc­tors. We re­ar­range those small groups sev­eral times through­out the work­shop to give you a chance to get to know ev­ery­one.

  • One day of prac­tice – Op­tional but recom­mended, so in­struc­tors can help you make and trou­bleshoot a plan to use the ma­te­rial go­ing for­ward. (If you choose to skip this day, the to­tal cost is $3400.)

  • Six weeks of per­sonal fol­low-ups – Talk to our staff in one-on-one fol­low-ups to help you get the most value out of what you’ve learned.

  • Stay­ing on site – We rent out lovely re­treat cen­ters (lodg­ing and food in­cluded in the cost of the work­shop) so you can get to know the in­struc­tors and other par­ti­ci­pants in the evenings, dur­ing meals, and on breaks. Even­ings in­clude ev­ery­thing from un­con­fer­ences, to par­ties, to im­promptu Ru­bix-cube les­sons.

  • An alumni net­work—You’ll be in­cluded in all fu­ture CFAR alumni events, par­ties, on­line fo­rums, and so on. We’ll make ev­ery effort to con­nect you to alumni from other work­shops with whom we think you’ll hit it off or have op­por­tu­ni­ties for col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Schol­ar­ships and fi­nan­cial aid are available—in­clud­ing for many who thought they wouldn’t qual­ify. So if you’re in­ter­ested in at­tend­ing, definitely ap­ply, and men­tion you’d like to be con­sid­ered for this. We’ll set up a call to dis­cuss.

And please don’t hes­i­tate to email me (Ju­lia at ap­pliedra­tional­ity dot org). CFAR staff will also be in this com­ment thread to field ques­tions, and some of the alumni who fre­quent Less Wrong may be there as well.

Ap­ply here (the form takes less than 10 min­utes, so you should do it now rather than plan­ning on get­ting to it later!).