The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or by Welf von Hören. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
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Jim: Today’s guest is Welf Van Horen. I’ve probably mangled the German pronunciation of that a little bit but, hey, that’s the way it goes. He’s the CEO of Potential, Inc. Potential has built and is just launching a public beta of their Potential app with the ambition of helping us humans, us weak humans, as we’ve often talked about on the show, close the gap between intention and action. You can search for Potential on the Apple App Store or on Google Play for Android or you can visit potential.app for a lot more information and links to both stores. Welcome, Welf.
Welf: Hey, Jim. Great to be here.
Jim: Yeah, great to chat with you again as we regularly do. Before we jump in, I’m going to make a disclosure which I always do when I have a potential conflict of interest. I have a small investment in Potential and I’ve been advising Welf since before he had a clear product concept. I was drawn to his rather deep analysis of the current human situation and proposed a road forward. So, with that, let’s get started. What, in your opinion, are we today as a civilization?
Welf: Hmm, the good thing is with the listeners of this podcast, that there’s already so much context existing. I think the most relevant thing is there’s multiple existential risks and crises and, all of them taken together, put us on trajectory of, at least, civilizational collapse, if not worse and we’ve seen that materialize over the last two years increasingly. And so, my understanding of this was heavily inspired by Daniel Schmachtenberger’s work is that we need to, basically, at civilization scale, upgrade the human capacity for making omni-considerate choices. So, how do we make choices that are good for ourselves, that are good for our community and that are good for the world at large? That’s how I interpret the transition to something like game B. How do we increase our collective capacity to make choices, to design environments, to design civilization in a way that is increasingly beneficial to all of life?
Jim: In the game B conversation, there’s long been the idea and even the tension between the need to increase human capacity on the one hand and to improve human institutions on the other. How do you see those two things working together?
Welf: That’s not a clear line because we are heavily shaped by our environments, we are heavily shaped by our institutions, we are conditioned by our schools so our capacity has been conditioned by the environment that we grew up in. And so, we both need to change this environment to condition increasingly better humans but then, of course, we also need to … And that’s, luckily, something that where, I think, there’s a lot of untapped potential where I think the individual has tremendous capacity to transform themselves and to increase the capacity, if aware of that potential. And so, I think it’s really both one or the other alone won’t do, but I like Daniel Thorson’s take on this. How personal responsibility and transformation leads into collective transformation and vice versa. So, better humans will be able to make better institutions and the other way around.
Jim: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. After years of struggling with this game B consensus now is that to build better institutions, you need people with higher capacity and, to maintain and draw people towards higher capacity, you need better institutions. So, it’s essentially a co-evolutionary context where you improve one then you improve the other, then you improve one and you’re approved the other and, of course, it’s actually going on in real-time as a swirl. And, if we do this correctly, we bootstrap, cause a phase transition and get to a much better world.
Welf: Quite a jump there but maybe to add one more thing, it also means that we can’t just have a definition of self-actualization and personal responsibility that stops at the individual level. Ultimately, becoming fully alive and growing into the most capable and wise version of ourselves that we could must include taking responsibility in the greater transformation. And so, one way to think about it is if I want to transform myself to the point where I can live a life of integrity with my values, actually, if we look closely, if we look carefully, that requires us to completely transform civilization. Because in order to live without externalities, we need to, basically, reinvent the whole supply chain, we need to reinvent a lot of social systems in order to be able to do that. And so, that’s where I think self-actualization is an amazing concept to go beyond that false dichotomy of is it self-development or is it being in service of others? It’s both in service of each other.
Jim: Yeah, I think that’s hugely important. It’s one of the critiques of some of the human potential movement is, it’s all about me being a better shiny person and that by itself is not going to get the job done.
Welf: Yeah, exactly. And, of course, the ends are hugely important. Of course, you can meditate and you can work out and you can learn how to focus better on your job at Shell accelerating the extraction of fossil fuels and, obviously, that’s not really going to help. So-
Jim: Yeah, Zuckerberg is apparently a meditator and an exerciser. See what that gets you? You just be a more efficient destroyer of the universe. We have to take that very seriously. We’re laughing about it but it’s very serious. One of the concepts I know you have used from Daniel Schmachtenberger and that had been expanded by others in the game B thinking universe is the concept of sovereignty. In fact, you’ve written a very interesting essay on medium where you have taken the work of others, mostly Daniel, and laid it out very nicely. Maybe if you could explain to the audience. Everybody in the audience, by no means, is a game B person. And so, getting a nice description of the concept of sovereignty in the game B sense would be quite helpful.
Welf: So, I’m going to start with Daniel’s definition and then how I think about it. The way he lays it out is sovereignty is the product of three capacities. The first is our capacity to perceive the world, we could call that sentience. The second is our capacity to make sense of the world, we could call that intelligence. And the third one is our capacity to act on and in the world, we could call that agency. And so, to illustrate what that means is you have archetypes for each of them. So, for perception you have the bodhisattva who is both all-perceiving and all-caring. For intelligence, you have the polymath who is all-knowing and then, you have for agency, the word creator which is all powerful. And you can see how the sum of these three capacities is always limited by the least developed of these capacities.
Welf: So, for example, if I’m an activist who’s highly caring and high on agency but I don’t quite make sense of the word in a way that allows me to actually be effective, then I’m going to be very caringly, very loudly out there doing things with a lot of energy and my effectiveness and my capacity to be sovereign and to contribute or to make omni-positive choices and to contribute to this transformation towards omni-positivity is going to be limited by my capacity to make sense. If I’m, for example, an academic who’s caring and intelligent but doesn’t have the agency to execute things in the word, who doesn’t have the power to translate things into policy or into business decisions, then you can see how that person’s effectiveness is also limited by the least developed, in this case, agency.
Welf: And then the last one could be a business person who might be highly intelligent and highly powerful but who is not connected to the care of something deeper or something beyond himself or themselves so that they might not be able to perceive and to care about the suffering or the well-being of conscious creatures that might be impacted by their choices. And so, you can, then, see them in their lives, make decisions that are intelligent, that are impactful but that are not guided by that care. And so, taking it together, I think, for this transformation ahead, both for ourselves individually and collectively, we need to develop all three capacities so that we can become more sovereign. So, we want to be as perceptive and as caring as possible.
Welf: So, we want to be in touch with the suffering of conscious creatures in this world even though it might be tremendously painful, we want to increase our capacity to make sense of the world, all of them can be hard depending on where you are but our capacity to make sense of the world, I think, that’s a really hard one to upgrade. And then we also want to increase our capacity to be able to translate the sense that we made, to translate our intelligence into effectiveness in the world where we might want to be able to design communities, design local economies, design regeneration programs, to bring nature back to life and to do all of that in a way that is at Silicon Valley technology startup, great effectiveness so that we can, not just do these good things locally which is important, but that we can accelerate and advance this transition on a greater scale.
Jim: Perfect transition. You lay out this big vision of what we could be as humans and then you’ve chosen to work in what you call the social medium of choice arena. Why is social media the place to inject your ideas and how central is the digital realm to our life today?
Welf: Obviously, with COVID, and people talked about this, it’s incredibly central and we probably spend more time online than we spend in the real world which means that our primary conditioning environment is going to be online. And so, we’ve seen over the last, let’s say, 15 years, roughly, since Facebook has been founded and since Instagram and all these other media platforms came up, we’ve seen that they’re absolutely unprecedented in their capacity to influence human behavior at a global scale. And if you look at it from a design perspective and if you look at the design teams and the product decisions and the design objectives and the business objectives within these companies, you can very clearly see that the engagement that we see today is the product of a careful design process. Maybe careful is not quite the right word here but it’s the result of a highly intelligent design process and evolution of this technology over many years that, as we can see, undoubtedly, is able to drive human behavior in the real world.
Welf: And so, the question becomes if, we, as a species, have technology on our hands that can influence billions of people, how they see the world, how they feel when they wake up in the morning and they engage with the world through that medium and then how they make choices in their day to day life. If we have that capacity to influence billions of people, what’s a reasonable way to even relate to that? What’s a reasonable way to do that responsibly? And, especially given that we have, right now, basically, the worst possible incentive system hooked up with that technology that’s optimizing for addiction, outrage, polarization, all these things that Tristan and the social dilemma and so on talked about, I think there’s a tremendous imperative to do something about it. And so, the question is, what the fuck do we do?
Jim: Yes, that’s the mission, right? I am going to push back here a little bit and it may just be that I’m an old curmudgeon which is that I continue to try to resist the digital encompassing of our whole life. I continue to take off touching any interactive devices every Sunday, my cyber Sabbath Sunday initiative. I take a six month sabbatical, six months off of social media each year from July to January. I do put my podcasts up and stuff like that but I don’t get in the middle of mud wrestling on Facebook or any of the things that I so enjoy doing. Many listeners to the show know that I took a considerable period of time where I got rid of my smartphone and went back to a flip phone and I wrote this up in an essay called Reclaiming Our Cognitive Sovereignty. And I think the challenge of limiting our digital and virtualization is important and this is ironic coming from me.
Jim: I was there at the beginning, I’ve been working on building our virtual world since 1980 when I worked for The Source, the very first consumer online service where I helped design some very early bulletin board systems, I was assistant product manager for an early, early, early precursor of social media, et cetera. But I’ve come to the view that we have to be conscious and sovereign about not getting ourselves sucked in all the way into the digital and the real challenge is still ahead of us which is the metaverse which many of us have heard about, done a little bit of talking about here on the show where the idea is virtual reality and augmented reality are going to become, in theory, submitted into our everyday life and, in which case, the level of pervasiveness of digitalization that we’ve seen so far is just the beginning. So, I’m not sure that’s a good thing entirely but maybe it’s too late, that the horses, we say, is already out of the barn.
Jim: What’s your thought about that? Can people and should people resist the totalization of their life being sucked into the digital realm?
Welf: Yeah, of course, totally. I think it’s tremendously important. I think if we’re out in nature, if we’re in deep connection with friends and family, if we engage in creative pursuits then our lives are probably going to be more meaningful than if we just spend our time scrolling through the internet. And of course, our minds are going to be a lot more healthy if they have breaks from the digital. So, yeah, absolutely. Now, the question is, is our technology supportive of that? Is it encouraging that? Is it actively helpful in doing that or is it getting in the way?
Jim: Of course it’s doing the exact opposite. If the metric of engagement that people like Facebook and Twitter use which is let’s keep you glued to the screen for the longest possible time whether it’s doing you any good or not. This gets to the next topic that we’ve talked about quite eloquently and so has our friend, Tristan Harris, which is the tremendous asymmetry between the power of the unaided human and the power of these platforms. As Tristan likes to say, “Hmm, Facebook is mining your behavior at the micro level then using computers and software more sophisticated than that which beat Kasparov in the computer versus human world championship and, somehow, we think that we can manage responsibly our behavior in this asymmetrical world.” I want you to talk about that a little bit and then the responsibility of product designers to be fiduciaries with respect to that power.
Welf: Yeah, it’s not just that these computers are playing the game of chess and that we obviously lose against them, it’s they’re playing the game of human attention which is getting at some of the most fundamental human freedom of can I direct my attention to that which is meaningful to me and which is important to me. And of course, if you have some of the most brilliant technologists working in such an organization, if you have billions of dollars of resources, if you have researchers and algorithms and data on not just you personally and what you’ve clicked on over the last 10 years and what got your attention during what times of the day, how often and how reliably and not just on you personally but on 100,000 people that are most like you, then you have an opponent at the game of human attention that is just way, way beyond our monkey minds and our vulnerable, limited cognitive capacity, our emotional instability and vulnerability to hijack.
Welf: And then you add on that, also, just a stressful world in which many people are experiencing anxiety and depression and so on and using these technologies also as a way to cope with psychological and emotional discomfort, you have a pretty good setup to just replace any human agency with that system.
Jim: Sorry, you’ve diagnosed the situation, I think, pretty well and understand deeply the idea of ourselves as being manipulated by our products. I love the, I don’t know who coined it but it was a long time ago, if you’re not paying for a service online, you’re not the customer, you’re the product. And you’ve taken this thinking quite deeply and have used it as part of your design philosophy for your Potential app. So, let’s now focus on these learnings which you’ve had from years of study and thinking and interacting with folks to what did you decide to do about it. Let’s start conceptually and then let’s drill down to the specifics.
Welf: Sure. So, the question is, if we have technology just in the abstract, as humans, we managed to build technology that plays the game of human attention better than we can play it ourselves. And the people that have it are not going to give that power up. I don’t trust the people legislating them that they will be able to effectively get to the essence of how that fucks up human freedom and agency and we’re not going to just willpower our way out of it. So, then, the question becomes, okay, can we use that stack, that technology stack to help us play the game of human attention in a way that’s aligned with our best interest? And that’s where fiduciary responsibility seems absurd and out of the question if you look at the current day social media. But actually, for us, it’s really the starting point for any subsequent consideration.
Welf: For us, obviously, the value proposition is, can we use this powerful technology in a way that helps you live a life that is more true to the life that you want to live? Does it help you become the kind of person that is more true to the kind of person that you could become and does it enable you to be more powerfully in service of what you choose to serve? And so, the way we think about that is, I call it augmented intentionality. So, can we use this stack of technology, of persuasive technology and, instead of nudging you towards mindless behavior and conditioning you towards mindless behavior, can we make a digital environment that supports your capacity to mindfully choose what to do and that increases your capacity to make these conscious choices and to do the things that you intend to do.
Welf: And that’s where you can see that there’s a deep connection between the problem of mindlessness and out engineering human agency to the intention-action gap because, ultimately, the intention-action gap existed before social media it’s just that social media is incredibly good at widening the gap and using our tendencies that support the gap against us. And so, then, the question becomes, can we bridge that gap and can we help you do more of the things that are important to you?
Jim: Yeah, that’s a good point. This idea of weaponized seduction through information didn’t start with social media, it goes all the way back to the printing press, probably, and then accelerated with things like the newspaper and then radio and then TV. I’m old enough to remember when there was lots of people worried about what was TV doing to human character and, frankly, it was doing a lot. And so, this is not a brand new problem by any means, though, it certainly appears that social media has taken it to the next level. Now, let’s go to the idea of a fiduciary. If you look it up in the dictionary, particularly in the financial side, fiduciary means that you must take the interest of your customer first ahead of your own as a business. Do you take that seriously? It’s obviously a challenge as the CEO of a for profit corporation.
Welf: Yeah, luckily, it’s a public benefit for profit corporation.
Jim: Let’s talk about that for a second, the fact that you chose the corporate form of a benefit corporation and how that informs your thinking and allows you to act honestly in a fiduciary capability.
Welf: I think it’s completely possible to make technology that is built around a value proposition that is fundamentally aligned with someone’s best interest. And we think intentionality is, especially, almost foolproof there because it doesn’t optimize for a specific direction of choice but it optimizes for the quality of attention behind that choice. It optimizes for more mindfulness so that you can choose more consciously. And, at the same time, we think it takes, actually, a corporation, it takes a tech company set up to be really effective at bringing that value proposition into the world. So, I think there’s a lot of things down the line that we need to think of in terms of preserving that fiduciary spirit and that fiduciary responsibility and making sure that it’s built into the governance structure and that it’s built into the business incentives so that it cannot be hijacked on down the line but that’s its own whole set of innovation that were necessary and, for now, it’s really important that we get the technology right first and that we get the product right.
Welf: And so, yes, we take it seriously and we think that the value proposition is fundamentally aligned with our user’s best interest. We’re working on this concept called attention settings where, similar to the concept that we published the summer, iOS 15, Humane, where we showed how Apple could give people more control over how they’re being manipulated, it’s taking that concept further and saying, okay, either as legislators or as ecosystem providers, so Apple or Google as the app stores, we could require products that use persuasive design techniques to give users the option to opt out of these. So, imagine a version of Facebook on your phone where you can say, “Actually, I don’t want the video tap in my Facebook app, I don’t want the explore section in my Instagram app.” And you can see, maybe even in the settings, what the impact is of these features on the time spent on average and have the option to turn it off.
Welf: So, we think that’s a way in which asymmetry can be lessened and some symmetry can be restored and the playing field can be levered. And then for potential, it’s like we think what we do is inherently aligned with what you want us to do for you. So, you pay us because you want a digital environment that supports you in making more conscious choices and then, on top of that, we give you the option to fine tune which things and which possible sources of influence you actually want to use so that you can opt out at any time.
Jim: Very good. One of the things I heard from you when we were chatting, even before you had a clear product idea, which made me say, “Aha, this fella is on to something,” is when you used the expression closing the intention-action gap. You’ve alluded to it a couple of times in passing but, to my mind, this is the center of why Potential app is potentially so important and such a powerful tool. So, if you could lay out, in some detail, the idea of the intention-action gap, what is it? Why is it bad and what can Potential do about closing it?
Welf: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s inherently bad, it’s just inherently human and it’s actually the thing that got me started on this whole journey. Because a couple years ago, I realized, “Okay, I can set goals, I can consciously choose who I want to become and then I can figure out what do I need to do to become this person, what do I need to do to create this life and I can do these things.” And I’ll say, “Okay, this is great. This is much more useful than anything that I’ve learned in school.” And so, I started doing that and then I found myself with the plan to get up at 6:00 in the morning and read all these books and work out five times a week. And then I found myself at the end of the week or at the end of the month looking back and be like, “Fuck, I barely did any of this.”
Welf: And so, this is probably also something that has to do with being in your late teens, being in your early 20s where self-control and executive function is, in general, less developed but, also, there’s a spectrum of how abled humans are to align their behavior, with their intentions and from experience and from, since, talking to many, many, many people who share this experience, if you struggle with that, it’s not just like, “Oh, this is annoying,” it is existentially struggle to who you are, who you want to be and who you’re capable of becoming especially when you’re ambitious and especially if you have clear ideas on what you could do. And so, closing that gap, I think, for me personally, is tremendously important.
Welf: And we’ve spoken to many people, since, that share this experience. And of course, also, if you zoom out throughout a person’s life, if you have the intention of working out but you never actually do that or if you have the intention of reading all these books but you never actually do that, that’s the ceiling of your development because every time a new year comes around, it’s time for New Year’s resolutions and you’re like, “Okay, this year I’m going to read more. This year I’m going to work out more,” but then there’s no progress year over year and that’s both frustrating and it’s also, yeah, it’s holding you back.
Jim: Yeah, very good. Very good way to describe the value proposition. And let me tell you, it’s not just you young folks that have the problem of inability to do what we know is good for us, us geezers have the same problem. Might be worse even, who knows, right? Our lives are more complex in certain ways and so we have more things grabbing at our attention. And so, I think this is not just a problem of teens and young adults, this is a pervasive human problem, particularly a human pervasive problem in the land of hyper novelty as Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying recently talked about in their book and this is a product for everybody, I’d argue. So, now, let’s give people at least a little bit of sense about what is the Potential app. What’s it do? What’s it for? What’s it look like?
Welf: Yeah. So, today, basically it’s like we’re starting, this is day one. What it does today is a preview for what it will do a lot more powerfully a year from now and then five years from now. But what it does today is it gives you, basically, the tools to align your phone with your intentions. And so, the basic building block for that is intentions. And so, you can set an intention, for example, meditate in the morning and you can add an integration. So, for example, I use Waking Up as a meditation app, I can add that as an integration, you can add shortcuts so that you can even jump right into your daily meditation or your workout or whatever it is or you’re running playlist. And then, you can group these intentions in schedules so that you say, “Okay, in the morning, these are the three things that I want to do. In the evening, these are the few things I want to do. And, maybe, in the afternoon or during my lunch break or during my working hours, these are the things that I want to use my phone for.”
Welf: And then we have widgets that you can place on the home screen and then what happens is you unlock your phone in the morning and you see exactly the intentions that you have for that time of the day and you have the integrations right there. So, you can unlock your phone, you see your intentions for the morning and you can tap them, you can open your meditation through that and then you meditate. It reduces all the complexity of, okay, let me unlock my phone, let me try to not look at other notifications, let me look for the app, let me look for the right meditations, it removes all that and tries to make it, basically, as one tap easy as possible so that you can just tap it and be right in it. And then if you use, for example, a meditation app or if you use a workout app, we use an [inaudible 00:31:59] integration so that, once you’ve done it and you come back to Potential, we can just check it off for you because we know through [inaudible 00:32:07] that you’ve done that behavior. And then you can keep track of that over time and you can also share these things with your friends.
Jim: You’re talking about the tracking and the statistics part rudimentary today, but what visions for more coming soon?
Welf: Yeah. So, there’s a lot of habit trackers out there and we purposefully don’t position Potential as a habit tracker. People use it as a replacement to the habit tracker but it wants to be more than that. But one key aspect of changing your behavior over time is understanding it and understanding what you do. And so, the idea there is that if you keep track of the things that you do and, ideally, through integrations, you can keep track of them automatically. So, how long you sleep or how often you work out, how often you meditate, how much time you spend learning a specific language with Duolingo, for example, all these things we can just keep track of in the background and then you can come back at the end of the week, we send you a report at the end of the week, not currently but very soon, and you see, okay, these are the things that I did and then, over the last month, these are the things I did more consistently, these are the things I did less consistently.
Welf: And, as that whole experience gets smoother over time and gets more integrated with, also, let’s say, your distraction spirals or the ways in which you mindlessly spend your time, we’re hoping to help you identify patterns in, “Okay, if I don’t work out and if I don’t see friends for three days, that makes me more likely to, then, compulsively scroll Twitter for now.” And we think it’s really this augmented self-awareness of just seeing your behavior and having it analyzed in a useful way and then having suggestions made based on that to help you change your behavior [inaudible 00:34:04]. And you can see how that’s something that if Facebook will just share the data that it has on, hey, these are all the things that we know that are connected to your longer sessions on the app, you can learn from that. And so, we’re hoping to just take a data set that is similar to that and apply it in a way that serves you.
Jim: Yeah, that serves you. That’s the important part. That’s why I do love this company and I love the idea behind it which is if you take a fiduciary perspective that it’s literally your stated and official role is to do what’s right for the customer, taking their behavior and their actions and presenting it to them in the way that’s most beneficial to the customer is a hugely powerful change in the business model from today’s social media.
Welf: Yeah, and maybe it’s naïve in our thinking, I truly believe, for sure, that if we do that and if we can build an organization that does that, that truly serves the best interest of the customer. If you’re paying us to help you allocate your attention to what’s important to you, if you are paying us to make technology that helps you do more of the things that are important to you, then doing that as well as possible and in a way that’s as aligned with your best interests as possible is obviously going to be good for us in the long term as a business, especially when there’s a trillion dollar industry doing the exact opposite.
Jim: Yeah, and this is key, your business model that you’ve chosen, and you and I discussed this for quite a while before you converged on it fully, which is this is a subscription app which people pay, what is it, $5 s month, I think, for the basic service. And that puts one in a very different position than receiving a free product, a free service where you are the product and the provider of the platform has every incentive to squeeze every bit of value out of your behavior. The symmetry is entirely flipped. Welf, now, has the problem of making you happy and making you feel like you’re getting value for your $5 a month and that strikes me as a vastly more healthy way to structure a business.
Jim: In fact, I believe the internet, basically, went to hell when the economics got to the point where products could be fully funded by advertising. Think about where the rot really took off, which was in the early double aughts and that was just about the time that underlying technologies got cheap enough that ads were enough to float products by themselves and going back to a very modest subscription strikes me as hugely wise business design decision.
Welf: Yeah, it stood out, ultimately, as the one thing that makes the most sense for us. I think [inaudible 00:36:46] with subscription business is there’s still some possible pitfalls. If you look at an entertainment, if you look at Netflix, if you’re, as a customer, paying us for entertainment then, of course, your addiction to our product will be the best predictor of if you’re going to renew your subscription next month. So, that’s why we see Netflix competing with sleep even though it’s subscription model and, ironically, producing the social dilemma although it’s not entirely outside of the conversation. But if we look at real world value, if we look at real world behaviors around health, around fitness, around education, around focus and effectiveness, we think it’s a positive sum game and it’s a game where we can easily create so much more value for you than you need to pay us for us to be a viable and scalable business.
Welf: And that’s going to be a huge difference because, I think, we and many companies in this field can create value and value and value and value and actually enrich people’s lives going forward into the future. And, on the other hand, you have the attention economy which is a zero sum game. You have a finite amount of human attention and you have a finite mental health substrate of that attention and you can only take so much before it all goes to shit.
Jim: Indeed, well said. One of the areas that you are working on, again, you have early versions of it in the current product but I know you have much stronger views for the future which is the social context. Humans are inherently social animals and, sometimes, our hyper individualist Western neoliberalism makes us forget that but it’s just not true. We are social animals. Talk a little bit about how you think about the social aspects of the Potential app. What you have today and what you think you might have, where you want to explore in the future.
Welf: Yes. So, ideally, we would be living in built environments and physical environments where we get to collectively engage in meaningful practices, where we get to have the conditions for high-quality attention, where we have the conditions for deep connections and where we can engage in shared processes of transformation like a monastery, a place for practice, a place for the cultivation of wisdom. Now, at this point in time, we can’t really design a monastery and then bring that into every city in the world, that wouldn’t really work. But what we can do is we can give you a more monastic digital environment and one really critical part of that is a sense of presence and a community of practice. And we see that emerge with different digital camp fires like the store or [inaudible 00:39:51] wisdom and many other, let’s say, cohort-based online courses and so on that are all communities of practice, ultimately, where people come together and practice certain virtues, practice certain qualities and certain skills.
Welf: And so, in this process of doing the things that we want to do, we think it’s tremendously important to have a digital environment that gives us a sense of presence that, hey, you’re not alone in this and, if you want to meditate in the morning and I want to meditate in the morning and we happen to be in the same time zone, let’s have a digital environment that gives us the sense of, okay, you’re not just doing this by yourself but there is someone sitting there with you that you know, that you care about that shares this process with you. And right now, there’s very basic social features but, going forward, we think there’s a lot of opportunities to enable groups of practice, to enable communities of practice and to have people not just connect, because that’s not really meaningful, but to have people connect around doing the things that are important to them. And we think that’s a tremendously meaningful value proposition and, actually, just supportive of the deeper value proposition of helping you do the things that you want to do.
Jim: Very good. Final topic on the product then we’ll wrap her up. You don’t have this in the product today but I know it’s part of your vision for the future and this is where it’s going to be very interesting to make sure you keep yourself pure to your mission. And that is, at some point, you’re going to be mining the data of human behavior, what apps people use, et cetera, which ones, perhaps, that they continue to use. If there’s lots of meditation apps, you will have the data on which ones people actually use and consistently use and, presumably, as you and I’ve talked about, you will be doing some recommendations for people about what apps they might want to integrate in what domain. X in exercise, Y in meditation, Z in to do lists, et cetera. Talk about that a little bit and what the moral challenge will be to make sure you’re not corrupted by, let’s say, commission’s being paid and things of that ilk.
Welf: Yeah. So, as the intelligent observer notices, if we succeed at what we’re trying to do, then, there’s going to be a point in time where we have data on millions of people and the things that they choose to do and, also, crucially, the things that they actually end up doing. So, we will be able to see, okay, I might set an intention for meditating in the morning and I might set an intention for working out in the evening and it turns out I’m a lot more consistent at my workout practice than I am at my morning meditation.
Welf: And so, the idea there is that we can look at, okay, what works for people like you and what worked for people like you in the past and, based on that, can we maybe make a suggestion, not actually primarily on what app you might want to use but, in the first place, on how you might want to design that behavior. Maybe you want to put your yoga mat in the evening before you go to bed so that in the morning, when you get up, you have your yoga mat already there and you have your workout clothes ready to go or maybe you want to add a little reward at the end of every second meditation or something like that.
Welf: So, we think that that’s actually the main thing that we can find in this data is what works for people like you and how can you either be more successful at acting on the intentions that you have or, actually, beyond that even, how can you maybe find intentions that you truly want to have. Maybe there’s someone that’s five years older than you that has a similar psychometrics and they’ve tried this meditation that you’ve been trying in the past and it didn’t work for them and then they found another practice, let’s say, gratitude meditation and it completely changed their life.
Welf: Can we advance and accelerate this process of learning and figuring out what actually works for us? And then, of course, as integrations are central to what we’re doing, there is going to be a factor of, okay, maybe this meditation or this meditation app is better for you than another one or have to be more consistent and we’ll be able to see that, we’ll be able to make suggestions and just be like, “Hey, for a percentage of people like you, this apps works better than the other or just be X percent more consistent with the practice.”
Welf: And there will be challenges in terms of, okay, do we get affiliate commissions if we recommend an app and we want to avoid that. And the way we think about it is if you get to do the practice that you want to practice, if you get to do the thing that you intend to do and that is with a specific meditation app, then that’s going to be good for that app. And if it’s good for that app and if Potential helps you do this, then that app is incentivized to build integrations with us which, in turn, allows us to build a smoother user experience, making it easier for you to do the things that you want to do and giving us more defensible market position. So, that’s a way, we think, in which it’s going to be possible for us to design experiences that provide value to you and that provide value to the third party apps and that provide value to us in a way that doesn’t fuck about incentives but, instead, just leads to more value creation through better product.
Jim: All righty. Well, I think we’re up to our time here now. I want to thank you for a very deep, deeper than usual from a business guy perspective on why you’re doing what you’re doing and what your challenges are going forward. For our listeners, check out the Potential app. You can get it at the Apple App Store or Google Play or go to potential.app. Any final thoughts?
Welf: Yes. After signing up, you can use the code Jim Rutt Show to get in because we work with invite codes. Otherwise, Jim, thank you for your support and guidance throughout the process and it’s been great.
Jim: Hey, thanks. Key, I think, Jim Rutt Show, with spaces or all one word?
Welf: One word.
Jim: One word, jimruttshow, no spaces. All righty. Well, thank you very much, Welf, for a very interesting conversation.