The Profile: The king of SPACs & the meme king of Wall Street
What does the future of education look like?
Good morning, friends!
You may remember Ana Lorena Fabrega from our interview earlier this year, in which she explained why traditional education is broken, how kids can learn to think independently, and why games are so important in the process of learning.
Fabrega is the chief evangelist at Synthesis, an online enrichment club where kids learn through games and simulations. Students enrolled in Synthesis learn mental models, decision-making, and game theory by playing complex and collaborative games. Last week, the company raised $5 million in funding at a $50 million valuation (and I invested!)
On Friday, Fabrega participated in an hour-long, live "Ask Me Anything" with readers who are part of The Profile's members-only Telegram chat. (To join, consider becoming a premium member here.)
We discussed mental models, independent thinking, and the future of education.
Below are the highlights of her Q&A with the readers:
Q: As someone with two young children, my daughter just turned two, what’s the best way to prep her for a synthesis education?
FABREGA: Give them the freedom to play, explore, and pursue their own interests. In this newsletter, I share 10 tips for Cultivating Creativity from Mitchel Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT.
It’s important to remember that kids are designed, by nature, to play and explore on their own, independently of adults. They learn from anything and everything. They don’t need a robust curriculum, elaborated lesson plans, or fancy digital tools in order to learn. In this newsletter, I share a few simple ideas for kids to learn at home.
Q: What do you do with a child that is obviously brilliant in a certain area but isn't doing the right things to be "successful" in a traditional school setting?
Love this question. If your kids seem to have an aptitude or intense interest for something that is not school-related, nurture and prioritize that. No matter what his or her age, when a child has a serious and productive interest in something, do anything possible to feed it. Let them take lessons or classes or join a club, or spend tons of time in their craft. The best thing parents can do here is to be the perfect enabler. By doing that, kids will devote lots of time to it, and that’s what it takes to become truly accomplished at something.
Q: Does Synthesis plan on becoming a full-blown school alternative? Also, what book recommendations do you have for those thinking about education in the most innovative way?
Synthesis is starting as a weekly, one-hour enrichment program for students who want to learn how to be innovative thinkers, prolific problem solvers, and wise decision makers. We are not an accredited academic institution or a full-time school.
In terms of books that inspire you to think about learning in a new way, here are a few that I like:
— Free to Learnby Peter Gray
— Timeless Learningby Ira Socol and Pam Moran
— Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Q: Are there ways we can implement some learning models from Synthesis into our adult lives so that we too can cultivate independent-thinking (at work, home, etc.)?
At Synthesis, we design simulations that help kids navigate the complexity and chaos that eventually unfolds in our lives. By playing our simulations, kids develop a body of thinking tools—or mental models—that they can use outside our games to make better decisions and solve real problems.
I think learning about mental models is a great way to cultivate your independent thinking. A mental model is an explanation of how something works. At Synthesis we tell kids that mental models are like thinking tools (concepts, frameworks, or worldview) that help us understand life, make better decisions, and solve complex problems. And the mental models we teach them don’t just apply to the games, they apply broadly to life and are useful in a wide range of situations.
Q: What are some specific mental models that you hope children learn from participating in Synthesis?
I will share the 4 simulations we have up and running right now and the mental models that are explored in each:
Constellation is a fast-paced strategy game that challenges students to create the most valuable group of stars in the face of shifting scoring variables. Some of the Mental Models covered in this simulation are Stag-Hunt, Prisoner’s Dilemma, and Resource Scarcity.
Art For All challenges kids to assemble an art collection through live auctions before traveling the globe in a competition for attendance, profit, and harmony. Kids learn about the winner's curse, contingent value, auction theory, probabilistic thinking, and negotiation.
Fire Ridge is a fast-paced collaboration game where teams of students work together to fight forest fires under various conditions. This is our first "massively cooperative" game where the opponent is the fire itself. Kids learn about resource allocation and scarcity.
Fish asks kids to manage commercial fishing waters while navigating scarcity and declining ecological systems. Kids have to manage logistical challenges that are constantly evolving while delving into ethical & market-based questions. Kids learn about the mental model Tragedy of the Commons.
Q: I love that you don't use grades or standard metrics. Is there any way you quantify the impact you're having?
We record the conversations that our students are having in the breakout groups and share them with our families so they see how their kids are improving in the way they reason through problems, synthesize concepts, and apply the mental models.
However, in the intensives program that we are now offering as part of the membership (for kids who want that extra challenge) kids are required to put together a portfolio of all the case studies and problems they solve.
Here's an example of the magic moment recordings that we send to parents:
And regarding assessment, I don't think it should be grades, but feedback loops. Like the real world. What are you able to do? That is the real assessment. Let the assessment of what they know be what can they create and build with what they know. I wrote a bit more about my thoughts on assessment and metrics in this article.
THE PROFILE DOSSIER: On Wednesday, premium members received The Profile Dossier, a comprehensive deep-dive on a prominent individual. It featured Lori Gottlieb, the therapist helping you edit your life story. Become a premium member, and read it here.
GREAT LISTEN: My friend Alex Lieberman, the co-founder and executive chairman of Morning Brew, hosts a must-listen podcast called "Founder's Journal." In it, he reflects on his own experiences building a business in order to help listeners think better in order to build better. Episodes range from battling imposter syndrome to the power of storytelling to war-time leadership. Check it out here.
— The king of SPACs[**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The meme king of Wall Street
— The gatekeepers of 'disgusting' food
— The star playing by her own rules
— The finance app leveling the playing field
— The secretive bank for the world's richest people
— The fallen vaping behemoth
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The king of SPACs: Chamath Palihapitiya, tech billionaire, Golden State Warriors co-owner, and all-around meme lord, has now become the king of SPACs. Although they’ve been around for decades, SPACs exploded in popularity in 2020, after Palihapitiya’s first blank-check company saw its stock price triple four months after merging with Virgin Galactic. Palihapitiya has since started five more SPACs—known as IPOB, IPOC, IPOD, and so on—raising more than $4 billion. He says he’ll eventually do 26 deals, one for every letter of the alphabet. (Bloomberg)
“When you slap a name like ‘Chamath’ on there, it has a lot of potential to rocket up, like how Tesla did with Elon.”
The meme king of Wall Street: The anonymous creator behind Instagram account "Litquidity" lives a double life — one as a meme master and one as a model employee at a Wall Street bank. On certain occasions, colleagues would send him a meme he’d posted five minutes earlier, none the wiser that he was behind it. “That just added to the thrill,” he says. Here's how he plans to quit his job and meme a VC fund into existence. (New York Magazine)
“The way people interact with memes has definitely changed. They take them a lot more seriously."
The gatekeepers of 'disgusting' food: Admission tickets to the 'Disgusting Food Museum' in Sweden are printed on barf bags. The founders of the museum had to decide what food is considered 'disgusting' based on four criteria: taste, texture, smell, and the process by which it is made. Visitors can taste things such as poop wine, dried stinkbugs, fermented shark, and a dessert made from millions of crushed flies. For some, these may be a delicacy, but for others, they're vomit-inducing. This profile explores the question: Who gets to decide what is considered 'disgusting?' (The New Yorker)
“The more foreign foods I come across, the more I realize how little I know about the food I eat, and the more I want to know."
The star playing by her own rules: Nora Lum, also known as Awkwafina, was a breakout star after her role in Crazy Rich Asians, which was the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade. Just a year after being heralded as one of comedy’s brightest new stars, Lum showed her range in The Farewell, a bittersweet family drama, portraying a granddaughter stuck in an intergenerational family lie. Then she made history in 2020, becoming the first Asian American woman to win a Golden Globe for best actress. And she's only getting started. (Allure)
“I had imaginary friends. I would make up that there was a hole in my closet that led to a circus world or something.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
The finance app leveling the playing field: It takes just a few minutes to open a Robinhood account and be ready to trade. The app asks for your name, your phone number, and your level of investment experience; if you say that you have a little, it will ask if you’d like to enable options trading. The app features whimsical illustrations, swipe navigation, and a St. Patrick’s Day color scheme. In eliminating barriers to investing in the stock market, is the app democratizing finance or encouraging risky behavior? (The New Yorker)
“My issue with Robinhood is, I think their mission and what they say they stand for is not actually true.”
The secretive bank for the world's richest people: In the mythology of private banking, Swiss bank Banque Pictet & Cie stands apart. Over the course of more than two centuries, the institution has discreetly tended to the assets of the very rich, led by a small crop of partners. Now, the business is at a crossroads: To adapt, it needs to take more risk and change the client relationship — away from the concierge-like approach that endured for generations toward a more transactional model. That can be tough for employees accustomed to the principle of caution and secrecy that guided Pictet through the centuries. (Bloomberg)
“Pictet is in between two worlds. Two worlds that are on a collision course.”
The fallen vaping behemoth: Juul was the nation’s most popular e-cigarette. The company had grown into one of Silicon Valley’s most illustrious startups. It had also become one of the most controversial, for its role in hooking millions of teenagers on nicotine. And then a secretive hedge fund manager and his deep-pocketed allies turned into fiery activists once they found out their kids were hooked on vaping. (Bloomberg)
“The only way is to play hardball with them. To make it uncomfortable for them. To let everybody know that people in our community are making money off this.”
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AUDIO TO HEAR.
Charlie Munger on his investing playbook: This episode explores Charlie Munger's lasting influence on the world of investing. Munger, often referred to as Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, is the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. He’s known for his sharp, multidisciplinary approach that he uses to solve complex problems. Here's how his life experience taught him to avoid stupidity, keep his emotions under control, and never ever wrestle with a pig. (Link available to premium members.)
Jacqueline Novogratz on lasting societal change: In 2001, Jacqueline Novogratz created Acumen, a non-profit global venture capital fund whose goal is to use entrepreneurial approaches to address global poverty. In her work all over the world, she's learned that social change ... isn't always easy. When Americans parachute into a community and begin building things without real partnership, the mission is nearly doomed from the start. Here's what she's learned as a pioneer of impact investing. (Link available to premium members.)
Tommy Caldwell on raising brave kids: In the beginning of this podcast, rock climber Tommy Caldwell explains that much of his ability to overcome adversity came from the relationship with his father. Caldwell was a small and shy kid growing up, so his dad used rock climbing to help him gain confidence. “He was very bold with me in a way that I admire but I also try to tone it down slightly with my own children,” he says. (Link available to premium members.)
VIDEOS TO SEE.
Chrisman Frank on the future of education: Chrisman Frank, the co-founder and CEO of Synthesis, explains in detail why kids crave complexity — and why they're not getting it in traditional schools. "Where the world is going, the more you're able to manage complexity, to make sense of chaos, to synthesize, that's the most valuable skill," he says. This is a conversation you don't want to miss. (Link available to premium members.)
Magnus Carlsen on becoming the best: In this interview, world chess champion Magnus Carlsen explains what it takes to reach the top of his game. The secret? An unyielding passion to learn. "I would constantly be sitting at my board reading some chess books, playing online, playing in tournaments whenever I could," Carlsen says. "And I think to become really good in chess, you really need that.” (Link available to premium members.)
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