The Proof
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Mental Health Innovation


Accelerated Learning Curves

In Issue No. 25, Hims Founder Andrew Dudum offers his thoughts on finding and sustaining hyper-growth trajectories — aka accelerated learning curves. Dudum notes that X, “Y.” Hims is a direct manifestation of Dudum’s personal accelerated learning trajectory. The company, launched only a little over a year ago, is valued at over $1 billion after its most recent financing event. In order to understand both Dudum and Hims hyper-growth stages, we’ll dive into a bit of theory.

A Sunday Memoir

Exactly two weeks ago, I inadvertently conducted a 30 second psychology experiment with two participants. One, a close friend from college. The other, a recently new friend who works at a hyper-growth startup at a similar stage to Hims. Both are equally amazing people, and I’m fond of each for different reasons. With that caveat out of the way, let’s begin.

A friend of my roommate was crashing at my apartment in San Francisco for the weekend. It was a late Sunday afternoon, with the sun going down over the city, and the evening light fell on a trio of items to the right of where I was sitting, scrolling through Instagram. The trio included a stale bowl of mac & cheese (probably from the night before), a lukewarm half-finished Bud Light, and an open pack of cigarettes. Not necessarily the pinnacle of healthy choices. But I didn’t pass judgement. I actually thought it was quite funny — must’ve been a rough Saturday night.

While still on Instagram, I turned my down, took a picture of the three objects, and captioned it “A Sunday Memoir.” I pulled up my DM’s, and sent it to the two friends recently introduced — simply because I had ongoing DM conversations going with them. Now to the interesting part.

Both friends responded immediately. The first replied, “Ha. Marlboro Reds. Classic.” The second wrote back, “Jeez. You okay Adrian?”

Two friends, both of whom I love spending time with, offers responses on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. One didn’t question my unhealthy lifestyle choices (as they assumed these objects were mine), and unconsciously normalized my choices with a touch of humor. The second immediately questioned my choices, while checking on the status of my health. After considering this for a minute, the implications of the accidental experiment I had just completed dawned on me — specifically as it relates to health & wellness outcomes.

I’ve always known, and heard — over and over — the adage: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Or put another way, you are who you surround yourself with. What I never realized was even in the event of careful pruning of who you allow in your inner circle and physically spend time with, your positive or negative lifestyle choices can be both reinforced or questioned — and in turn changed — by a much larger group of friends, those you interact with on social media every day. On Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or whatever platform pleases you.

Thinking Fast and Slow

In the first chapter of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, the Nobel laureate quickly reviews a set of terms. Thinking fast, or System One, refers to our automatic cognitive response to a stimuli. Thinking slow, or System Two, refers to our more calculated, thoughtful reaction to a different stimuli. Kahneman notes that the control of attention, intimately linked with attention paid to the five people you spend the most time with, is shared by these two systems — our ‘fast and slow’ response frameworks.

On the distinction between the two, Kahneman writes, “You may be able to resist turning toward the source of a loud and offensive comment at a crowded party, but even if your head does not move, your attention is initially directed to it, at least for a while.” Critically, Kahneman adds, “you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities.” He goes further, remarking, “if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail.”

I read this passage shortly after my inadvertent psychology experiment. If you seek accelerated learning curves, you need to surround yourself with the best. As Dudum points out, “search every crevasse” to accomplish this task. However, many forget that social media is a fickle beast. Even in the case of careful attention allocation with our inner circle, platforms like Twitter and Instagram significantly expand these spheres of influence, and in turn, attention diversion.

Though these diversions may not have as serious an effect as a long conversation or work session with a close friend, they do have implications of who you are, what you value, and what activities you pursue with your limited attention budget. I never realized the implications of this until layering the experiment with Kahneman’s thoughtful framework.

The Ramifications

In a brilliant interview, Naval Ravikant, Co-Founder of AngelList, frames the internet as a giant aggregator that “creates an atomized long tail of millions of individuals.” Naval argues that the “entire news media has shifted into peddling opinions and entertainment.” This ongoing media unbundling clearly yields downsides, the most prevalent of which is an overwhelming amount of shallow news coverage. However, the upsides manifest as a long tail of independent, niche creators.

These creators trade scale for heightened autonomy, niche audiences, and depth of coverage. While they are less reliant on click-bait entertainment, these creators must communicate a clear value-add for readers and listeners within their niche. The hosts of newsletters, podcasts, and blogs across various disciplines embody this long tail.

A striking parallel emerges here between retail and media. The Atlantic recently published There Is Too Much Stuff, a standout piece by Amanda Mull that illustrates a parallel retail unbundling. In this unbundling, Amazon, Target, and Walmart retain distribution at scale, while niche digital brands like Casper, Away, and Glossier more clearly articulate a specific value-add for a niche customer cohort.

In the context of this shift, Mull writes, “contemporary internet shopping conjures a perfect storm of choice anxiety.” More importantly, anxiety stemming from “infinite, meaningless options can result in something like a consumer fugue state.” Fugue refers to a dissociative cognitive disorder characterized by separation from reality. Just as endless scrolling through infinite options on Amazon places oneself in a cognitively impaired state, mass media consumption yields the same.