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Danielle Strachman | Education, Agency, and the Ability to Experiment

about the episode

Danielle envisions a world where fostering personal agency and curiosity is the key to progress. She believes that technology, particularly AI, can catalyze human potential and societal transformation, and she emphasizes the importance of environments that champion experimentation and a fail-forward mentality.

Specifically, she advocates for special economic zones as laboratories for innovation, suggesting governance that adapts to technological advancements. She dreams of a solarpunk future, where sustainability is achieved through technological and natural harmony.

Acknowledging the complexities ahead, she views the journey to this future as requiring a balance between innovation and ethics. Her vision is grounded in the belief in the human capacity to navigate the unknown and transform existential risks into opportunities for growth.

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Delimiting the Innovative Spirit
Danielle Strachman
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About the Scientist

Danielle Strachman is a cofounder and general partner of 1517. She has worked with young entrepreneurs for about a decade. In 2010, during the founding of the Thiel Fellowship, Danielle joined to lead the design and operations. She's worked with some of the most prestigious founders, such as Vitalik Buterin and Ritesh Agarwal. Previous to her work with Peter Thiel, Danielle founded and directed Innovations Academy in San Diego, a K-8 charter school serving 400 students, with a focus on student-led project-based learning and other alternative programs.

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Transcript

Allison Duettmann  

Welcome, everyone, to Foresight's Existential Hope podcast. I'm really happy to have Danielle Strachman here today. She's been to two Vision Weekends now within Foresight, and people can’t get enough of you within our community. So really happy to have you finally on for a podcast, because I think you have a lot of little nuggets of wisdom that I think are especially interesting for our younger cohort. And so, really excited to chat with you.

But you're obviously a co-founder and general partner at 1517, you were really involved in the Thiel Fellowship before, and are still [gradually] involved. I think you’re focused on supporting those in the early stages in their career, basically, like [ ] the status quo, and encouraging them to think big, to dream big, and try and pave them the way but forward – into what is a pretty unconventional pathing; that I think many people within Foresight find quite familiar, actually, these days. And so thanks a lot for your wonderful work – with the dropouts, renegades and revolutionaries that you support.

And we really had to dig into a little bit more about what that means and your positive visions, in general, and how we can get there. Okay, so as the first question, I think it would be really wonderful to hear from you about this notion of supporting talent, especially the pretty ambitious types. This seems to be a red thread that is almost pulling through your life. And I'm really curious to hear more about your journey and like, how you came to co-found 1517, the work that you've done before? And yeah, how you got really interested in this very niche area that that I think we share.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, no, absolutely. First, before I even answer that question, I just have to thank you all for the work that you're doing at Foresight Institute. I have been like, tangentially a part of Foresight for almost twenty years at this point. And I love Christine Peterson and the work that she did to launch for Foresight almost forty years ago. And I've been really thrilled with your leadership, Allison, and the leadership of that team and the direction that Foresight has gone because the Vision Weekends are like my favourite things now. And I don't say that lightly. So I tell everybody about it. And I'm trying to get more people to come. So any Foresight person or listener who hasn't been – go to Vision Weekend, they're really incredible. And get more involved with Foresight – it is a great organization. So I just wanted to thank you for your work there. Because it's yeah –  to your point, we have these similar visions of bringing together a more hopeful, prosperous, flourishing future. And, and you're really doing it.

Allison Duettmann  

Yeah. Cool. Thanks. Do you want to share a little bit more about what that means for you? Especially with 1517 and your work before, like – how you ended up in this very strange sector?

Danielle Strachman  

Absolutely. So gosh, yeah. What does that mean, to me? I think the words like prospering and flourishment really come to mind in terms of that – we're able to scale, good outcomes for people, whether that's through technology, or through new scientific discovery.

For me personally, a lot of what that looks like is personal freedoms and the ability to have agency in one's life at the micro-level of maybe what an individual human thinks that they are capable of doing, to the macro level around human rights and governments that support human rights and so on. So those are some of the things that I think about.

The history – I’m trying to think where to start. Gosh, I guess, where a lot of things start for me is actually when I got introduced to homeschooling populations. I started a tutoring company back in 2000, called Heightened Learning. And in fact, my super old website is still up – which kind of cracks me up and like, oh, man, that's old. But that's what the web is for –  keeping lots of archival data. I was working predominantly with public and private school students. And random happenstance, I started working with homeschoolers. I had read a lot of homeschooling philosophy, but I hadn't gotten to work with them. And it's hard to break into those communities because they're understandably protective of the groups that they have. And it was so different when I started working with homeschoolers on this, like, agency side of things, and not just the students – but the parents also. The whole family really embodied this phrase, “lifelong learning” that you always hear people talk about. But I don't know that we see people doing it that well. And so I would go over this first homeschooler’s house I went over, it was just transformatively different even walking in the door because the children ran up to the front door – “Oh, Danielle's here, can we do reading and history and this? And can you stay for an extra two hours today” – and then I'd stay and talk to the mom for another couple hours about pedagogy and homeschooling and oppressive government on school and all this stuff. And so sometimes I'd be at someone's house for three to five hours. And I was only supposed to be there for one hour. Good thing, I didn't stack my schedule, back to back, like I do now, sadly.

But what I saw was that these children still had this light and fire for learning, and were enthusiastic and didn't see learning as a chore. And a lot of that was because they were given this opportunity to do things at the timescale that would work for them and look into and study things that they were interested in, and so on. This really leads into some of the work at the Theil Foundation with the Theil fellowship, because what they used to say about it is that it's an “older young person's homeschool programme”. So that philosophy embedding “Hey, we're gonna say that some ideas just can't wait”. That was our slogan. And, the idea being instead of a young person going into debt – to pay to be learning in a classroom from somebody else who has a credential of some form, or has some accolades that says that they know what they're talking about, and that somehow magically gets espoused onto you through a piece of paper called a diploma; we said, what if we gave people $100,000, which might be the same amount that they might go into debt for, but give it to them as a grant, and give them the opportunity to learn by doing and see what happens with that. And this is super radical.

At the time – this was back in 2010, when we first launched the programme, and no one was talking about the higher education bubble. Certainly, in the mainstream, families weren't talking to their teenagers about “is college the right path”. And if they were the renegades, they were the real outsiders. And one other thing that I meant to touch on a minute ago is that I think young people are used to being given maybe an award or a prize for something they've done in the past, but they're not used to being given money to support their potential in their future. And the same thing with resources. And, one thing that I find really inspiring today is there are a lot of different Fellowship programmes now that are supporting people in “Hey, here are resources for your future instead of resources because you were able to do something in the past”. And that is really important and also leads back into what we were talking about with flourishing and Existential Hope and things like that.

My belief is that if we give people these types of opportunities, we're going to see more progress across the board. And that's what we saw with the fellowship. So when we started the Thiel fellowship, it was, like I said, extremely experimental. And we were bringing people into the programme that we thought could utilise these resources and make a real impact. In fact, the first Fellowship, what did we call… it was like a team pow-wow, where we would get together and we had these huge binders on each person who was a finalist – and it had mentor reviews in there. And Christine Peterson was one of our mentors who would come and review applications. And so we'd have those reviews in there. And then we had an event where people would practice pitching an audience on what they were doing, and not like a Shark Tank pitch more just, “Hey, what would you want to use this time and money for?” And then afterwards, we'd have to decide who would be the twenty people that we picked for the Fellowship. And we actually had this matrix on a board.

I think people, to this day, still think “Oh, and actually there are people out there who think that 1517, we've created our own like Gen AI filters for all this stuff. And like those Gen AI filters are just like our brains – like we don't, we don't do anything particularly special in that realm”. Except, we have trained on 10s of 1000s of applications and talking to young people and whatnot.

But the first year we had this matrix on a whiteboard, and gosh, what was it? I think… yeah, I think on the vertical, it was something like the impact of the project. And I'm trying to remember what the horizontal axis was. Now I have a picture of it somewhere. I think it was something like “How much do we think that this particular person is the right fit for that impact project?” And, so we were – yeah, we were looking for people who wanted to make a big impact in the future, and who we thought could get started on doing that. And we found some really amazing people.

We worked with people like Laura Deming from the Longevity Fund, and she was not even 18 when she started her first fund. And she had this insight of “Why should I be doing research when I think the real bottleneck is funding”. It was extraordinary to work with her, and working with people like Vitalik Buterin from Aetherium, before he had launched Ether.

Probably Michael and I's biggest (that's my co-founder who is also at the Theil Foundation with me) – our biggest financial mistake was that like, we were like shouting from the hilltops that everybody should buy into the pre-sale of Ether. We're in a nonprofit or like, it's a conflict of interest, we probably shouldn't be putting our own money in people's stuff. But lots of our friends made lots of money. And so we're like, “Wow, that's so cool. So. sometimes we joke about that, but I still stand with, “Hey, we were like being really aboveboard. And this is, I don't think it would have been right to be in reviews with people who were personally financing versus those who weren't”.

But anyways, yeah, working with people like Vitalik, before he had even launched the first sale of Ether; people like Dylan Field with Figma. And, like I said, “No one knew who these people were when we started working with them. But now, these are household names to people”. And, what we also saw was that investors did not take the young people we were working with seriously. This was all throughout the Thiel Fellowship programme, I would talk to an investor and say, “Hey, we have this programme, and I come with this lens as an educator with feedback and, and development”. And so I would talk to an investor and be like, “Hey, would you give this person feedback on their pitch deck? Or would you talk to them about what they're doing? And maybe just help them think about what's next?” And they'd pat me on the head and be like, Oh, we don't do that. Like, we don't do that, like non-profit stuff. I was like, “Okay, strange”. But five years in, we were seeing some really incredible outcomes from people in the programme. And it was still in the early days.

And so Michael and I said, since investors are not going to take our young people seriously, maybe we just become investors. So we pitched our old boss, Peter Thiel, on what we wanted to do to scale the Fellowship by starting a venture fund. We were talking to him because we wanted to get his blessing to leave the foundation, we were not pitching him for money, we were actually scared that he'd be, upset with us for wanting to leave. And instead, he got really excited in the conversation. He says how much are you guys raising? – Maybe like ten million bucks. And Peter did what he does, he's a very thoughtful person who looks away, and you can see the wheels are turning. And he turns back, he says you should raise fifteen. And I'll be four of it. I was like, oh my god, we just got more money than we've ever gotten in an operational year at the non-profit, holy moly –  I can't. I felt like I had robbed a bank or something. I smiled so big, that I covered my mouth, I was like, I don't think he should know how happy I am right now. And that got us started.

But that thread of homeschooling and agency and letting people follow their passions is something that's embedded in everything that we did at the Theil Foundation, and also everything we do at 1517. And this also leads to some of the people we work with, who are very sci-fi, deep tech scientists – that's the only time we will break our thesis of non-degreed people is if someone's in quantum computing or fusion. Actually, our favourites are when they're still dropouts from undergrad. And it's like the Sci-Fi tech, and we have a handful of those too. But those people also once you're trapped in something, that's the expectation – that you stay in that tracked place. And I had wonderful conversations with people at Vision Weekend, who are scientists who are very much so tracked at large institutions and everything – grant money, journals, all of that is tied to staying within the lines and not doing something really funky outside of it. And so I think about this a lot in terms of “How do we give resources to people so that they can do things that other people would think are otherwise too far out there”. But to me, that's actually how we push the bounds of what's possible. And I am not a scientist. So that's not my purview to do that. But I love to find those people and support them to do it.

Allison Duettmann  

Yeah, that's – it's really cool to hear. I think your backstory makes total sense now. I think, seeing as one-by-one in this back-casting way – I think it's interesting to see, especially with the homeschooling thing, now you have this big society, like a community that's around –  like David Deutsch is taking children seriously. I don't know how much you know that. But it's like a [child …].

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah. And I think homeschooling is growing something like 8% per year rightnow, which is extraordinary. I remember when the pandemic first hit, I was like, – didn't have it on my bingo card that a pandemic would be the thing that would get everybody to try homeschooling. Guess what, you have to do it and I'm laughing about that. But it was both, I think a very challenging time for families, but also really eye-opening for them too. And I remember my old roommate, she was talking to a friend and I was on speaker so I could hear it, but I wasn't part of the conversation. And her friend has a first-grader. And the friend is talking out loud and knows nothing about my jam in that arena and said, “Yeah, we're really loving it. Like, our family feels closer. And we're doing fun things at home. And yeah, it's hard. And we didn't expect this, but we're also really enjoying it”. I'm like, Oh, that is so cool. That random friend of a friend is like jumping on the homeschool train.

Allison Duettmann  

I'm really curious to see, I think, how the train will go, because I think there's a lot more organising now that is being done. And a lot of like, individual almost like as education entrepreneurs try to enter and just try to really get this a little bit more streamlined. And there's being a little bit more guidance according to what the kid finds interesting, versus what you have on that day on the menu.

Danielle Strachman  

I even think I'm not as saturated in the independent study homeschooling communities as I once was. But it's interesting because there are many different types of homeschoolers. And one of the types that we used to talk about when I was in those communities was the school-at-homers, which was the – you have the book curriculum, and you're doing this… but then there were like the un-schoolers, who are very child-led, and just going out and doing all kinds of things.. and there were like combos of all these different types of people. And so it's interesting to see that, yeah, there's a lot of different changes in that arena. And people are much more open to it. I think twenty years ago, if someone was in a grocery store with their kid, and it was during school hour, they’d be like, “Whoa, why isn't your kid in school? It's weird”. And now, I'm sure people still ask, but they know what homeschooling is now – like the general population does. And there are still certainly misnomers out there about it. But just that it's common vernacular is a good thing.

Allison Duettmann  

Yeah, I think one thing that I always wondered about this, especially if you're charting a path, from let's say, homeschooling to maybe even an unconventional path, where you immediately start a company or something with people that are like-minded, rather than going to university – because that's like, really like the total dropout part from the very, very early stages: then I always wonder about how you find a community of like-minded folks, I think [ ] is like, notion really about one of the functions of universities in particular. And maybe it's also similar about schools to some extent. It mostly just sorts people with other like other smart or standardized smart folks. And so that afterwards, they a wider to network with whom I can do things with. And I think that's always the one thing where I've been curious about homeschooling, or even just alternative paths, that is not University-led, by creating these cohorts of people. And like, actually, and I guess that's partly what we're trying to do with what you guys are trying to do. I think, like having a more structured way of enabling people to nevertheless find like-minded folk with which they can do those things. I think that's often a little bit like, at least the thing that is on my mind of like, “How do you do that?”

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, absolutely. And I think there are more groups doing that. In fact, we have a company in our portfolio called Moonrise. Moonrise was started by a set of homeschoolers who said, “Hey, we want community but we don't want a school, what could this look like?” And so what they've made is, they call it a third space for children. And it's a place where children can come and do different projects. And there's facilitated projects, and there's, hey, you can use the… they have a they have a podcast studio. “Oh, wow, that is so coo”l. And I'm sure there's little training on hey, here's how to use the equipment. But past that, people can do what they want. They just did a, I think they did, a field trip to was more like a trip-not. It's not like a daily field trip. But they just did a trip to Costa Rica with a bunch of their families. And so the families are really loving that they can come together in this space. And their children can come together and have a community – but it's unbundled from “Oh, and now they all have to be in the same grade. And here's the curriculum. And here's this”. And so more and more groups, I think, are starting to do this unbundling, and seeing that participating in communities doesn't have to be… it can be about the community itself, instead of under the guise that we're here for some other reason.

Allison Duettmann  

I love that. I think even if you just look at San Francisco, there are a few intergenerational houses now as well, where people are trying to do this more on their home turf, or whatever. They're trying to socialize across different generations and offering different – like shared homeschoolers and so forth. I think it's been really interesting to see, but it's like, the question is like, “How do you scale it up to some extent”, but it's good to see different experiments. I wish there were a bit more sharing across them.

But I think one thing that I would be really curious to hear from you as well, like, what kind of age do you think is good to talk about – let's say someone like you who is really trying to support people getting an idea / an ambitious idea or trying themselves out for the first time: What age do you find useful there to focus on – What's a bit too early? Where have they already drifted off into the mainstream? What's a good age bracket, would you say?

Danielle Strachman  

That's a big question. I'm in the younger-the better camp, getting people started early on, making things and having agency. Being individually or child-led, I think is really important. We've been doing more work 1517 with teens. We just did a team camp in early October and we brought 14 to 19-year-olds together. And it was really fun and interesting. And – a characteristic that comes to mind a lot for the people we work with no matter their age is curios. People who are incredibly curious people. And I was talking to someone once he told me there's, there are like, I think when you look at some of the research bodies around curiosity, apparently people have typed it into two types of curious. They're people who like to ask lots of questions and dig in on things – that is they type of curious I am. But then there's a second type of curiosity, which is like, the type of person who basically has to start experimenting, putting their hands on something, or making something based on that curiosity. And I keep trying to cultivate more of the second curiosity myself, for sure.

But I think being able to give young people those opportunities to do more of that type two curiosity is really important. Instead of saying, oh, you can't, – I have cousins who are 20 years younger than I am – and when one of my cousins was a younger teenager, he took apart the lawnmower. And the way that my aunt and uncle handled that was like, they were like, “Oh, interesting, like, he's really like, into mechanics and like pulling things apart and putting them back together”. And then as the adults in his life, they were able to say, I wonder what else you might like to do that with. And so now he's very much on the path of making his career out of being someone who is basically a mechanical engineer and someone who's really good in that realm.

So, for me, I don't know that there's a perfect age. I would guess that from a, yeah, I would just say to almost anybody: it is sooner than you think. Whatever you think is the age, it's probably earlier. There are parents listening – you don't have to wait till they're 12 and have all the basics down to start doing cool projects and different things. The one thing I would say is that there is some interesting research out there that does seem to be a real inflection point of Middle School. Of, if someone's spirit has basically been crushed by the time they get to middle school in the realm of learning, people just drop off stuff. And that, I think, is a pretty sad state of affairs. And so I think it's important to capture the young people during that time, and maybe give them more enriched activities, give them more agency and more autonomy. So ideally, that drop-off doesn't happen by the time they hit high school. So that's my take on that arena.

But it's also an evidence plate. I'm also in the camp of, hey, if you're like, I don't know, in your 40s 50s 60s. And you're like, “Oh, it's too late for me to take on something new”. It's totally not. I have my own experience with this, where – this is just a simple example. But I started guitar lessons when I was 20 for a year, and then I carried around my guitar without taking lessons without practicing for 20 years. And I kept like, just every time I'd moved somewhere, I'd be like, “Okay, I'm gonna take the guitar out of the closet and bring it with me to the new place”. And then I turned 40, a few years ago, and I was having this deep “ugh”, I could have played the guitar for 20 years had I actually kept it up. And that is sometimes these thoughts pop into your head, and you're like, “Oh, thank you for that one”. And the thought was, you could still play for 20 years, but you have to start right now. Like, you can't keep waiting. And I was like, Oh my God. That's right. And then the pandemic hit. And I was like, Alright, a great time to start learning the guitar. And now, I've been playing for three, it seems to be four year. It’s slow, I'm an adult learner and doing my thing, but I'm like, I feel really good about I'm not in that “Oh, I'll just keep waiting zone” – because there's no action there. Yeah, it’s never too late either.

Allison Duettmann  

Maybe you getting me over the hump of getting out of the waiting zone.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, start now! Then the guilt – like, it doesn't go away, because the guilt is still – but you who could have been bettered early.

Allison Duettmann  

You can protect yourself as a 60-year-old self saying that to a 40-year-old in that regard. But yeah, I guess it’s never too early, ideally needed before they drop off in Middle School. But then also, if you haven't done it by then, don't give up, there's a chance for you to break out. And if you think about as the different age brackets that you've worked with, I guess you've also been going a little younger, right? But the Theil fellows were, I guess roughly, sometimes a little bit older than the age bracket you’ve mentioned. Is there any difference in terms of how you support?

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, so when myself and Michael were at the Theil Foundation, the application was for people 19 and under – so it was actually that we were working with people who are a little bit younger than what we're typically working now. Because with the fund, I'd say the average age is somewhere in the mid-20s. But that said, we have people we funded who are teenagers – and funded with a million bucks – real funding. And then we also have people who fit our dropout thesis who are in their 60s. So like a very wide range.

What we noticed when we were working, particularly with Theil Fellows, and this is very much baked into what we do with 1517, is that I think there's this misnomer out there, that high agency people don't need support, that it's just “Oh, they're high agency, they'll just go do the thing”. But my sense is that high agency people need a specific type of support. And it usually – I liken it to a tree, like you might have all these different offerings or a buffet table, you might have all these different offerings on the table. And instead of telling someone that you start at the beginning of the table, and you have to go all the way through and do all like…  that's what school tells you to do. We say, hey, here's a buffet table. And there's like, lots of different offerings on it. And if you think these are gonna help you, like, come eat, and if you think they aren't, then don't, and that's fine. And, on this sort of tree analogy, there are lots of places for people to make a branch off of something and be like, “Oh, I wish 1517 did this or that”. And we're like, okay, cool. Like, how do we add that in? Or how do we work with that person to add something new to the table. And then, in addition, we do scheduled – we got process, like process is important. And one process we do that we did at the Foundation that we also do 1517, is we do reviews of people. So it's on the calendar, to infinity, until we're done with that relationship, in some sense – at least for the first couple of years, we tend to do reviews of people every other month. And so just this heads up meeting of “Hey, how's it going? And where do you need support? And what are you learning in this process?” We also do an onboarding where we set expectations, and we're also starting to do processes to where when it's time to close something down and wrapped up – also having like a closing out conversation around, okay, let's discuss what happened and where you want to go next and talk about the experience and so on. And so we do a lot of reflective practice with people.

And a lot of Socratic Methos. We don't come into teens or founders, we work with saying, we know the thing that you need that... my, I don't know what you need. But it's more about supporting that dialogue to happen so that they can make the next choices in a supported fashion and also not feel alone in some of their decision-making.

Allison Duettmann  

Have you like seen people become like… have you seen people changing over the past few years that you've done this? For example, we were really [done] a few years ago, we received tonnes of applications in the teens. And we were like, wow, this must be something new. And now this year it has only ticked up – so if you know people that are applying, at least to our Fellowship –  are getting younger and more ambitious. Including, like really the 13-year-olds that are starting companies to their parents. So, if anything, I feel like they’re really into that. Have you seen, for example, themes or focus areas that they find specifically interesting, or is there a specific type of person, you know, that you often get?

Danielle Strachman  

We are seeing very similar things where we have been pleasantly surprised, because we had an insight a few years ago when we should probably start focusing on younger people, moving more into learning more about high schoolers, for example. And yeah, we've been really amazed at what young people are doing today. Some things that we also see is access to information has been free-flowing for a while now. But access to being able to do things in spaces that were traditionally more difficult –  it's still hard, but it's becoming like less. Hardware, for example, and robotics, things like biotech, even like –young people setting up labs in their parents’ basement kind of thing. And it's more possible to do this than it was before. Which is really interesting. Because yeah, I'm really curious where that will go. When the barrier to the first entry on starting a project and something that would have been way harder to do 10 years ago. Does that move us to the forefront in these areas… because we have 13-year-olds ideally not blowing up the house, but making some progress on their word?

Allison Duettmann  

Is there anything that perhaps this like, you've known as a red flag or something where you usually like, “Oh, if this was happening, then we're like, we're taking a step back”?

Danielle Strachman  

Sure. I'm trying to think so. Yeah, there are lots of different sorts of red flags, but they're like at different levels.

We have a grant programme, for example. And the red flag on a grantee is going to be different than the red flag on a founder we work with. One thing that comes to mind is something around not having the capacity to work with other people. And I wouldn't call it like a red flag per se so much as okay, this is going to be really challenging. And if that person is a teenager, to me, that's just like a developmental milestone that needs to be massaged and met. I am very happy to work with those people on “Hey, you know what this other person is really curious about the types of things you're doing, maybe you two should work together and try this out a little bit”. Versus when it's more–we're looking at riding on a 500k check into a company, and it's a solo founder who's gripping the reins so hard that they can't have anyone else contribute to what they're doing like… that, for us is gonna be like, and we're always really clear with their feedback, we would tell someone like that, we would really need to see at least a co-founder or a team here with you. Because what we've seen with people who are like solo for too long, is that there's usually a reason for that. And it's hard to push something along when you're like an army of one. You need more people. So that's one of the red flags that comes to mind.

I’m trying to think if there's any other one, especially as we're in the topic of young people. The red flag that I see for young people today is that they get very caught up – and understandably so – in to a rat race of “I need to look good for this other thing, whether it's I need to look good to get school, I need to look good to get into this college, I need to look good for whatever”. And what you end up seeing is a lot of the same for a lot of these young people. Like, when we had our application for our camp, one of our questions was tell me about something you'd like to do for fun. And this was not like a gotcha question. This was not like [ ]  where we want them to tell us about how amazing they are,we were watching for fun. And that's how a lot of the applicants answered the question. It was like, “Oh, I had so much fun doing this project for this other really prestigious thing”. And I was like – what I was looking for in that question was like genuine nature. And I had one woman who answered that question… we had a bunch of other questions that were more like “tell us what you're irrationally passionate about. Tell us where you're like a super geek. So like they had many opportunities to showcase that. Yeah, exactly. And then this one young woman in the what she liked to do for fun, she wrote, I love to cook Lebanese food with my grandma. And I was like – she is exactly who I'm looking for.

And so I think there's a lot of young people who are getting caught up in mimetic rivalry with their peers. And again, it's totally normal and a human thing to do. But I think they're gonna come until a quarter-life 20s life crisis, where they're gonna say, “Wait, why did I do all those things? Like, when usually… why did I abandon the things that I really cared about, to like, look good on some checkboxes”?”

Allison Duettmann  

As long as it’s a quarter-life crisis and not a midlife crisis – as long as they catch themselves early. But it’s like this question of “What is the weakness in you?”–  “Oh, I'm a perfectionist”. It’s very much like that type of scenario. But it's mostly because they probably don't feel psychologically safe to let go and tell you what they want – because they may not know you well enough.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, absolutely. I think there's a lot of systemic pressure that is making that happen. And I do think Gen Z is super savvy at seeing that a lot of that pressure is bullshit. It's pretty interesting. That generation is very much in the “Yeah, we understand like institutions or systems and like that these systems apply pressures… and a lot of it's artificial.” And so it's interesting to see that so yeah, – I just, I would keep pushing on more upcoming generations, just continue to be sassy. Be yourself as much as you can. But you're right. There's a lot of different pressure and trust is hard to know – why is someone asking you any question at all?

Allison Duettmann  

Yeah, maybe then that could be my last question. What do you think is one really wonderful trait that you find where you're just like, “Oh, this is great?” And especially, as you already mentioned it – what's one thing that we can learn from the younger generation, like when you see a specific thing in the application, or even just like [ ]  through gradually through a Fellow or a grantee or like even just someone that you know, actually fund? Yeah – what's the current secret sauce that you're looking for? And maybe also something that's pretty unique to the next generation that we should be looking out for and could be learning from them?

Danielle Strachman  

Absolutely. Gosh, that's a great question. First of all, to answer a little bit more broadly, one of the things that we look for is something that we call hyper-fluency. And this is in people that are grantees, this is in people who are founders, – like it's across the board. And, hyper fluency is like this ability to talk backwards and forwards, ad nauseam, about a space that they really love. And it's like that passion where, when the person is talking about something they're like on the edge of their seat, or they're the type of person who can't like, not, go up to the whiteboard and be like, but look, it works like this and that! And part of that is they really want to bring their geekery to other people. When we say this at 1517, we collect social geeks. So it's people who love to geek out about things, but not necessarily to look smart, but because they want other people to feel some of that [ ]  for the same thing as they do. And then to trade geek areas.

And we definitely noticed that Gen Z geeked out on lots of things. And even just this concept of being a geek, I think has changed. Like, you can be a geek in anything now it's not just “Oh, I like computers, and blah, blah, blah”. It's like at the camp that we had, we asked this question, What are you irrationally passionate about?” And we had young people who are very passionate in STEM areas, but we also had, people who were passionate in the arts. And we brought them all together, and they all loved sharing that geekery with each other.

And lastly, I will also say, and this is interesting, I didn't touch on this, but I started a charter school in San Diego that's been running for about 15 years now. Yeah, I had a board meeting a couple nights ago. And when we started that school, we wanted a social-emotional curriculum to be a real mainstay of the programme. But when we were starting the school, and when we were writing the charter, 17 years ago, people didn't know what social-emotional learning was. They didn't know why you would have in a classroom, there weren't curriculums that you could just pick up and use. So we had to, like, make a lot of what we're doing from scratch. And now, it's totally normal. And what's so cool to see with the teams that we've been working with – like we have this camp – is their social-emotional intelligence is ridiculously high. We had a young person at Camp who was having a hard time… and I think in the past, maybe this person would have been more ostracised for it or picked on or something. I just couldn't believe the amount of empathy these teens had. They were like, “Oh, they're having a hard time”. And they went out and this one young person had to stay back. And they brought her something they like, brought her presents. I was like, Wow, they're so savvy in this way. And yeah, I think the EQ has gone really up in Gen Z, which is a really big advantage. Plus, that whole like being a geek is awesome now thing. I think is a super powerful combo. So you have people who are like, deeply passionate about what would have been traditional nerd spaces, but then add on the layer of emotional intelligence, and you get these like, super awesome humans. So I'm really excited to see how that filters in as some of these people, like, become founders, move into industry, all kinds of things like having these extra layers that were not common before.

Allison Duettmann  

Yeah, that definitely sounds like a new rainbow. Okay, maybe I'll give it over to Beatrice now to dig into the Xhope-y / Vision stuff, but that was a hell of a lot of fun! And I’m definitely going to Google your Charter School.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah! Innovationsacademy.org. It's just, it's there.

Allison Duettmann  

Cool. Thanks! Yeah.

Beatrice Erkers  

Great, thank you so much! It's really interesting to hear about all this work that you've done, and the path that got you there. Also, I want to make sure that we have time to talk about some specific Existential Hope scenario. So I'm just gonna dive straight into it.

So, if you've been hanging around with Foresight for almost 20 years, you've thought about the future for quite a bit. So it would be interesting to hear what your relationship to the future is. I'm guessing this is something you think quite a bit about – but yeah, if so, are you dreading it? Are you excited for it? Yeah. What's your take on the future right now?

Danielle Strachman  

Oh, that's a huge question. I am mostly hopeful and excited. We had a space summit over the summer, and we got to watch two launches while we were there. And then we had this guy Kiko – who is the VP of launch at SpaceX, come and speak to the young people we had. And man, he was just showing us “Yeah, it used to be that you could only do a rocket launch at this long-term frequency because you can't reuse the rockets; and now that we can reuse them, we're doing it more and more”. And he was basically just showing that we're taking off, we're gonna be doing launches multiple times a day kind of thing. And I was like, wow, that is really awesome, and really neat to think about. A lot of science and tech areas, getting to a place where things are faster and cheaper, we can replicate them moreso. I think that's really exciting.

I am not in the crowd of that, I don't know, AI is gonna destroy us sort of thing. So I'm not I'm actually more nervous about more like government collapse or things like war and what we're going through right now as having some catastrophic outcomes on some that have already been happening. So those things, definitely keep me up at night.

But I also keep a very hopeful eye towards things like longevity – yeah, and just different progress. I'm in the camp that like, I think, like the next group down is gonna get the like, longevity boosts like I'm like, so I'm in the like, all right, I think the teens I'm working with have a really good shot at it. And probably even some people who are in their late 20s, or early 30s, maybe they have a shot. I'm not sure that I'm gonna get that shot. So I'm a little bit sad about that. But I'm also I'm, like, excited that we're on the cusp of that kind of potential, like healthspan longevity future as well. So those are a couple, a couple of things. So, some really positive stuff, and I'm nervous about where we are headed.

Beatrice Erkers  

That sounds like a very, I think level headed or, like, reasonable approach or relationship with it. With the space stuff – it’s exciting to see that type of progress, like, once in a lifetime.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, absolutely.

Beatrice Erkers  

For AI. I just feel like whatever happens, it's gonna get weird.

Danielle Strachman  

That's true. It is gonna get weird, I think – yeah, it's interesting. There's like a bunch in that down that rabbit hole. Yeah, I think it's gonna get weird, and I also think there is probably going to be sort of some splits of people. There's going to be like the “We went down the AI rabbit hole” and then there's gonna be the like, “We went more in like the Amish direction” rabbit hole. And I'm actually somewhere more on like, the Amish side. Like, I don't like.. my home is dumb. And I'm very happy having a dumb home and things like that. I go back and forth on these things of like, yes, I want Generative AI and health tech to be intertwined with each other so that we can get rid of cancer – that sounds awesome. And at the same time, I don't necessarily want it in everything.

Beatrice Erkers  

Yeah, I agree. It's like, it's finding the right places to integrate that technology.

So one of the things that we always want to discuss here is the eucatastrophe concept. I don't know, you are probably familiar with it a little bit?

Danielle Strachman  

I don't think so. You guys have introduced me to so much language, like Existential Hope – which I had never heard of until Foresight. There was something else I learned at the First Vision Weekend I went to.. oh, it was like extitutions. That was it! Yes. I had never heard that before.

So wait, what is, what's the phrase again?

Beatrice Erkers  

Extitutions? Yeah, I think we need to do probably an episode on that or something.

Danielle Strachman  

No no, but the word…

Beatrice Erkers  

Oh! I'm sorry – eucatastrophe? Yeah.

Danielle Strachman  

So it's like a good catastrophe?

Beatrice Erkers  

Exactly. It's the opposite of a catastrophe. So it's an event where the expected value is much higher. And we actually stole, or borrowed, should I say, the term “Existential Hope” from a paper by Toby Ord and Owen-Cotten Barrett, where they – it's called “Existential risk and Existential Hope” the paper. In the paper, they also discuss this term, eucatastrophe. And one of the things that would just like to hear from you is if you have a vision of a eucatastrophe, that is something that, when this has happened, I can see the world having… just been a lot better off. So it's like an Existential Hope scenario. One could say, oh, yeah,

Danielle Strachman  

Oh, Yeah. I guess what I don't – yeah, I'm hearing that question a little bit, “What will be the thing that will get us there”? And I think one of the things putting my venture capital hat on first thing, I think one of the things that gets us there is more funding for more weird stuff, to experiment and try.

And also actually, yeah, the other piece that I think gets us there: I would love to see more special economic zones. I would love, love, love to see more experimentation happening there. Because I don't know exactly what technological things need to happen. But what I know is that our environment, even on the regulatory side needs to be such that we can try some really wild things and see what happens. And if I put myself out and we talked about this vision where you can,”What would I want that to look like”? I'm in the solar punk future. I'm like, okay, nature and industry is integrated, energy is superfluous, things like that. But I think to get there, we need a lot more experimentation, and a lot more funding, and less restriction. So I think that those are some key areas of how we get to something like a solar punk future.

Beatrice Erkers  

Yeah, I'm with you on the solar punk future. Do you have any specific ones that you're excited about, that you'd like to see – economic experiments?

Danielle Strachman  

Oh, gosh. Yeah, on the economic experiments, it could be pretty broad. One thing that made the United States so great in the past is that it's the United States – and that we could try different things. And I feel like we've gotten really far away from that. So I would love it if – it’d be really interesting to see if different states were saying, “Hey, in this state, you can, I don't even know do more things on longevity or in this state, you can do a tonne more in robotics, or in this state, you can do this”. And then it's like, alright, cool. Geeks go to different states and start experimenting. Let's see what happens here. I think that'd be interesting. Of course, that's very hopeful.. how do we change governance question – but I know there are a lot of people thinking about how we do these things.

Beatrice Erkers  

Yeah, I think it seems doable, to some extent, also, in that it just takes – it's not just one big unified thing. Some people should be able to do some things.

Danielle Strachman  

Governance is all made up anyways, like we made it all up, so we can make something different.

Beatrice Erkers  

Yes! That's the idea. So, just so we have time to round off… It would be really nice, if you have any, like favorite resources? Do you have a favorite movie that got you excited about the future? Or a book or something like that, any resources you would recommend?

Danielle Strachman  

This is a great question. Gosh, for me, it's actually always been very community-driven. There used to be a group called Accelerating Change started by John Smart. That was a huge influence. I don't know if there are still resources online about that group at all. And that actually dovetails a lot into Foresight also. So to me, it's been very community-driven. We used to have groups all across California, when I was in my 20s, that were like, the San Diego futurists, the Bay Area futurists, and things like that. And you'd get these people coming together and giving talks and actually, we'd have sci-fi authors come sometimes and talk about different arenas.

I think sci-fi is actually a really interesting way to get interested in this question of what if, and that question leading into what can future things look like? So I think those are actually some really great places to start. But for me, it's often been very community-driven, but I'll have to think about if are there certain books that I've read that have really thrown me out into a different future?

Beatrice Erkers  

Yeah, feel free to email them to us or something, we’d love to share them.

Allison Duettmann

Yeah.

Beatrice Erkers  

Thank you so much for joining us. If you want just also to share how people can engage with your work – you know, that's a nice way to round off.

Danielle Strachman  

Yeah, a couple of things. So there's 1517 fund.com. I'm on Twitter as DStrachman. People can email me Danielle@1517 fund . com. And those are a few areas. We've... on our website, we have a section with some long-form writing that we've done. I think those are maybe… I'm certainly biased, but I think they're great. I wrote a lot, but yeah, those are some ways to engage. That

Beatrice Erkers  

Sounds like a great place to get started! Thank you so much for coming in and sharing your Existential Hope vision.

Danielle Strachman  

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

Read

RECOMMENDED READING

  1. Heightened Learning – Danielle’s old tutoring website
  2. Innovations Academy Charter School – Danielle's charter school
  3. Homeschool with Moonrise – a homeschooling collective
  4. Acceleration Studies Foundation [Public archive] – John Smart