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

by Julia_Galef 4 min read9th Apr 201372 comments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the basics:

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

  • Friday, April 26 - Monday, April 29
  • Friday, May 17 - Monday, May 20
  • Saturday, July 20 - Tuesday, July 23

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

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

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

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

The total cost is $3900, and that includes:

  • Three days of classes -- Six hours of class a day, with small class sizes (4-6 people) so you get a lot of personal attention from the instructors. We rearrange those small groups several times throughout the workshop to give you a chance to get to know everyone.
  • One day of practice – Optional but recommended, so instructors can help you make and troubleshoot a plan to use the material going forward. (If you choose to skip this day, the total cost is $3400.)
  • Six weeks of personal follow-ups – Talk to our staff in one-on-one follow-ups to help you get the most value out of what you've learned.
  • Staying on site – We rent out lovely retreat centers (lodging and food included in the cost of the workshop) so you can get to know the instructors and other participants in the evenings, during meals, and on breaks. Evenings include everything from unconferences, to parties, to impromptu Rubix-cube lessons.
  • An alumni network -- You'll be included in all future CFAR alumni events, parties, online forums, and so on. We'll make every effort to connect you to alumni from other workshops with whom we think you'll hit it off or have opportunities for collaboration. 

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

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

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