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Prima Materia (an example of emergent magic)…

Hey, it's André & Shawn…

2:12 p.m. (EST) yesterday (Nov 24, 2021).

That's when we received the first correct interpretation of the Easter Egg in Monday's email.

Congrats Jean-Paul. Well done…

Many of you have asked for some help.

I've read through this email four times and clicked and searched and I have no clue what the Easter Egg is. Will you be sharing the answer so I can get on with my life?! — Mark M.

Others have sent us really interesting ideas that were insightful and fascinating to read.

For me, the Easter egg (or thing of greatest value) that I took away from this email is that by creating intrigue as a way to channel people's interest, you can lead them to pay much closer attention to what you write than they would otherwise. — Matthew P.

(Creating intrigue and channeling attention is an emergent effect of including Easter Eggs, but not the Easter Egg itself.)

Didn't find the easter egg, but am struck by the parallels between “Ideas to Assets” and Coelho's Alchemist. Perhaps the treasure lies beneath our feet the entire time. –Ted T.

We love that connection Ted. When we borrow it later, we'll make sure to credit you as the source.

Perhaps we'll offer some relief and reveal Jean-Paul's answer in today's email…

But first, we want to take you (way) back in time.

Prima Materia.

That's latin for “first matter” — believed in antiquity to be the fundamental building block of everything.

Nearly 4,000 years ago, Egyptian King Hermes Trismegistus allegedly documented the secret of prima materia on an emerald tablet.

At the same time, half-way around the world in China, Taoist monks developed “outer and inner elixirs” — medicines and movement practices to enhance the body's life forces from which vitality and good fortune would emerge.

Indian yogis pursued similar goals.

Arab mystics did as well.

In fact, al-Khemia — “the Black Land” (an area in Egypt occupied by Arab armies in the seventh century AD) is thought to be the origin of alchemy, a word brought by Arabs to Spain in the eighth century.

For thousands of years, many of the world's greatest civilizations independently have been seeking the same things.

Wealth and vitality. The Secret of Secrets.

We didn't have an emerald tablet to guide us so we had to make our own.

Through (a lot of) trial and error we've stumbled our way toward a method for identifying, collecting, and making sense of inputs, and then turning those raw ingredients into wealth and vitality-producing assets.

The key word in that description is stumbling. Both of us have made more mistakes and false starts than we care to admit.

(Hopefully we will save you 10-15 years making similar mistakes…)

We've already described why creativity matters so much to us (André here and Shawn here). Today we'll describe what it looks like when we work together.

Collaborative alchemy.

At the 10,000′ view, our workflow has two parts:

  1. idea generation and,
  2. content creation (primarily writing, recorded conversations, and live interactions with small-group cohorts).

… but that's just the beginning.

Idea generation is synchronous (real-time Zoom conversations), and asynchronous (screencasts, recorded and transcribed audio, Basecamp and WhatsApp messages).

Each type of communication has its own nuances.

For example, we use terms like ‘TOL' (thinking out loud) when we're externalizing ideas, and ‘NPO' (no pride of ownership) when we've articulated an idea and handed it off to be improved.

We often bounce ideas back and forth, never knowing in advance where they'll go. Then, like magic, something appears that both of us created (and neither of us did).

The inspiration for this email series, for example, was the collision between two conversations five days apart, an article one of us had stumbled on that piqued our curiosity, and then the first draft of the idea for Monday's email.

Creativity is weird like that.

It's non-linear and exponential.

1 + 1 = 2, then 2 + 1 = 3, and all of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, 3 + 1 = 15.

When it's time to write, one of us takes the lead and externalizes our ideas onto the page. Rough at first — never a final draft — but it's something to move the creative process another step forward.

Borrowing an idea we both love from Michael Lewis's book The Undoing Project, each of us always looks for what's right about the other's work.

Criticism is easy, and critics are a dime a dozen.

But criticism kills the creative process. “Yes, and…” is our mindset when we edit each other's work (an idea inspired by improv).

The back and forth rarely follows the same pattern. Sometimes the initial draft only needs a little polishing.

Sometimes it needs a lot of polishing.

And occasionally the first draft points the way to a better idea that neither of us could have imagined.

That feels like magic…

We recorded a two-hour, in-depth conversation for Ideas to Assets describing the nuances of our creative collaboration. Our individual styles are very different — so different it doesn't make sense that we work so well together.

Looking back, that was an amazing conversation. We both learned a lot about each other, and we work together every day!

Our writing is precise. But our conversations wander and in that wandering we make unexpected discoveries.

(That's part of the creative process too.)

We also recorded detailed descriptions of our individual creative workflows, with exhaustive lists of the tools we use (analog and digital).

We'll share those details tomorrow.

Ideas to Assets is our prima materia. It is the fundamental building block — the starting point — for everything we do.

Every course we've created, article we've written, and email we've sent would not be possible without the creative processes we've honed for decades.

ITA will be available for sale tomorrow through midnight PST on Monday.

Until then…

—Shawn & André

We could tell you what Jean-Paul wrote in his email yesterday — and reveal the Easter Egg in Monday's email — but you already know we're not going to do that.

That wouldn't be fair to Jean-Paul, and it wouldn't be fair to you.

Instead, we'll give you another clue.

Don't look for the Easter Egg in some of the words. Instead, look at all of the words…


Something we said earlier:

We often bounce ideas back and forth, never knowing in advance where they'll go. Then, like magic, something appears that both of us created (and neither of us did).

On November 3rd, we were riffing before hitting record for an Art of Email Workshop recording. We had been riffing for 30 minutes, and then…

At precisely 31 mins, André unpacked the chronological moment “something” happened. (We have to be vague here on purpose.)

… then, at 35m44s, in response to André, Shawn riffed for 7m17s, when his thinking coalesced into, “but, the other thing you said is really really really interesting … and this is very much a TOL exercise … so let it percolate … complexity scaled in a non-linear way … we don't actually sell…”

And at 44m01s, it fell out of Shawn's mouth, an idea rough and spiky, but at that moment, we both knew it was something special, emergent, the birthing of a little bit of magic that didn't exist in that form before.

Until right then.

How do we know that the colliding of serendipitous ideas collected into magic?

… because TLB will be a (considerably) different business in 2022. (We'll make the exciting announcement in January.)

Had our call not have happened. Or our conversation not have gone in the random direction it did, that moment of magic would never have happened, and we would be excited to enter 2022 with big plans about executing a different version of TLB.

When you hear the announcement in January, come back and read this. It'll make all the sense in the world then.