L.H.O.O.Q., Marcel Duchamp, 1919
At thirteen, Jimmy Donaldson started uploading videos to YouTube “pretty religiously”. When he had just over 8,000 subscribers he made a video that he scheduled to go live five years later, in 2020, as a message to his future self:
“If I don’t have a million subscribers when you see this video, my entire life has been a failure.”
He promised himself that by the time he graduated high school, he would make enough money of his channel to do it full-time.
That didn’t work out. By the time he turned eighteen, his channel — MrBeast — was making, on a good month, a few hundred dollars.
Five years later still, on the Joe Rogan podcast, Donaldson, or rather, MrBeast recounts the experience:
MrBeast: So I graduated high school and my mom was like, “Either move out or go to a community college.”
I didn’t have enough money to move out.
I hated school with a passion but she forced me to go to community college, and that was the worst thing ever. Like that made me hate my life. I was borderline suicidal. I just can’t stand having to just sit there and listen to this dumb stuff and listen to some teacher read out a book.
The way he liked to learn, he says on another podcast, with Lex Fridman, was by treating his mind as if it was a neural net, an algorithm that learns to solve tasks by simply consuming a gargantuan amount of data. It is a primitive form of learning. But it is surprisingly effective. (A recurring story in computer science is this: researchers spend years studying a problem and writing a sophisticated algorithm that can solve it — and then someone takes a neural net and just throws incomprehensible amounts of data at it. And the neural net does better.)
Considering how rapidly MrBeast, now 24, has mastered new skills over the last few years, growing his channel to 221 million subscribers, scaling a team to a few hundred members, building a 50,000 square foot studio, starting a hamburger brand, negotiating deals with Walmart, scaling the logistics needed to ship chocolate bars to 10,000s of stores, etc, I thought it’d be interesting to look in more detail at what it means to learn this way.
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