Verbalizing Value

Guest Author & Illustrator: Francis Cortez

In trying to build my circle of competence, I've started making visuals for highlights of things I'm reading, listening to, or watching. Over time, I hope this helps me better understand ideas.

This set of visuals captures ideas from a conversation between Jack Butcher and David Perell:

Curiosity by design

Illustration by Francis Cortez

Jack talks about creating phrases that make you think "I want that" without totally knowing what that is.

Jack: I think what 'Build Once, Sell Twice' and 'Personal Monopoly' do... they imply a benefit to anybody, right? So it's like 'Personal Monopoly'.... I want a personal monopoly. Regardless of whether you're a chef or a designer or architect. It really speaks to the situation you will end up in without necessarily excluding anybody in the statement. The idea, you can kind of transpose that idea and I think that's what helps things resonate at scale.

But summing the entire concept up in a few words isn't the point—or possible in many cases.

David: I think what you're getting at is something really deep. That a first time person can intuit how this thing will benefit them, and therefore piques their interest. But it also doesn't give everything away to the point where you lose your interest.

David talks about book titles that create curiosity.

David: But then there's other books like The Black Swan, like Antifragile, like Skin in the Game. I hear that and I'm like, okay, Nassim Taleb has done a really good job of telling me a little bit about what this book is about, but not so much that I've lost my curiosity.

Visualize Value's imagery accomplishes the same thing as catchy book titles. You scroll through a feed and see a mostly black image. It catches your eye and you pause scrolling for a beat to take the image in. You read the accompanying text and your curiosity pays off.

You have a slightly new view of the world. The brand builds value.

You do this a few times a week, recognizing the same aesthetic. The brand builds value.

You share with a friend and they do this a few times a week. The brand builds value.

Then thousands of people do this a few times a week...

Complex problems, simple toolbox

Illustration by Francis Cortez

Creativity emerges in constraints:

Jack talks about the challenge of the strict aesthetic he uses for Visualize Value:

Jack: I think what it comes down to... why it's effective... is that it transfers the responsibility to me to solve the problem creatively, as opposed to leaning on style.

Repetition is effective beyond just words. A simpler aesthetic makes the repetition obvious. That visual repetition helps carry the message across mediums and through time.

More practically, the constraints save time and allow Jack to get started faster.

Jack: So you can easily spend hours and hours picking colors, messing around with fonts, stylistically, you know, making selections of what photographs to use, and all of these different things that are not necessarily increasing the fidelity of the idea.

So if you have a system that you can essentially use to express any idea, like language or very, very simple design, then I think constraint really forces you into a corner where it becomes about your ability to get creative, as opposed to your ability to introduce new variables. Constraint and creativity go hand in hand. And it's been very intentional.

I've realized in moments of when I was in a position before this, when I didn't have a system like that—the blank page was so much more intimidating than it is now.

Jack points out that the design framework allows him to apply a Tim Ferriss-ism: look for single decisions that remove hundreds or thousands of other decisions.

Flexible resonance

Illustration by Francis Cortez

Jack talks about his background and how it's shaped his drive to find things that can be repeated a thousand times without people getting tired of it:

Jack: The more I reflect on how I ended up landing on terms or being so—not necessarily precious—but really putting pressure on myself to land in a place where you have something that really describes the thing, and you're going to keep using that, I think comes from my time in corporate America and advertising in a corporate environment.

So if you're working with American Express, or whoever, you come out with a line that describes a product, and that line has to endure, you know... has to be on the side of a bus has to work on a billboard, has to work in a magazine, has to work on a radio ad.

Getting to a line that endures takes work and lots of small tweaks.

Drop the "It"s (and read with your ears)

Illustration by Francis Cortez

David discusses the process of rearranging words.

David: I think if there's one thing that I've learned, it's in moments like that to read with the ear, not with the eye.

What I mean by that is usually when you read, you're sort of reading for understanding. But actually, most people, when they read, there's a little voice in your head, and you're almost talking to yourself as you read. So you are listening to the words as much as you are seeing them.

When something sounds good, it's going to spread a lot farther. So if there's anything that I've learned about communicating ideas on the internet, it's that small tweaks—and I mean, really small tweaks: one word here, one word there—in how you structure your sentences, how you structure the idea that you're presenting, can lead to exponential differences in the spread of an idea.

Jack talks about one of his most popular phrases, prior to tweaking:

I can give another example. It was "Build it once, sell it twice" originally. It went nowhere. You just take the two "its" out. And now it's the thing.

It's cleaner.


Illustration by Francis Cortez

There's a shortcut in Figma (and other apps) that allows you to copy and paste the style from one object to another. You can copy the color and size of text and then paste that style over another set of words without actually changing the words.

You can do something similar with ideas.

By coining a phrase at the right level of abstraction, you package your idea up to be applied across different fields. This increases the likelihood that it resonates with more people.

David talks about the effectiveness of 'Visualize Value' and 'Personal Monopoly':

David: But what I really like about 'Visualize Value' is you can take that idea, and just copy and paste it everywhere. And it's the same thing with 'Personal Monopoly'. It's the kind of idea that I know has legs for the next 10 to 20 years, because it's so core to the modern economy. It is specific enough to mean something but broad enough that I can use it in a lot of different spaces.

Effectively coined terms have value similar to good logos. They encapsulate the value of an idea that can be applied to increase the value of other things.

This isn't to say that it is easy. You can coin a term that's too specific to break out of its niche. Or too general that it doesn't resonate strongly enough with anybody.

"Make vector imagery for business success" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Aim for a laugh (and another and another)

Illustration by Francis Cortez

Jerry Seinfeld has made a fortune by noticing things that bug him and packaging that for the masses. He talks about how effective crowd laughter is as a metric for success:

Jerry Seinfeld: That’s the paradise of stand-up comedy. You don’t have to ask anyone anything. Stand-up comics receive a score on what they’re doing more often and more critically than any other human on earth.

You don't need to be a legendary comedian to use laughter as a gauge. David talks about paying attention to which of your ideas are resonating in real life conversations. One good signal? Laughter.

David: One of the things that you can always look for when you're trying to coin terms is if you can talk to three people in a row who laugh after you say the idea.

And that is because laughter isn't just humor. It is understanding. It is somebody saying that is funny, because it's a compressed way of looking at the world, something I've always known but never had the words to say.

Or, as Jack puts it, "I think the laughter is the external symbol of an epiphany".


David summed the process up nicely during the conversation. Here's how to coin valuable terms:

If I were to just summarize all of this:

  • Pay attention to what ideas resonate in casual conversation
  • If things do resonate, share them in public
  • Then, as you do, try to continue to refine them.

And then, like what you just said, build a portfolio of terms and you just have unlimited upside on the one that works.

Be prolific and see what sticks.

Guest Author & Illustrator: Francis Cortez

Francis is a graduate of How to Visualize Value.

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