a concept for an interdisciplinary, impact-driven, human accelerator community house

January 2, 2021
5 min read

“My name is Samson. I’m part of a program called TKS, a human accelerator that trains high schoolers to impact billions. The first year of the program focuses on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and genomics. The second year of the program focuses on the world’s biggest problems, like climate change, maternal mortality, and food and water scarcity. As part of the second year program, I’m researching wireless power transmission, pursuing the vision of space solar power. Would you be willing to hop on a call with me to answer some questions and help me narrow my research direction?”

TKS is a powerful thing to be a part of. For one, it makes for extremely compelling intros. Your very scope and purpose is exceptional compared to most young people, and even people in general. For another, of course, this exceptionality isn’t only in the introduction. TKS kids didn’t come into the program striving to change the world and believing that they could. TKS trains the relevant mindsets and knowledge into students, clearing their mental blocks and empowering them to move faster and aim higher than they thought possible before. (Among these mindsets, for the uninitiated: Activator mentality, Boss mentality, high standards, unconventional paths, taught to us directly, by example, and through various projects and challenges.)

And more so than specific knowledge or skills, TKS is an entire perspective that, once internalized, it’s impossible to ignore. Some label it a lifestyle, and TKS can certainly be lived as one, though I don’t think it’s necessary to go that far. Aside from providing this perspective in the first place, one of the most valuable parts of TKS is that it creates an environment and community where this perspective is understood and encouraged. The result is a group of people who are continuously connecting with top experts in dozens of domains of tech and science, and who are actively working to create impactful solutions for the world’s biggest problems, finding fulfillment, companionship, and supercharged curiosity and ambition from each other all the while.

These are the kind of spaces where one finds true fulfillment in their work, their own self-growth, and their impact on the world and those around them. This kind of space, growth, and impact isn’t nearly limited to tech or TKS. Communities of activists find them in movement houses, artists in studios and collectives, academics in research groups or institutions. The TKS “lifestyle” adds a further dimension: the soft education of how to break away from convention, innovate, and make a difference in the world. Though TKS centers on tech and business, this education is ultimately universal: innovation and activation are as vital to art or advocacy as tech. This education is one of power and purpose, and an institution recognized on some level by all emerges from its sheer vitality.

Yet, when we leave TKS, we find ourselves suddenly distanced from this vitality. Most colleges, jobs, and communities contain but a constrained morsel of the ambition to cure aging, stop climate change, or revitalize democracy. Spaces that do truly foster this ambition may include segments of hyper-exclusive college campuses, or certain specialized research groups, incubators, and think tanks. Tech aspirees flock to Silicon Valley to find these spaces, politicians to Washington, and even in these places true vitality is often buried beneath layers and layers of meaningless dogma and expectation.

There are far more deeply curious and driven people, especially young people, in the world than there are opportunities for them to develop their drive and curiosity. This is the assumption that TKS runs on, and one that could always benefit from more effort and development.

So, reflecting on how valuable TKS has been to us, and to shortly depart for a curiosity-based community house in Utah, Davide Radaelli and I got to imagining a space – a community and an emergent institution – that we could construct to further supercharge ourselves and other aspiring world-changers around us.

Vision

Imagine a space where TKS’ core teachings – innovation, activation, curiosity, ambition – thrive, but without the constraints of being a tech and business program or high school extracurricular.

Imagine a community of aspiring researchers, advocates, policymakers, artists, technologists, and entrepreneurs, aligned around a common desire to address the world’s most pressing issues and around the value of core self-growth and activation skills.

Imagine an institution with more vitality than a research institution or think tank: a collective of young people with an unyielding commitment to purposeful work and the skills and empowerment to match.

This environment would not be isolated from other institutions, but act as an independent platform for its consituents, a launchpad for personal and career trajectories of much higher velocity and impact.

This environment would be targeted at young students and professionals without access to institutions providing the necessary resources, training, community, or reputation.

The overarching cultural principles of this space, from founding, would be the drivers of growth and impact: high standards, activator mentality, intentionality, and unconventional paths; as well as those of social impact, i.e. potentially politicizing the space itself.

Specifics

How would such a space be created?

Community living provides a compelling model for such a space, effective because the community and culture effect is automatic. For students and young professionals looking for a place to stay, community living can also align with economic incentives, reducing rent, transportation, and food costs.

COVID has normalized remote learning and work, but time windows where students are traditionally not geographically bound, i.e. summers or gap years, are still useful to consider. This coming summer may be a first opportunity for a pilot of some sort.

Programming would follow the “human accelerator” model of TKS: sessions on various mindsets; optional workshops; starters for exploration (i.e. explore modules from TKS); potentially consulting challenges with partners for experiential learning; and most importantly, mentorship, resources, and support for personal projects focused on activation (i.e. WBP/WBTPs from TKS).

The strongest teams and communities are formed through organic connection, not application, and this space should be the same. Tech communities have often struggled to attract non-tech talent, such as those who work with social science and policy, and this would remain a challenge with tech-oriented founders. Thankfully, I’m a humanities kid at heart and aim to return to humanities spaces in the coming years, so this initiative could potentially have one non-tech co-founder from the start.

Either way, though, this organic connection method of recruitment relies on the founders or other stakeholders directly to attract talent. It remains to be seen how much of a challenge this will be – don’t know until we try 😁

Making it happen

This is only a very early concept, but one I’m very excited about and I think holds a lot of promise given the success of TKS and community houses alike. There are numerous more specifics to learn about and address, from recruiting to programming to logistics. I believe that there is a good amount that is novel about this specific concept, especially the human accelerator and interdisciplinary impact angle, but there have been plenty of community and hacker houses in the past to be learned from, as well as Edyfi, where Davide and I will be staying for the next three months. Now that we have this vision in mind, though, Davide and I will be steadily collecting information and iterating on our idea.

If you want to be notified of further developments and updates to this vision, shoot me an email at hello@samsonzhang.com!