Description: Interview with business coach and teacher Charlie Gilkey. Topics include simple, practical ways to engage participants online, and how do you get moving when your course design feels “stuck.”

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About Charlie Gilkey and Productive Flourishing

Champion and Catalyst for Creative Giants. Best-selling author. Ph.D. Candidate (Philosophy). Former Army Logistics Officer. Wakes up in the morning to figure out how to help Creative Giants be their best selves in the world. Learn more at

Key Points & Takeaways

  1. There are few things that can be more transformative for an audience as a really good learning experience.
  2. Being an authentic expert is grounded in a moral imperative: coming from a place of service. What’s best going to serve my tribe?
  3. Before designing a course, first think about the skill level of your participants. Are they beginners? Experts? Many course creators fail to clearly identify where their learners are in terms of understanding and competency. Think about the difference between a freshman course and a graduate seminar. Check out the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition for more ideas.
  4. Ask, Who are the more advanced or higher-skill people in my audience? How can I create a course specifically for them? And, in general, it should be an in-depth/high-price course to match their needs & expectations.
  5. Ask the “mimimum” question: What’s the very minimum students need to learn to get from where they are to where I’m trying to take them? Use this question to identify the “limit” for your course. Anything beyond that is scope creep. When the course scope is too big, “nobody wins.”
  6. Sometimes experts lean toward creating big, comprehensive courses because they intuitively seem more valuable. But in reality, participants will feel cognitively overloaded and they’ll check out… or you’ll create so much work for them to do, that they’ll feel demotivated. By creating smaller courses, you can get started faster, and develop a library of courses for your business intead of one giant, monolithic course.
  7. Especially in an online course, people are distracted — which you means you have to simplify your material as much as possible. It’s hard work to make a complex subject simple and actionable. (This is your value as a teacher!)
  8. It takes a lot of discipline as a course creator and marketer to say “it’s only for these people, if that’s not you then don’t buy the course!” But being willing to exclude people is essential to focus and creating a powerful learning experience.
  9. Get really clear about the “future positive state” for your course participants. Break it down so the entire course is build around getting specific people to that specific future positive state.
  10. Ask your audience, “what type of product/course would you like us to create? How would you like to learn this topic? Via a workshop/speech/book/course?”

Charlie’s 3 action steps to improve your course planning

  1. Be crystal clear about who the course is for and where you’re taking them.
  2. Come up with the minimal amount of information they need to know.
  3. Give participants exercises to apply and integrate this information. Give them homework, worksheets, exercises to move from knowing to doing. Make these exercises short, accessible, and do-able: quick wins. Remember that participants are busy, perhaps overloaded, but they really do want to learn! So help them move forward with quick wins, and then help them celebrate their progress.

Resources & Links



Abe Crystal: Well, this Abe Crystal from Ruzuku and I’m here with Charlie Gilkey from Productive Flourishing. Charlie it’s great to have you with us today.

Charlie Gilkey: Thanks for having me Abe.

Abe Crystal: And I’d like to start just by hearing a little bit about your story. I’ve known you personally for a couple of years having met you at the World Domination Summit and followed your work. Since then I’ve always found your writing on the creative process and how to get creative work done, really inspiring, but also very practical. Whenever people ask me about your work people say it’s so practical it actually help you move forward and express your work

[ph] out into the world.


Abe Crystal: So I’d be curious to hear just a little bit about your background and how you got to that perspective. How you got into the work that you’re doing today?

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. Thanks that’s a really a great praise and I’m really humbled by that and that’s really the best praise that I would [ph] like, it’s not just writing, but writing that actually helps you like start finishing the stuff that matters which we talk a lot of at PF. So I got into online teaching from offline teaching. I was a, well I’m still completing up my PhD and so I did a lot of the online the offline teaching in courses and things like that. And the university that I taught in was also experimenting with online learning platforms as well. I was also simultaneously an Army Logistics Officer and so I did a lot of offline training there as well. And the army has started doing a lot of online training courses well.


Charlie Gilkey: And so both of those two completely different industries are taking what they are trying to offline and putting them online. And so when I started Productive Flourishing and a lot of where I am now is completely accidental in the most blessed way. I started as a teacher and I had completely different sort of — well I started as teacher and started Productive Flourishing because I was doing a lot of reading and writing about productivity and creativity and managing large projects. And how to do that in a way that actually helped you flourish and live the good life rather than just being sucked in to work or being creatively crazy because you never get to do what you want to do so on and so forth. So it started from that teaching perspective as a blogger and then as I went along I started teaching actual courses. And I’m still – I started and I’m still a bit, not skeptical I still miss the offline teaching aspect of things.


Charlie Gilkey: I still do a lot of offline teaching and so we may or may not end up talking about it. But there’s some advantages to virtual teaching and there’s some disadvantages to virtual teaching. But I hesitated for such a, I hesitated on it for such a long time because I saw it done poorly in academia and I saw it done poorly in the army. So then I started reverse engineering and this ______ [00:05:21] talking about the 2007, 2008 time frame before the technology was robust enough to make it easy. So there were like a lot of forums kind that you kind of hack on like presentations and then you might email people stuff. So there was a lot of hodgepodge making it work type stuff. But you know the great team at Copyblogger has said this all along and its true and I really believe it as well. They are teaching sales like really there are few things that can be more transformative for an audience as a really good learning experience and I’ve seen the throughout my life right.


Charlie Gilkey: And so that’s how I ended up sort of in PF in teaching courses and I teach offline events and I teach online events and I write products and try to figure out like all different ways in which you can take ideas and get them to people to get that transformation happening.

Abe Crystal: And as you do that how do you think about delivering your ideas and connecting with people authentically and how do you practice authenticity in your business and in your teaching?

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. Authenticity is such a strange word nowadays because it’s getting confused with transparency, which is different right. And it’s also getting confused with sort of that bold over sharing right that we see sometimes happening. Or like to be authentic means you’re telling everybody everything, that’s not what we are talking or that’s not what I’m talking about there. Authenticity is just really the best way I think trying to think about it as like you’re in science or aligning with what’s going on outside.


Charlie Gilkey: And so to do it authenticity means that you really do have an interest in place of service and natural expertise as opposed to social expertise. I’m going to split that one up, so social expertise is when people think you know what you’re talking about. Natural expertise is when actually know what you’re talking about. Right and I don’t want to necessarily like imply that the social experts are frauds or anything like that, but I know when people start teaching courses one of the first things that comes up is there are own expertise and whether they are good or not, so on and so forth. And I think if you’re asking whether you’re good enough you’re probably on the right track to being a natural expert. It’s when you don’t ask if you know what you’re talking about that you’re much more concerned. So when I talk about natural expertise or as you have some natural expertise, some perspective, some knowledge some frame of the world, some particular technique that you can transfer to other people. And that’s just the key thing about coaching and teaching right definitely have those at heart as you have to be able to transfer that expertise.


Charily Gilkey: With a course it’s a transfer of information, usually as its core, with coaching its transfer of information plus implementation, so not to get technical there. How do I go about choosing that I’m not going to say how you do it, because you do all sorts of crazy ways, crazy in a good way. How I do it is really trying to find the product to customer fit meaning you can create a great course, but people don’t want course, they don’t want a course from you. So I’m just trying to figure out what people want specifically from you and then creating the product if it’s possible, if it’s possible to get them where they are trying to go in the particular product. So I probably, yeah I’d say I know a bit, but one thing that I never know in any given point of time is what people are wanting from me. And so rather than make a lot assumption I just end up asking people.


Charlie Gilkey: Hey! Like what are you wanting, what are you buying so on and so forth. And just asking them really where they are at it and trying to take where they are and join that conversation with the conversation them having ______ [00:09:11] about how am I going to help people. You know really start finishing stuff that matters and go back to the AB [ph] slogan of the army ‘Be all that you can be.’

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. So it sounds like for you being an authentic teacher an expert have to do with being able to transfer real expertise that you’ve developed through experience and research. Being able to formulate that in a way that it really transfers to other people and so they are able to deeply learn it.

Charlie Gilkey: And for me and this is probably the moral equivalent then I wouldn’t, the moral aspect that I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that other people have, because it’s ______ [00:09:56]. It’s also coming from a place of service, not just like I mean you, because you can create all sorts of course right.


Charlie Gilkey: And I say that easily because I’ve done a lot through all the different things that I mentioned earlier. You can create courses, but it’s really looking at what’s best going to serve my tribe. And if it’s a course great ______ [00:10:13] course, if it’s something else don’t get stuck on, on it there’s got to be a course.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. So you mentioned that you’ve been very interested in kind of differences between teaching in person face-to-face versus teaching online. So I’m wondering if you could reflect some on your experience teaching in those different environments. And what have you learned from the difference in teaching in person, in the classroom versus teaching online and what are some of the ways that we can learn from the best experiences in both environments?

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. So I’ll start with the offline teaching experience because that’s sort of the pristine one and I know that’s opinionated, but there we go we’ll start there.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm!

Charlie Gilkey: When your teaching offline there are several things you [ph] got going, one is very real and easy feedback about what you’re teaching ______ [00:11:15] because you can see students nodding, you see them scratching, you see them taking notes. You can see them doing whatever they are doing and in some ways the, you can do that like ______ [00:11:24] talk with Ruzuku before like I had ______ [00:11:29]. Like I might say something hey guys give me a thumbs up and people on the course with type pound [ph] to you, which meant thumbs-up right. ______ [00:11:35] and so because I needed that real time feedback to make sure that the student were learning [ph] what they were [ph] going to do. The second thing about is and this is more — it’s not that you, let me be clear. It’s not that you can’t emulate some of these things that are happening in an offline environment on the online environment, it’s just that it’s a little bit harder and a little bit artificial right. And so the technology joins the conversation in a way that the way the offline teaching does.


Charlie Gilkey: But to be fair on that if you got, if your air conditioner is busted in whatever classroom that you’re teaching and its hot technologies in the way, right. You got to think about it in that way. I think the other thing about this it is with that near instantaneous feedback you can actually as a teacher and especially as a native [ph] expert you can on the fly change what you’re talking about. Provide additional scenario like say hey! Guys what we are going to do is write down five questions, people write down the side questions you pull it up. There are all sorts of things that you can do because of the amount of additional capture that you have in an offline situation that you do not have in an online situation. Right and so I think that’s an aspect that’s hard to or that’s in offline. The next one is going to be the queasiest of them.


Charlie Gilkey: But I think it’s still very important to talk about the queasy this is that when you’re in a room with people learning the same things, there’s a lot of transfer of energy amongst the students. So there’s lateral learning, there’s lateral inspirations. If somebody like gets something like it has you look back at what was just said and lot of times that will trigger whatever is it that is happening in [ph] you. So I think it’s that lateral learning and sort of energetic osmosis that you miss in the virtual environment that’s really, really important to the learners learning.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: So I’d say those three things. Instantaneous feedback, ability to change on the fly the material that you’re teaching, and then change the way that you’re delivering. So that you get maximum student engagement, less largely through the additional capture that you have in an offline situation and also the lateral/lateral learning/energetic osmosis that you get from you students in the room.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. Yeah. Really interesting that’s great breakdown of the sort of the power of the bandwidth and face-to-face teaching. So, if you’re then trying to teach online in a way that reflects the kind of authentic trend [ph] trends of expertise that you described. How do you approach that? What are some of the ways that you think about creating really engaging and effective online courses?

Charlie Gilkey: I think the first place to start and I’ve screwed this up so many times that I’m ______ [00:14:40] like it’s part of those checklist items, to be really clear about the level on skill acquisition, the level of skill of the students that you’re teaching. And here’s what I want to say about that if someone doesn’t know arithmetic they can’t learn calculus. You just can’t, right and to try to have someone enroll in a calculus course that doesn’t have arithmetic.


Charlie Gilkey: It either means that the student is going to have really crappy learning outcomes or you’re going to have to drag down the entire course, the entire like student body to get that one student caught up. And I don’t think that many course teachers clearly identify where the people are in the skill acquisition and the skill competency framework. And so in case you want to check this out I think the Dreyfus Scale Acquisition Model you can Google it, it will probably take you to Wikipedia, but you kind of list five different levels. So it’s the novice, the advanced beginner, the competent, the proficient and the expert. So one way to make that easier what I say is you have one on one level course, two on one level courses you have three on one, four on one and then finally you have your graduate course. Right because that models what we see right here a lot of people who start college there are very few people who get into graduate school. Right just because the final goes down and you know the difference between if you ever taken a, gone through college program.


Charlie Gilkey: Like you study in these huge classes with 122, 150 students and by the time you’re in your four on one level course there are six people who actually can keep up with the professor right. So you kind of see that progression happen and that’s a natural progression for student learning that’s not anything about the academic business model that’s anything about it, it’s just how we learn. So when you properly identify, wait a second this is a one on one level course on this, then I think you are a long way towards making an effective course, because that then allows you to answer the second question, which is the very minimum that students need to learn to be able to get from where they are to where I’m trying to take them. And if it’s for instances to go back to the arithmetic, like you don’t need to go into algebra, you don’t need to go into geometry you don’t need to go into that. You need to teach people how to add, subtract, multiple, divide, maybe do fractions and things like that, that’s the limit of the course.


Charlie Gilkey: Anything outside of that slap yourself on your hand because you got ______ [00:17:30] going on. And I think when I work with course developers what I – they love and hate me, a lot of people love and hate me, but I guess that’s the way it is. I hate being…

Abe Crystal: So ______ [00:17:16] in doing something interesting.

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. They start with these huge syllabi of what are they are trying to teach and I’m like you know what this is a four week course you’re going to talk to people four times over the course of this month. You have at most 12 topics, but you’re better off to have like maybe four or eight topics over the course of the month that’s the course, because if you do more than that you’re going to be overwhelming people. And they are not going to get the learning outcome because they are either going to learn a bunch and not apply. They are going to learn so much they get cognitively overload and check out. Or you’re going to cram them with so much work that they can’t actually get it done. You’re going to de-motivate them from actually getting the work done.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: This is why people like, when you’re in school like your teacher doesn’t give you all the semester homework, do like in a month.


Charlie Gilkey: Right you space the crap out right, you’ve got to do this you’ve got to do this then you’re going to do this. And so we sometimes and I know this a cartoonist thing, but I’ve seen it happen so much that I’m like okay it’s real. Is we come with these basically encyclopedia botanic courses A through Z ______ [00:18:24]. When it basically needed to be the first 10 pages of A, is what the course needed to be to get people where they are trying to go. Now the advantage of that is you are able to create a course faster. You’re able to really focus on who it’s for and you’re able on from the business side to have a boarder library of courses, rather than have that one epic course that you can sell once a year so and so forth. So there are advantages on the business side that really track well with the, what we have to do to create learning programs that actual work.


Charlie Gilkey: I said a lot there, so I’m going to pause and let you ask a question Abe.

Abe Crystal: Yeah. That’s great advice and I very much agree based on our experience looking at people courses that when, a very common pattern seems to be to create courses that are overly ambitious in scope and content and that makes the course ______ [00:19:26] extraordinary difficult and its actually too much for the learning experience of the learner as well.

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. And nobody wins, nobody wins.

Abe Crystal: I found that your points about sort of the skill acquisition and the level of the ______ [:19:42] really interesting as well. I was curious what have you seen there in practice or what are sort of the common mistakes or opportunities for improvement there. Is it that people are targeting too low level? Like they are assuming their participants are beginners and they are not serving experts.


Abe Crystal: Or is the other way around that they assuming too much expertise and leaving the beginners behind or is it something else?

Charlie Gilkey: I’ve seen two patterns, so one pattern is creating courses that go after novices and advance beginners. What I will call the aspiration stage of______ [00:20:19] because that’s the hugest market there is so many like take any scale, take anything that has a human aspiration attached to it. And there’s a huge market of people wanting to do that whether that’s to start a business write a book, lift weights whatever it is. Like if it’s got social value to it there a bunch of people who want to do it. And so from a business perspective it does make sense to go after the widest market possible. And so when you really look around at some of the most popular brands, I’m not going to name names here, but when you look at them, they carter to the aspirations market. So that’s one common pattern, again good reasons to do that. What I’ve seen happening then I’ll give a frame.


Charlie Gilkey: I work with a lot of experts and I work with a lot of maven’s ______ [00:21:05] maven connect yourself person sort of thing. I’ve worked with a lot of people who are just really are natural experts and they know their stuff, that forget what they know, and how long it took them to get there. And so they end up either wanting to teach what I’d like to call a framework like a deep way of thinking about the world and instead of teaching specific learning modules that help people get there. Or they create a course for the aspiration market because someone in the business told them it was really smart to do so. But they make an expert level course for the aspiration market, doesn’t work right and so you really have to be clear about that. Now the challenge is the further up you go up that Skill Acquisition Model and the fewer people in a given market they are going to be right. There’s a not a lot of experts there’s a lot of novices and aspiration folks right.


Charlie Gilkey: So that’s where you get the expectation match up, right because you’ve got like an audience of let’s say a 1000 people. It’s unlikely that a 100 of them are experts unless the audience itself is from a pool of experts. And so you can’t come out necessarily say I’m going to launch this course and it’s going to have 100 people join if that doesn’t match the distributional model of your audience. So I think that’s where things get out of limits, so the two patterns, so I’ve talked account the two patterns. One pattern is, make the course for the aspiration market because that’s got the widest swath of people. The second pattern is to make the course and forget that you’re teaching calculus, but you don’t know that you’re teaching calculus when you need to be teaching arithmetic.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: By the way I’m terrible with that. I’m terrible with that second pattern and I have very little interest anymore. Well, some of our products at PF do go for the aspiration market.


Charlie Gilkey: Its really, really hard, it’s really, really hard, not its hard for me as the expert because for instance the principles of project planning course that we did earlier this year. When we did the assessment of this, like I did talk about all these one on one level things, which I should have in a one on one level course. So it was a course that has a three on one level title, anyways it was a match up [ph] in that way. Not that it’s a terrible course, but when I look back at this like when I did not teach the very basics of project planning because I didn’t, it’s like when you’re in math. I like using a lot of math ______ [00:23:38] and you probably had this happen where like the teacher will be up there and they will throw up a formula and then they will solve it in like two steps. And because in their mind one of the steps really, it was a chunk of 20 others that you didn’t know about and then when they break that down, it kind of like takes forever for them to break it down.


Charlie Gilkey: That happens so often amongst experts that you don’t recognize that your move from A to B for someone who doesn’t know what you know and doesn’t have that framework, and doesn’t have that expertise that’s a really like the move from A to M for them.

Abe Crystal: So how do you break out of that as an expert?

Charlie Gilkey: It’s really beginners mind and it’s really, here’s what I say about it. Try to explain it to an eight year old or an eighth grader depending upon the level of content because that will really – you can’t assume all the things that ______ [00:24:35] you can’t assume that an eight year old knows geometry right. They don’t, so how are you going to explain it to them and then when you start to explain it to an eight year old and an eighth grader you finally get to the point to where people can understand. Now that doesn’t really work for the experts right because the experts are going to want, they are at the point in which their learning things to push their own body of knowledge and so you don’t necessarily have to spoon feed and spoon feed has such a negative connotation.


Charlie Gilkey: You don’t necessarily have to break it down so much for people at the competent proficient expert level. But if you’re going after novice and advanced beginner level your really going to have to break it down at a level at which they can understand, because not even when your audience is brilliant Abe, even when they are brilliant, even when they know their stuff again in an online course unfortunately, this is my belief I don’t have the hard statistics to show this, they are distractive. They’re probably looking at email and they are probably doing some other things while they are doing this course. And so they are not at their full bandwidth when they’re experience new materials.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. No I very much agree with that you don’t have to give it to me that, I mean any kind of data because I think everyone has experienced that so many times both as a learner and as a teacher. And so it sounds like your guidance is to really double down on simplicity and just take as a baseline that your participants are going to have limited attention, limited bandwidth.


Abe Crystal: And to make it as simple and accessible for them as a possible and that’s not dumping it down its actually making it the learning experience beneficial for them.

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. And it’s hard work it’s really, really hard work man, to take a complex subject and make it simpler and understandable and actionable man that’s the hardest work they’ll do. And here’s what I would want to say so there are some people ______ [00:26:33] that make the course like terrible and something like that. Here’s what I would want to say I’m going to use a different analogy, let’s imagine that it was a program about learning how to run.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: And let’s say Abe this is course is really taking you from not being able to run a mile to being able to run a mile in 10 minutes that’s what this course is about. If you show up and you’re already able to run a mile and you’re able to do it under 10 minutes and you buy the course and you’re frustrated because like you didn’t learn what you wanted to learn.


Charlie Gilkey: I’m sorry you weren’t paying attention the course was not for you. Now it takes a lot of discipline as the course developer and as the marketer to say it’s for this person for these people, this is who it’s for. You’re not those people don’t buy the course it’s not going to be good for you right. And so that’s the discipline that I would want to really encourage course creators to have because when you do that you can create that really, really phenomenal course for that person who can’t run a mile and definitely can’t do it in 10 minutes because you can’t run a mile. You could create the perfect course for them and exclude everybody else. Then you’re second course is okay you’re able to run at least a mile and you’re able to do so at least in 10 minutes. This course this next follow on course is going to help you go from 10 minutes to eight minutes boom. If you’re not and if you can’t run a mile and you can’t do it 10 minutes the course is not for you.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: If you’re still faster than that the course is not for you and then you’ve got a third course that takes you from eight minutes to six minutes.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: Very clear, very direct, you can make is simple you can give the homework you can do everything you need to do in those courses. It just requires you to be very clear about what I’d like to call the future positive state where you’re trying to take people from to right you’re trying to take it from one point to another, and really breaking it down. So the entire course is build around doing exactly that for exactly those people and nobody else.

Abe Crystal: And how did, I love that model how do you figure out that future positive state?

Charlie Gilkey: How do you figure it out? One, it’s knowing your customer and I know that’s sound not helpful, but you got to know your customer you got to know your student. If they know arithmetic then and you want to take them to learning geometry then you say you know arithmetic, I want to build upon that basis to teach you geometry. Sometimes it’s looking at your audience and it’s the pick a bird model from any ______ [00:29:00] right.


Charlie Gilkey: It’s like there are all these people you probably have a board audience of people it’s just figuring out okay this is where the authenticity comes from right. The people that you most want to serve that you got the native or the natural expertise to do so. That you have the natural interest to doing it and you know what I’m going to say okay pick a bird. In that case, if you’re really, really stuck go with what you know, for people who you are excited to work with and something that you can get done quickly because that’s pretty [ph] much all it amounts to. I mean the world is wide open when it comes to courses, it really is you can have in any given brand there’s room for more than I want to say here because it will overload a lot of people. So you don’t have to make these monolithic courses and have it one and done. It’s not good for you it’s not good for your reader. So that would be one thing. The other one thing that I can is you can ______ [00:29:53] your audience. Hey! What do you want to learn where are you trying to go and just ask them.


Charlie Gilkey: So we do this is PF, so we have several topics that they were interesting whether people want to learn it that’s part of the unnatural body of work. And so when they get the reader survey it’s like ______ [00:30:11] you want to learn, which of these six things and you can pick multiple ones. And over the course of time we get enough data that ______ [00:30:17] wait a second we have 50 people who want this. And we have 50 people who have replied [ph] to a survey there are probably a significantly larger number of people in that within the audience itself who didn’t reply to the survey. So let’s make that course…

Abe Crystal: Is there a ______ [00:30:34] a particular question or questions on your survey is that you found especially useful for getting meaningful insights from your audience?

Charlie Gilkey: The one that’s been the best addition for is recently is what type of product would you like us to create or what do you like to learn for these types or do you like to buy to do these types of things.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: And we have added that one because again it goes back to trying to find that product to market fit.


Charlie Gilkey: And that you can have a great idea, but it doesn’t match with the market one and that one has been the most powerful and then we just list sort of the things. We can do workshops, we can do speeches, we can do books, and action guides, we can do courses that’s really been the most powerful one for us in our level of brand development because it makes sure that we are making both the right thing in the right modality, and we don’t have that mismatch.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. That’s great. So ______ [00:31:34] lets shift gears here for a moment, so I want to also talk about a really interesting new idea that you had raised, which is this idea of course fatigue. And you mentioned that you’ve, about observing sort of fatigue among your audience and ecosystem [ph] in terms of how people are reacting to the number of courses offered to them I guess. So I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you came to that observation of course fatigue and why do you think that’s happening though?


Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. You know and I just reflected on why you are asking the question, like wow I sound really down and pessimistic today [ph] I’m not actually. I just like to know what the trends there and not try to pretend like there’s not a hole in the floor that you’re walking across.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. What, I think it’s very healthy too to either reexamine our assumptions. Sometimes it’s easy to assume that. Oh everyone wants to learn and there’s sort of endless demand for courses and I definitely believe there’s huge, huge opportunity, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t very carefully examine, where are there areas that we might need to improve as experts and course creators and find creative new approaches.

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah. Yeah. And I really appreciate the courage you have for having this conversation, given the product that supports this course and what you’re trying to do.


Charlie Gilkey: So that’s really healthy sort of this course here.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: So I’m going to start this with a few assumptions that will help make the case. One assumption is that in businesses especially online businesses we’ve got about a three year disruption cycle. So take any given thing that you might be doing that might be podcasting, it might be self publishing; it might be making pretty PDF e-books. It could be creating courses. They tend to follow through your disruption cycles. The first people are making it, are you really making it go the second year, excuse me the first year you see a crust [ph] in and people experimenting with it. You might have a few market leaders doing so. The second year you have a few more people adopting it as it’s becoming a bit more main stream. Then the third year everybody does it because it’s just best practice at that point. And about that time is when the market leaders have figured out that its best practice and its starting to get saturated and they’ll start doing something else to ______ [00:33:52] it. And so we see these disruption cycles happen quite frequently. I’ve been watching them since 2005.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: So that’s sort of one assumption there that there are disruption cycles. Second disruption cycle, second assumption here is that it really does, you have to look at this from the perspective of where you’re audience is as far as their exposure to these types of things. For instance if you’re in sort of the bloggerati or the twitterati that have been following that they might be much more fatigued about courses because they get so much of the information from so many different people, as opposed to people maybe boomers that are just not getting online and really adopting that. They might not have that type of fatigue as well.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: So what we have going on here is we have easier technology through services like Ruzuku, but then we UDomain, we have Skillshare. We have all these different services that are creating platforms for people to build produce courses, but also to take courses so we have going on. Technology makes it easier. Since its easier more people are doing it which means we’ve got the here comes everybody problem, that’s a reference to Clay Shirky brilliant book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, you might want to check it out.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: But basically the problem is it opens the floodgates and we see a lot more quantity of output of creative output and we also see generally less quality output. They are the standout people we see more like really truly remarkable things happen but we also see a lot of just mediocrity that happens with here comes everybody effect. And the third thing that I think is really led us to a bit more course fatigue is all of the different business advisors, people out there that are talking about courses being a really good thing to do right. And so you read the blog post from whomever and its like courses are great. I just launched this course and 80 gazillion people joined it and we sort of subconsciously say, wait a second courses are real good idea, so we do it too.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.


Charlie Gilkey: Without, this is where I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but without we assume that although many people don’t know how to create an effective learning, a learning experience. And so they are creating courses without knowing how to do it which is increasing sort of the level of poor quality courses and things like that, which is finally where the fatigue comes from. You got an increasing quantity from all the different sources, you’ve got a wide range of quality that you may or may not be able to assess, because the people who you think are great may produce a crappy course. People you don’t know about might make the stellar course lot of decision fatigue around that. And then there’s the amount of courses that you yourself or we ourselves have actually bought and not actually done. Right that there’s still that regret de-motivation whatever happens there, I think all of that comes together can create just what I talked to you about an email when you ask me about this, this is course fatigue.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: That you have to know about before you start creating courses. It’s not that you shouldn’t create a course, again it’s not saying avoid it at all cost it just know that it’s out there know how to make a really good course and know how to really address this concern that your audience may have.

Abe Crystal: Yeah. So it sounds like what your saying is don’t create courses reflexively because the latest business blogger or guru is telling you to do it. But do it mindfully as part of your business model and do it in a way that is focused. So you’re really designing courses for a very specific audience taking into account the point you mentioned about skill acquisition and about creating a really effective course. So maybe one strategy for example is to really go deep into your audience and say, who are sort of the more advanced or higher skill people in my audience.


Abe Crystal: How could I create a really focus course that will be super effective for them.

Charlie Gilkey: Yeah, exactly. And the thing about it is and you’re caught up in this from a pricing perspective, from a perception perspective. Yes there may only be 15 people in your audience that can handle a proficient or expert course. They won’t buy at 30 bucks though right, because it doesn’t match their expectations there might be a $300, $400, $1000 course for them at that level.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: Because that’s how much they’ve invested in their education and their expertise thus far. Right, so the numbers then, you have very careful with because and I say this a lot to my team and I say this a lot to people who are asking about PF, is I’ll take one of our creative giants. I’ll take one of our experts over a hundred of everybody else.   I want that one, right and not from the economics of it because like I can charge them a whole bunch of money but because that’s who we are and who we work for. Right and I don’t want to work with people who are not who we are and who we’re for because it makes me, like not work well with the people of who are we and who we’re for.


Charlie Gilkey: So that’s how you can kind of play that game there is just really be super clear and the way I like to say it sometimes in a competitive landscape is go where the air is thinner. Like if people are doing a bunch of the easy things they are going after the aspiration mark that they are making the one on one level course’s and they are doing it well. Then you can either decide to jump into that market place and compete, I know there are plenty of teachers on here who don’t like the idea of competition, but okay. It’s a part of the nature of business expect there’s competition there’s cooperation, there are both sides of this business coin, you got to know both right. So you could either choose to enter this big market place where everybody is teaching, for instance I’ll pick on the sort of entrepreneurial audience here where everybody is teaching how to start a business. Right there are many, many courses of how to start a business.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.


Charlie Gilkey: There are very few courses on how to develop a solid team that performs for ______ [00:40:06] entrepreneurship audience. Why? Well because they are far fewer people who are at that point of business maturity that they are thinking about that. So ______ [00:40:14] doing it and its hard to teach by the way, trust me I teach it, it’s hard. So you can go where the air thinner, but you have to have that expectation that is going to require to climb up the mountain a little bit more and to maybe have a longer game, but it might be the game that’s right for you. I’m going to pause here for a second because there’s an assumption it’s a critical assumption. Let me tell you a story real quick before I tell other assumption Abe just because I like wasting your time. I was talking to a reader who was asking about how to grow their blog and different things like that and it came down to the fact that he didn’t like writing. He started a business about blog but when it came down to it he did not like writing.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.


Charlie Gilkey: To which I had to tactfully say being a written blogger is not for you. If you don’t like writing blog, make a podcast, make art, do other different things like that but don’t do the things that you don’t like to do as a business, you will hate yourself. And you won’t get the results, so the assumption that we have here about this authentic teaching thing, is it that you actually like teaching or you’re at least open to the possibility that you might like teaching. If you know you don’t like teaching don’t make a course. Don’t get into the situation in which you’re going to have to do the thing you don’t want to do. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes you need to remind yourself that like you don’t like doing it or you’re doing it because it worked for somebody else. For instance Seth earlier this year launched a course on Skillsharing and he had, because he’s Seth he had something like I think it was something like a 100,000 people joined the course.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: Which I think opened up a lot of things for Skillshare but it was also one of those things where like you have to understand that the market leaders that you’re following might be able to get better results than you and that’s okay. They had button [ph] seat time longer they developed an audience longer, it doesn’t mean you won’t get there. But don’t just look at other people’s external results and say I want that so I’m going to do the same thing they did because you don’t know behind the scenes thing. You don’t know if they liked teaching, you don’t know if they’ve been working on this for 10 years. It’s a lot you don’t know so start with you, what you enjoy what you’re naturally good at and come from a place of service. I know it sounds obvious, but there we go.

Abe Crystal: No. I don’t think it’s not obvious I think there’s so much noise around this external results that it’s easy for them to intrude on your consciousness and lead you away from sort of your North Star [ph] as an authentic expert.


Charlie Gilkey: Yeah.

Abe Crystal: Well coming to the end of time here, but I want to sort lead people back to this path of moving forward, making progress on the courses that are called to create. Since you have so much experience you know working with creative people and helping them through their creative projects, I was wondering if you had any advice or guidance for someone who has a great course idea, but is having trouble moving forward.

Charlie Gilkey: Okay. I’m going to give three steps I was only supposed to give one, but I always have to steal [ph] from Abe’s [ph] I’m going to give three.

Abe Crystal: I’ll take them.

Charlie Gilkey: One is, be crystal clear about who the course is for. We talked about that throughout that course. Know when you were taking them before you start making the course.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: Two once you know where you are taking them come up with a very minimal ______ [00:43:57] of information that they need to know to get there.


Charlie Gilkey: And then three give them exercises for application, other information that you taught [ph]. Give them homework give them work sheets, give them some exercises that they can do, so they can move from knowing to doing because with that jump from knowing to doing is where integration happens for so many people.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: The way I’d like to say it is topic give them a piece of homework that they can do in 30 minutes because you want to give them quick wins, you don’t want to make your course the thing, right there’s this big capital T thing that they are not getting to. So have some really good discipline around that because you’re working with people who are busy. It might be a bit overloaded, they might have to make choices about how they spend their time, but they really, really do want to learn. They really do want to like have that transformation happen. So come from a place of service that way and its way better to make 20 small courses that one course it has 20 courses within it.


Abe Crystal: Mm-mm. So if you’re feeling if you’re feeling stuck on your course if you feel like it’s getting out of hand perhaps step back and say what’s a quick win that a predecessor in my course could get? And what a question I could ask them or an exercise you give a person [ph] in my course that would help them get that to quick win?

Charlie Gilkey: Absolutely if you think you have too much content you have too much content.

Abe Crystal: Mm-mm.

Charlie Gilkey: And there is always as a teacher and as a sort of servant teacher here coming up with an exercise for application that’s optional, but gives people the chance to really apply is great, make a game out of it and let people celebrate that’s the thing that we don’t do enough. Right when we don’t have these applications like they sit through that four week course there’s no point for celebration, they can’t share with each other, they get stuck and de-motivated. And all of a sudden your course gets to the bottom of their pile to do, which means they don’t get the results, which means you didn’t accomplish your mission in making change happen.


Charlie Gilkey: And it’s unlikely that next time around they are going to buy that course again because they remember that they didn’t finish the one before that. So help people finish, help people get results help people celebrate, you’re going to have a great course.

Abe Crystal: I think that’s a great place to end it. So thanks so much for sharing your experience and insight, it’s been a really, really helpful and I hope it motivates people to create these courses that really make a difference. Where can folks go to learn more about you and your work and your courses?

Charlie Gilkey: ______ [00:46:32] that is Charlie or ______ [00:46:33] that’s Productive Flourishing that’s I’m also across the social media sphere, I use Twitter more than anything else and that’s at Charlie Gilkey. If you found value on this call or out of this interview definitely hook me up. Say hi, I love to learn what you learned and so that we can share and really make some courses that transform people because that’s what I’m about and I hope this helps you do the same.


Abe Crystal: Thanks again for listening today I hope you found that interview to be refreshing maybe even a little provocative. What I love about Charlie’s approach is that he’s fearless in challenging assumptions and biases that limit our thinking. So you can check out Now to get our top 10 takeaways from the interview, so you can start applying Charlie’s guidance as you design your own online programs.