Today Corey sits down with Marie Poulin, CEO of Oki Doki. Marie begins by talking about Oki Doki’s primary product, Notion Mastery. Corey and Marie talk about their mutual diagnosis - ADHD - and how it has impacted their work. They discuss techniques they’ve developed for working with their brains instead of against them. Marie talks about the importance of being excited about the tools you’re using, and they wrap up the conversation with a discussion on educating consumers versus just selling a product.
Full Description / Show Notes
- Marie talks about Oki Doki’s primary product, Notion Mastery (2:38)
- Corey and Marie talk ADHD diagnosis and how it has impacted their lives and work (4:26)
- Marie and Corey discuss techniques they’ve developed for coping with ADHD (11:22)
- Corey and Marie talk about workarounds for people with ADHD who want to adopt something like Notion (16:13)
- Marie discusses the importance of being excited about the tools you’re employing (18:54)
- Corey and Marie talk about finding tools that work for you (26:43)
- Marie and Corey discuss the unique challenge of teaching skills versus dumping knowledge (30:35)
About Marie Poulin
Marie teaches business owners to level up their digital systems, workflow, and knowledge management processes using Notion.
She’s the co-founder of Oki Doki
and creator of Notion Mastery
, an online program and community that helps creators, entrepreneurs and small teams tame their work + life chaos by building life and business management systems with Notion.
Diagnosed with ADHD at age 37, Marie is especially passionate about helping folks customize their workflows and workspaces to meet their unique needs and preferences.
She believes that Notion is especially powerful for neurodivergent folks who have long struggled to adhere to traditional or rigid project management processes, and may need a little extra customization and flexibility.
When she's not tinkering in Notion or doing live trainings, you can find her in the garden, playing video games, or cooking up some delicious vegetarian tacos.
Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.
Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by Honeycomb
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. Today I’m joined by Marie Poulin, the CEO of Oki Doki
. Marie, thank you for joining me.
Marie: Thank you for having me. I’m excited.
Corey: So, let’s start at the very beginning. What does Oki Doki do? And for folks listening that is O-K-I D-O-K-I, so you might want to have to think about that if you’re doing the Google approach of, “What is this thing?”
Marie: Well, at the moment, the majority of our products and services are surrounded by helping people learn how to use Notion to manage their life and business. So, it’s only a pivot that we took in the last couple of years, and so our signature program is a course called Notion Mastery. So, there’s four full-time employees now and that’s what we do. We design live trainings, we have a forum, we have a curriculum. It’s all products and services related to Notion.
Corey: That is an interesting pivot that you can wind up going through. Please tell me I’m not the first person to make the observation that you called it Oki Doki and you’ve turned yourself around.
Marie: [laugh]. You are the first, Corey? [laugh].
Corey: Oh, good. I am broken like that, so that’s kind of awesome. So, you’ve been more or less doing—I don’t know the best way to frame this, so my apologies if I’m getting it wrong—but the idea of well, what are you selling? Knowledge. You’re selling an understanding of how to improve things, you’re selling a better outcome.
And it’s easy to look at that and say, “Oh, you’re selling education.” No, you’re selling understanding. Education is the way that you get there because at least at the moment, you can’t just jack gigabytes of data directly into people’s head without going to prison for it. Or raising a whole boatload of VC money.
Marie: [laugh]. I mean, you can also say you’re kind of selling an outcome, right? You’re selling this future version of who someone wants to be. And so, we talk a lot about—you know, on our sales page, we get a lot of compliments on our sales page, but just speaking to the scattered mind, you know, feeling like a shitshow, feeling like you don’t really have all your data in one place. You know, it’s learning how to improve your workflow at work but also in life as well.
And so, a lot of our language speaks to the sort of future version of yourself. Like, stop feeling scattered, stop feeling stretched thin. Let’s actually get it so that you turn things into a well-oiled machine. So, you could say we’re selling a dream. [laugh].
Corey: This is an interesting direction to take this conversation in because I don’t normally talk about this. But why not; we’ll give it a shot. It’s been sufficiently long since the last time. Last year—you’ve been very public about this—you were diagnosed with ADHD. I periodically talk about the fact that I was diagnosed with it myself—back when it was called ADD—when I was five years old.
So, growing up I always knew that there was something neurodivergent about me. And the lesson I took away from this, as someone growing up with a lot of the limitations—yes, there are advantages but at the time, all I saw were limitations—about, “Well, what is ADHD?” It’s like, oh, okay. They sat down and explained it to me. And it’s not what they said, but it was, “See, this is the medical reason why you suck.”
And that was not the most constructive way of framing it. In adulthood, talking to other people who have been diagnosed with this, especially later in life. There’s a—it’s a spectrum disorder. It winds up impacting an awful lot of people differently, but the universal experience that I hear is, wait, you mean there’s a reason that I am the way that I am? It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s not that I’m shitty at things. It’s not that I’m—
Corey: —careless. And that is one of those things that just is transformative. I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I was to be diagnosed that early on because trying to try to figure out why am I getting fired all the time? Why do I get bored doing the same thing too many days in a row, so I start causing problems for other people? What is going on with this? Why do I have this incredible opposition to anything that remotely resembles authority, et cetera, et cetera?
Not all of this might be ADHD traits, but here I am. And my only solution after, you know, deciding that I didn’t really want to set a world record for number of times getting fired was, well, I guess I’ll start my own company because that at least to get fired, it’s going to take some work. You figured this out while you were already self-employed.
Corey: What was that like?
Marie: What was it like to find out that I finally had an answer or reason for, maybe, past behaviors? [laugh].
Corey: Right. Because it’s the simultaneous, “Oh, my God, there’s a reason that I am like I am,” and then followed immediately by, “I still am the way that I am. Huh. Okay.” It feels like it helps things, but it also doesn’t help things. But it does, and it comes back around. What was your experience with it?
Marie: Yeah, it started because I was doing research to understand my sister better because she had been diagnosed with ADHD for a couple years. It made so much sense once I kind of understood and started researching a little bit more about it. And then, of course, doing my deep-dive research. I’m hearing all these traits that I’m like, “Oh. Wait, that does really sound like me.” The not being able to wake—
Corey: What do you [mean 00:07:01]—
Marie: —up in the morning—
Corey: ADHD trait? Everyone does that. Wait.
Marie: [laugh]. Yeah. When you said that enough times, you’re like, “Oh, wait. Maybe this is not normal.” Or you don’t really know what is—what is normal anyway, right? So, in doing that research, trying to connect with her, trying to understand her experience better, I just started learning about more and more of these traits.
I also knew a shit ton of people in our course, had mentioned that they had ADHD in their intake form, and I was like, what is it about people that ADHD that are actually drawn to my YouTube videos or my way of explaining things? And I started to learn a little bit more; it’s quite common for folks with ADHD to be drawn to one another, probably because of our communication styles, even the sort of mild interrupting, or kind of the way we banter together. There’s different styles of communicating that I think often folks with ADHD are maybe drawn to one another or have an easier time understanding one another. So, listening to some of these symptoms, I was like, “Wait a second.” Because my sister and I are so different in the way our symptoms present.
I thought, “Well, that’s what ADHD looks like.” It’s pure unbridled chaos and unfiltered. And I just had this idea of what it looked like because she was one of the few examples that I had. Meanwhile, I’m skipping grades, I’m in the gifted program, I’m off, you know, doing my own thing. It looked very different.
I thought, “Oh, people with ADHD don’t thrive in university,” or whatnot. So, I had a lot of assumptions that I had to unpack. And I think the one, sort of, I don’t know, symptom that kind of twinged something in my brain was extreme difficulty getting up in the morning and even sort of waking up your brain in the morning. This has been a problem with jobs, it’s been a problem was school, getting to school on time, getting to work on time. Similar to you, it has caused job loss, it has caused tension with partners. They don’t understand, like, why can’t you get out of bed and seize the day?
And I just thought, “There’s something weird going on there with my body.” But I can be, you know, wide awake at 7 p.m. and I’m, like, ready to go. And I can hyperfocus for days on end. So, just noticing some of these symptoms and kind of unpacking it a bit, I thought, “Okay, there’s something to go a little deeper in here.”
Corey: I have trouble getting up, but I’m almost never late. That one does not hit me in quite the same way. In fact—
Corey: —my first consulting clients, and I’d been building—I was independent for two weeks at that point, and I was in an in-person meeting in San Francisco and one day, I showed up 20 minutes late, and he just stared at me. “You’re never late. What’s the deal here?” And it’s like, “Yeah, I had trouble getting up this morning.” That was a lie.
I was able to tell him about three or four months later, that morning, I found out I was going to be a father. And that was an—you know, it turns out that I was going to be okay being late, but it was so early, you didn’t want to tell anyone, yet. But it was—yeah, it’s one of those things where that was more important than—
Corey: —doing the work thing. But I still remember, yeah, I feel like I’m always about to be late but apparently my reputation is, I never am, so okay. I’ll take it. That is a—again, it is a spectrum disorder. I also—
Corey: —further there want to call out for viewers, listeners, et cetera, a couple of things. One, this is not mental health advice. If any of the stories we’re telling resonate, talk to a qualified mental health professional. Secondly, I want to be clear as well here, Marie, that you and I both have significant advantages when it comes to dealing with these things. We both run our own companies, we can effectively restructure the way that we work in ways that are more accommodating for what we do.
It turns out that in my employment days, that was never really a solution where, “Yeah, I decided I’m not going to wind up doing the on-call checklist every day. It doesn’t resonate with me.”
Marie: “Just not feeling like it.”
Corey: “It’s doing the same thing too many days in a row. And yeah, I’m not going to check the backups, either. What do you mean ‘I’m fired?’” yeah, it turns out, you’re not able to—you’re empowered to make those kinds of sweeping changes in the same way.
Corey: So, this is not advice for people. This is simply a pair of experience reports, the way I view it.
Marie: Absolutely. I sort of feel like self-employment wasn’t necessarily a choice, in a way. It just felt like that’s the only way I'm going to be able to operate in this world. I need some more sense of control and say in how I structure my days, how I structure my work, being able to switch things up, being able to pivot quickly. I knew that I was going to need more control over that. So yeah, pretty unemployable over here. [laugh].
Corey: So, once you wound up with the diagnosis, what happened next? What changes did you make that wound up resonating for you, things that were actionable? And, yeah, you’ve been very public about it as well. I want to highlight that. I’m not, for the most part.
And part of that is because I internalized growing up that it was somehow a shameful thing that we don’t talk about. And the other part of it, too, on some level, was I didn’t want to turn it into a part of my brand identity, where, “Oh, yeah, Corey is very hard to describe.” So, people thrash around and look for labels to slap on me. ‘Shitposter’ seems to have stuck rather well. Because as soon as people feel that they have a label for something, it becomes easier to classify and then dismiss it.
It’s aspects of my personality. It’s who I am. I don’t think of it as a disorder so much as it is part and parcel of who and what I am. And it turns out that being me is not—yet—a medically recognized diagnosis. So, I’m cautious to avoid the labeling aspect of it.
But you have very publicly not, if not going for the label, you at least embraced it as an aspect of who you are, and you’ve been very vocal about your experiences and telling people how you have overcome aspects of this. It’s admirable. I wish I did more of it, honestly.
Marie: I think it’s kind of essential, I think, in the nature of what we’re teaching. Like, when we’re teaching people to become more organized and we know that executive dysfunction is one of the signs or, you know, issues with ADHD, to me it sort of recontextualized why I became so freakin’ obsessed with systems and organization: because I never felt organized. I always felt the sense of what is the stuff come so easy to other people? Why is it taking me so much longer? Why am I spending nights, evenings, taking courses about systems like I’m trying to understand how to give my life structure?
And so, in a way, the way I have become organized was trial by fire, just teaching myself, learning, you know, getting coaches. Like, I literally had a systems coach to teach myself how to get my business organized. So, I had kind of obsessed over it, like a hyperfocus. And so, realizing that other people are struggling with this and there’s a reason that people with ADHD are coming to the course seeking that sense of control. And so, learning that I had it, I was like, oh, this actually [laugh] does explain, in a way, my obsession with this or my curiosity about this, of, like, why does this come easy to some other people? Why do some people need to study this and learn this? Like, what is it about that?
And so, I sort of felt like it would be doing a disservice if I didn’t kind of name it and talk about it and say, well, this actually colors a lot of my opinions. This actually influences the way I approach organization or even productivity, not from a timing perspective, but from an energy management perspective. I didn’t realize that was something that I’m doing. I’m not managing time, we’re managing Marie’s energy. And even my team is learning how to do that, too.
So, I was like, “Oh, that actually makes a ton of sense.” And it also makes sense why some people won’t resonate with this energy management thing or might think I’m going way too far down a rabbit hole on something and they’re like, “Why can’t people just do what they say?” Like, you don’t understand, some of us need to trick ourselves into being productive. And this is how I’ve learned to do that. So, it was just kind of a funny recontextualizing or uncovering, oh, our brains operate very differently. And even within ADHD, people’s brains operate differently, so how do we get people moving toward progress, but knowing that we kind of need different ways of doing that. So, it’s just been kind of an interesting process.
Corey: There’s a fairly common experience report from folks who have ADHD that when they’re kids, their memory is generally very good with a number of expressions of it, so we form our self-image in a lot of those times. And then for the rest of our lives, we tell ourselves the same lie, regardless of how many times it has proven to be a lie. And that lie is, “I don’t need to write this down. I’ll remember it.”
Marie: Oh yes.
Corey: “No, Corey, you will not remember it. You need to write it down. I promise.” And, for example, right now—I finally gave in and technology leapt ahead to the point where my entire life is run by Google Calendar—specifically three or four of them—that all route through Fantastical—which is the app I use—but it winds up grabbing my attention at the right time. It tells me what I need to do, when, and how, and it’s wonderful.
Because if it’s not on my calendar, it does not happen.
Corey: Like, I will forget our anniversary, my kids’ birthdays, to pick my children up from school. We are talking about, if it is not on my calendar, it does not happen. That is the one system that has been forced on me that worked. Then we—let’s talk about Notion for a minute because I looked at it briefly a few years ago, and it is one in the long, long, long list of tools or approaches or systems that I have played with and then discarded to act as basically an auxiliary brain pack. I used Evernote for a while and that sort of worked because I just would do different notes all the time and I’d wind up with 3000 of those things, and then the app gets bloaty and I move on to something else.
For the last five years or so I’ve been using Drafts, a Mac slash iOS app, that only does text, which makes image management and attaching things kind of hard, but okay. And that’s great, and now I have 5000 of those in my [back 00:16:25] folder, not categorized or organized anyway, so I focus instead on well, search for terms and hope I use the term I thought I did at the time. And so, every time I’ve tried to use something like Notion, it’s yeah, this requires a way of thinking that I know I will get excited about if I look at it, and in a month, I’ll be right back to where I am now. So, there’s only so many times you go on the same ride before you know how it ends. How do y—like, that feels like a very common experience. How did you fix it?
Marie: I think at the core though, you kind of have to be excited about the tool that you’re using. And so, I don’t think—Notion is not going to be an exciting fun tool for everyone. Some people are going to be like, “I don’t want to frickin’ build my productivity system. Are you kidding me? Like, just give me something that works out of the box.” Absolutely.
But I think there’s something about the visual components of Notion. Like, I am a designer; I went to design school. I think I’m—it’s almost like something doesn’t click until I see it in the way that I need to see it. And that’s something I’ve learned about my brain is just, sometimes the same information can be presented to me, but if it’s not in a visual way, or whether it’s not spaced in the right way, my brain just kind of ignores it or it gets overwhelmed by it. And so, for me that visual aspect actually helps me learn.
I’m priming my brain, I’m making my goals front and center. The fact that I can design it the way I need my brain to see it is part of its appeal to me. But I also recognize that’s not something everyone gets excited about. They’re not drawn to it. I’m all for using the tool that works the way that your brain is going to work.
I get excited about making databases. I get excited about building glossaries of information to help me learn things. Like, for me, that’s part of my learning and part of my process and it’s just kind of what I’m used to, but I fully acknowledge, like, that stuff does not get everybody excited.
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Corey: There’s something very key you’re talking about here, which is the idea of having to be excited about what it is that you do. I look at the things that I do professionally, and if I didn’t deeply enjoy them, they would not get done, and I would have pivoted long ago to something else. People wonder why—
Corey: —I make fun of so many things in the tech ecosystem. The honest answer is because if I just tell the dry, boring version of it, I will get bored because it’s a fairly boring field. Whereas instead, okay, someone releases a new thing. Great. How do I keep it interesting for me? How do I find a way to tell that story?
How do I find a way to, in turn, build that into something that, in turn, I can start dragging in different directions and opening up to new ways of talking without going too far? It’s always a razor’s edge, it’s always a bit of a mind puzzle, and it’s always different. I love that. That’s why I do it. It’s not for the audience so much as it is for myself. Because if I’m not engaged, no one else is going to care what I have to say.
Marie: Absolutely. And I think that’s a huge part of ADHD as well which is that interest-based nervous system, right? It’s like we have to [laugh] trick ourselves into finding the excitement in it or whatever that looks like for each of us. But just if I’m not motivated, if I’m not excited about it—writing email newsletters doesn’t get me excited; I’m like, “Okay, do I need to hire someone to do this?” Or how can I find a way to do it, whether it’s—if making a video is more fun or easy, great.
How can I, you know, make content do double-duty in that way? So yeah, I’m always trying to find ways to incentivize myself to do the things that need to get done, even though they may not be the most exciting. But step one is actually run a business that is based on something that you love doing. Which not everyone, maybe, has the privilege to do, but I think everything about the way I’ve designed my business model and the services that we offer is, don’t offer services you don’t really want to offer. Don’t make products that you don’t want to maintain, you’re not excited about. So, it’s definitely a core part of kind of how we design our whole business model.
Corey: For me, a big part of it has always been just trying to make sure that I’m doing the things that engage me. And this is where that whole idea of being in a very privileged position enters into it. Take this podcast slash video right now, as a terrific example. I’m having this conversation, I have an entire system when I wind up sending a link to someone, it fires off Calendly, that hides webhooks and gets a whole bunch of other things set up. I show up, we have a conversation before the show to figure out just this is the general ebb and flow of the show. Here’s the generalized topics we want to talk about. Let’s dive in.
And we finish the recording session. Great, I wind up closing the window and that’s the last time I generally think about it. Because everything else has been automated. If anything other than me having this conversation with you does not need to be me, I there is no differentiated value in me being the person that does the audio engineering. It turns out, I can pay people who are world’s better than I am at that, who actually enjoy it as opposed to viewing it as unnecessary chore, and I can do things that I find more appealing, like shitposting about a $1.108 trillion—
Corey: Company. It comes down to find the thing, the differentiation point, and find ways to make sure you don’t have to do the other parts of it. But that is not a path that’s available to everyone in every context. And again, I’m talking about this in a professional sense. I still have to do a whole bunch of stuff as I go through the course of my life that is not differentiated, but I can’t very well hire someone to get me dressed in the morning. Well, I can but I feel like that becomes a little bit out of the scope of the lived human experience most of the [crosstalk 00:22:29].
Marie: [laugh]. Absolutely. I feel like that’s one thing I sort of regret not doing earlier is hiring someone to work with. So, the very first hire that I made was my chief of operations, and oh my gosh, the things that she took on that I used to do that I’m like, how on earth did I do that before? Because now that you do that, and you do it way faster, I just got to wonder, like, how the heck did I ever convince myself to do those activities?
I don’t want to do touch spreadsheets, I don’t want to [laugh] deal with that stuff. I don’t want to, you know, email reminders, or whatever it is. There’s so many activities that she handles that I just… I would be happy to never touch again. And so, I sort of wish I had explored that earlier, but I was in that lone wolf, like, I got this. I’m going to run my own business solo forever.
And, you know, I just sort of thought it’s difficult to work with me or because of the way that I work, I don’t know how to delegate. Like, it’s all in your head. I just didn’t really know how to do that. So, that process, I think, takes a while. That first hire when you’re going from solo person to okay, now we’re two; how do we work together? Okay, who else can we hire? What other activities can I get other people to do? So, that’s been a process, for sure.
Corey: Mike Julian, my business partner who you know, is a very process-driven person. He is very organized. His love language is Microsoft Excel, as I frequently tease him with. And one of the—not the only factor by a landslide, but one of the big early factors of what would—okay, I know what I’d do. What would Mike do here?
Part of it is the never-ending litany of mail I get from the state around things like taxes, business registration, the rest. And normally my response when I get those, is I look at it, and it’s like, “Welp, I’m going to fucking prison. That’s the end of it. The end.” Because it’s not that I don’t have the money to pay my taxes, I assure you. What, I don’t have it—because I—financial planning is kind of part and parcel of how we think about cloud economics.
But no, it’s the fact that I’m not going to sit there, fill out the form, put a stamp on it—or God forbid, fax it somewhere—and the rest. It’s not the paying of the taxes that bothers me it is the paperwork and the process and the heavy lift associated with getting the executive function necessary to do it. So, it never gets done and deadlines slide by. And Mike was good at that for a time, and then he took the more reasonable approach about this of, “Huh. Seems to me like a lot of this stuff is not differentiated value that I need to be doing either.”
So, we have a CFO who handles a lot of that stuff now and other operational folks. And it turns out that yeah, wow, there’s a lot—I can—the quality of what I put out is a lot better because I get to focus on things instead of having to deal with the ebb and flow minutia of running payroll myself every week.
Marie: Oh, yeah. All of that is very relatable. And this is why I can’t do paper in the office. I think this is why I just moved my entire brain online. It’s like if there’s paper, stamps, anything related to having to go [laugh] to a post office to mail something. I think I still have the stack of thank you cards from our wedding from, you know, five years ago. So, yeah. [laugh].
Corey: That you haven’t sent out yet. Of course.
Marie: Yes, exactly.
Corey: Exact same—sorry, people 13—11 years ago, whenever it was.
Marie: I’m so sorry.
Corey: Yeah, one of these years. Yeah, and see, that’s exactly how I treat things like Drafts or Notion, if I were to use it, or something else is great, it’s still going to be the digital equivalent of a giant pile of paper. The thing is that computers can search through the contents of that paper a hell of a lot faster than I can, even with my own, at times, uncanny reading speed. There’s some value to that. So, understanding how the systems work and having them bend to accommodate you, rather than trying to fool yourself in half to work within the confines of an existing system, that seems to be the direction that you’re taking Notion in, specifically in the context of it is not prescriptive.
And, on some level, that’s kind of the problem I have with it. Whenever I try the getting started for us, it’s, “Great, you can build your own system.” It’s like, “Isn’t that your job? What am I missing here?” Because the scariest thing I ever see when it’s time for you to write a blog post or whatnot is an empty editor. It’s, where do I get started? Where’s the rest?
I even built a template that I wind up sometimes using text expander to autofill, that gets me started. And it’s just get—once I get started, it’s great. It’s hard to get me started; it’s hard to get me to stop, in case no one has been aware of that. But it’s been understanding how I work and how that integrates with it. I’m curious, given that you do talk to people who are trying to build these systems for a living for themselves? How common is my perspective on this? Am I out there completely, this unique, beautiful Snowflake? Is it yeah, that’s basically everyone? Or somewhere in between?
Marie: Oh, I definitely don’t think you’re alone with that. And again, I often will dissuade people from taking on Notion. I’m like, “Oh, if you’re just looking for a note-taker, or you’re just looking for something else,” or, “Your tools are already working for you, great. Keep using them.” So, I think it’s quite common. I don’t think Notion is the right tool for everyone.
I think it’s great for very visual people like myself, people that it matters how you are seeing your information, and how much information you’re seeing, and you want more control over that, that’s great. For me, I like the integration. I know that as soon as I’m bouncing around to different tools, like, I just already feel kind of scattered, so I was like, how can I pull everything that I need into these, sort of, singular dashboards. So, my approach is very dashboard-focused. Okay, Marie is going into content mode, it’s time to write a blog. Go to the content hub. On the content hub is your list of most recent ideas, your templates for how to write a blog post. There’s resources for creating video. It’s already there for me; I’m not having to start from scratch like you said.
But again, it took time to build that up for myself. So, I think you’re not alone, and I think some people get excited about that building process; other people get irritated by it, and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer. It’s just how do our brains work? Know thyself. And, yeah, I’ve sort of—I think also in a way, something that’s a little different, maybe, about the way that I use Notion is I think of it as a personal development tool.
It is a tool for making me better in different ways. It’s for exploring my interests, it’s for feeding my curiosity, it’s for looking at change over time. I track my feelings every day. I’ve been journaling for 1300 days in a row, which is probably the only thing I’ve done consistently in my life [laugh] in the last couple of years. But now I can look and I can see trends over time in a really beautiful and visual way. And I just, to me, it’s like a curiosity tool, to see, like, where am I going? Where have I been? What do I want more of?
Corey: I need to look into this a bit more because my idea of a well-designed user interface is—I’m very opinionated on this—but it comes down to the idea of where do you use nouns versus verbs in command-line arguments to things you’re running in the terminal. Because I was a grumpy Unix sysadmin for the first part of my career—because there’s no other kind of Unix sysadmin—and going down that path was great. Okay, everything I’m interacting with is basically a text file piped together to do different things. And it took a while for me to realize, you know, maybe—just spitballing here—there’s a better way to convey information than a wall of text, sometimes. Blasphemy.
And no, no, it turns out that just because it’s hard using the tools I’m used to doesn’t mean that’s the best way to convey information. And even now, these days, I’m spending more time getting the color theme and the font choices and typeface choices of what I’m doing in the terminal to represent something that’s a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Does it actually account for anything? I don’t know, but it feels better and there’s almost a Feng Shui element of it. Similar to work in a—
Corey: Clean office versus a messy one.
Marie: A hundred percent. I think that’s kind of how I think of an approach. I am much more likely to get the things done. If, when I come in and I open Notion, it’s like, “Here’s what’s on today, Marie.” And it’s like speaking nicely to me, there’s little positive messages, there’s beautiful imagery.
It just makes me feel good when I’m starting my day. And knowing that how I feel is going to very much influence what I’m likely to accomplish in the day, again, I’m constantly tricking myself into getting [laugh] more excited and amped up about what’s on the schedule for the day. So, I really liked that about it. It feels beautiful to me.
Corey: I’m going to have to take another look at it at some point. I think that there’s a lot of interesting directions to go into on this. I also have the privilege of having known you for a little while, back when you were more or less just getting started. One of the things that you said at the time that absolutely resonated with me was the idea of, wait, you mean build a business around teaching people how to use Notion? Like an info product or a training approach?
And a lot of your concerns are the ones that I’ve harbored for a while, too, which is the idea of there’s a proliferation of info products in technical and other spaces, and an awful lot of them—without naming any names or talking in any particular direction—are not the highest quality. People are building these courses while learning the thing themselves. And when they tell stories about it, it’s all about, “And this is how I’m making money quickly.” I don’t find that admirable; I don’t necessarily want to learn how to do a thing from someone who does not have themselves at least a decent understanding themselves of what they’re working on so they can address questions that go a bit off into the weeds. And so mu—again, knowing how to do a thing and knowing how to teach a thing are orthogonal concepts. And very often a lot of these info products are being created by people who don’t really know how to do either, as best I can tell.
Marie: Yes. So, I think you’ve nailed a point to that, knowing a thing deeply and then knowing how to teach that thing really well are two totally different skills. And I definitely bumped up against that myself. I’m like, I know, Notion inside and out. Like, you know, name something, I can make it, I can optimize it, I can, you know, build a system out of thin air really fast, no problem. I’m a problem solver that way.
But to teach someone else how to do that requires very different skills. And I knew [laugh] as I was starting to teach people stuff, I’m like, “You could do this. You could do that.” And I’m like kind of bouncing around and I’m all over the place because I’m so excited about the possibilities. But wait a second.
Beginners that are just learning how to use Notion don’t need to know every frickin’ possible way that you could use it. So, knowing that instructional design, curriculum design is a whole other skill, and I care about student results, it’s like, this is a gap that I have, and I want to be an excellent teacher. It matters to me. I actually do want to become a better teacher. I want to have higher quality YouTube videos, I want to make sure that I’m not losing people along the way.
I don’t just care about making a shit ton of money with an info product; I care about peoples’ experience and kind of having that, I don’t know, that prestige element. Like, that’s something that does matter in terms of producing quality products. So, I hired experts to help me do that because again, it’s a not necessarily a strength of mine. So, I think I hired three different people in the course of six months to various consultants and people who understand learning design and that sort of thing. And I think that’s something a lot of info product creators. They think of it as just packaging a blog and selling it, right?
It’s different. When you’re teaching a course, for example, your formatting matters, how you display information matters, how you design activities matters. What separates a course from a passive income product or blog, right? We need to think about those things, and I think a lot of people are just like, what’s the quickest, you know, buck that I can make on these products and just kind of turn them out. And I don’t think every course creator has maybe done the extra legwork to really understand what makes students actually follow through and complete a course. It’s hard. It’s really hard.
Corey: And these are also very different products. There’s what you are teaching, which is here’s how to contextualize these things and how to build a system around it. There’s another offering out there that would be something that would also be very compelling from my perspective where, cool, I appreciate the understanding and the deep systems design approach that goes into this. Can I just give you a brain dump of all the problems that I have with this? You go away and build a system that accounts for all of that.
And again, it’s the outcome that I care about. There’s this belief that oh we want consultants to build by the hour and work hard. No. I don’t care. If you listen to this, nod and do the great customer service thing, the Zoom call, and just like, “Okay, that’s template number three with three one-line changes. Done. Now, we’re going to sit on it for a week so it looks hard.”
Which we’ve all got that as consultants in the early days. And then you turn that around because it’s the outcome that I really care about. But that’s a different business, that is a different revenue model, that is different—
Corey: That is not nearly so much a one-to-many, like an info product. That is a one-to-one or one-to-few.
Marie: And I did that for the whole first year that the course was being developed and was out there. I was simultaneously consulting with people one-on-one all the time, with teams, with individuals. So, I’m learning about what are all those common challenges that keep popping up over and over again? What are the unique challenges? What are the common ones?
And in my experience, what I bumped up against is people think they want to just pay someone to solve that, but then when you give someone a very fleshed out, organized system that they didn’t participate in the building, it’s a lot harder to get somebody to use it, to plug into a ready-made system. So, in our experience, there’s a sort of back and forth. It has to happen in tandem; we do it over time. And you know, in my partner’s case, Ben does consulting with companies as well, so he’ll meet with them on a weekly basis and working with the different members of the team. So, there is some element of we built you a thing. Let’s have you use it, notice where there’s gaps, friction, whatever, because it’s not a one-and-done process.
It’s not like, “You gave me all the info. We’re good to go.” It’s not until people are using it that you’re like, “Oh, okay, that’s close, but I’m finding myself doing this, or avoiding this, or clicking around too much.” And so, to me, it’s a really organic process. But that’s not something that I’m as keen to do. And maybe it’s because I did it for, like, two years and kind of burnt out on it. I’m like, “I’m done. Like, I’d rather teach folks to do it themselves.” But so a partner does the consulting; I’m doing more of the teaching.
Corey: That’s what happened to an awful lot of our consulting work here at The Duckbill Group where it was exciting and fun for me for years, and at some point it turned into, I am interested in teaching how to do this a little bit more and systematizing it because I’m starting to get bored with aspects of it. And I was thinking, “Well, do I build a course?” It’s, “Well, no. As it turns out that if you have the right starting point, I can hire people who I can teach how to do AWS bill analysis if they have the right starting point.” And it turns out that a lot of those people—read as all of them—are going to be way better at doing the systemic deep-dive across the board, rather than just finding the things that they find personally interesting and significant, and then, “Well, there you go. I did a consulting engagement.” And the output is basically three bullet points scrawled on the back of an envelope.
Yeah, turns out that that’s not quite the level of professionalism clients expect. Great, so our product is better, we’re getting better insight into it, and I get to scratch my itch of teaching people how to do things internally without becoming a critical path blocker.
Marie: Yeah, absolutely.
Corey: I mean, I have shitposting to get back to. Come on.
Marie: Yeah exactly. [laugh]. The important things. Love it.
Corey: I really want to thank you for taking so much time to speak with me about all of these things. If people want to learn more—
Corey: —where’s the best place to find you?
Corey: And we will put links to—
Marie: That’s where I am most active. Yeah.
Corey: Oh, of course. And all the links wind up going into the [show notes 00:37:42], as always. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
Marie: Thanks for having me, Corey. It was awesome.
Corey: Marie Poulin, CEO of Oki Doki. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice—and if it’s on the YouTubes smash the like and subscribe buttons—whereas if you’ve hated this podcast episode, great, same thing, five-star review on whatever platform, smash the two buttons, but also leave an insulting comment and then turn that comment into an info product that you wind up selling to a whole bunch of people primarily to boost your own Twitter threads about how successful you are as a creator.
Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com
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