We’re excited to announce VIVID - a new EA startup aspiring to increase the effectiveness of any personal growth pursuit, and scale effective self-improvement & reflection.
With an investment of $1.75M from one of the biggest EA funds, we're building a two-sided platform: On one side, a mobile app that helps individuals overcome their internal obstacles. On the other side, a flexible tool for personal-development professionals to implement interventions and create long-lasting impact in the everyday lives of their clients and audience.
Over time, VIVID learns what are the most effective interventions for different topics and people, and aims to make effective self-improvement accessible everywhere.
The app is soon coming out of beta phase, so we’re looking for feedback, positive and negative! Our app is available here (both for Android and iOS).
There is an inherent problem with self-change advice. On the one hand, it has to be generic because it must be applicable to a wide range of subjects and individuals. On the other hand, individuals can’t really apply the generic advice as it is - they need to complete the last mile of customization in order to apply it.
This is the point of failure of many good theories and best practices that are found in self-help books, academic articles, and even advice from therapists - they are often lost in adaptation.
There are two possible solutions to this problem. The first is to make customization easier. The second is to assume that we don’t need to create all of the possible customized self-change plans that could ever exist, but rather just find the most effective ones for common problems. For instance, find the five most effective plans for the specific context of impostor syndrome within the specific context of EA.
How can we find them? And do so for thousands of other common use cases? This is why we started VIVID.
The VIVID app helps individuals find the most effective ways to remove internal obstacles, by allowing extensive customization and self-testing, and by empowering wellbeing professionals to assist in this process.
With VIVID, individuals continuously self-improve by working on multiple plans - each plan addressing a mindset that underlies an internal obstacle.
One of VIVID's cofounders is Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar - a leading expert in positive psychology, who taught two of Harvard's most popular courses of all time. Ben-Shahar is the author of several worldwide best-selling books, and his upcoming book discusses the methodology of VIVID.
Theory of change
Our theory of change is divided into two main parts:
- Short-term: Assist individuals in overcoming internal obstacles. We specifically intend to direct VIVID to high-impact communities like EA or Schmidt Future's fellows. VIVID is meant to grow better at this point over time - the main idea behind its design is that it learns over time which self-change methods are most effective for each category (e.g. self-esteem, guilt, friendship, etc.), and for which user profiles.
- Long-term: The a priori chances of projects such as this becoming widespread are low (but we’re optimistic!). However, the upsides are stellar. We could:
- Figure out an intentional way to radically self-improve: This project provides an intentional way for highly motivated individuals to radically self-improve. In other words, this means that once we have a robust methodology to increase the potential of talent, even if it is likely that such a methodology requires a high amount of effort, individuals with high enough motivation could utilize it to become the best versions of themselves.
- Accelerate progress in the fields of wellbeing and personal improvement and align them with large-scale evidence. In other words, we may discover scalable methods to improve wellbeing and individual potential in dozens of common use cases, relevant both to high-income and low-income countries. There are very few interventions that aim to improve wellbeing at scale, which is generally important - but depending on your assumptions regarding the current baseline of wellbeing, it might be even more important.
- Broadly promote the value of self-reflection. We believe that this point is of high importance, particularly in terms of mitigating risks associated with value lock-in (this idea is explained in WWOTF, ch. 3, and we will share a more thorough write-up about this soon).
- Figure out easier ways to remove internal obstacles: We believe the importance of internal obstacles increases as individuals have fewer physical and social restrictions.
Even in futures that are based on virtual realities, internal obstacles will still be significant to individual decisions and, therefore, collective decisions.
Moreover, the wider the range of individuals' choices, the more weight that internal obstacles will have on the decision results. That is because the existence of restrictions and obligations in modern society requires individuals to face their internal obstacles. Yet, in a world with basic universal income and an option to spend time in a virtual simulation disconnected from society, the motivation to deal with internal obstacles will be incredibly low. This will have significant implications on individual motivation to pursue values and participate in society’s progression.
Another trend that will likely exacerbate this problem is more effective (and more immersive) non-aligned marketing and advertisement practices, drawing individuals further from self-directed goals.
How it works
This page goes into detail about VIVID's methodology. You can leave any feedback or question through the link at the bottom of this page.
In short, our strategy is inspired by other platforms (such as Notion, Airtable, and many others) which provide users with a high level of flexibility and the ability to share solutions with one another. We’ve applied this strategy to the self-improvement field by incorporating scientific principles of personal change into its design (such as prompts, self-monitoring, social and financial commitment/incentives, or implementation intention). VIVID is built to learn over time which techniques and plans are most effective for each category (e.g. self-esteem, guilt, friendship, etc.), and for which user profiles.
How you can help
- Help us tailor VIVID for you! Your feedback is extremely valuable due to our focus on the EA movement. We're not looking for feedback on "what is objectively best for the app," but rather on what would help you with finding the most effective ways for you to self-improve.
(if you’d like to help us even more with feedback, or view/vote on our upcoming features, visit this page)
- If you’re offering workshops on self-improvement / wellbeing for EAs, or coaching - let’s have a chat! VIVID can help assist with implementing insights from your workshop/session, and publicizing your services for more EAs. VIVID is free for your use and will most likely not disrupt your current workflow, but will only complement it.
- We’re hiring! If you know someone who might be a good fit as one of our very first employees (details below) or might be interested in this project as an intern, please share this post with them!
- Sign up for updates about this project.
- We’re still setting things up. This means that some of our writeups, or even our strategy, have room for improvement. We’d appreciate feedback on our writeups through our website (each page has its own link), and any other feedback by email / anonymously.
Over the next two years, we plan to:
- Iteratively improve VIVID’s individual-level impact while working mostly with EAs.
- Investigate VIVID's potential for growth, as the long-term part of our theory of change is dependent on reaching broad audiences.
- This will most likely include a B2B model aimed at organizations' wellness budgets. As a result, we're likely to use a freemium model, in which the majority of the app is free to use, but some features require payment. To boost motivation and commitment, the app will provide a success-based discount to users who persist with their practice.
- We intend to significantly subsidize subscriptions for people who are heavily involved with the EA movement or who work in jobs that we believe think are especially impactful.
- More information about our financial model and its rationale can be found here. It is worth stating explicitly that VIVID will never sell user data, and that in general, we take the privacy of our users seriously.
- Conditional on funding, establish an independent nonprofit research team, using VIVID’s platform and anonymized data to conduct and publish free-to-access research on effective personal change.
As a part of this direction, VIVID and Effective Self-help intend to work together to disseminate high-quality advice on these topics.
We’re considering many technological developments down our roadmap; from using AI to make better recommendations, to vital-signs-based prompts, to integrations for self-testing with automatically collected metrics (like stress indicators or productivity time). As VIVID’s community grows, we’ll have more information about which of these paths would help users the most.
Join our team 🦸♀️🦸♂️
We’re hiring for two positions:
We’ve decided to build our core team in Tel Aviv, Israel - working from the new EA Israel office (shared with other EA organizations!). Therefore, these positions require eligibility for an Israeli work visa (which by default has very strict rules, but can be quite easy in some cases. Feel free to ask us anything on this topic through the application form).
If you’re considering a relocation, you can rely on our social support - both with the awesome people that will work on VIVID, and with the amazing EA Israel group (which is considered among the strongest EA groups, with hundreds involved in its community and 6 large-scale ($300K+) EA projects running from Israel).
We’re also looking for a community-building intern, and are open to various internship positions that require ~3 weekly hours - apply here.
Many thanks to Omer Nevo, Sella Nevo, Jack Lewars, Sofia Vanhanen, Edo Arad, Inga Grossmann, Dion Tan and Dvir Caspi, who gave feedback on this post and its appendixes.
I'm currently exploring a new cause area profile for Impact Academy. Tentatively, I call it human development and it's strongly related to personal development - perhaps even a synonym. I'm feeling relatively confused about it and how it relates to mental health and community building more broadly - i.e., how it relates to good done in the world. As far as I can tell, it seems as if VIVID is pursuing this. One thing I feel confused about is what outcomes/metrics this field is attempting to optimize and the most promising strategies for accomplishing those outcomes. My current best guess is to use i) well-being (ideally both hedonic and eudaimonic) and ii) professional effectiveness (some measure of productivity). Do you have any better measurements?
Obviously, this is extremely hard because (as you point out) it depends so much on the specific individual. However, I'm guessing that there are some significant broad strokes things one can say about this.
Let's chat about this! It's definitely our focus, and I have some writeups and frameworks about this topic that I was planning to turn into a post sometime soon. Would be happy to hop on a call about this.
First, unfortunately, I think that KPIs of this sort can only capture a portion of the overall impact of this cause area, and that more heuristic analysis is needed here.
This is mainly because many internal obstacles are the root or are the bottlenecks of many other cause areas, or as I like to summarize this notion, "people are both the recipients and carriers of most interventions".
For instance, a global change in the human development field could result in less violence, less addictions, and even more moral behavior in general. On the other side of the coin - the bottleneck of many cause areas is increasing and unblocking the potential of talents (e.g. when research is the bottleneck).
Second, about the KPIs:
1. I agree with the first KPI you suggested*
2. The second might need to be a bit more nuanced: Are we marginally increasing the professional effectiveness of many people, by a small number? Or is this intervention able to increase it significantly for specific people? Because of the arguments in the previous paragraph, this might be crucial.
3. I think that we need to add KPIs of immunity to value drift, and/or their opposite, of alignment to personal values. I would argue that large portions of this cause area's impact are derived from these KPIs (which are also highly neglected).
* Minor note: I think you might need to expand this KPI when looking beyond the perspective of classical utilitarianism; From the perspective of preference utilitarianism, there might be additional personal sources of value beyond wellbeing that you might want to check if they are increased by "human development" interventions. I'm not sure how to go about it, but probably a construct of self-fulfillment is important to measure as well (not only life satisfaction). I think this conflict is quite unique to this cause area compared to other cause areas.
Thanks for your reply.
I agree that it's highly complex and can positively affect other cause areas and I'm happy to jam more on this. However, I also think it's important to not assume that it's a panacea that's good for everything. E.g., I do worry that focusing too much on well-being could be bad for the world as one starts to act in ways that optimize for that and neglects the significance of other cause areas. But I think it's plausibly a really big thing which is why I'm exploring. I've written you a dm to set up a call.
Great! Let's chat.
(I definitely agree it's not good for everything, rather it's probably worth coming up with a framework that describes in what people-centered cause areas it's more and less relevant).
Seems good to me. I'm still making up my mind as to whether it should be seen as its own cause area as opposed to a framing and method that can be used to enhance other cause areas.
I'm an early adopter and I've been hooked on VIVID for months now. I think this project has huge potential.
Congrats on the funding and the post! As another early adopter of the app and as someone who had some interaction with the founder, I also believe this project has great potential.
Maybe also worth stating something about privacy? I'm noticing that my main blocker to trying this app is that I don't want a group of well-networked EAs knowing about all my flaws and my failures to address them ;-) Maybe there's no realistic way to get around this, but I thought you might still be interested to know.
This is super helpful, thank you for sharing!
I made it more explicit in the post, I'll also make it clearer here: The personal plans you create are entirely yours, and no one else can see them. You can choose to share them with an accountability buddy, but this is entirely up to you.
Our analytics platform is anonymized, so no data is exposed there as well. We're looking into an even higher level of anonymization within our database.
Anyhow, feedback such as this helps me understand where the blockers are, so it's very valuable. I'm open to hearing and will look for additional ways to improve our policy and technology to increase privacy. I don't think there is much to be concerned about, so I guess I'm also looking for ways to help people feel more comfortable with this topic.
I'm already in therapy. Will the app still be helpful for me?
(Couldn't find an FAQ section on the website)
That's a very good question!
First, a disclaimer - VIVID is not a clinically verified intervention, so it shouldn't replace therapy in any case.
VIVID and therapy are virtually two methods to overcome internal obstacles. I think a helpful way of looking at this question is whether you'd like to try another method in addition to your therapy. This method could be VIVID, a coacher, reading a self-help book, and so on. There are pros and cons to adding another method, and your therapist might be a good person to talk discuss this with.
There's an edge case to this outlook:
In some sense, the practice in VIVID can be compared to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercises, with a minor emphasis on the "cognitive". These could range from "lite" exercises to exercises that are identical to CBT worksheets (some of the 'instruction presets' in the app are essentially CBT worksheets).
Therefore, if someone is already doing something similar with a therapist, I wouldn't think of VIVID as aseparate method. It might, though, be beneficial to add your therapist as an accountability buddy and do the same exercises in VIVID. As a mobile app, VIVID has many benefits that empower this process, including self-testing, situation-based prompts, and optionally follow-ups from your therapist between sessions.
(I'll also add a FAQ section on the website, thanks!)
If I understand correctly, VIVID will be a for-profit company. Will either the FTX Foundation or the regrantor who made that grant receive equity in the company?
Indeed - the Future Fund itself (not FTX's company or the regrantors) will receive equity and control on our board