We’re all going to die.
I’m not saying that to freak anybody out, but it’s a fact. We’re all going to die one day, and that means that we have a limited number of days in this life.
We’d better find something great to do with them.
How are you spending your time? What gets your attention? What are your values? What is most important to you?
My guest today has spent a lot of time thinking about those questions. His name is Hank Green, and chances are you’ve heard of him because he’s done a little bit of everything. He’s a YouTuber with millions of views, #1 New York Times bestselling author, successful entrepreneur, and philanthropist. He’s been a major player in the online space for over fifteen years. As a content creator and businessman, he’s become an expert in building online communities and promoting values of equality and charity.
As a content creator, Hank is very interested in and passionate about the way online content shapes us. He’s very intentional about what he makes, and he is dedicated to his audience. He knows that the way we spend our time matters, and the things we give our attention to are going to influence us. (In fact, he’s written two novels on the subject, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, which you should totally check out!)
In this interview, Hank and I get into some deep stuff. We talk about our attention, and how and why we monetize the attention we get. We also discuss the crucial importance of staying curious, and how asking the dumb questions actually makes us look confident. And finally, we talk about some awesome creativity hacks to get you working on your passion and why building your personal reputation is more important than building a business brand.
Hank Green is half the famous YouTube duo known as the Vlogbrothers. Back in 2007, he and his brother John started a year-long video project — one year of daily video blogging back and forth. At the time, the brothers had no idea their little project would grow to a worldwide following, but they soon amassed legions of dedicated fans.
Today, in addition to maintaining the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel, which can boast millions of views, Hank is a producer behind the educational YouTube channels SciShow and Crash Course. The content on these channels has helped students and lifelong learners worldwide understand topics ranging from biology and chemistry to history and literature. This guy is a major player in video production! He even co-founded VidCon, an annual convention for video creators and fans to celebrate and share video content.
But Hank doesn’t just create awesome videos. He’s branched out into almost everything! As I mentioned earlier, he’s a novelist. His new book, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, comes out on July 7th. He’s a musician with four studio albums and one live album. He co-hosts not one but two podcasts, Dear Hank and John, with his brother and Delete This with his wife, Katherine.
And in addition to all that, Hank is just a really good guy. He and his brother are the co-founders of the annual Project for Awesome, which encourages content creators to make videos promoting their favorite charities and then raises money to donate. Recently Hank, John, and the Project for Awesome have worked in partnership with Partners in Health to support maternal health in Sierra Leone. When Hank and I talked about his charity work, he told me:
“… We do a lot of charity projects, and people are always like ‘Hank and John are such good folks.’ … I’m just buying the world I would prefer. It’s the exact same as a new shirt. I just would prefer a world in which fewer moms die … I think it’s a more stable world for like the future and for my … child.” – Hank Green
What a good guy. Hank truly believes in the value of human life, and that’s reflected in his work to educate, entertain, and improve the lives of others. I’m so grateful to get to talk with him and share our conversation with you today. Let’s get into it!
The term “social media influencer” is a big buzzword today. On some level, we’re all trying to get attention online. That’s what Instagram and Twitter are all about — who can get the most likes, the most followers, and the most buzz. But what does that mean? What does it mean to be an influencer? And what does it mean to consume internet content from influencers?
“… I’m very aware as a person who makes content … my job is often to capture someone’s attention and hold onto it for as long as I can, whether I’m trying to teach them something or just make them laugh. … [And] more and more, every person is becoming more aware of the ways in which our attention is being attempted to be captured. And we are really wary of it. … We’re really culturally sensitive to authenticity.” – Hank Green
Authenticity is essential to growing an online presence. We can all tell the difference between someone who is honest and authentic and someone who is not.
And who are you going to give your attention to? The people who are authentic, right? They are the ones who gain the most significant followings. They build up an audience who trusts what they say. And when content creators and influencers decide to monetize their audiences’ attention, they can affect real change in the world.
“If you can build up the capturing of attention, that … sort of relationship with an audience and actually provide them with value, and they trust you … there are ways to turn that into money. But ultimately, I think that money doesn’t need to be the goal because I think that there are lots of values to having that attention that aren’t money. … You could be shifting the world in a way that you prefer. I mean, I think that this is ultimately why we want money … it’s to create a world that you prefer …” – Hank Green
We’re all giving our attention to someone. Consider who you give your attention to. How are they using your attention and money to shift the world?
And if you’re an influencer, consider what you’re doing with the attention you get online. What is the goal of growing your online presence? How are you shifting the world? Our attention is important, and every person only has so much of it to give. We need to make sure we’re using it wisely.
Hank and I also went deep about something that affects both of us: learning disabilities. How can your learning style affect your creativity and productivity?
Those of you who have listened to this podcast for a long time know that I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was young. That made reading incredibly hard for me. When I was in eighth grade I started attending a private school, and they tested me and discovered that I only had a second-grade reading level. I struggled in school, and I always felt like the dumbest kid in the class. I cheated my way through high school and barely passed the minimum requirements to get into college.
Hank also has a learning disability. His disability made it difficult for him to process the information he was reading and learning. Now, Hank could have given up and decided he would never be the life-long learner and educator he is today. But instead, he found a way to master his learning style and use it to help other people.
“… My ability is to, like, synthesize information for other people really effectively. Like, I feel like that comes from me having a hard time getting the information into my head and also being … mindful as that process is happening and understanding how my own information synthesis works, how my own knowledge building works.” – Hank Green
I really admire Hank for learning how he learns best and using that knowledge to help educate other people. That is such a powerful tool in the online education space, and that’s reflected in the way Hank’s online community has grown in response to his work. But Hank would never have gotten to this point without simply staying curious.
When I asked Hank about his three truths he’d like to leave behind for the future, one that he listed was “stay curious.” (You’ll have to check out the full episode for the other two!) Curiosity is truly the way we continue learning and growing as people.
I know that I used to feel ashamed of my curiosity. When I was struggling in school, I never wanted to raise my hand in class because the other kids would make fun of me for asking dumb questions. I was known as the “dumb jock” after all. But asking dumb questions is the only way we learn and grow our influence.
“… I feel like one of the greatest things that we can do is, like, break down our sort of walls over vulnerability and curiosity, where it’s just like, we’re not supposed to know everything. … Any time any person in this world feels shame about being curious about something, I think [that’s], like, the worst thing that society can do to people because curiosity is how we bridge gaps. … What [asking dumb questions] reads as, as adults, it reads as confidence. … It reads as like, ‘I don’t know this thing, and I want to, and I’m not ashamed that I don’t know it.’” – Hank Green
Stay curious, guys. Keep pushing yourself to learn new things and grow. When you stay curious and ask questions, you become a smarter and more creative person. And smart and creative people can win other people’s attention and use that to make the world a better, happier place to live.
Hank stays true to his “stay curious” mantra, and that has led him down many career paths. As I mentioned earlier, Hank is a video creator, novelist, musician, podcasters, business owner, and CEO. He wears a lot of hats! So I wanted to talk with him about some of his secrets to productivity and being a leader in the social media space.
“… I really think that … creativity requires a lot of fuel and people’s fuels come from very different places. But I think … it’s really powerful to identify what thing is going to drive you the most because you need drive …” – Hank Green
What drives you? This goes back to our discussion of how we spend our attention and what we do with the attention we get from others. What is your goal? How are you trying to shift the world? Are you trying to entertain people? Educate? Change peoples’ perspective?
Once you have your goal, all that remains is to put in the work. No surprise, Hank has some wise words about this too:
“… I tend to think of things in terms of business models, which my publisher likes because it means that I’m thinking about the marketing of the book and the book. I’m thinking about the audience for the book while I’m writing the book. It’s a creative endeavor for me, but part of that creative endeavor is imaging how it will reach people …” – Hank Green
That is incredible advice. When you’re working on any creative project, it’s so important to think of the whole thing as a business model. And that can be part of your creative work! When you’re working on a business model, you have to consider who your audience is going to be. How can you build trust with your audience? What will they respond to?
Often when we talk about this kind of relationship between creators and their audiences, we talk about “brand identity.” It is so important to have an identity online. Audiences respond to people they trust, and the best creators with the most influence are intentional about how they interact with their followers. But Hank has an interesting perspective about having a brand identity versus having a personal reputation that I want to share:
“So do we need to build reputation? Yeah. … Are we now in a world where personal reputation is really kind of going to start to — and already is — superseding brand reputation? Yeah. … We should have a reputation in our families for … fulfilling obligations, for caring for each other, you know, helping out when times are hard. We should have a reputation in our communities, you know, like, as simple as, like, ‘That guy is really nice to the barista at the coffee shop.’ … We should build good reputation in ways that we can, and I think that that’s one of the really strong mechanisms that actually holds society together.” – Hank Green
Build a good reputation. Focus more on that than on having a “brand,” because people will respond to influencers who have a strong character and who fulfill their obligations. And grow your reputation in whatever field you’re in! If you want to make videos, build a reputation for making really high-quality videos. If you want to educate people online, cultivate a reputation for being a reliable source of information just like Hank does. Focus on your personal reputation in the communities that matter to you, and your ability to have an influence will follow.
Hank Green is such an inspiration, and I’m so glad he joined me on the podcast today! His varied career has taken him to some pretty cool heights. He’s accomplished a lot in his life, and I know he’ll continue to put great work into the world.
But more importantly, Hank is a good person. He takes his influence seriously, and he uses the attention his audience gives him to make the world a better place. As usual, I asked him about his definition of greatness, and his answer was simple and absolutely golden:
“… Solving more problems than you create.” – Hank Green
Use your creative influence wisely, because there is value in the attention people give you. Stay curious, and ask lots of questions! Asking questions — even when you think they’re dumb — isn’t shameful. It shows confidence. And finally, work hard, and consider your creative projects like business models. Remember to build a reputation your audience will trust, and the influence will follow.
Thank you guys so much for joining me today. If you enjoyed this interview and you want to connect more with Hank, there are a ton of ways to do that. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok. Of course, you can also see Hank on his Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel as well as SciShow and Crash Course. And don’t forget to check out his new book, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor!
If you’re ready to harness your creativity into productivity and a positive reputation, join me on Episode 973 with Hank Green!