What I Learnt from Ali Abdaal
Dr Ali Abdaal has reached medic nirvana. He has an incredible YouTube channel (780,000+ subscribers), two successful businesses as well as one of my favourite podcasts. All whilst being a practising doctor. He has diversified to the point at which he's able to approach Medicine on his own terms — as a hobby and passion, not a livelihood.
I've been dying to interview Ali — and it wasn't easy, seriously. In this episode of the Big Picture Medicine Podcast, Ali gave his advice on personal branding, productivity and doctorpreneurship. Here are my notes from the interview. I've paraphrased for clarity and brevity.
If You Had To Restart From Scratch — What's The Plan for the Next Year?
I would make a personal website under my own name and start writing online. I'd write about two things:
1) Write notes on all of the articles and podcasts that have resonated with me. I would create a curated one-stop-shop for people to find interesting book and podcast recommendations.
2) Summaries of interesting papers in psychology. Most medics can condense academic papers into bitesized bits of information for a general audience.
Create Once, Shop Multiple Times
This is Gary Vaynerchunk's advice. Create content once — and disseminate into multiple forms. For example, one long blog post can be clipped into multiple Tweets and a script for a YouTube video. That video can then be clipped into multiple posts on LinkedIn, Instagram Stories and Snapchat.
Do You Think This Formula Would Work For Everyone?
I can't imagine a universe in which it wouldn't work. You need two things: faith and consistency. Provided you have both, It's absolutely bound to work. I can't imagine a world in which a well put together blog with nice summaries of books and podcasts doesn't succeed. Trust the process and do it for two years and you're bound to be successful.
What Does Consistency Mean? How Often?
At least once a week. Start a weekly email newsletter to keep yourself accountable. Sometimes your best content will come from when you're scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Scraping the barrel for content one Sunday, I made up a term called the 'write off principle'. Except to make it sound like a wise German philosopher had made it — I called it the Reitoff Principle. Weirdly, it really resonated with people and blew up.
You won't be able to predict what resonates with people, but by putting out content every week — you'll build a body of work which increases your chances. David Perell calls this the serendipity vehicle.
If you publish content (blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.) regularly, people will discover you and initiate unexpected opportunities. They’ll open doors you didn’t even know existed.
Email Sounds Archaic — Why?
Everyone should have an email newsletter and build a mailing list. On every other platform, someone else owns your audience. One change in the YouTube algorithm and my audience is gone. An email list is yours though. In the future, when I want to launch a book — I have a mailing list of tens of thousands of people who want to hear from me.
If you could deliver one 6-week course to medical students — what would you teach?
Week 1: I would teach good design. Just knowing the basics adds so much production value. If you look at posters at most medical conferences — they look awful. This is because people use 1) bad colours and 2) bad typography. Spending an hour researching these will make everything you do for the rest of your life 'look pretty'.
This relates to the law of diminishing returns. When learning a new skill, small amounts of initial effort will result in disproportionately large results.
Install the Chrome extension Muzli. It shows design inspiration every time you open a tab. This will help you develop your taste so you can spot good design. That's the first step.
Week 2: Next, I would teach video editing. I think video editing is the new coding. Applications increasingly ask for video submissions — and you can set yourself apart. It's a basic skill that's very easy to learn.
Weeks 3–6: I would get everyone to set up a personal domain and an email newsletter. For the rest of the four weeks, they would send out a newsletter every week.
Do you recommend monetising your hobby?
I'm a big believer in monetising your hobbies. In addition to the hobby, you then have the added fun of trying to make money from it. You learn so many skills from doing that. So yeah, I'm very bullish about monetising your hobbies. Making your first dollar on the internet feels amazing.
But I think relying on making money from your hobby is when it goes wrong. At that point, you're spending 90% of your time on the business side and only 10% on the hobby.
Desert Island Book
Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. It's what convinced me to launch my blog and YouTube channel.
Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.
Think About the Game You're Playing
Think about what game you're playing. A lot of medics spend their lives playing the academic game. “If I just get good results at school, and then do well at med school and then get that cardiothoracics training post — then I'll be happy”. But if you speak to most ST3 cardiothoracic surgical trainees and ask them if they're happy and fulfilled — are they?
Question — why are you playing this game? Is it worth pissing away years of your life for the end goal? (Maybe it is — in that case go for it — but at least you've thought about it).
With a lot of board games, there are different victory conditions. Either you can have the highest number of victory points, the biggest army, conquer the most land...
A good piece of advice for those board games is — always look at the rule book and rethink the victory conditions. Is there another victory condition that I could be optimising for instead?
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