Embracing Ignorance as Advantage—a Case Study (Plus: Speaking Nov. 5th and 10th)


How did this first page of brainstorming lead to out-raising Colbert Report 3-to-1?

1:30am Bratislava, Slovakia, this past September 31

One cappuccino, two cappuccino, three cappuccino, four. Neurons humming but still no dice. It was time to get nervous.

“Hey, mate. We’re heading out to Sub Club. You want to come?” Chris, a Kiwi and my chaperone for the Rugby World Cup, was ready to hit the streets and unwind.

I pulled my headset off of one ear. “Not just yet, man. I have to get LitLib ready for launch and there is still no website.” He was well aware of my latest hair-brained idea. I somehow hadn’t been able to pull the designers and programmers together last-minute.

“It launches end of October, right?”

“Nope. It launches in less than 12 hours.”

Time for more cappuccino…


That’s how LitLiberation, the online literacy campaign I organized that ended on 11/1, got started. I opted for WordPress.com at the 11th hour and got the site out to the world. It was like, as one professor of mine once said, a swimming duck: smooth and calm from the outside, and kicking like hell underneath it all. Despite what some might claim, that’s how most products and ideas get launched. As disorganized messes.

The end result? It didn’t hit the ambitous goal of $1,000,000, but it did raise $200,000 and that total continues to grow. It raised about $140K for US public schools alone, impacting 15,563 students and earning recognition from Google in the process.

Y’all don’t mess around, and you should be very proud.

Fundraising is a hard business. Most people who are candidates for helping have developed donor deafness under an avalanche of unending requests. That said, to put $200,000 in perspective, here is what a few 800-lb. gorillas raised during that same time:

Colbert Report (with at least 5 rebroadcasts driving people to his donation page):




My hope is that the success of LitLib inspires people to test their mettle in new worlds. Its success has little to do with Tim Ferriss and everything to do with a few simple ground rules I scribbled in my journal just before starting:

Be creative—start scaring yourself.

Explore the unthinkable.

Is it a life-or-death decision? No.

“Don’t let the fear of striking out hold you back.” -Babe Ruth

No, it wasn’t sophisticated. I had no idea what I was doing, nor what I was getting myself into.

The resulting model and outcome are demonstrations of a wonderful observation: lack of resources is often your greatest strength. How? It forces you to use new methods and test the options incumbents wouldn’t consider. It forces innovation. You have no other choice. Naivete, paired with unfounded optimism and complete ignorance, often helps here.

My sincerest thanks to all of you kick-ass readers and supporters for helping to make this a reality! It’s been an incredible ride, and I hope others duplicate and improve upon this model to raise funds and awareness for causes worldwide. It can be done. My congratulations and thanks also to everyone who contributed to a better future through education on other blogs (special shout-out to the formidable and most clever Tomato Nation) and through other channels. The biggest changes will take us all.

Remember: sometimes not knowing what you’re doing is an advantage.

Explore the unthinkable.


Odds and Ends: Upcoming Speaking—Nov. 5th and Nov. 10th, Saturday

Sorry for the short notice, but here are two upcoming speaking engagements where I’ll be hanging out and able to interact:

1. MIT, Monday, Nov. 5th

Date: 11-05-2007

Time: 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Refreshments: 6:45 PM

Location: 34-101 (http://whereis.mit.edu/map-jpg?mapterms=34-101&mapsearch=go)

2. Super Conference in Phoenix, AZ, also featuring Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson, Bill Phillips, and others (Nov. 8-10) I speak on the 10th. Details here—don’t be put off by the hard-sell copy.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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35 Replies to “Embracing Ignorance as Advantage—a Case Study (Plus: Speaking Nov. 5th and 10th)”

  1. Hey Tim,

    Wow, $200,000! Congratulations, a worthy cause to be sure.

    Sorry I cannot catch your presentation in Phoenix, any updates on SXSW this year?

    keep up the cool work,


  2. Hi Tim,

    Congratulation with all the success you have been able to achieve at such young age. I found your website a few days ago and have found it very inspirational. I just finished a 12 month month journey on a BMW motorcycle across 21 countries in Latin America and found your concept of mini-retirements very interesting. If you ever come to Nicaragua or Central America then I’ll be happy to take you in some crazy adventure. It would be great if you could do some of your social work here in Latin America.

    Best regards,

    Salvador Carlucci

  3. Loved the outstanding innovation. I think this caused helped those whom are not able to help themselves. It was my last nite in NYC, i wish i would have seen the posting earlier as I would have liked to attend the conference. Anyhow, keep us posted on future conferences.


    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  4. Hi Tim,

    What happens next?

    We ended up raising just over $17K for Room to Read.


    We’d like to put that into a library and two reading rooms for Nepal.

    Will Room to Read contact people on the firstgiving site automatically or should we contact them? I did send in an email to their ‘donate’ mailbox on 24th Oct, but haven’t heard anything back yet except their auto-reply.

    Thanks for starting this, and congrats for raising the $200K.

    Regards, David


    Hi David!

    That is outstanding! I will make sure someone gets in touch with you. Please keep an eye on your inbox.

    Thanks so much for your amazing efforts,


  5. Yeah, I’d love an update at SXSW. Not that I can go, but my first exposure to you was via a podcast of the talk you gave last year. It certainly made me a committed fan!

  6. Hi Tim,

    Your link to the Phoenix gig is getting tacked on to your own URL, I guess as a relative href?

    Also, the latest issue of Yoga Journal is largely devoted to volunteerism. A very promising site referenced is http://www.volunteermatch.org. And, another article mentions a book I think you’d be interested in called The After-Death Room.

    Finally, may I point out that your public is 75% in favor of my scheme to meet you? I promise I’m harmless with a good heart. Can I take you out while you’re in town?

  7. Tim,

    Good cause. Someday I’d like to start an international exchange program for under-privileged or trouble kids. Nothing says “educated” or “well-rounded” like living a year abroad. Now I’m inspired to really look into it…

  8. Hi All!

    Thank you so much for all of your support. This has been an amazing experience. A few answers…

    1. SXSW — I am officially in! I will be moderating a panel called “The Art of Speed” It will be awesome, so register for SXSW Interactive at http://www.sxsw.com.

    2. Raina, I will probably only be in PHX for one day, but if you can find me, I’m down to hang out and grab coffee. It all depends on my obligations for that 24-hour period (or less) on the ground, but I’ll do my best if you are able to come to the event. I doubt I’ll be able to travel outside of the event.

    3. David, you are an inspiration. Incredible.

    4. Salvador, it takes a lot to make me jealous, but a 12-month motorcycle tour of Latin America does the trick. You might hear from me some day soon 😉

    Pura vida for you all,


  9. Hi Tim,

    You remind me of the boy from 300, alone in the cold. Defenseless, with nothing but a scrawny stick, a joke of a spear. He would come home as a Spartan or not come home at all. He was prey.

    The beast circles, sniffing, savoring the scent of the meal to come. But did the by run? Did he cower did he cry? No! Not this boy. He showed the wolf his back side.

    He was calm. Not a trace of fear did he show. The wind screamed through a narrow wound in the rock. Too late, the beast charged and howled, thrashing, trapped…

    Pinned by the unforgiving rock. The boy raised his stick. His hands were steady. His form was perfect…

    So the boy, given up for dead…returned a king. Our king! LEONIDAS!!!

    Haha, I thought of this story reading about LitLiberation. Congratulations.

  10. Salvador,

    Great posting. Latin America is definitely an area that does not receive enough attention. This is a bias opinion though as both of my parents are from Nicaragua( Matagalpa & Hinotega, respecitively) Tim, if you ever plan a trip to Nicaragua, please let me know as I would much like to be involved in some humanitarian efforts over there and have plenty of contacts there. It is exciting to be involved in a charity to was started from scratch with the full intentions of helping those whom are not as fortunate as us. Please keep us posted ASAP(as i know you are busy) about any other exciting events that we can be involved in.

    Keep the Dreams a reality & I look forward to working with you in the near future,

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

  11. Is Tim still in Boston. I just saw that he was at MIT last night. If not, I’ll have to meet him somewhere else

  12. Tim,

    Congrats on an admirable goal for a worthy cause! Once again, you’ve re-ignited the fire in me to continue pursuing my various ventures. While admittedly not as ambitious as yours, they still require a great deal of inner motiviation and your adventures are truly inspiring.

    Matt R.

  13. Very cool, Tim. I’ll check back in with Victory about the status of tickets. I’m planning on being at the event Saturday and Sunday, so hopefully it will work out.

    You’re a good sport. 😉

  14. Tim –

    I’m Kevin Bedell and we met at the MIT talk last night. It was great to meet you and get a chance to talk about my ideas for a 2-year software development project.

    Thanks again for taking time to head over to the East Coast for the speaking gig and for inviting readers of the blog to attend. It was awesome!



  15. ###

    Hi All!

    FYI, all people who registered for the teleseminar will be receiving full details via e-mail within the next 48 hours, so no later than Thursday at 5pm PST. It will be fun and very dense on actionable tips. I’m looking forward to it.

    Pura vida,


  16. This is a shot in the dark. But apparently you like guns so maybe this will work ;). An exuberent new friend loaned me 4HWW and after about page 5 I had to possess it myself. You are rather cheeky and remind me quite a bit of the irreverent facet of my Self. If this message has your attention look me up.

    -A Fellow Serpent (as in “Year of the”)

  17. Where are the events for poor college students? I did make a room to read donation.. is that the same as LitLiberation?


  18. “…Naivete, paired with unfounded optimism and complete ignorance.”

    Now that is truly a brilliant catch-phrase, the story of my life, and in my view — paradoxically — the key to success!

    A healthy dose of all 3 together are totally liberating… They prevent you from obsessing on your (perceived) limitations. Well done.

  19. Hi Sean,

    I don’t do too many events at all, but keep an eye out. I’ll announce them as they get confirmed. Sorry the MIT announcement was so late, as it was free. There will be more, though I don’t know exactly when.

    All the best — I remember being a poor college student 😉


  20. Hi Tim,

    Haven’t had the chance to read the book yet but have read a lot about you around the web recently. Already given me lots of ideas of which I’ve implemented some already. This is only blog I read regularly btw. Keep living it up!

    All the best,

    Sterling Seah

  21. Tim,

    I promoted your book yesterday in my lecture for the combined entrepreneur classes at the #1 ranked Marriott School of Management. After reading your book I took my past professor up on an request to present about my businesses. Thanks for the confident example.

    I recognized the poem from the last chapter of 4HWW as lyrics by Phil Theobald. The version I own is arranged and performed by Lyndsi Houskeeper. I pass this along in case it helps you.

    You should check out a product called GoYin based on Traditional Asian Medicine that is set to be huge. Passed WADA screenings and amazing clinical study results were presented at the International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference.


  22. Tim,

    Just wondering if you’ve met Joe Polish before? Or if you know much about him? I’m trying to get a feel for what he’s offering on a regular basis locally but it’s a little hard to decipher from his site.

  23. Tim,

    I’m so bummed that I missed your talk at MIT! I work literally right across the street — but I was ‘working’ in Canada. Using your techniques to miss you. Was the event you were at taped? Can you tell me who you met with so that maybe I can hound him/her about this? I mean, kindly hound him or her.



  24. On the scale of ignorance I won’t say that I am as ignorant as the most ignorant but humility dictates that one understands more the less we think that we know more.

    Fascinating thoughts here, for at the upside of meaningful ignorance is probably about making attentive space for that which is intelligent rather than simply devilishly clever.



  25. Tim, add me to your shortlist of designers & programmers next time! I do freelance WordPress theme customization and technical support, and I would really love to help out on a project with you! Your book actually helped finally kick my @r$e into gear to finally go into business for myself and I’ve been a close disciple ever since. =)

    I ported LifeBeyondCode.com to WP for Rajesh Setty and helped Kare Anderson get MovingFromMeToWe.com off the ground.

    I really admire that you have got your stuff so together, you’re living the dream, and you do this great work to give back through things like DonorsChoose and LitLiberation. If you ever need help with WP (or want to grab a beer in the City!) please feel free to email me at cody -@- codymckibben dot com.

    God bless you man. Keep up your fantastic work.

  26. Tim, don’t stop. Your message is having an incredible impact on the world. Keep it up! My favorite quote: “Just because 99 out of 100 people think an idea is a good idea, doesn’t make it a good idea.” Inspire. Innovate. Dream. Act!


  27. Tim,

    I just finished reading your book and am beginning to peruse your blog and forum. Like you, I graduated from an Ivy League school and reeled in shock as I realized its true goal is to parcel away my future 80 hr./week at a time. However, until I read this book, I didn’t have the marketing or business savvy to find a way to circumvent giving away at least a 40 hr./week.

    It seems your plan’s key component, perhaps the most essential one, is to develop a good product. I’ve gleaned from reading this blog entry (and the book) that product generation comes naturally to you.

    But it doesn’t for me. My biggest challenge so far is to develop a viable product. You’ve offered a couple of pages of good advice in the book, but I’m still drawing blanks.

    Would you (and other readers) mind suggesting some resources–books, websites, or others–that might help guide me through the process? I’m sure I can come up with a good idea, but I’m not finding the right questions to ask myself yet.

    With appreciation,


  28. Hi Tim,

    We met at the Piranha SuperConference last year. You and Joe Polish were incredible. I loved you Book – The 4 Hour work week – Awesome!

    Thanks to Joe Polish and all the wonderful speakers he has every year, we grown our business into something we thought was beyond our wildest dreams.

    Today, we are well on our way to becoming the Best Carpet Cleaners in El Paso, Texas and we owe it all to you guys.

    Emilio Martinez

    El Paso, Texas


    Thanks so much for the kind words, Emilio! I certainly wish you nothing but the best.

    Pura vida,


  29. Tim,

    I wanted to personally thank you for your perspective on how to have fullfilled life without having to work all the time. I saw you speak live at carpet cleaning marketing seminar and you were probally the best speaker. Thank you again for the inspiration.

    Bryan Hammond

    Allied Carpet Cleaning