"I got just email after email. I got hundreds of these from people who said, ‘hey, I watched your video and now I want tlearn how to play guitar or want to become a better photographer," she told Inc.com in an interview. The flood of emails tipped her off straight away to the fact that she was on to something with the idea of a public video diary of a learning challenge, so Cheng made a bold decision. She quit her day job rounded up a technical co-founder named Finbarr Taylor and plower all her time and savings into a project to help others learn new skills using the same technique that helped her -- the public video record.
The website is a sort of social network for the unpolished, according to Cheng. Users set themselves 100-day challenges -- so far people have signed up for everything from building a race car to learning to be a better photographer and confronting the root causes of their struggles with weight -- and upload 10-second videos of their efforts each day. Friends can follow their progress and offer words of encouragement. A tool to make an edited down summation of their journey at the conclusion of the challenge is in the works, Cheng says. (As is a monetization strategy that may focus either on targeted advertising or branded content).
But the most important tool for motivating users to achieve their goals, Cheng feels, may be a simple willingness to expose their learning process, warts and all. “One of the first things I do is I encourage people to put up their mistakes and to talk about what they’re struggling with,” she says. The site’s focus on the candid admission of faults and low moments makes it a sort of anti-Facebook, an antidote to the tendency of the well curated perfection of others social media profiles to make us feel lonely and inadequate.
"Everything that we see in the media is like perfection, perfection, perfection, but perfect is boring. And when you see an incredible cellist or basketball player perform it’s actually really intimidating because they almost seem superhuman in that moment, but you’re only seeing a very brief moment, and you’re not see the 10,000 hours of practice they put in," Cheng says. What’s different about 100 "is you are seeing people when they first started, when they were just a beginner. It’s just a reminder that everyone was a beginner, and these people are NOT superhuman." Seeing others imperfections is motivating for users, as is, of course, making a public commitment to 100 days of effort.
Public practice not only helps others realize that behind every success lies a whole lot of awkwardness, frustration and initial failure, it also creates deeper connections than the highly curated profiles people often present on other social networks. “The most surprising thing for me is the actual personal relationship I feel with these strangers who are on this site. And I think that’s because they expose their struggles. It’s a social network full of people who are working very hard at making themselves better,” Cheng concludes.
What skill would you undertake a 100-day public challenge to learn?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel