Episode 355 – The School of Life with Sarah Stein Lubrano

Sarah Stein Lubrano
“People don’t just pick up a book once, read it, put it down, and then that’s the end of their relationship with that idea…. we can move in a person’s life in multiple ways.”

Sarah Stein Lubrano describes The School of Life as ‘a modern press’: books are vitally important, but they’re only one part of a wider ecosystem of ideas. There are many lessons here for business book writers, and many ideas too: how might YOU build in experiential strands, and opportunities for your readers to learn and reflect for themselves alongside their reading?

And what does it look like to be actively engaging for good in a content landscape that is so often based around distraction and monetizing the consumer’s attention? 

A fascinating interrogation of the role of books, and indeed the nature of authorship. 



The School of Life website: https://www.theschooloflife.com/

The School of Life YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@theschooloflifetv

Sarah’s site: https://www.sarahsteinlubrano.com/

The School of Life on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheSchoolOfLife

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/

The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge April 2023: http://proposalchallenge.com/

WriteBrained: A 28-day exploratory writing adventure: https://pi-q.learnworlds.com/course?courseid=writebrainedcourse

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Power Up Your Writing Workshop, 23 February: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/power-up-your-writing-workshop-tickets-473591162917

Alison Jones: I’m here today with Sarah Stein Lubrano who is the content lead at the School of Life, a global organization helping people lead more fulfilled lives. She also teaches learning design and content strategy, and writes and speaks about a variety of issues including modern life, capitalism, and cognitive dissonance.

She’s a collaborator on The Career Workbook: Happiness at work, published by The School of Life Press. Well, first of all, welcome Sarah. It’s a great bio that.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Thanks, yes, thank you for having me. It’s exciting.

Alison Jones: It’s really good to have you here and I think everybody’s going to be thinking School of Life. Tell me more about that. So tell us more about that.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Sure, so the School of Life was founded over a decade ago now by a bunch of different people. Our current creative lead is Alain de Botton, and we are a company that works around the world. We, through things like books and podcasts and apps and films to help people think about how to learn more fulfilling lives.

And lately, in this difficult time, to live with greater wisdom and resilience basically around the human condition.

Alison Jones: And I know Alain de Botton from philosophy and he, was it The Consolations of Philosophy?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, that’s one of the most famous books.

Alison Jones: Yes, absolutely. So is it about that, about sort of applying philosophical principles, which might seem quite esoteric, and making them much more practical?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, we do lots of that and we also apply a lot of insights from psychotherapy. We’re very interested in the idea that there might be a great deal about, for example, our childhoods and the way that those have an effect on us, or the way that we relate to other people that is happening beneath the surface, that there’s something about it that needs investigation and isn’t immediately obvious.

And that once we understand these kinds of dynamics, we’re much better prepared to make good choices in our life, to build happier relationships and so on.

Alison Jones: And all this happens in what format? because I can imagine there are multiple ways of delivering, of ways of engaging with people in the room, on the Zoom and through books. And I’m really interested how the books fit in that.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Lots of things. So I would say that increasingly we are really first and foremost a press. But you know, it’s a modern press, so our YouTube channel is just as important in many ways as our printing press. We have a YouTube channel with millions of subscribers. I always forget exactly what million we’re on, but I think five or six or something now.

Alison Jones: That’s a nice problem to have.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: It’s a great problem to have. We’re very happy about our YouTube following.

And then we put out a book, very often, like once a month sometimes that often, we have a new book because we work as a team. So we write as a team and we… And then we also have, in addition to these two things, we have an app which you can access a lot of our content on, and it personalizes the content for you, so it focuses on the things you most need to think about in your life.

We have some workshops. Increasingly we are focused mostly on providing those to companies, but we do still do events for the public as well. And we’ve got some fun ones usually each time a book come out especially in London. We have branches around the world who do our work at an international level, often in the country’s language. So for example, we have a German branch and a Brazilian branch, and they teach to the public and also do all the same things as us usually, but in that country’s dialect, literally and metaphorically.

So it’s a very broad remit in that sense, but we’re mainly focused on helping people access ideas, and I don’t just mean intellectually, but also emotionally, that will help them improve their lives and and feel better capable of taking on this challenge of living life well.

Alison Jones: And a challenge it is right now.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes.

Alison Jones: I was really fascinated by that phrase you use, we are a modern press which I interpret from what you’ve just said as being, yes, it’s about books, but it’s not just about books. There are so many layers to this.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, I mean, I think a lot about this because this is my, not just for the School of Life, but in general in my life. I think a lot about the study of life content, and what does it mean, the things of content. And one of the best definitions I found for this is in the book by the theorist, Kate Eichorn, who’s quite critical of this industry incidentally.

So I’m not sort of talking us up, I’m thinking about it quite seriously. And she says that, you know, we live in a modern world of content. And what that means is that people are not just consuming things, but they are living in an ecosystem where one piece of content leads them onto the next, which leads them onto the next, right? That you’re looking at what you might call circulation.

And I think at the School of Life, we’ve taken this very seriously. And so we understand that people don’t just pick up a book once, read it, put it down, and then that’s the end of their relationship with that idea. Now, obviously there are evil versions of content in other parts of the world, where people sort of click on clickbait after clickbait and they get tons of Google ads and generates loads of revenue for weird tech companies who have offshore accounts in Bermuda or whatever. But for us, it means that we can actually do something virtuous, which is that we can move in a person’s life in multiple ways. So you’ll find that we have, for example, with this book, we have previously had a workshop on this topic, several actually, for many years we’ve been running workshops on this topic. Day long ones, three hour ones.

We’ve been thinking about this for ages and ages, and we’ve been doing interactive exercises with real human beings, and then we’ve built it into a book, several books actually, the sort of findings we have from those workshops. And we’re also presenting those ideas in audio on our app. And we’re also presenting those ideas in video on our channel.

And I think this is really important for a lot of different reasons. Firstly, because most of us access content in all of those different ways, right? And if we’re driving our car, we might need the audio. And if we are hanging out with our teenage son, we might need the video. And if we’re finally got some time to ourselves, we might want the book. So it accommodates people at different stages in their lives and different levels of depth and complexity. And also it means that wherever you go, we are there. And so if you’re having a problem and you could benefit from some ideas from the School of Life, we will be there.

And that’s, I think what I mean by a modern press. We’re much more translatable, let’s say, than some of the old-fashioned ideas of what a press is.

Alison Jones: Yes, no, it’s fascinating and I absolutely, we’ve said at Practical Inspiration, we’re in the business of idea dissemination rather than creating print bound books. It’s just thinking more broadly about what your remit is and what your mission is.

What’s interesting as well is in old style press, you’d have an author, you’d have somebody who was single-handedly responsible for producing a book and that was actually a really important dimension, that intellectual property dimension, and I’m sure that intellectual property is still important to you, but you don’t have that sort of single named author approach.

In fact, when I first reached out to you and I said she’s the author of, and you were very quick to say, well, no, I’m actually a collaborator, so I really love to ask you about that.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Sure. I mean, look, I think the way we think about it, and this has always been true the entire time I’ve worked at the School of Life, which is a decade, we tend not to focus very much, I think we have very few experimental early things where we had someone’s name on the book. But firstly, I think it’s realistic that most books, including the ones with author’s names on them, are not really just written by the author. And I say that as somebody who’s about to write my first book with my name on it as the author. I can’t announce it yet, but it’s coming up. You know, it’s not that I’m not excited for that moment. I think there’s something very beautiful about it, but like, even then, I know this book is really written by a lot of other people, right?

You know, it’s written by my PhD advisor and by like the people I’ve spoken to over the last 10 years, and my closest friends who influenced me and all of the books that are going to appear in the back of that book jacket and so on. So I think realistically, most books really do have multiple authors. We just put one person’s name on the bulk of the ordering of the words, right?

Secondly, we really think about the School of Life as something that we want to be institutional rather than individual. Now, you know, and this is tricky because Alain, for example, is quite well known, but we don’t want people to relate to it as though it is the project of just this or that person. And then when they leave or get interested in something else, it’s no longer happening.

We want to think about it as something that will continue to live indefinitely. And that is, and that is genuinely, and it is genuinely, the result of the insights of many, many, many, many intelligent people working together.

And as we’ll discuss in a minute, I imagine, working with actual people experiencing this problem. So for example, the Career Workbook is something that many different faculty members, through many different workshops, over many years, to collect the insights that are in this career workbook. And it would be kind of unfair if then one person got to write this up and put their name on the book.

And also it means that, hopefully we’re a little bit in the business of therapy, I think. We’re certainly literally in the sense that we also have a therapeutic wing, which I haven’t been talking up as much, but we have therapists, art therapists, ‘normal’ therapists, career therapists who are very relevant to this book.

But we also hope that people will relate to the brand a little bit as though it is also a therapeutic voice. And for that to work, it’s much better if it’s the School of Life as a whole rather than any individual, one person. Because we have our specific weird projections around any individual person.

You know, we might say, I don’t want to talk to a man about my career, or I don’t want to talk to a woman about my career, or I don’t want to talk to someone too young, or whatever it is. The insights are really much beyond any individual person. And writing as the School of Life allows people to relate to the brand as a whole.

And that’s usually a better place to start, we find with these books.

Alison Jones: Sort of collective wisdom.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, it is a collective wisdom and also it helps people relate well.

Alison Jones: Yes, it’s really interesting and I think I do want to talk to you about the collaboration. What actually that looks like in practice, because I know writing a book with other people has its own challenges and its own joys, and I think first though, I’d love to talk to you a little bit more about that idea that it’s almost like therapy in a book and what’s really noticeable when you look at this book is it’s very visual, it’s very colorful, and it’s incredibly interactive. It’s like doing a course, it’s like having a conversation. So I’m guessing that that is simply a way of bringing in that kind of real life therapeutic experience in the room with someone, into a book.

 But how did you come across that?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Well, again, this used to be, parts of this, used to be one of our workshops that we ran for a long time, and I think that that is in fact how books like this should be written, right? Because it means that we’ve really tried these ideas out with human beings and seeing how they process them. And we’ve tweaked things. There were things that didn’t work that we threw out. There were things that people loved that we didn’t expect. We’ve really gotten to see the depth of how people react to things like this. And we also know which ideas are hardest to take on, which are usually around failure but sometimes also around childhood, which is interesting.

So we’ve written this in order to essentially give the reader the experience of having been in some way in one of these live experiences, in the sense that they’re doing an exercise. And I also think we are very attuned to the idea that, you know, to change something about your life is not simply to passively receive wisdom.

And a lot of our books are geared to the idea that the person needs to go away and think this through for themselves. And their answers will always be individual and different. So hopefully going through this workbook is not a one size fits all experience, but you are writing things down and developing and building on those ideas. And in essence, we’ve just tried to make that approach, which we always have in our live experiences, and which to some degree we have in our digital experiences where we might have, let’s say, one video that’s five minutes long, but then we have everyone commenting underneath and sending each other supportive comments and this sort of interactive approach.

We’ve tried to bring that even to a book, which is a format that’s usually not very interactive. And I honestly, as I was going through this book, preparing for this podcast and for a couple of other appearances we’re doing soon, literally took screenshots of pieces of this. And it’s funny because I’ve been working on this material for five years now.

You know, I’ve been to these workshops, I’ve done the exercises, but there were still exercises that I screenshotted and was like, I need to do this for myself. And I think that that doesn’t just point to the fact that this is a good book, but it also points to the fact that we always need to be doing things like this as humans.

That thinking is a really long, complicated strategic process if we want to run our own lives. Because something I always love as a point that we make in these workshops is if we don’t make plans for our own life and if we don’t strategize for what we really want to be doing, and if we don’t think through these somewhat difficult questions on a regular basis, the good and bad news is other people will happily make plans for us. You know, the manager of your company will make a plan for you for next year, and the market will make whatever horrible plan it has for you next year. And the only person who can save you from those plans and make better ones basically is you.

And so this is a book to help you do that, really

Alison Jones: And it’s really interesting, if you think about the sort of the metaphor inherent within it, the idea of School of Life, it’s quite empowering, isn’t it? Because it’s saying that whatever’s happening, it’s a school day, it’s an opportunity to learn something. It’s an opportunity to develop, and I think it’s, I mean, it sounds, it’s not an unused metaphor, this is a very common metaphor. We talk about it almost thoughtlessly, but actually that is a really, really powerful idea because otherwise you can feel that you have done your growing and you can feel that you are static and you can feel that what’s happening to you is something to be responded to or liked or disliked or all the rest of it.

But if you take that really fundamental underlying metaphor that this is a learning opportunity, then suddenly everything opens up, doesn’t it?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, and I think also, we’re very conscious that people have very different experiences in school. I am in particular, people often have a really negative experience with school. And so we’re trying to rewrite this to be something that you can choose and you know, isn’t forced on you and that you’re doing because you want to.

And I think also we have to tip our hat always to our art design team, our graphic design team,

Alison Jones: Well let’s talk about that. They’re amazing. Yes, so I’m guessing, and this is brings me on to the collaboration point as well, because I have written visual books and you, well, when I did it, I sat there with a designer and we kind of planned the page together. Is that how it is for you guys?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: It’s a long ongoing back and forth. Yes, I mean, I think we’re incredibly fortunate because we have a really amazing design team at the School of Life press, and I, as a writer find this almost like a magical experience, where I write a bunch of words and then a year later, whatever, they’re in a book and the book is just beautiful.

But I’ve almost never been, even remotely, sort of moderate about my response to what the design team comes up with. I’m always shocked and delighted and it kind of brings it to life. And I think that really is important when thinking about this kind of book as well, that I think we live in a world that still values intellectual thinking very, very highly, but it values emotional thinking less.

And one of the things that aesthetic projects do is they access our emotions and our affect. And I think the books are doing that, right? So we’re giving people good ideas, wonderful. But honestly, if they weren’t formatted so beautifully and thoughtfully, people would be listening less. And they also walk this very fine line where they’re telling the reader you know, it’s time to do an exercise, but also you’re an adult and that’s a very hard thing to get right.

It’s really hard. I’ve seen so many bad versions – I mean, this is the thing about design, right? – in other people’s content, where it’s just a bit patronizing or it’s just a bit twee or it’s just a bit too serious and therefore looks boring. Getting that line where a grownup simultaneously feels imaginative and respected is something that I just think our design team do beautifully.

So, yes, I mean, it’s a collaboration. I would say the way it works for us, and this is obviously at a very high level, is that we have a set of principles that are the principles of the School of Life. You can find them on our website, a sort of stream of things that are the project of the school. For example, we are very allergic to what we consider to be romanticism or at least we think that we need a corrective voice to the romanticism of the modern age that tells people that, you know, if you just believe it will happen and it will manifest.

And like all of this sort of, I would say this is the gentle romanticism business nonsense of the world. We are very much not romantics in that sense. And we’re much more interested in a classical approach to certain problems, including at work. We’re very much historically grounded. We think about like taking ideas from history, cultural mining as we say.

So we always put the problems of modernity, which are the main problems we’re interested in the School of Life, in the context of history. It’s very new to think your work will somehow fulfill you. Most people work to survive, right? We have to think about it from that perspective. We have certain psychoanalytic ideas that we love in our staples, like the idea of the good enough parent, but also now that we’re drawing on Donald Winnicott, we might as well have the good enough boss and the good enough manager, and the good enough employee and the good enough job and the good enough life experience.

So we have these starting principles and I think that’s really important because, otherwise it’s almost impossible to collaborate because you don’t actually have a shared vision as a whole.

Alison Jones: You’ve almost created a sort of brand that unites all those different collaborators, so you’re on the same page, and that means you can collaborate more effectively.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Right, yes, and I think it’s like kind of an invitation, that if you want to work at the School of Life, you kind of need to be on board with these things and we’re mainly going to do these things. And then if you do join, hopefully you are really excited about those things and I think that makes collaboration a lot better.

Alison Jones: Yes, and I want to ask you personally as well, as a writer, as somebody who’s writing, firstly, just generally, what is it that you get out of writing? Why do you do it? But also when you are writing, are you writing with that visual application in mind, and does that change things for you?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, I am. Okay. So thing one, I think that for me, writing is the only place where you, for me, this is not completely true, sorry. This writing is one of the key places where for me one goes from sort of musing to really thinking. Where you have to write out the ideas and see do they actually make sense? Is this true? I think this is too broad of a claim. Actually, here’s a counter example, et cetera, and I find that I only really know what I think when I’ve written it and rewritten it and rewritten it, and rewritten it and rewritten it.

Alison Jones: Brings some rigor to the sort of sloppiness of your thinking sometimes, doesn’t it?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, anyone’s, and I also think you discover as you go through what you really care about as well. So it’s not just a purely logical exercise. I have a friend Emilia Hogan who says that you should only write about things that annoy you. And I actually think it’s quite a deep insight. Her point really is that that’s actually what writing is about in a way.

You know, you’re always getting at a core of something that you feel is poorly understood or wrongly imagined, or wrongly conceptualized or badly applied or whatever it is in this world. And you’re trying to tell the world like, no, it should be this way, right? And obviously our books are very gentle in their tone, but they are ultimately getting across this point that things could be better, right? You could try this another way. There’s a bad way of going about this problem and you should probably try it the better way.

So I think that writing is a process for really thinking properly for the first time about something that is difficult and annoying for you or that you want other people to think differently about.

And for me, that’s definitely the role that it plays.

Alison Jones: Parallel as well with, I’m just thinking entrepreneurially they say that the best products come out of your irritation with something.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes.

Alison Jones: Spotting the things that could be better, isn’t it? And writing is a sort of form of improvement of world and yourself.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: In a way it’s an entrepreneurship, right? I mean, it is in the sense that it’s saying what if we changed our focus to this? Right? It’s just that it’s less about sales, although we do sell books and more about selling the idea, let’s say, in a very capitalist way.

And then your second question about visual design. I do think it’s increasingly important. I think I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because of my own academic interests and professional interests, but I think we’re living in a world of user experience design. I really do. I think most of your day is spent on a platform that has had elaborate, intensive user experience design applied to it, and we are so accustomed to this now that there’s now research showing that we resist it when we can tell it’s manipulating us, right? So people were very obsessed with nudge psychology about eight years ago or whatever, and now we can see that people are beginning to really figure out what nudge psychology is doing to us and resist it.

Obviously that’s a particularly extreme example of UX design in some ways, but I think we’ve all become very accustomed to it and we also, in positive ways, I guess, attuned to it. We just expect the UX to work and we kind of intuitively know what it means to double click and swipe and this and that.

And anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is I think that is so deeply embedded in us all now that to be a writer is also to be attuned to this. Even if your book looks kind of normal, as a book rather than a workbook, like the one we have here, which is obviously very much user designed. We now can track people’s reading patterns and we read differently on different devices.

There’s famously, it’s called the F Shape on MacBook, let’s say, or you know, computers, where we read the full first line all the way across and then we scan down the page to the next major line that we think is important. And then we read that full line across. We’re looking for the relevant information for us because we know that not all of it, is going to be as relevant. And then we scan further down the page so that ends up looking like an F, right?

And we can track this behavior in humans. And of course this is a complicated, complicated problem. One of the reasons people read like this is because webpages are designed for search engine optimization. So they tend to have a bit of fluff on them to get the search engine to bring you to that page in the first place.

And then users have keyed into this and they’re like, oh, I’m done with that. I don’t want to read all this fluff. I just want to read the key part for me. But the real point is people’s brains are now adapted massively. And they, we read the F shape online, we read slightly different in books, slightly differently on our phones and so on. But we are reading like creatures of this modern world.

 And we are skeptical that what the writer has to say is relevant to us. And we are much better positioned now to read shorter sentences. I would actually say people do read a lot from the research I’ve seen, but they read shorter sentences. They read shorter paragraphs. They want to see the information sold up front to them well. If you think about the logic of, for example, a carousel or an Instagram post where there are multiple photos, we think that the most important thing comes first. And we’re used to that as a sort of mental model for how information is conveyed and so on.

And this is bad and good. You know, I think it’s okay to have a little bit of hysteria that we’re like in a different world of information transmission, where people’s attention spans are shorter, but also it’s just life and something I always remind people of is that apparently the part of our brain that is reading in the first place is actually rewritten, a rewritten part of the brain that used to be assigned to facial recognition.

And illiterate people have much better facial recognition because they can still use all the neurons in that part of the brain to figure out what people’s faces are doing. But we have reused that to read books. And so I guess the point is not to be too chipper about some very complicated technological transformations of our brain, but our brain is always rewiring itself to take in information differently. That’s what’s so cool about it in a way. And I think to bring us back to this question about UX design and more importantly visuals, I increasingly map out and draw out all the information I’m trying to convey.

I use systems like Miro to kind of mock up what would the book look like, what would this page look like? And I think that everyone should be doing this to a degree because it’s a realistic guess of what the reader is experiencing. And ultimately, writing is communication. And it’s about the reader’s brain, not just yours, right?

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s so fascinating because it is really tempting as an author when you are, you know, in love with the nuances of your topic to just write long screeds of paragraphs that go over a couple of pages and frankly, nobody’s going to read that. So, or just as you are writing, thinking about keeping the paragraph breaks in there, giving people places to rest their eyes, giving them signposting headings that tell them what’s coming up. All of that is super practical. Yes, fascinating.

I want to go on about the brain, it now makes sense to me why I’m so bad with faces. But there we are. I’m conscious of time as well, and I’m desperate to ask you for your single best tip, which I think is going to be quite hard because we’ve had a huge amount there already.

But ,if somebody’s starting off on writing, what’s the one thing that you would equip them with?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: A whole book. Okay. Well I do think that advice about picking something that annoys you is important. Because I think most of our annoyances are not fully flushed out in our brain. We just know that we’re annoyed. We haven’t really identified why.

I also think, what else would I say? I think you should practice getting your ideas across to human beings in real life. And I think this is something that is, you know, I’m very lucky because the way the School of Life functions is that you tend to teach not just write, which is great, especially for me. And you quickly learn that people have resistance to ideas and that’s fine and that’s good to know.

And I think that one of the shortcomings of some writing in this world is that it doesn’t take into account the fact that the audience has their own worries, their own preoccupations and their own concerns. And especially for certain kinds of writing, you want to be writing to what the learning theorist Nick Shackleton-Jones calls the user’s effective context, the realm of concerns, the things they actually care about, right?

And that also means carefully addressing the things that would make them reserved about the ideas you’re trying to get across. So if you’re writing a book, once you’ve already written out a bunch of your annoyances and figured out what you really want to say, and made sure that there’s actually evidence in this world that what you’re saying might make sense, assuming all of that has gone somewhat well, I think another key thing to do is go and try to communicate this live to at least one other person at a time and maybe large groups of people, and do this repeatedly. Because what you’ll find is that you run into the same objections and worries and concerns over and over again. And I think it’s really important to take your readers and your listeners seriously. And that means addressing those, as honestly as you can.

And it doesn’t always mean saying that they’re wrong. You know, something I used to teach my undergraduates, when I was teaching undergraduates, is I would always say, give the opposing side as much credit as you possibly can, that’s the best thing you can do. Right?

Like they have an objection, give them as much as you can. Yes, this bit is true and that bit is true, and that bit is true, to me this is the mark of an intellectually honest person. And then also, once you’ve done it, when you don’t still have your reservation, you say, okay, all this is true, but still we have to do this.

I think it’s much more powerful. So working through that…

Alison Jones: It reminds me of a, and I can’t remember where I read it, which is really irritating, but fuel and friction, is that as authors we tend to pile in more and more fuel in support of our argument. We tend not to deal with the friction, the effective context of the reader and the reasons why they might object to that or their exceptions, or the things that, so thinking about the friction as well as piling on the fuel for your argument, I think is a great point.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, it’s very interesting. And one last thing about this is just, I’ve been reading some data recently about how people who become anxious about getting vaccinated, will then be talked through the reasons why vaccines are actually safe and why, you know, there are these studies that show that the worries that they have are not founded in evidence and so on.

And interestingly, they will kind of come round intellectually, it seems. They’ll tell the researcher okay, I think actually I am intellectually on board. And then they’ll still go away and not get vaccinated.

 And I think, you know, I think that this is probably a broader human activity, which is that we are intellectually convinced of loads of things.

I’m personally, intellectually convinced that I need to never eat an animal again, but I am very bad at sticking to that, which I’ll probably be canceled for by my great-grandchildren or whatever and I understand. Right. And so I think we have to take it more seriously. What does it mean to convince someone, if what you actually want to do is to change the world? You have to convince them more than intellectually. And I think that does take this finessing.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s fascinating.

And I’m really interested to hear what book you are going to recommend to listeners as well. And I’m fascinated to see whether it’s going to be a School of Life one or a different one.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Well look, first I have to recommend the School of Life books. It’s a rule, right? So we have the Career Workbook coming out. I think it’s really great. I’m literally going to use it for myself, as someone who’s already pretty happy with her career. We also have our self-hatred book came out recently, which is a bit more therapeutic, but really lovely and beautiful and just in general, it’s Christmas time and the School of Life books are really good presents. There’s one for basically every single person.

Alison Jones: Christmas time as we’re talking. It’s not going to be Christmas time as they’re listening. Sorry,

Sarah Stein Lubrano: It’s fine.

Alison Jones: Next Christmas.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Gifts for the rest of this year, and they’re perfect for that. So I would recommend all of those. I also, particularly in the School of Life range, always love The Failure Book.

I’m the champion of the Failure Book, and I say this because I think there are other good, what you might call broadly self-help books in this world from other brands. I think this we write about uniquely well and uniquely realistically. There’s too many, for example, business books in this world about how failure is just like a little stumbling block on the road to success.

And you’ll just sharpen yourself and then you’ll succeed. And I think this is preposterous for lots of reasons. And actually what we need to do is to learn to fail well, this is in our Career Workbook as well, but it’s also in our Failure Book. And I just love. So those are my School of Life.

Alison Jones: So, but apart from School of Life,

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Yes, I would say I can’t easily do just one book, but I would say something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately that might be somewhat relevant is I just read a book by Eric Klinenberg who’s a sociologist, and he writes about the importance of social infrastructure. It’s not a business book in the literal sense, but I think it’s incredibly relevant, including for businesses.

And the general idea is that, you know, we are already familiar with what like water infrastructure is or whatever but we also need to design the buildings and the social spaces, including the online ones, though he’s less keen on those, to encourage people to really know each other in a deep way.

And the most famous example that he gives is that in Chicago the in 1990s, there was a really horrible heat wave and loads of people just died, right? And actually, we’re all getting familiar with this again in Europe because we’re having heat waves, we don’t have air conditioning and people are literally dropping dead. And the same is true for things like Covid. And what was interesting about the data when you looked at it, is that once you controlled for things like race and poverty in the neighborhood and so on, there were some neighbors that still did much better than others, even though they had the same demographic characteristics.

And the reason was because there were still pieces of social infrastructure left, like public libraries. And so the old people, especially, and the vulnerable people, knew other people in their community because they went there all of the time and so when the heat wave happened, people checked on them and took them to the hospital before they died.

Now, obviously this is quite extreme and in some ways horrifying example of the importance of social infrastructure, but it has much broader implications. It has much broader implications for whether people are effectively polarized, which means whether they hate people that they disagree with in their neighborhood.

It has lots of implications for people’s physical health. It has loads of implications for, you know whether people feel isolated, whether they stay in communities, and I think it also has implications for work. I think we’re currently going through this big transformation at work where suddenly lots of things are remote, and I think one of the most important things we can think about if you’re running even a small company, is how to build the kind of social spaces where people get to know each other deeply, even if that’s somehow magically on Slack or if it’s going to a coffee shop and putting all screens away for three hours once every three weeks or, you know, whatever it is. I think we have to return to this idea because we’re living in the 21st century and the 20th century of infrastructure is not sufficient for our understanding of what is needed now. So this is something I’m thinking about a lot recently.

Alison Jones: Yes, that’s fascinating. And a really good example of how a book that isn’t, as you say, technically a business book, it’s about sociology, it’s about how we create our spaces, massive implications for businesses and how we lead. Yes, brilliant.

And if people want to find out more about you, Sarah, more about The School of Life, where should they go?

Sarah Stein Lubrano: So go to the School of Life website. It’s theschooloflife.com. Go to our YouTube channel and subscribe because then you’ll get nice little updates every week with a nice, beautiful, often very lovely animated video. I have a website if you want to look at my funny little scribbling sometimes, but yes, the main thing is to hook into this larger network of people thinking together at The School of Life, and I really recommend people do that and check out our books and all of our other wonderful modern press products.

Alison Jones: We do want your website because we want to know what the book is.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: It’s just my name.

Alison Jones: You are able to announce it. Sarah Stein Lubrano

Sarah Stein Lubrano: My name sarahsteinlubrano.com.

Alison Jones: Oh yes, those of you with distinctive names. It must be wonderful to be able to do that. Brilliant.

It was so, so good to talk to you, Sarah. There was so much in there. I feel like we could have, another three hours or so we probably would’ve just scratched the surface, but thank you for your time today.

Sarah Stein Lubrano: Thank you so much.

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