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#3 Paul Jun — The Power of Community

My guest on this episode is is the author of, co-creator of The Observers and Head of Content at CreativeMornings, Paul Jun.

I first discovered Paul when I signed up for Seth Godin's altMBA program in January 2016. As its website says, the altMBA is an intensive, 4-week online workshop designed by Seth for high-performing individuals who want to level up and lead. When I applied I certainly didn't think I was performing as highly as I could, and I was excited about surrounding myself with people from around the world who were all seeking to lift their game. Those four weeks transformed the way I thought about myself, the way I understood the people around me, and it allowed me to reimagine my own place in the world.

Paul was one of the coaches in that program, and I noticed that he was wise and deeply philosophical for such a young guy. I began to read the articles he posted at and his book Connect the Dots.

He later served as the Community Manager at altMBA, finding ways to continue developing connections throughout the program's community. As the lessons and projects came to a close and the students became alumni there was a strong desire to have a way to maintain the energy and camaraderie that had grown inside the course. Paul designed ways for alumni to stay in touch, support our colleagues' work and celebrate their successes.

In September 2016 Paul joined CreativeMornings — a breakfast lecture series in over 180 cities that connects and celebrates the global creative community as their Director of Content.

This year he co-created The Observers, a curious community dedicated to photography and books.

This was the first time we'd actually spoken, and I was thrilled that we got to spend time talking about one of our favourite subjects. Paul's passion and enthusiasm for community shines throughout.

I hope you enjoy my conversation with writer, photographer and man about Brooklyn, Paul Jun.

In this episode we discuss:

  • What it means to surround yourself with a community that inspires you
  • Seth Godin’s altMBA and CreativeMornings
  • Paul’s experience of the community in Brooklyn
  • How he thinks about his process of “learning in public” as he develops as a photographer
  • How the power of learning with other people accelerated his proficiency as a photographer
  • “You gave me the opportunity to make this photograph of you, to take that chance, to connect with you and just capture this moment, right here.”
  • Edvard Munch - The Scream, and his photography
  • How the right photo can help you reimagine your identity and change your narrative
  • Bill Wadman - portraits and editorials. [Check out his Dreamscape Series, my favourites are Moon, Tattoo and Tree.] The portraits here are stunning.
  • The beginnings of The Observers, a project where acclaimed photographers talk about the photography books that have influenced them
  • Wesley Verhoeve - photographer. Curator at the International Center of Photography in New York and co-founder of The Observers website and instagram - photo books recommended by visionaries.
  • [When we began The Observers] “there was nothing out there that really highlighted the power of photography books as a resource for inspiration, learning and ultimately becoming a better photographer. We love books, we believe in them and we also believe in community and learning together. Could we ties these things up in a simple and clear way?”
  • Defining what success looks like before you begin a project
  • Being intentional about the platforms on which you can and can’t be found
  • “We were just super intention about what social platforms we were going to be on, what ultimately we wanted to grow and where we wanted to meet people.”
  • The power of starting small and then growing
  • Joel Meyerwitz - one of Paul’s favourite photographers
  • Greg Lutze - founder of VSCO
  • Tina Roth Eisenberg (Swiss Miss), founder of CreativeMornings
  • Talking about The Observers “It finally took me eight years to build something the right way.”
  • The benefits of collaborating with someone to build something rather than doing it yourself
  • “How can we make this as simple as possible, so that because it’s simple…it’s beautiful?”
  • Jeffrey Phillips - “He can capture someone’s entire being with a few simple lines.”
  • How difficult it can be to commit to true simplicity and purity of purpose
  • Examining your heroes’ influences and noticing the patterns, connecting the dots and exploring how you can integrate those ideas into your own work
  • Wide and shallow vs narrow and deep
  • What are sunk costs?
  • “By starting small, intentionally, and very laser focused, you ultimately can expand in an authentic and natural way.”
  • Taking the observation “Hey, this doesn’t exist” and then asking “Does a community of people who are interested in this exist?”
  • “100% — I am a strong believer and evangelist for growing your newsletter list!”
  • Seth Godin on Permission Marketing
  • “I truly believe that out of any platform, email is direct connection.
  • On being conscious with your newsletter - the flow of it, the tone of your email, what you’re giving your readers, what you think they need on their journey and meeting them where they are
  • The value of communicating with your audience via email vs social media
  • Connect the Dots: Strategies and Meditations on Self Education
  • The power of online communities and how valuable it can be to spend time with your online friends and  tribe in person
  • “It’s like a flower growing at warp speed.”
  • There’s a beauty to online communities when the environment and context is tailored to bring the right people into the room, who share world views and an attitude of wanting to open up and learn. In this context connection and trust seem to be accelerated.
  • “Don’t feel shame in having an online community where you really feel like you belong. It’s worth experimenting with translating that into an offline experience as well. I think that’s really beautiful. If that’s how you’re going to find your people, I think that’s the internet on a good day.”


Paul Jun instagram blog

The Observers instagram website

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photo credit: Bill Wadman

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Observing the Solar Eclipse from a Brooklyn rooftop

photo credit: Paul Jun