MIT instructor on how to absorb and retain information to use when you need it most (podcast episode)

July 7, 2023


facebook icon facebook icon

In today’s episode of the Brains Byte Back podcast, we speak with Mark Herschberg⁠, Creator of ⁠Brain Bump⁠, an app that helps you retain what you read and hear, and an MIT Instructor.

To kick off the show, Sam opens up about how he was interested in Herschberg’s initial message to him, where he advocated that “we invest time reading and listening but it’s inefficient. This is because where we read information isn’t where we need information.”

On this topic, Herschberg explains in greater detail how there is a learning disconnect that often occurs when people consume information in one context but need to apply it in another. 

He then goes onto highlight the challenge of remembering valuable information from books or podcasts when it’s needed most. 

To address this issue, Herschberg created Brain Bump, an app that provides just-in-time information access. It condenses key ideas from books, blogs, podcasts, classes, and talks into concise tip cards. 

Users can easily search for specific content tags, making it convenient to retrieve relevant information when needed. The app also sends daily notifications at a user’s preferred time, serving as a reminder of key concepts.

Herschberg also goes on to clarify the difference between Brain Bump and book summary apps like Blinkist, advocating that while Blinkist offers simplified summaries of books, Brain Bump aims to complement various types of content, helping users better retain the information they have already consumed.

Additionally, for the content creators in the audience, Herschberg shares tips on how you can produce work that sticks in the memories of your audience. 

And finally, Herschberg talks about one of his latest articles “ChatGPT is Just a Calculator . . . Crossed with a Nuclear Reactor” and shares his predictions of what we can see develop from this technology, alongside what technology currently excites him.

You can listen to the episode below, or on SpotifyAnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsOvercastListen NotesPodBean, and Radio Public.

Alternatively, you can find a transcript below:

Sam Brake Guia: So Mark, can you tell our listeners who you are and what you do, please?

Mark Herschberg: Sure, I have a really interesting dual career. When I came to MIT back in the 90s, I got into tech startups, I’ve spent most of my career building tech startups, mostly traditional ones, sometimes helping fortune 500 startups. And these days, I work as a fractional CTPO a chief technology product officer, and have a few ventures on my own. But as I was developing that career, as I was moving up the hierarchy, I realized that to become a chief technology officer, there were a whole bunch of skills that I would need that no one taught me. Leadership, networking, team building communication, all these skills we’ve heard about, we’ve been told they’re important, but no one stops to teach you how to do it. So I began to develop these in myself and quickly realized this applies to everyone in the organization. So I wanted to upskill my team as well. And while I was doing that, MIT was getting similar feedback. Companies were saying, These are the skills we want. And we can’t find it. Not just MIT students, or college students or engineers, universally, we can’t find these skills. So at MIT, we create a program called the Career Success Accelerator. I helped develop that over 20 years ago. I’ve been teaching primarily at MIT for the past 20, some years, but occasionally elsewhere, and then turn that into my book, The Career Toolkit, and then the speaking in App and other things. So I’ve had this dual career, building tech companies, but also helping people with their professional efficacy.

Sam Brake Guia: Fantastic. Well, you have such a rich background, I think it’s really hard to pinpoint. Really, what I’d love to discuss with you. I mean, I’ve got some ideas in mind, and we’re gonna go through them. But I mean, I think that your knowledge deserves so many more than just one episode, probably. But I’m going to do my best to really like hone in on the subjects that I want to cover. And hopefully, we get some really fun stuff out of today’s episode. And I should say, initially, for our listeners, Mark reached out to me and I wanted to invite you on the show, Mark, because you previously presented a series of questions to me that really stood out. And I think a lot of our listeners will be able to relate to it as well. You asked, “How often have you read a business or self-help book, only to get 90% of it, two weeks later? How much of your podcast episode does someone remember three days later? We invest time reading and listening. But it’s inefficient. This is because where we read information isn’t where we need information. Can you explain to our listeners what you mean by this last part?

Mark Herschberg: We have a learning disconnect. And it’s just the nature of how the world tends to work. When you get a book, you typically read it at home. But that’s not where you’re going to use it. So let’s take a business book like mine. I have 10 chapters, 10 different skills. One of those chapters is on networking. You sit there reading at home, but you already know your spouse pretty well, your dog, your kids, you’re not really trying to network with them. It’s two months later, as you walk into a conference and you’re thinking, oh, I need to network, I need to build relationships here. What were all those tips I read two months ago, and I forgot? And what you want at that moment is just-in-time information access. Wouldn’t it be great if five minutes before you walk into that event, you can just pull up? Okay, here are the things I need to do. Here are the key tips put it right top of mind. And while in theory, you could have gotten a Kindle version of the book and you can skim through it. It’s just not efficient. It’s just not easy. I’m someone who takes notes on the books that he reads. And yet I never go back and look at them. So what if we could provide easier information and access that is context-dependent? Now the other mode is more foundational. There’s a chapter on leadership, a chapter on management, you don’t know exactly the moment you’re going to need to apply some leadership or management technique. But what if each day at 9am, as you went into the office, you got a reminder, think like a daily affirmation. But instead of just some positive feel good message. It came from that book, you were reading that management podcast you’re listening to, and it just pops up. You see it for about two seconds. And you say alright, yep, that’s good. That’s something to remember. We know that repeated exposure to content helps you remember it. It’s called spaced repetition. It’s why we all open the textbook a few times before the test, so we could better retain and remember it. And so by making our information accessible, where and when we need it, the content consumers, the readers and listeners get better, more timely, more relevant access, and not the Oh yeah, you’re hitting me up with some information. That’s not relevant to be right now, I don’t want to overload my brain. So I’m just going to drop it on the floor, we provide it when it is most valuable. This also helps the content creators, because the brand, the podcast, the author, the speaker, the class is now seen as more relevant to the content consumer, it helps that brand as well.

Sam Brake Guia: Cool. I have to say, this is something that we’ve covered a lot in the past when it comes to like situations of, I suppose like location dependent kind of information. Like you said, you’re learning to at home, but then you go to apply it in another setting?

Mark Herschberg: Context dependent

Sam Brake Guia: Yeah, we’ve discussed that before on the show. And I find that so interesting. Because it happens so much. I mean, you can even walk from your bedroom to your kitchen, and then completely forget what you went to go get. So I think that most people or everyone listening to this must be able to relate to it. So I think it’s, it’s really important that, yeah, we got to tackle this. And if we’re gonna remember stuff better. And I understand you are working on Brain Bump, a patent-pending app that combines the core functionality of a book summary app, a flashcard app, and a daily affirmation app, you’ve kind of mentioned this a little bit before already on the call. But can you tell us what inspired you to step up and create this app?

Mark Herschberg: It’s recognizing that there is this disconnect. Now I mentioned I have a book, I don’t have other services, many people with a book like mine, are executive coaches, and they want to build that brand to convert people from readers of the book to a higher revenue product, I have no interest in doing that. I do care about people remembering the content because I wrote the book to help people. And I know they’re going to forget most of it. So I wanted to help people retain it. Now, it also turns out that many of these brands do want to build that brand trust, so they could get you to be a coaching client or some other product or service. And when I first came up with this idea, it was just for my book, we have another app that we’re not really promoting called the queer Toolkit app, which was just content for my book. Once we saw that worked, we generalized it to the Brain Bump app. And so what the Brain Bump app does, it takes the key ideas from the content from the books, blogs, podcast classes, and talks. And think that like a flashcard, or flashcard app, you’ve got these little tip cards that have ideas that are about one to four sentences in length, just kind of here’s the key thing. Here’s what you’d highlight in a book, and here’s maybe the clip that you take from the show, that’s really the key point. And it puts it all in these cards. And then all the cards are tagged with things like hashtags. So this way, when you go to that conference, and you say I need the networking tips right now, in mere seconds, you can open up the app, you tap networking, and there’s a whole bunch of networking tips. Or maybe you go to the ones that you favorited because that’s the key set. Also, you can use it where you set it. So every day at 9 am. As you walk into the office, you get that leadership tip in this other example, you don’t even need to open the app. And this is like the daily affirmation app part, you just get that little push notification. But at a time you set I know, I hate getting emails and texts, and all this stuff that I didn’t want. interrupts my day, that’s not valuable to either the recipient, even the sender because now the sender is annoying you. So we set up that you can pull media to you, instead of what we traditionally do push Media, I’m gonna blast to my email list, I’m going to put something on social media and hope some people see it as relevant. We let people pull the content that is relevant to them that context-sensitive context-dependent information. So you can get either in the just in time, or that daily notification at a time you set and control. And so this is allowing people to better retain the content, which is what I really wanted. But we’re getting content creators to put their content on there because it also helps their brand. And this allows everything to be free, the app is free, and the content on there is free. And everyone benefits from having this app.

Sam Brake Guia: That’s awesome. That’s fantastic. I really liked the streamlined nature of it. And like you mentioned that the networking aspect you gave the example that you need to jump in and get that that’s awesome. I personally really like another app that I use called Blinkist, where it just like simplifies books into like a 10-minute reading, I have to admit that maybe sometimes they’re a bit oversimplified, but I think that with so much knowledge, our fingertips, it can just be so overwhelming to decide where to turn to what to read how to consume it. So anything that simplifies this process. I’m a big fan of. So this sounds great.

Mark Herschberg: We’re slightly different than those apps and not competing with them. So apps like Blinkist, and other book summary apps, their typical model is for people like yourself who are very busy. And you’re saying, I don’t have time to read a 200 page book, or to listen to all these podcasts, give me just the key idea. And you can get the contents of the book in about 10 minutes. There’s some criticism, particularly here in the author community, they say one, you don’t always get it right. As you point out, and what you summarize in 10 minutes worth of content, you might miss some of the points on the subtleties. The other complaint is authors don’t like it Blinkist does not engage with the authors in any way to the best of my knowledge. These apps can summarize the book under the fair use doctrine. So they can take someone’s books and we’re going to summarize it, we’re going to charge the content, the app user, they charge, I think it’s something like seven $10 a month. And the author says, Wait a second, now all these people are going to just pay you to get the value for my book, and ignore me. And that’s often used as an alternative to the book, we are designed more to be a companion to the book, or podcast or other sorts of content, that when you listen to these podcasts, when you go and hear a talk, this is what helps you better retain it as if you’ve done it. Now, of course, you can use this as an alternative, you can use it either in exploration fashion, I’ve never read this book, but let me check it out. Let me see what the tips are like, see if it’s worth buying it, reading it. Or you can use it as an alternative. But that’s actually the least common model we have. And again, our app is completely free. Unlike Blinkist and the others.

Sam Brake Guia: That’s really interesting. I’ve never, sadly, I’ve never actually looked into how they interact with the authors themselves. I assumed it might have been something like a Spotify model where maybe they get a some sort of payment each time it’s played. But I had no idea about that. And of course, like, I thank you for clarifying the difference there. And I also want to say as well, like when you reached out, you did mention how much of your podcast episode does someone remember three days later, and that really stuck with me? So like as a content creator, myself, I’m really curious to know, like, what should content creators consider if they want their content to have a lasting impact on those who consume it?

Mark Herschberg: If you think about the nature of how you put out, and this applies to podcasts, let’s use social media as just kind of an easier example. Imagine you tweet something. This afternoon. Here’s some great advice that you have you tweeted out at three o’clock this afternoon. Well, the first half of your audience, maybe even more. They’re not even on social media that afternoon. They’re too busy. So they ignore it, then those who see it. They say, Yeah, that’s great. You have some great leadership advice, let’s say but leadership is not where my head is right now. I’m trying to hire, my company’s growing, and I’ve got to hire lots of people. I’m focused on how we recruit. And it’s not until maybe three months, six months later that they say, now, now I’m thinking about leadership, I hired all these people. Now I have to lead them. How likely are they to go back and say, Well, let me look at all your old social media to find what might be relevant? Let me go look through your podcasts for last two years and see if you have anything on leadership, we’re less likely to do that search. And this applies to our podcasts which are chronological, to our social media, to our newsletters to our email. So much is done linearly, and particularly chronologically, that’s inefficient, really to have that lasting impact. You want your content to land, right when it is most relevant. Again, this context dependent. This saying, now I’m focused on leadership. Now I’m focused on recruiting, and you want to make your content easily accessible. Now, the Brain Bump app, that’s one way to do it. But here are just some other ways to think about my book, for example, I mentioned there are 10 chapters and 10 skills. You don’t have to read it in order, someone can say, I want to improve my negotiation skills. So they buy the book, and they go right to chapter nine, they skip one through eight, and that’s fine. And they don’t have to say, Oh, I’m reading all this stuff. Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting, but not relevant to me now. And then later, they might jump back to chapter one. How do I create a career plan, when that’s relevant to them? My blogs on my website, are ordered chronologically, but they’re also tagged by topic. So again, on my blog, you can say I don’t care about all your posts. I just want to get your posts on networking or your posts on leadership that are relevant to me. So when you think about creating content, think about how to make it accessible where someone can literally within seconds, get what is relevant to them, because of the difference between three seconds to access it. And 10 seconds is really the difference between whether they’re going to engage with it or not. And whether you can have any impact, let alone a lasting impact on your audience.

Sam Brake Guia: Yeah, I guess it comes down to this scarcity of time like we’ve already spoken before on the show, it really does make a big difference how easily something is to just have access to it and how quick it is to suppose how much time it takes up. Now, I want to kind of change the subject a little bit. I know that you’re a multiple CTO and an MIT instructor with such a deep history and technology, I’d be really curious to know like, what excites you currently at the moment when it comes to technology? And how do you first see this technology that does excite you impacting our future?

Mark Herschberg: There’s a couple of different areas that excite me a couple of different ones that horrify me. So exciting to me, I do think this concept of pull media of context-dependent information, really is the future. I’ll just give you another example. Now, one that was maybe a misstep along the way, think about Google Glass, and Google Glass had a whole bunch of sociological problems. But the concept was certainly valid. Imagine we’re walking down the street, I haven’t seen you in years, but Google Glass recognizes you and pulls up. Here you are, here’s the last communication we had, here’s your social media feed, so I can see what’s been going on with you. And I suddenly get all the information relevant to the conversation we’re about to have. So I think Brain Bump is one of the first steps in this area, but there’s gonna be a lot more. And so this concept of context-dependent information is going to be huge. One of my other areas is cybersecurity. That’s what my graduate work was in. That’s what I’ve been focused on and off of for most of my career. And it’s finally coming to the forefront that people are saying, wait a second, this actually really does matter. Privacy does have a cost, not just on the side of we have to spend money to make it but as someone who benefits from having privacy from having security, I’m willing to pay something to get that. And so I’m excited about the changes we’re seeing, we’re finally starting to build better systems, long way to go there. Some of what scares me. Blockchain certainly, there is nothing you can do on blockchain that you can’t do with a regular SQL Server. And I think it just gets overused and abused. I think cryptocurrencies. I’ve said from the start going back and being in cryptography, this was on our mailing list going back well, over a decade. I went to some of the early conferences 10-plus years ago, from a financial standpoint, cryptocurrencies are meaningless, arbitrary tokens that have no value. I worry more generally about distributed systems because everyone’s saying web 3.0 is distributed. When you’re distributed, you have all the same challenges that central systems have, without the economy of scale, you still have to deal with things like user management and content management and legal issues. But you don’t have a scale you have well you have to deal with it, I have to deal with it. He does, she does. And so I think it’s gonna get a lot more complex, and people can discover, as you scale, the benefits don’t necessarily outweigh the costs. And then finally, AI. And here, it’s a double-edged sword. Obviously, AI has some really great implications. I just had a blog post this week, I said, AI is just a calculator, crossed with a nuclear reactor. And those who say, yes, it’s a tool, it’s a calculator, it’s not going to take away our jobs, are right, in that it will change our jobs, it will take away some of the jobs but will allow us to focus on higher value, more complex services. And that’s all good, that’s good for society. Even if some people have trouble making a transition, may acutely find it not so good. But then when you look at society, we typically add regulation, post-innovation, this is why we have the Industrial Revolution. And then the Ohio River caught on fire because no one said, what happens when we start dumping all this waste into the river. And it was years decades and here we are 100 plus years later, we’re still trying to figure out how do we actually make sure we don’t just destroy the environment. And my worry is when it comes to AI. If we don’t think through the regulatory implications soon. It’s going to just go out there and do what the Industrial Revolution did to our environment, or other technologies have done to us. And that can be very dangerous.

Sam Brake Guia: I gotta say, I’m an optimistic guy. But hearing that definitely plant some seeds of doubt and some fear in me. I’m gonna be having nightmares about that. But I do really want to check out that blog post nonetheless. And I’m pretty sure our listeners would as well. So yeah, please send that over to me. And we’ll be sure to include that in the show notes. And finally, really Brain Bump aside, I’m really curious to know like, what are you focusing on at the moment? Like, what’s, what’s on the horizon for you?

Mark Herschberg: My two main projects, Brain Bump is one, and the other is a company. We’re not yet publicly visible. In the cybersecurity space, we’re working on identity and making sure you know who you’re talking to, who here engaging with that it’s not a scam, it’s not fraud. This is a problem that we’ve had since the beginning of the Internet, because of how the Internet was intentionally designed, for reasons that were, I think, valid at the time. But here’s another case where the implications weren’t fully thought through. In my prior company, Averon, we were doing an authentication system. Here, we’re doing something I’d say in an adjacent space in terms of validating identity.

Sam Brake Guia: Cool. Well, I have to say, I feel like this conversation overall really sums up how I have come to find technology for this whole podcast, there’s a lot to be excited about, and there’s a lot to be afraid of. But in general, it is so interesting, and I cannot wait to see what comes from this good or bad. And I love to keep up with the work you’re doing. And if other people as well on this podcast do want to reach out to you connect with you or keep up with what you’re doing at Brain Bump. And beyond, then how can they do that Mark?

Mark Herschberg: I’m gonna give you two websites. The first is And that’s the website for brain dump. From there, you can go to the store where you can download the free app, you can see how brain bump works. And if you are a content creator interested in getting your content on the app at the bottom of the page, there’s an application here, fill out a form and tell us a little about you, and we’ll be in touch. So all that is at, where you can get the free brain bump app. The other website I have is for the book, And there you can learn more about the book, and where to buy at Amazon, and other places, you can get in touch with me, and you can follow me on social media, there’s a whole bunch of free resources at that website. I don’t even collect your email, because I have nothing else to sell you. But I also have my blog there. And so if you go to that blog, and we’ll put the URL in the show notes, there, if you look, you can find my blog this week. We’re recording this the second week of February. And so my blog post from I think it was the seventh February 7 is AI or chat GPT is just a calculator cross with a nuclear reactor. And you can find that blog post and many more. They’re all at

Sam Brake Guia: Excellent, fantastic. Well, we’ll include those in the show notes as well. But yeah, Mark, thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you.

Mark Herschberg: Thank you for having me on the show.


facebook icon facebook icon

Sociable's Podcast