Principle 6 – Never Stop Learning

December 27, 2020

Principle 5 is near and dear to my heart.

Principle 6 is more than that. It is both my greatest strength and one of my core values.

While I did not necessarily do well in school growing up, one thing I acquired was a love and passion for learning.

If there is ever a point in my life where I stop learning, it will likely mean that I have died. Until then, I will continue to learn, evolve and grow. Day in. Day out.

Anecdotal Story

I will start with a story.

I have a colleague who a few times has told me “I think I have outgrown you. I may need to seek another opportunity”.

Keep in mind, I don’t consider her comment hubris. A future principle will talk about the concept of always hiring people that you believe can eventually replace you.

People that are smarter than you. More capable than you. Who have skillsets that enhance your skillset. Who have skillsets that fill the holes in your skillset.

Given that, someday she could outgrow me…but…I was comfortable saying “You will never outgrow me”…

Wait, was that hubris on my part? Was I belittling her?

The answer to both is no. Again, I have the utmost faith in her. In her future.

At the same time, I have the utmost faith in myself. In my ability to learn and my pursuit of learning.

As an example, I read voraciously. I take courses across a breadth of interest areas. I dive deeply into areas of interest.

I will talk about Scott H. Young’s book Ultralearning below and I realized on reading it that it is how I live my life.

What I was saying when I told her she would outgrow me had nothing to do with her, it had everything to do with me.

I knew that day in. Day out. I am never the same person, as Charlie Munger says “I go to bed a little wiser each night” and will do that for the rest of my life.

The person that she outgrew is no longer the person that I am and unless she’s measuring herself against the new me, she hasn’t yet outgrown me.

Always be learning. Never stand still.

Charlie Munger on learning

One of the greatest proponents of learning I have read is Charlie Munger. Here are some of his quotes on learning:

  • “In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none, zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads — and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
  • “Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Day by day, and at the end of the day-if you live long enough-like most people, you will get out of life what you deserve.”
  • “Acquire worldly wisdom and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your new behavior gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group…then to hell with them.”
  • “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”
  • “I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.”
  • “Those who keep learning, will keep rising in life.”
  • “You must know the big ideas in the big disciplines and use them routinely – all of them, not just a few. Most people are trained in one model – economics, for example – and try to solve all problems in one way. You know the old saying: To the man with a hammer, the world looks like a nail. This is a dumb way of handling problems.”

A fundamental requirement

A fundamental requirement to learning is the realization that we can all learn.

Too many people believe they cannot learn. That their lot in life is determined. They’re reached their potential. Impossible.

Many of these people have a fixed mindset.

I urge you to develop a growth mindset, which is the belief that you can achieve most of what you desire through hard work and time.

Recall this formula, which I will come back to time and time again, small smart choices + consistency + time = exponential results.

How to learn

Once you realize that you can learn. That you can grow. The next step is determining how to learn. It’s not the same for everyone.

Peter Hollins, in Learn like Einstein, outlines some fundamental information on how to improve your learning that I believe is worth a read.

Peter Hollins Learning Pyramid

First, he offers a learning pyramid that speaks to retention of information:

  • You retain 5% when you hear a lecture
  • 10% when you read
  • 20% from audio visual processing
  • 30% from demonstrating
  • 50% from group discussion
  • 75% from practice by doing
  • 90% from teaching others

Imagine that. You only retain 10% of what you read in books but 90% of what you teach others.

Combining methods

What if you were to combine these methods?

As someone who thrives on learning and treats it as a hobby, that is my intent.

What might that look like? Let me give you a demonstration on areas of learning I am focused on.

First, I pick a certain number of books on the same topic(s) to focus on depth across a narrow range of subject areas. As Seneca said “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere..

Seneca continues this discourse focusing on depth over breadth in Letter 2 of Letters from a Stoic.

Second, while I read the material, I am engaging with it, not simply reading it. I am asking how I can apply it in my life. I am underlining key concepts and writing notes in the margins. It is engaged reading.

Third, I will re-read the material and take notes for myself as a highlight of that book and with advances in technology, I will narrate those notes in Microsoft Word using dictation software, which is allowing me to exercise audio visual processing and further cement the material in my mind.

Fourth, I will write a review of the book, which requires me to break the material down into what I actually learned from the book. To digest the information in a way that should allow me to teach the book and, the goal would be to use the Feynman technique, which I will discuss below.

Finally, in the new year, I intend to start a podcast interviewing people about the subject areas that I am studying, which will engage the group discussion portion of my learning.

This combination will, I believe, allow me to cement my learning across the many disciplines of interest for me.

What combination would you choose? How would you implement it? What are your learning plans?

the Feynman Technique

I first learned about the Feynman Technique through Farnam Street, one of my favorite websites and newsletters.

I have also taken two of their courses – the Art of Reading and the Art of Learning.

Here is their summary of the technique:

  1. Choose a concept you want to learn about
  2. Pretend you are teaching it to a student in grade 6
  3. Identify gaps in your explanation;  Go back to the source material, to better understand it.
  4. Review and simplify (optional)

It helps that I have Sons in Grade 4 and 7 to use for #2 above.

Learning styles

Peter Hollins expands on the traditional learning styles by outlining seven learning styles:

  • Visual / Spatial
  • Aural
  • Verbal
  • Solitary
  • Social
  • Logical
  • Physical

I won’t spend time going into all of them, but the key is to understand what your learning style is and to dive deeply into that learning style.

The combination learning method I have put together above allows me to target my key learning styles.

I have always read voraciously; however, I don’t necessarily retain reading material well.

That said, my wife has always made slight fun of my statement that I have a videographic memory, which makes sense to me after reading the learning styles in Peter’s book.

Effectively, what I have argued to her is that if I have a conversation with you on a specific topic or I watch and engage in a lecture in a classroom, I will have that remain in my memory for an inordinate amount of time. It is as if I can recall the video and play it back.

What is your learning style?

How did you discover what works best for you?

How might you change your method of learning to incorporate it?

Taking learning to the next level – Ultra Learning

Scott H. Young, in Ultralearning, provides you with tips and techniques to master anything you seek to master. At a high-level, he takes you through:

  • Metalearning – draw a map
  • Focus
  • Directness
  • Drilling
  • Retrieval
  • Feedback
  • Retention
  • Intuition
  • Experimentation

I found this book very useful and I took a lot of notes on it at the time. Realistically, I will likely never go back and read any of those notes again…

Beyond anything, what strikes me in Scott’s book is the concept of drawing a map. As I’ve said throughout my writing, you can have anything you want if you do these three things:

  1. Figure out what you want – Vision
  2. Have a plan to achieve your vision – Plan
  3. Do the work required in your plan – the Work

Vision –> Plan —> the Work

This is the same for learning.

Understand what you want to learn about.

Put together a learning plan for how you will acquire the knowledge.

Do the work required to achieve your learning plan. Day in. Day out. Do the Work.

No matter what I write about…Fitness…Earnings…Learning…It comes down to the Three Steps

The combined learning method I discuss above is my Plan to learn whatever it is I am setting as my learning vision.

Once I have that plan, it is incumbent on me to do the work. To watch less Netflix. To play less video games. To be idle less. To Do the Work.

Nobody else can lift weights for me. Run my miles. Read books for me. Host podcasts for me. Have discussions on topics I am interested in for me. I have to Do the Work.

Learning recommendations

  • Read voraciously
  • Listen to learning podcasts
  • Watch YouTube videos on topics of interest
  • Watch documentaries on topics that interest you
  • Find teachers online who are subject matter experts
  • Research who has done what you want to do – read up on them, study them, impersonate them
  • Find mentors who can take you on the path they have been on. Offer them value in the relationship
  • Write about subject matters that interest you. The art of researching what you are writing about will cement the knowledge you’re seeking

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