231. The greatest skill you can possess: Knowing how to learn

8+ takeaways from this 10 minute video:

Arguably, today is the greatest time to be alive because humanity has never had such untethered access to free (or affordable), high-quality information. Anything you could possibly want to learn is available online, and thus it is now possible to acquire hard and soft skills without amassing crippling debt to attend university. You just have to know where to look, and how to learn.

On the other hand, the problem becomes distinguishing quality information and wisdom from worthless, wrong, biased or fake information.

“The single greatest investment you can make in life is in yourself, and the most useful skill you can acquire is ‘learning how to learn.'” But an even greater challenge is moving from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence as quickly as you can.

[JOSHUA’S NOTE: In his Netflix documentary I Am Not Your Guru, Tony Robbins challenges you to “Every day work harder on yourself than anything else. Because if you become more intelligent, more valuable, and more skilled you can add more value to other people.”]

There is learning what you need to know to ‘do the job’ or ‘pass the class.’ But what got you to where you are today will not be what gets you to where you want to go. You need to go beyond simply learning ‘just enough’ to get the job done.

When learning online, you run into two main problems:

  1. There is a lot of junk online, making it hard to identify quality. As Nathaniel Drew advises, check out the video Why BAD Photographers THINK They’re Good by Jamie Windsor.
  2. It’s tempting to become lazy and look for shortcuts to success. Thus it’s easy to be lured into “Secrets to success,” or the “top 10 things you MUST know to succeed…” get-rich-quick schemes.

How to learn things:

1. Set detailed goals, and write them down! As an ambitious, high-performing, high-potential professional it is imperative to be curious and to learn constantly. As Blair Enns challenged you in his talk 10 proclamations to win clients without pitching, aim to be twice as smart today as you were a year, regardless of how long you’ve been in the business. If you’re not, it’s not because you’re stupid, it’s more likely that you’re just too broadly focused.

Likewise, as Alex Schultz explains in his Stanford University meets Y-Combinator lecture Optimizing for growing your business, you need a north star – that one single metric that aligns with your goals and values that you can focus on for the next few years and to guide your decisions.

[JOSHUA’S NOTE: Your How to Shape Human Behavior All Lessons page outlines all your lessons around S.M.A.R.T. Goals.]

But when it comes to branding yourself as an expert and accomplishing your long-term goals, you need a deliberate and singular force of will; the ability to identify the core competences needed to reach your goal(s), and then a learning model which enables you to master those core competencies as quickly as possible.

2. Absorb! Start with a large general search on your target skill to absorb the current trends. The more diverse the better:

  • Which websites appear on the first 2-3 pages of Google?
  • Which books does Amazon recommend you reading?
  • Which videos does YouTube show you?
  • What about articles and podcasts?

[JOSHUA’S NOTE: My personal style is to read a reputable book on my target skill, write down every name and theory discussed, and then go through its bibliography. Using this strategy, one quality book will give you 15+ books, videos, and white papers to find.

This is based on the networking principle that high-quality, reputable professionals know other high-quality, reputable professionals discussed in detail in the panel discussion Lessons learned in Conflict Resolution. Become familiar enough with the books and names, and you’ll eventually be able to talk about books you haven’t read.]

3. Identify & learn from the best. Don’t waste any more time and money than necessary absorbing the useless, low quality, advertising-riddled content. And don’t mistake quality for quantity. From an economic standpoint, recall in my interview with Joshua Waldman that fame doesn’t equal money. A lot of times you have to choose between one or the other. Many well-known bloggers and tweeters aren’t the wealthiest people, whereas many lesser-known, marginal internet marketers whom nobody knows are loaded with cash.

Once you’ve identified the thought leaders and experts, focus on consuming as much as their content as possible.

[JOSHUA’S NOTE: In his lecture becoming a strategic advisor to your clients, Jim Donovan outlines the quickest route to expertise:

  • Identify the skill you want to master
  • Find someone extremely skilled in your target skill
  • Put your ego aside; flatter that person and offer to do anything and everything for them that they need
  • Spend as much time as you possibly can around them – watching and observing. Learn as much as you can from that person, no matter how menial the task
  • Become a clean slate, judge nothing negatively, and just absorb everything they say and do
  • Assume s/he has a logical, strategic reason for doing or saying it
  • Find out the strategies and reasons behind why they are doing it, and then
  • Mimic them

Lastly, to help you in your search for the best, here is a list of high-quality online training platforms you can use to master nearly any skill:

4. Don’t just consume; Take notes! Your brain forgets 90% of what was said in a meeting within 30 seconds. By using a concise, high-quality, note-taking system along side your information consumption, and by consistently reviewing the notes you’re taking, what you’ve learned moves from the short-term memory part of your brain into the deeper, longer-term part of your brain.

If you don’t use it and review it, you lose it.

Over time, you’ll notice that your ability to learn, and your ability to distinguish high-quality experts and content from low-quality becomes more honed and intuitive, thus saving you even more time and reducing the learning curve.

5. Apply what you learn, updating your CV along the way. Refer back to your detailed goals you’ve written down and created a step-by-step process to reach each goal, build in small wins to not only motivate you, but which can also be put on your CV (resume) as proof of your ability to use the skillset.

[JOSHUA’S NOTE: Recall in:

  • Blair Enns‘ talk how to win without pitching that you should avoid the temptation of ‘the big reveal.’ For example:
    • Don’t wait until you’ve reached full-professional proficiency in a language to put it on your CV/Résume. Instead, aim to reach conversational proficiency as quickly as possible, and then put it on your CV.
    • Don’t wait until you’ve graduated from university to put your diploma on your CV. Instead, put on your CV that you’re studying at X university with a graduation date set in the future.
  • Oussama Amar‘s talk managing your private and professional life that many entrepreneurs who live the entrepreneur lifestyle to the max, and they almost always follow the same line: they are motivated and rigorous for the first three months, and then they crash and burn. Instead, set yourself up so that even if worst case scenario you fail or must change course, you have something you can put on your CV that you’re proud of, rather than having to explain why there is 2 year gap in your CV.]

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