Be A Beginner
I love weekends. I love them because I get to spend a lot of time with my kids. I love spending time with my kids because they teach me so much just by being themselves. One area I’m perpetually learning from them in, is simply- how to learn. I watched my daughters learn how to ice skate this weekend. The trick is, they don’t think much about it. They simply watch and listen to what the teacher is doing/saying, and then model their little bodies in exactly the same way. There is tons of falling. When they fall, the teacher tells them to ball up their hands (so the other kids’ sharp skates don’t cut off their fingers), to get on all fours and pretend to be a cat (where they are most stable), to put one first on one knee and push right back up. Once they’re up, they tend to want to look down at their feet (Of course they do! First time on a strangely slippery surface!) The teacher coaches them to keep their eyes up (in front of them, on where they’re going). Lots of lessons from skate that are applicable to life.
I love learning so much, that it will come as surprise, that the people I admire most in this world are the ones that are perpetual beginners (i.e. my father-in-law, @LarryPlitch). The ones that are always learning. And also the true weirdos. I love weirdos. (Also my FIL.)
When I start any new endeavor, I always like to identify three things:
- What I know
- What I don’t know
- What I don’t know, I don’t know
And the third of these things is absolutely the most important. This is the one you want to accelerate learning on, the most. So what’s my learning style, and how do I do it? Here are the practices I consistently put into play, allll day e’rydayyy.
- Know nothing. Even if you know something, pretend you know nothing, or very little. This frees you to simply learn.
- Dive in. The hardest thing to do is just start. Make a list right now of the top 10 things you want to learn about. Then pick 3. Then pick 1. Outline a list of people, books, blogs that you could tap into to learn more.
- Go fast. The fastest way to learn something is easily by talking to/with someone. Preferably an expert. Once you identify the expert ask them questions.
- Ask (good) questions. My first boss at Nike, and one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked for, Liam “The Boss” Bossi, always encouraged me to ask good questions. Thanks for the valuable coaching, Boss! Questions are a dime a dozen. Good questions are pennies on the dollar.
- Play it back. Leverage your expert to reframe what they just shared with you. When you restate it in your own words, and have someone validate what you said — you’ll quickly understand if you understand. Encourage the expert to be brutally honest with you.
- Go deep. If you want to go deep, ask said expert for the seminal resources in that field. Yes, use the words “seminal resources” despite how corny it sounds.
- Go broad. If you want to go broad, ask said expert for 3 others you could talk to, to learn more. Usually, since different individuals have different perspectives and different experiences, you’ll start learning more in your interested area, but also be able to start spanning adjacencies.
- Rinse and repeat. Find other experts in that identified area that you want to learn about. Repeat steps 4 through 8.
- Connect the dots. This is the most exciting part, second to step 10. Once you hear from several people and read blogs, discord posts, reddit threads, twitter feeds, start to formulate your own body of knowledge. Speak about it to others. Write about it. And whatever you do, don’t be afraid to be Wrong. I write about that HERE.
- Build things. Things include: theses, ideas, teams, and world-changing companies (like this one). This is the hardest step. You’ll know you’re a Grandmaster when you’ve hit this level of mastery.
Some things to keep in mind which may help:
- Process over product. You know what hampers learning? When we get stuck on the destination and lose sight of the journey. Instead of “I have to learn X”, try “I’ll spend 30 minutes learning about X today.”
- Social learning groups. Find others who may want to be learning about the same types of things. Find time to meet with them regularly. If you’re a parent, time is pretty hard to find. Scratch that. Extremely hard to find. So get smart about learning. Build it into your existing routine. Are there parents at drop off who seem like kindred spirits? Chat them up and ask them what they’re trying to learn? Most of them will be trying to learn different things (…or look at you quizzically when you ask that question. Avoid those people). If they’re trying to learn something different, connect them with your friends who know about that thing. If they’re trying to learn what you’re trying to learn, time your drop offs so you can chat with them. Stalker-ish, I know. But it works.
- Cross-application. You’ll know you understand the concept when you take what you’re learning and apply it to a different field. This weekend, @MaggieMonast, a leader over at Environmental Defense Fund, shared with our friend group an article she wrote about the ground breaking (and extremely challenging work) she and her team are leading on how credit and climate change are challenging Black farmers in Georgia. (How cool is that?!) She shared that its taken years to cultivate a partnership (strong first step) and the challenges abound. After reading the article, I realized she could benefit from Innovation. I called her to talk about how to harness the power of web3 (which I know next-to-zero about, and have absolutely loved learning about) to get Black farmers access to capital. It was fun!
Got any other time-honored and self-honed tips for Learning? Hit me up! Hit us all up and drop a note in the Comments!