Since I’m interested in numerous range of topics and I get asked a lot, how do I become knowledgeable on most of them.
The last time I spoke about this in a public conversation was at Ingenuos — Alberto Tello’s Podcast (es) — where we touched this area, and how I designed/hacked a process to be able to learn a lot in a short amount of time. Yet we didn’t had much time to speak about the details because the conversation was oriented towards Social Innovation.
Before we go into details of learning hacks there are two things that need to be clarified:
- Knowledgeable vs Experts:
While you can become quite knowledgeable on any topic, you won’t become an expert in a month. That takes real effort and dedication. Yet, this will get you well above the average person.
- Knowledge vs Experience:
You can become quite knowledgeable on any given topic, but you won’t become a real expert until you put that knowledge into practice. You can read and write an encyclopedia on swimming, but it will never replace a good day at the beach
That being said, let’s get into it.
0. Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivations
While this might seem obvious and unnecessary to list, you might be surprised how much this can affect in the long-term your ability to effectively learn anything. Make sure you want to learn something new for the good reasons.
For example, if you want to learn how to raise llamas because you met a girl on the bar that is really into llamas, you will probably won’t get very far and end up blowing it by saying something that sounds stupid. That is just an extrinsic motivator, and those wear out pretty fast.
By contrast, if you happen to be captivated by a delicious pie you had in the weekend and find yourself watching a lot of videos on how to make pies, you have a great intrinsic motivator to start learning something new which enjoyment will last a lifetime.
The only problem with fixed knowledge such as books and online courses is that they can become obsolete in relatively short amount of time. That is why I keep tabs on sites that constantly generate new content and knowledge on the topic I’m Learn-Hacking.
I highly recommend Feedly, which has become the default rss feed manager. You can either bring your own blogs or use it’s quite handy blog suggestion feature that will help you discover new sources.
Sometimes I get so much into a topic that I create my own tools to discover and manipulate sources. For example, I wanted to keep track on specific topics but feedly did not’ provide a practical interface nor sources, so I created my own aggregator that could present information I wanted to learn clean and in a single view. (and then released it for generic topics). I also started to follow several youtube channels, but I hated how I had to lose a lot of time changing channels — So I created a tool that would display all the videos that I would watch in a single page.
I did things on the web, because the information I’m looking for is there. You can choose any media to manage the information. The main idea is to make the process as efficient as possible.
For example, you want to learn to cook the best steak in town, you can create a private newsletter and invite chefs and cooks to share 1 recipe a month, so you can all share techniques without much effort.
2. Buy top 5 Books on Amazon / Courses
The first and quickest way to get started is acquiring knowledge that has already been prepared presented as a product. This means going to Amazon.com and buy the top 5 books on the topic. There are two ways you can choose your top 5. Bestsellers and Top Rated. If you choose the latter, remember to ignore reviews below 4, they are usually made by people who rate low everything. Just make sure you like the positive reviews.
Then either summarize or rewrite everything you learned from them. Using Highlighting feature can help a lot if you want to share notes, although I still recommend writing a few notes by hand. You will amazed how much you can retain by writing physical notes.
Sometimes, the knowledge you are looking for is a bit technical or someone has already been packed in a better presentation. For example, I love skillshare and General Assembly. As part as my “Responsive Web Design Learning Hack” I purchased Meng To. Online book/course.
3. Talk to experts
So, now that you have actual knowledge and your own opinion on a specific topic, find some experts to share insights with. These experts can be the same people you have followed online, or someone you admire. You would be amazed how many people that seem hard to reach are quite accessible — if you approach with something smart to say.
If you have no direct way introduction to them, you can always try to send a old school snail-mail letter, even better if it’s handwritten, since they have about 80% open rate than email.
4. Do Stuff
Now things get to start interesting, you need to take what you have learned and get real. Build something, put things into practice if you haven’t, make prototypes and break stuff. Remember, all the knowledge in the world will never be a substitute for real world experience.
After reading 3 books and 2 online courses on responsive web-design I started to build new themes from scratch for fun. I skipped the talk to experts phase for this one, since I already speak with designers on a daily basis. Although I did share my designs with them to receive feedback.
5. Iterate until you are satisfied
You probably won’t get the level or results that you want on the first try. That is not only normal and ok, but it’s great. Mistakes, while you are learning are a great thing, they are more of iterations and variations of the knowledge you are acquiring. Think of them as small experiments that allow you to explore variations and let you develop your skills.
Keep practicing until you get the results you want, and when you get there, you will find that there are almost infinite amount of new exploration lines you can keep on learning for any given topic.
Choose any one of those you like, or if you are like me. You will get into a level that you become better than the average, you don’t really want to become the best of class for any amount of valid reasons. For example, if you are a manager, you don’t want to become the best developer, but knowing the skills will allow you to be a better manager, communicate better and grow your team.
What you learn and the amount of specialization you develop is up to you.
Build your Own Tools
I created my news aggregators and parsers after learning responsive web design. Although I could have used and match several existing tools to achieve similar results. It doesn’t matter if you build them from scratch or piggyback on existing solutions, always evaluate the possibility of using existing tools to make your learning process more efficient.
Outsource tedious activities
Sometimes I need to learn stuff that requires repetitive and tedious tasks, in that case I usually rely on virtual assistants which can take care of them so I can focus on using my time on more valuable things, or even doing nothing — enjoying my time. For example, you can a virtual assistant to do the research on which books and courses are the best and buy them for you. Or have them identify the experts on any given field.
Remember Learn Hacking is all about of being able to acquire knowledge and develop skills in the most efficient way possible. Get creative!