How To Apply What You Learn

"What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And, with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition." - Charlie Munger

I didn't really get serious about learning until I was 20 years old. Prior to that I did what I was supposed to in school and spent the rest of my time outside of university doing other things.

I went to school to study business.

I did my homework and turned it in on time.

Put effort into all my group projects.

I took all my exams (although I didn't study for most of them).

Sometime around my second year in college I stumbled across Bloom's Taxonomy, a framework used by teachers to help them build curriculum for student that supports putting their skills and abilities into practice.

This framework has sat in the back of my mind for years, but never resulted in any real benefit outside of providing me stronger verbs to use on my resume to sell the knowledge I had.

Since I began taking my own learning serious (outside of what everyone is expected to do in school) I have read 95 books, taken 7 courses, and had endless conversations with people many steps ahead of me to learn vicariously through their experiences.

But all of this resulted in feeling like the knowledge I had was worthless for the longest time.

That's because the highest I knew how to go was building understanding. No one ever taught me how to build higher order thinking skills.

I was stuck having a ton of "just in case knowledge" for business and an understanding of personal development topics with no way of applying any of it to my life.

For example, one of the first book I read was How to Win Friends & Influence People where I learned about the 6 ways to make people like you. For a few weeks after I would continually think about the concepts -- stewing in my mind on walks, in class, or before bed.

After a few months though, the thoughts would slowly fade and my life would be no better off from the time I invested reading the book to understand the principles.

Some of them got applied to cookie cutter situations outlined as examples in it but nothing tangible stuck in my normal day to day.

There was 3 major breakthroughs I had in developing my system to integrate knowledge.

At this point I consider myself to be a tactician when it comes to learning. I've been able to streamline my process from 3 major breakthrough over the last few years and in a few months time I'll quickly acquire specific knowledge in a domain using what I have learned from my past.

1) The medium of learning is important

When I realized I wanted to make a career switch I looked towards the traditional path to learn the skills I needed.

I quickly realized there was nothing for me in the traditional path.

This launched me into becoming a "self-taught" product manager.

I spent 11 months trying to figure out how to learn the skills I needed to thrive in a product role post college.

In the beginning it felt like I had no sense of direction and nothing was sticking.

There was serious doubts that started to build up in my mind.

What really changed this for me was switching up the medium in which I was trying to learn. I started to build up the pyramid (moving past just an understanding) by focusing on creating a curriculum that others could follow to learn the skills for product management.

This forced me to consume information from different sources. When I switched up the mediums I was using to learn a clear path began to start forming for how I should be teaching myself.

2) You can learn anything by turning it into history

My friends father is one of the most brilliant people I know (he's build an empire in the technology hardware).

A year ago I was having a conversation over the phone with him when he would push me to learn about physics.

At the time, I saw no importance in the subject -- given what I was working on but decided to try understanding it anyways.

From the outside, physics seems like a domain of knowledge that is a beast of it's own:

  • General relativity
  • Thermodynamics
  • Quantum mechanics

Even hearing these words in the beginning induced anxiety from the complexity of them.

But some of the greatest minds in business have spent time learning physics and if you go down the rabbit hole of Naval Ravikant, you'll find yourself wondering if it's worth learning too.

"The smartest people in most every field have a physics backgrounds. … Physics is simply the search for truth. Nothing is more rigorous.”
- Elon Musk

It became very easy to learn conceptually what the topics outlined above were by simply starting from square one. In my mind I wasn't learning physics I was simply learning the history of how modern physics came about.

History will take any complex subject and reduce it to chronological events -- creating a build up in your understanding.

3) Leverage cognitive biases to integrate knowledge

Over the last 2 months, I've started a new practice to streamline my climb up the Bloom's Taxonomy pyramid -- touching every tier in it by:

Anchoring knowledge in past experiences.

This has taken me from building a network of understanding to really building a latticework for worldly wisdom (as Charlie Munger would say).

The process is easier than you would think once you create a system.

After learning something new I take advantage of recency bias and let that information dominate my thoughts throughout the next week (just like when I read about the 6 ways to make people like you).

Once at least a week has passed then I begin the review process. During this I'll go back through the information I consumed and do 3 simple things:

  1. Write out my takeaways. These are the things that seem to still be important after I've sat with them for a while. Usually it's novel or new information.
  2. Reflect on the past. With most topics there's a story from your past where you've seen it be applied. Write in depth about it. Analyze the experience. When it's a mistake you've made then further evaluate what would have been the best behavior knowing what you know now.
  3. Look to the future. Take inventory of your present day situation and find ways to create better outcomes leveraging the new knowledge. Write out the "playbook" to integrate it into your life.

Humans have great pattern recognition.

We see our past experiences play out in our current ones (which influences the decision making and judgement we have). By attaching different topics to stories of the past you find ways to create better outcomes in the future.

Repeat this process enough and you'll craft your own unique wisdom through the inner connected knowledge you have.

FOOTNOTES

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