Hard truth about the burden of learning

Original author: Haseeb Qureshi
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How can you learn what no one can teach you?

All the success of my career I attribute to my ability for unstructured learning. This kind of training is required when immersed in the field of knowledge, which is at the forefront of research, when trying to figure out a new job or create something completely new. This is the exact opposite of what we are taught in schools, and what most people call "education."

During structured training (such as at school) there are exercises, teachers who can guide you, and a beaten track from point A to point I. The most difficult thing here is to work every day.

Such a process should be familiar to everyone. Most people spend the first two decades of their lives performing small, discrete structural learning tasks, competing with their classmates on an easily defined scale. Such structural training outside classes or television quizzes is almost useless.

In the real world there are no textbooks or curricula. There is no opportunity to practice. No source of constant feedback. There are no teachers - only you and those people whom you can convince to help you.

So how can you learn what nobody can teach you? How to become a world expert in the field, in which very few people understand?

Unstructured learning requires wandering. It is necessary to independently poke in all directions, use the method of trial and error, study, stumble and make discoveries. The Gladwellian “10,000 hours of conscious practice” does not work when you are trying to learn what no one knows how to do.

But only such training matters to the whole world. Nawal Ravikant once said: "The world rewards you for creating things that he cannot do himself."

If there is a structured approach to study a certain area, you can be sure that your genius will not be needed by the world - it will grow enough experts. But if he cannot, then he will generously reward those who will be able to conquer this area.

Most people do not do well with unstructured learning. But in this matter you can become better. Here are five principles that can help most people become better at unstructured learning.

1. Intentionally decide to look stupid.

Stop trying not to look stupid.

Stop trying not to look stupid.

Most people hope for such progress:

Schedule of how stupid you look, depending on the time.

They start by trying not to look dull, pretending to understand everything, and hoping that their pretense will work while they gradually learn. . But here's the problem: trying to pretend at first, most people just learn to pretend even better.

Hiding ignorance is the instinct of man. It is necessary to fight this instinct. Your curve should look like this:

You should immediately look silly. Intentionally.

And what about the American phraseologism fake it till you make it (imitate, until it works)? I am ready to admit that imitation is necessary in order to enter some area. But after that, you need to drop the imitation and focus on what you can do.

Honestly assess the limitations of your knowledge. Ask simple, obvious questions again and again. Repeat things, add, even if it is wrong. Explain what you have learned to other people over and over, even if you are mistaken. Record everything you can, even when it seems that it is not necessary. Highlight smart people and bombard them with questions after everyone has already dispersed.

This is what the struggle for learning looks like. All the best scholars study this way, and for this they are respected.

If you are learning a new field or starting a new job, and you do not care that people may find you stupid, then you are not aggressive enough in your training.

2. Ask the third question

In Moliere's comedy “ Imaginary Sick ”, a patient asks a medical student: “Why do people fall asleep from opium?” The student replies: “because, as doctors have found out, opium contains a sleeping pill” [ T. -Kupernik / approx. trans. ]. And practically any person would ask the second question: “What is a sleeping pill?”

A student could answer: “this is the main property of a substance that makes a person fall asleep”. And most people would give up on that. They would not be able to understand the vague answer, and would decide that they simply do not know enough to appreciate it. But some people who have decided to study, ask the third question: “I did not understand. Does it contain a sleeping pill because it makes people fall asleep? Is it a tautology? ”

Naturally, in this case, the sleeping pill is a joke. But you can imagine and not such an obvious situation. What if we were talking about a new scientific study? Or why all the gadgets for the company are imported from China? Or why the team is trying to hide sales data from the authorities? Would you ask a third question - would you insist on understanding?

Serious social pressure makes people silent. It works like this - if you don’t understand it, you probably don’t deserve it.

And most people are silent.

This must be fought. It is necessary not to be silent, to struggle for knowledge, even if you look stupid or neglect social norms. It's hard! But throughout life, learning will cover all social costs. And more often than not, you are not the only person who does not understand something, and other people will benefit from your courage.

This is how I first learned to play poker at 16, and became a world-class player in a couple of years. When I did not understand something, I argued, denied, asked people to explain to me so that I could understand. I refused to not understand. For many years of controversy over card analysis and poker theory, perseverance has allowed me to become one of the best poker players (and annoy everyone who tried to talk to me about poker).

Respect the people holding up the class, asking the third question. To ask a third question, it takes courage. For this we need rights, in the best sense of the word. Remember that learning is sacred, and everyone deserves it. Including you.

3. Dive

Many people want to learn French. Few people will reach such a state to start doing something about it. They can pay for an online course, hire a teacher, try Duolingo, buy a tutorial, switch the phone menu to Francais — perform all these steps that you need to perform for training.

However, there is a shorter way, and most people do not even think about it: move to France.

Naturally, anchoring and moving to another country is a ridiculous way to just learn a language. But, I must admit, plunging into France, you learn French much better than the textbook. The cost of such training is high, but immersion is the best way to learn that money can buy.

You see, millions of years of evolution have shaped your brain so that it absorbs statistical patterns from the environment — when it needs to survive, communicate, and climb the social scale. But the brain needs bets, and it needs a lot of raw material to extract patterns. You need to bring him to the water, and he himself will get drunk.

That is how I got into the world of the blockchain. I plunged into a world that did not understand. I read scientific articles, reports, blog entries, most of which were meaningless to me. I listened only to podcasts about the blockchain, watched technical lectures, took notes, started up nodes, did prototypes of blockchains myself, spoke to as many experts as I could (and they all knew much more than I did).

I plunged into the blockchain until my brain began to understand this. And, surprisingly, almost none of the blockchain people I have met, do this.

Therefore, I learned faster than them. And you can do it too.

4. Use your strengths to the fullest.

Most people do not use their strengths. They convince themselves that they have to become an expert in something before they start a blog, organize events, make a video for YouTube, or be friends with influential people.

And this is absolutely not the case.

Use your strengths to the fullest. People often deny themselves their useful qualities, being sure that they will not be useful in a new area. And they are almost always wrong.

Do it right away, do it badly . After you do not succeed, you will be surprised how much everyone does not care. If you succeed, you will be surprised how easy it was, and how bad it is for everyone else.

I have a talent for writing. So when I want to learn something new, I start writing about it. And what is interesting: at first my notes are pretty bad! Nobody reads them, nobody cares. But over time, writing makes me dive deeper into the field, make connections, conduct research, and eventually learn more.

I know so many competent writers who have decided not to write about what they do not know very well. When I ask them why, they say: "I will write about it when I have something to say, which has not been said yet."

I am laughing.

Everything I say has already been said before. But today I am the one who says this, therefore everyone who wants to hear it today can hear it from me.

5. Find opportunities to train

Few people know that in any classroom, the teacher learns about the subject most of all. The fastest way to learn any field is to teach in it. Teaching makes you spontaneously remember what you have learned, organize and present concepts, come up with analogies and platforms, answer arbitrary questions on the topic.

But you are a beginner yourself! How do you manage to become a teacher?

Simply. Find people who know far less than you and offer them.

If you fail, organize a free classroom, seminar, webcast. Even if only one person enters, train him. Answer questions on a StackExchange type forum or Slack public chat. Write or write learning materials. There is always a person who knows less than you, to whom your help will be useful.

When I was studying computer science at App Academy, I organized small groups where I taught advanced algorithms and data structures — usually these things are taught at universities. Of course, then I did not have the necessary qualifications.

So how did I train them? Simply. I told them that I would train them. Then, already subscribing to this, I watched lectures about algorithms from Stanford and Princeton again and again, until I began to understand. Then I programmed, wrote tests, planned a lecture.

The lectures did quite well, although my amateurism showed through. There is nothing wrong. They were still useful for visitors - but they were even more useful for me. I would never have achieved what I had achieved if I had taught only what I had become a master in myself.

Learning to learn

As a result, learning is both science and art. This is science, when the region is structured, and art, when it is not.

If you are trying to study in a structured field, then most of the research on this problem is summed up in the legendary “ Learning to Learn ” open course from Barbara Oakley. There are some good notes on this course . This is the science of learning, and the process of learning something well-known is itself well-known.

But the art of learning is more subtle. This is the study of unexplored lands. This is how humanity learns something for the first time.

The best of the students of the people, those whom I respect the most, are fighting for their learning, accomplishing small feats. They explore new, take risks, look stupid, insist on looking under each stone. And although I usually do not reach them, it is precisely such students and I aspire to be.

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