Learning How To Learn

What do Mark Cuban and Elon Musk have in common? They read all the time.

In 2014 I developed a new habit after running out of interesting documentaries to watch. I turned to YouTube and watched countless interviews, lectures, and TED talks. YouTube hosts thousands of these videos including independently organized TEDx conferences; it goes without saying: the Internet is amazing! A vast wealth of free lectures are available through Khan Academy, Coursera, and others.

After I learned about leadership from Simon Sinek, I was hungry for more. I watched every interview and lecture given by Simon I could find. I kept going; I did deep dives on Elon Musk, Mark Cuban, Neil de grasse Tyson, Noam Chomsky, etc. I absorbed their words like a sponge. I watched all this stuff so you don’t have to, and I want to be the best part of all of modern heroes.

Today, some of Mark Cuban’s stories stick out. In one of his interviews Mark recalls sitting in front of his computer writing code for 36 hours straight while eating a bucket-load of ribs. He also mentions reading the Hadoop manual just to keep his knowledge fresh. His laser-like focus is inspirational in a world where distractions are ever-present.

Elon Musk has something in common with Mark Cuban. It is a willingness to read everything and anything. It is a pursuit of knowledge to turn dreams into reality. What I observed is that self-made successful people all share a zero-laziness learning policy. And, learning is a key to enabling success.

All schools elementary to university should have one goal: teach the students how to learn. They do this, but never explicitly set the goal. It’s difficult to measure how well a student can learn independently. Elementary prepares students for middle school, measuring success with GPA. University prepares students for academia and industry measuring success with GPA. What they really want to do is prepare a student for the next tier of learning. Students need to be ready to learn harder, more abstract concepts, and more volume of knowledge.

If students learn nothing else from 16 years of study, they should learn how to learn. For the rest of their lives they will need to constantly learn and adapt to their world. If a student coming out of this system does not know how to self-teach, the system has failed. After 16 years of study, most students will not have the knowledge do many things they need to do.

The list of examples is long and growing:

  • Teaching – an important skill for people management and parenthood. Everyone knows that we need more and better teachers.
  • Money management and personal finance – skills required to understand and pay-off insurmountable student loan debt.
  • Politics and citizenship – necessary for democratic participation and community involvement.
  • Psychology and relationship building – important for family skills, management, parenthood.
  • Cultural awareness – critical for interacting with others in diverse societies and diverse workplaces.
  • Confidence and communication – important for sharing ideas through public speaking and contributing in democratic society.
  • Child rearing and family skills – critical for raising healthy, intelligent families.
  • Handyman skills for cars and homes
  • Nutritional science and fitness – crucial for living a healthy lifestyle.
  • How to grow your own food – vital for community sustainability. It starts with having a lemon tree; you will never buy lemons again. Growing food creates surpluses to share with your neighbors. The food is organic in the truest sense. This is a topic for a whole different post.

Most students are not taught these things in lecture, but they must be learned. The problem is learning takes time and effort. You need to work at it and commit yourself to it. To quote contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei: “Life is much more interesting when you make a little bit of effort.”

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