I asked Sam Altman how he learns. His answer perplexed me.
Many would never give these words a second thought. I did. Sam runs Y-Combinator and works with today’s best learners. His response suggests that he doesn’t know the principles behind his learning.
First, I thought it was ignorance. After pondering it I discovered it’s something deeper: Perhaps learning is a paradox. As soon as you design an activity to learn; it’s not learning. Learning is a by-product. It’s a result of an activity that you didn’t consider learning in the first place.
When I think: Good learners. What comes to mind are children below the age of six, entrepreneurs, new parents and world-class performers. These are people that are not ‘learning’ through the classic school model. Instead, we call teenagers in school that are bored to death: Learners. When in reality, they are learning the least.
It’s the wanting. It’s the reason that makes you a learner. That’s what absorbs you. That’s what makes you lose track of time, overcome fear, build grit, knowledge and grow. Learning happens when you are not aware of it. It’s the wanting that makes you a mother, an inventor, a friend, a learner.
When you look back at yourself six months from today and don’t feel embarrassed by your naiveté, there’s a problem. That means you’re not learning, growing. — Ryan Hoover
“Operating from a place of needing nothing. Needing nothing attracts everything.” I love this quote.
Parents, companies and schools teach us that we need a degree. That we need to learn to be creative, critical thinkers, and job ready. They make you dependent on their services, ideas and ways of thinking.
You need nothing.
When you ask learners how to learn something they give the same advice — just do it. The repetitiveness has made us sick of the advice.
But it’s true. Just do it is the opposite of learning. Learning is useful for finding an accurate answer, but not achieving your long-term plans. Curiosity in nonlinear. There is not a step-by-step plan to achieve your idea of success. Learning makes you follow someone else’s agenda.
“Your life doesn’t have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don’t have to wait to start. In fact, you don’t have to wait to be an adult. There’s no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.”
This is a snippet of Paul Graham’s banned commencement speech for high school students. Curiosity is misunderstood. It’s not when you do Harvard’s CS50 online from challenge 1–10, read a random book or consume clickbait content. It’s insecurity and pleasure addiction. Curiosity is when you tear things apart to fit your purpose.
Curiosity and drive make you avoid learning. You leverage computers to work for you, you pick what you need, and you don’t repeat work. The drive is what creates critical thinking and creativity. With increasing advancement in technology and global competition, you don’t have the luxury to learn. Step-by-step knowledge will have a diminishing return.
Many would agree that these are the fundamental things we should learn. These are skills that guide us. They assist us in attaining knowledge to add value to our work and life. But these skills are not formed within artificial constraints.
We form them when we don’t have any limitations; when we question everything and leverage anything. That’s what it means to be critical and creative.
Learning can assist you in finding answers, but you nourish creativity, thinking, and empathy in the realm just past them.
First appeared on my personal newsletter.
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