How to become a better learner and get a job at Google.

The most in-demand 21st century business skill is learning ability. Learning ability is also the leading predictor of success, No. 1 above intelligence and education, and it seems to be the key skill that can get you a job at Google or turn you into a succesfull entrepreneur.

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.
Laszlo Bock — SVP, People Operations at Google

The question now is weather learning ability is something that can be learned. According to Dr. Barbara Oakley (Professor of engineering in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Oakland University) and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski (Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) learning ability is definitely a quality that a person can improve. If you want to get a practical insight on how to become a better learner I strongly suggest you to take the MOOC Learning How to Learn on Coursera.

Here is a list of key lesson I learned:

  1. Focused vs diffuse mode

Brains are complex; we have two different modes of thinking that are higly important for learning. The focused mode involves a direct approach to solving problems using rational, sequential, analytical approaches. Diffused mode is a more relax thinking style that allows different areas of the brain to hook up and return valuable insights. When you are learning a new concept you have to be able to switch between the focused and diffused mode in order to allow your brain to create and memorize a thought pattern.

2. The pomodoro technique

There are some key techniques to help you learning more efficiently. The pomodoro technique is a very simple time management method that is based on the idea that breaks can improve your mental agility. According to the Pomodoro Technique you should have a short break after 25 minutes of high intensity study or work session; this interval allow your brain to grasp an information or a tought pattern.

3. Chunking

Chunks are pieces of information through bound together through meaning or use. Chunks are related to learning ability in the sense that help you in pulling togheter differents bits of information. The path to expertise is made of conceptual chunks that help your brain run more efficiently. Once you chunk an idea you don’t need to remember all bits of information; It’s like driving a car or getting dressed in the morning: you just think about a simple tought without focusing on all the details. Grasping and mastering various bits of information is something that can be learned.

More than any other learning techniques, the best way to become a better learner and innovator is thinking from first principle. This is the most important piece of advice I have got so far and it comes from Elon Musk, who is probably the most influential living entrepreneur. Here is the first principle explained by Elon Musk:

“I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. The normal way we conduct our lives is we reason by analogy. [With analogy] we are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing. [With first principles] you boil things down to the most fundamental truths…and then reason up from there.”

Learning is something that can be learned. Everybody can improve its learning ability knowing how its brain works, using some simple techniques and looking for advice and inspiration from the most brilliant learners.

I also believe that is equally important to have passion and ambition in order to become a learner and innovator; and here is my advice: embrace the struggle, enjoy your learning.

If you are interested in knowing more about the First Principle Method here are two useful links:

http://youtu.be/NV3sBlRgzTI

http://www.cyjack.com/cognition/Aristotle's%20first%20principles.pdf

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