Lessons in Lifelong Learning: don’t be a self help junkie

Wade Anderson
Jul 20, 2017 · 3 min read

“You read a lot of books, but you’re kind of a self help junkie.”

A close friend told me this on one of our Saturday runs. He is an impressive life long learner so I valued his critical feedback.

He was exactly right. I have read 200+ books in the last four years. I’ve picked up a lot of anecdotes to help my life (self help junkie) but gained little topic mastery. In other words, I wasn’t really learning.

I’ve tried to improve. Here are a few things that have helped me.

  1. Learn how to read a book

I thought I knew how to read, until I read How to Read a Book. This is a classic on how to decide what to read and internalize what you are reading. The author describes four levels of reading: elementary, inspections last, analytical, and synoptical.

A key takeaway is to inspect what you are looking to read before investing the time. Scan the table of contents. Skim the first and last chapter. Identify the main thesis. Decide if it’s worth reading.

Then analyze, don’t read. Analyze by studying the parts you don’t understand and skimming the parts you do. Dive deep on something the author said if you don’t get it. Decide if you agree with the author or not. Are the arguments sound? Is the data unbiased? What are the authors motivations?

Synoptical study is bringing what you read in one book / article together with other books / articles you’ve read, which brings me to my next point.

2. Create a Study Guide

A study guide is simply a synopsis (synoptical study) of what I’ve learned about a topic so far. I use a Google Doc, create a table of contents that outlines the topic, then fill it in with bullet points, diagrams, and quotes to explain the topic. I also add anecdotes from my own life.

The Study Guide is the forcing function to master a topic. At the end of my focus on a topic I have a deliverable filled with blog fodder. When I jump back into the topic months later, I pull up the Study Guide and can bring myself up to speed with the topic. This way I’m always building on what I’ve learned in the past.

3. Create flash cards

I’m a fan of Quizlet. I parse my study guide into a couple dozen flash cards. I try and review Quizlet once a day to keep learnings fresh.

4. Share and produce

The final step is inspired by Richard Feynman’s “teach a child” principle. The idea is that you don’t really understand something until you can teach it in simple, plain language.

I try and share what I’m learning in many ways: Twitter, Quora, blogs, with friends, etc. Often my wife and son humor me by listening to my rants on different subjects.

“Produce” is to create something that helps me internalize what I’m learning. Exactly what depends on the topic. If I’m studying investing I’ll produce an investment analysis document. If I’m studying something in tech, I’ll create a web app or write a machine learning model. I try to learn by doing.

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Do you have a lifelong learning strategy that works well?

I would love to hear about it. Leave a response below or ping me on Twitter @waderyan_.

Wade Anderson

Written by

Entrepreneur. Past: PM @Microsoft, CEO Novi Security

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