5-Hour Rule: If you’re not spending 5 hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible

Photo credit from left to right: Pete Souza, gatesnotes.com, Wikipedia Commons

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.” — Charlie Munger, Self-made billionaire & Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner

Why did the busiest person in the world, former president Barack Obama, read an hour a day while in office?

Why has the best investor in history, Warren Buffett, invested 80% of his time in reading and thinking throughout his career?

Why has the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, read a book a week during his career? And why has he taken a yearly two-week reading vacation throughout his entire career?

Why do the world’s smartest and busiest people find one hour a day for deliberate learning (the 5-Hour Rule), while others make excuses about how busy they are?

What do they see that others don’t?

The answer is simple: Learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. Or as Benjamin Franklin said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

This insight is fundamental to succeeding in our knowledge economy, yet few people realize it. Luckily, once you do understand the value of knowledge, it’s simple to get more of it. Just dedicate yourself to constant learning.

Knowledge is the new money

Intellectual capital will always trump financial capital.” — Paul Tudor Jones, self-made billionaire entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist

We spend our lives collecting, spending, lusting after, and worrying about money — in fact, when we say we “don’t have time” to learn something new, it’s usually because we are feverishly devoting our time to earning money, but several things are happening right now that are changing the relationship between money and knowledge.

#1. While goods are becoming demonetized, knowledge is becoming increasingly valuable

“The central event of the twentieth century is the overthrow of matter. In technology, economics, and the politics of nations, wealth in the form of physical resources is steadily declining in value and significance. The powers of mind are everywhere ascendant over the brute force of things.”

— George Gilder (technology thinker)

We are at the beginning of a period of what renowned futurist Peter Diamandis calls rapid demonetization, in which technology is rendering previously expensive products or services much cheaper — or even free.

This chart from Diamandis’ book Abundance shows how we’ve demonetized $900,000 worth of products and services you might have purchased between 1969 and 1989.

This demonetization will accelerate in the future. Automated vehicle fleets will eliminate one of our biggest purchases: a car. Virtual reality will make expensive experiences, such as going to a concert or playing golf, instantly available at much lower cost. While the difference between reality and virtual reality is almost incomparable at the moment, the rate of improvement of VR is exponential.

While education and health care costs have risen, innovation in these fields will likely lead to eventual demonetization as well. Many higher educational institutions, for example, have legacy costs to support multiple layers of hierarchy and to upkeep their campuses. Newer institutions are finding ways to dramatically lower costs by offering their services exclusively online, focusing only on training for in-demand, high-paying skills, or having employers who recruit students subsidize the cost of tuition.

Finally, new devices and technologies, such as CRISPR, the XPrize Tricorder, better diagnostics via artificial intelligence, and reduced cost of genomic sequencing will revolutionize the healthcare system. These technologies and other ones like them will dramatically lower the average cost of healthcare by focusing on prevention rather than cure and management.

While goods are becoming demonetized, knowledge is becoming increasingly valuable.

Perhaps the best example of the rising value of certain forms of knowledge is the self-driving car industry. Sebastian Thrun, founder of Google X and Google’s self-driving car team, gives the example of Uber paying $700 million for Otto, a six-month-old company with 70 employees, and of GM spending $1 billion on their acquisition of Cruise. He concludes that in this industry, “The going rate for talent these days is $10 million.”

That’s $10 million per skilled worker, and while that’s the most stunning example, it’s not just true for incredibly rare and lucrative technical skills. People who identify skills needed for future jobs — e.g., data analyst, product designer, physical therapist — and quickly learn them are poised to win.

Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group. They risk remaining stuck on the bottom rung of global competition, and they risk losing their jobs to automation, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85 percent of manufacturing jobs.

Why?

People at the bottom of the economic ladder are being squeezed more and compensated less, while those at the top have more opportunities and are paid more than ever before. The irony is that the problem isn’t a lack of jobs. Rather, it’s a lack of people with the right skills and knowledge to fill the jobs.

An Atlantic article captures the paradox:

“Employers across industries and regions have complained for years about a lack of skilled workers, and their complaints are borne out in U.S. employment data. In July [2015], the number of job postings reached its highest level ever, at 5.8 million, and the unemployment rate was comfortably below the post-World War II average. But, at the same time, over 17 million Americans are either unemployed, not working but interested in finding work, or doing part-time work but aspiring to full-time work.”

In short, we can see how at a fundamental level knowledge is gradually becoming its own important and unique form of currency. In other words, knowledge is the new money.

#2. Knowledge often serves as a medium of exchange and store of value

But, unlike money, when you use knowledge or give it away, you don’t lose it. In fact, it’s the opposite. The more you give away knowledge, the more you:

  • Remember it
  • Understand it
  • Connect it to other ideas in your head
  • Build your identity as a role model for that knowledge

This is known as the Explanation Effect.

Furthermore, knowledge has several other fascinating properties…

  • Transferring knowledge anywhere in the world is free and instant.
  • Its value compounds over time faster than money.
  • It can be converted into many things, including things that money can’t buy, such as authentic relationships and high levels of subjective well-being.
  • It helps you accomplish your goals faster and better.
  • It’s fun to acquire.
  • It makes your brain work better.
  • It expands your vocabulary, making you a better communicator.
  • It helps you think bigger and beyond your circumstances.
  • It connects you to communities of people you didn’t even know existed.
  • It puts your life in perspective by essentially helping you live many lives in one life through other people’s experiences and wisdom.

#3. Knowledge investors will be the new wealthy

Fundamentally, there are three ways to make money:

  • Time
  • Knowledge
  • Money

Employees, entrepreneurs, and investors combine time, knowledge, and money in different ways:

  • Employees combine time and knowledge into a salary.
  • Investors combine knowledge and money into assets that have compounding gains.
  • Entrepreneurs combine time, knowledge, and money into both salary and ownership.

As we move into Web 3.0 world, which is built on top of the blockchain, a new class of investors is emerging. Here’s why:

#1. The world of investable assets will increase 1,000x

The current boom in crypto tokens like Bitcoin and NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are just the first step. For example, with platforms like BitClout Pulse and Ideamarket, it is possible to invest in people’s reputation. With Augur and Omen, it becomes possible to invest based on your predictions of what will happen in the world in the future.

Furthermore, we are rapidly moving away from NFTs just being digital art and collectibles to NFTs being all types of media—news articles, podcast episodes, analyst reports, and music beats are just a few of the harbingers of the new reality.

What does this all mean?

In a nutshell: more investment markets gives more people the opportunity to use their unique and valuable knowledge to find great investments.

For example, I have a deep understanding of what articles will go viral on the web. In the past, it was hard for me to invest based on this knowledge. However, as more and more content is turned into NFTs, I will have a unique advantage in finding mispriced assets.

Not only that, more assets means that people can get a return on their learning faster. In the old model, young people would spend four years and $100,000 at a college building up their knowledge base. Then, they’d spend decades using their time in order to pay off that original investment, pay off living expenses, and then use what’s left to make investments. In the web 3.0 paradigm, students will be able to learn a topic rapidly and make investments right away.

For example, in 2010, Tim Ferriss famously decided to forgo an MBA and use the money he would have spent on tuition to do angel investing. He shared his logicIn a blog post:

I decided to make (in my mind) a two-year “Tim Ferriss Fund” that would replace Stanford business school.

Stanford GSB isn’t cheap. I rounded it down to $60,000 a year, for a total of $120,000 over two years (these days, it’s $100,000+ per year).

For the “Tim Ferriss Fund,” I would aim to intelligently spend $120,000 over two years on angel investing in $10–20,000 chunks, so 6–12 companies in total. The goal of this “business school” would be to learn as much as possible about start-up finance, deal structuring, rapid product design, initiating acquisition conversations, etc. as possible…

I went into the “Tim Ferriss Fund” viewing the $120,000 as sunk tuition costs, but also expecting that the lessons learned, and people met, would be worth that $120,000 investment. The two-year plan was to methodically spend $120,000 for the learning experience, not for the ROI.

With web 3.0, we may see more people creating their own learning funds like Ferriss. When you own an asset, you have skin in the game. Skin in the game heightens all of your senses and primes you for learning. In other words, you learn 10x faster when there are real and meaningful costs and benefits attached to your decisions.

Bottom line: The exploding number of assets in the world gives more people the chance to profit from their unique knowledge. Furthermore, the rewards for learning will increase exponentially.

#2. Anyone can become an investor no matter their net worth

This is powered by fractional ownership where people can own percentages of stocks, tokens, and other assets. In the future, it could be possible to own a percentage of a home, art work, or car. It being possible to own a fraction of an asset drastically increases the number of investors in expensive assets. Think about how many people would buy a home if they could own a percentage of it and didn’t have to qualify for a mortgage or a large down payment. Imagine if a Leonardo Da Vinci painting were for sale, and you didn’t have to have tens of millions of dollars in cash to own it. Rather, you could own $100 of it.

Bottom line: In the past if you had a unique knowledge on an asset that was valuable, if you didn’t have enough money, you couldn’t turn that knowledge into an asset. With fractional ownership you can.

#3. Creators and users will become owners

In the current era of the web, platforms like Facebook and Twitter get paid for the ‘free work’ of users creating value on the platform (i.e., giving their attention, creating content, commenting, liking, voting, and curating the best content by sharing it with their network).

In the web 3.0 era, platforms like, Mirror.xyz, Brave, and Audius, give monetary ownership to users and creators for the value they generate.

To better understand this shift, let’s take a look at one of the platforms—Mirror.xyz. Mirror.xyz is a new platform for writers, and it represents the new web 3.0 paradigm.

Here’s how it works.

Every week, Mirror allows 10 new writers on to the platform. In order to be selected, the writers must get the most votes from community members during that one week period.

Once a writer is accepted, they receive one $WRITE token. This token allows them to publish, officially makes them an owner in the platform, and gives them an asset they can sell in the future.

Mirror also provides small amounts of the $WRITE token for members who create value in other ways (voting, joining the waitlist to get into the platform, etc).

The Brave web browser is a more popular example. Since it was founded in 2019 by the inventor of JavaScript and co-founder of Mozilla, it has grown to over 25 million monthly active users. Brave rewards creators in the following way:

  1. People who use the Brave Browser can earn Basic Attention Token (BAT) tokens by viewing privacy-respecting ads.
  2. They can then tip these tokens to their favorite content creators via the Brave web browser as they’re viewing that creator’s work.
  3. BAT can easily be sold on a crypto exchange by the creators.

As I write this, the total market for BAT is $1.5 billion.

Now, imagine this new model for other platforms. Brave will be launching a search engine soon for example. Suddenly, your product adoption decision will also be a financial decision. If you have early access to insider knowledge on what will take off, you will make more money. And the key is that you’re getting ownership off of your knowledge, not your money.

Bottom line: With web 3.0, creators and users who create value on platforms get financial ownership. For the first time, becoming a smart early adopter will get you paid.

These three shifts have an incredible number of consequences. But, the most important one as it relates to this article is that it has never been easier to convert knowledge into money. In addition, when it comes to the mix of time, money, and knowledge, the relative value of knowledge is increasing.

Constant learners who cultivate a unique and valuable perspective on the world will be able to profit from their knowledge by:

  • Early Adoption. Discovering, adopting, and betting on products, artists, creators, influencers, athletes, geographic locations, industries, and other asset classes before the mainstream.
  • Finding Mispricings. Identifying assets or predictions that overpriced or underpriced and taking the other side of the bet than everyone else.

Together all of these changes are creating a new profession. What I call knowledge investors…

The Rise Of The Knowledge Investor

The Internet democratized access to knowledge. Web 3.0 democratizes access to investing. Combine the two and we see the rise of the knowledge investor.

The implication of all of these changes clicked for me when I recently interviewed my good friend Emerson Spartz. Emerson dropped out of middle school so he could devote himself to learning full-time, which included reading a book a day. In his teens, he launched a website with 60+ million page views per month and penned a New York Times bestseller. He tried college for a year. Then, he got bored and stopped going to classes so he could focus full-time on his own learning.

In his 20s, Emerson raised $35 million to launch and scale a media empire, which he exited a few years ago. Since then, he has been traveling the world and learning full-time. Referring to himself as an intellectual athlete, he wakes up early to review his notes from the previous day, teach what he has learned to his brother, and then dive into a full-day of deliberate learning. At the end of the day, he and whoever he is traveling with (currently his brother, creator of Meta Book Summaries and his girl friend, Kat Woods, co-founder of The Nonlinear Fund).

When I caught up with him recently, he shared more about his learning philosophy. He started off his learning sabbatical by spending over a year getting a deep fundamental understanding of the fundamental disciplines (physics, biology, math, and chemistry). This gave him a cross-disciplinary latticework of mental models that allows him to problem solve from first principles.

At various points when I have caught up with him over the past few years, he’s been studying topics from beekeeping and artificial intelligence to decentralized finance and trend curves.

His current plan is to combine his evergreen lattice work of mental models and understanding of decentralized finance to find time-bound investment opportunities like the ones I mentioned in the section above.

Over the last three years, Emerson has seen his net worth 10x into 8-figures. He plans to find a handful of investments per year via his knowledge that will increase his net worth to 9-figures in the next 5–10 years.

In my opinion, Emerson is an extreme version of a new and emerging profession of knowledge investors. A knowledge investor:

  • Treats learning like an athlete treats practice
  • Spends most of their day learning
  • Develop a latticework of mental models
  • Studies emerging trends
  • Invests his or her time and money in the best time-bound opportunities

Now, the question is, how do you become a knowledge investor…

6 Essential Skills To Become A Knowledge Investor

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

So, how do we learn the right knowledge and have it pay off for us? The six points below serve as a framework to help you begin to answer this question. I also created an in-depth webinar on Learning How To Learn that you can watch for free.

  1. Identify valuable knowledge at the right time. The value of knowledge isn’t static. It changes as a function of how valuable other people consider it and how rare it is. As new technologies mature and reshape industries, there is often a deficit of people with the needed skills, which creates the potential for high compensation. Because of the high compensation, more people are quickly trained, and the average compensation decreases.
  2. Learn and master that knowledge quickly. Opportunity windows are temporary in nature. Individuals must take advantage of them when they see them. This means being able to learn new skills quickly. After reading thousands of books, I’ve found that understanding and using mental models is one of the most universal skills that EVERYONE should learn. It provides a strong foundation of knowledge that applies across every field. So when you jump into a new field, you have preexisting knowledge you can use to learn faster.
  3. Communicate the value of your skills to others. People with the same skills can command wildly different salaries and fees based on how well they’re able to communicate and persuade others. This ability convinces others that the skills you have are valuable is a “multiplier skill.” Many people spend years mastering an underlying technical skill and virtually no time mastering this multiplier skill.
  4. Convert knowledge into money and results. There are many ways to transform knowledge into value in your life. A few examples include finding and getting a job that pays well, getting a raise, building a successful business, selling your knowledge as a consultant, and building your reputation by becoming a thought leader.
  5. Learn how to financially invest in learning to get the highest return. Each of us needs to find the right “portfolio” of books, online courses, and certificate/degree programs to help us achieve our goals within our budget. To get the right portfolio, we need to apply financial terms — such as return on investment, risk management, hurdle rate, hedging, and diversification — to our thinking on knowledge investment.
  6. Master the skill of learning how to learn. Doing so exponentially increases the value of every hour we devote to learning (our learning rate). Our learning rate determines how quickly our knowledge compounds over time. Consider someone who reads and retains one book a week versus someone who takes 10 days to read a book. Over the course of a year, a 30% difference compounds to one person reading 85 more books.

To shift our focus from being overly obsessed with money to a more savvy and realistic quest for knowledge, we need to stop thinking that we only acquire knowledge from 5 to 22 years old, and that then we can get a job and mentally coast through the rest of our lives if we work hard. To survive and thrive in this new era, we must constantly learn.

Working hard is the industrial era approach to getting ahead. Learning hard is the knowledge economy equivalent.

Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins, steps per day, and minutes of aerobic exercise for maintaining physical health, we need to be rigorous about the minimum dose of deliberate learning that will maintain our economic health. The long-term effects of intellectual complacency are just as insidious as the long-term effects of not exercising, eating well, or sleeping enough. Not learning at least 5 hours per week (the 5-hour rule) is the smoking of the 21st century and this article is the warning label.

Don’t Be Lazy. Don’t Make Excuses. Just Get It Done.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Before his daughter was born, successful entrepreneur Ben Clarke focused on deliberate learning every day from 6:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for five years (2,000+ hours), but when his daughter was born, he decided to replace his learning time with daddy-daughter time. This is the point at which most people would give up on their learning ritual.

Instead of doing that, Ben decided to change his daily work schedule. He shortened the number of hours he worked on his to do list in order to make room for his learning ritual. Keep in mind that Ben oversees 200+ employees at his company, The Shipyard, and is always busy. In his words, “By working less and learning more, I might seem to get less done in a day, but I get dramatically more done in my year and in my career.” This wasn’t an easy decision by any means, but it reflects the type of difficult decisions that we all need to start making. Even if you’re just an entry-level employee, there’s no excuse. You can find mini learning periods during your downtimes (commutes, lunch breaks, slow times). Even 15 minutes per day will add up to nearly 100 hours over a year. Time and energy should not be excuses. Rather, they are difficult, but overcomable challenges. By being one of the few people who rises to this challenge, you reap that much more in reward.

We often believe we can’t afford the time it takes, but the opposite is true: None of us can afford not to learn.

Learning is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity.

Start Your Learning Ritual Today With These Two Steps

The busiest, most successful people in the world find at least an hour to learn EVERY DAY. So can you!

Just two steps are needed to create your own learning ritual:

  1. Consistently finding the time for reading and learning even if you are really busy and overwhelmed or feel like procrastinating
  2. Increase the results you receive from each hour of learning by using proven hacks that help you remember and apply what you learn

To help you create a learning ritual — minus the trial-and-error — I’ve created a free learning course for you. Each lesson took me over 50 hours to research and write, and is based on my experience reading over 2,000 books, building multiple 7-figure businesses, and teaching thousands of students how to learn faster.

In the free course, I will help you…

  • Find time in your busy schedule to build a bulletproof learning habit
  • Overcome information overwhelm (the No. 1 reason why most learners fall behind, and fail to get real-world results from their learning)
  • Find breakthrough knowledge that gives you a lasting competitive edge (and ultimately transforms your life)
  • Go from absorbing information to creating real-world results with anything you’ve learned (a four-step accelerated learning process that is also used by artificial intelligence)

Each lesson comes with a summary video and free worksheet to help you apply the lesson.

Get the free learning course here >>

This article was written with love and care using the blockbuster mental model.

If there’s a link to an Amazon book, it’s an affiliate link, which means I get a small amount of compensation when you buy the book. This compensation does not influence the specific books I recommend, as I only recommend books that I read and love.

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For people who want to find time to learn, learn better, and use their knowledge to boost their income.

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Michael Simmons

Michael Simmons

I teach people to learn HOW to learn / Serial entrepreneur / Bestselling author / Contributor: Time, Fortune, and Harvard Business Review

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