Research Reveals The №1 Life Skill That Schools Surprisingly Don’t Teach

“In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products but above all to reinvent yourself again and again.”

— Yuval Noah Harari

The most important skill anybody can learn is the ability to learn rare and useful skills on-demand.

The reasons are simple:

  • To succeed over our entire career, we’ll need to learn dozens of new skills.
  • The most in-demand and high-paying skills of the future have not yet been created, because the world is so rapidly changing.
  • Therefore, it is impossible to fully front load our learning at the beginning of our career.
  • The people who learn hard, in-demand skills first will have the most successful careers .

All these points are tautological — understandable by logic alone.

When I graduated in 2004, smartphones did not exist and social media hadn’t spread yet. Now, I publish all of my articles on social media and most people read them on smartphones.

Now, take someone graduating today. Let’s assume they have a 50-year career that lasts until 2070. First, by 2070, the pace of life will be 32x what it is right now. If we assume that Moore’s Law will continue, which it very likely will, the changes will be profound. Even the most maverick futurist Ray Kurzweil, Director Of Engineering at Google, doesn’t even try to predict past the 2040s. Here are just a few of his predictions of what will happen by then:

  • Mind uploading perfected.
  • Nanomachines in peoples’ brains, augmenting their cognition, senses, and giving them the ability to communicate “telepathically,” perfected.
  • Human intelligence multiplied by billions.
  • People spend most of their time in VR.
  • Non-biological intelligence becomes billions of times more capable than biological intelligence.
  • $1,000 buys a computer a billion times more intelligent than every human combined.

Or, let’s just take the next 10 years rather than the next 50. We are currently amidst some of the biggest changes in human history all happening at once:

Given the changes on the horizon, you would think that learning how to learn would be taught in every school and baked into the corporate culture of every company. It isn’t.

In fact, the opposite is true. Not only is learning how to learn not taught, our popular culture is filled with dangerous learning myths that sabotage people’s success and cause them to waste countless hours learning mediocre skills they don’t remember for more than a few weeks and never apply.

In this article, I will dispel the five biggest learning myths and share a research-backed, universal model of learning you can use for the rest of your life.

Let’s jump in…

The 5 Learning Myths That Are Sabotaging Your Career

Over my life, I’ve read thousands of books and applied my lessons to build successful companies (and several failed companies). If there is a learning mistake, I’ve made it. I’ve now spent years reading academic research on learning, experimenting with the principles in my life, and incorporating them into a curriculum that has reached thousands and into the largest learning how to learn community in the world (340,000+ members).

Here are the big five learning myths I see most often:

These five myths beg the question, what is the most effective way to learn?

Fortunately, there is an answer that has been proven over and over across time and across the fields of psychology, warfare, artificial intelligence, business, and the learning sciences…

The Origin Of A Universal Learning Model

In the era of 1950s air warfare, there was a peculiar anomaly. In dog fights between MiG-15s and F-86s, the plane that was expected to win (the MiG-15) constantly lost. To explore this, Colonel John Boyd (one of the best Air Force pilots in history) decided to research and get to the root of the situation.

The question was, how could an inferior aircraft win so decisively?

Boyd had a theory:

Boyd decided that the primary determinant to winning dogfights was observing, orienting, planning, and acting faster. In other words, how quickly one could iterate. Speed of iteration, Boyd suggested, beats quality of iteration.

The next question Boyd asked is this: why would the F-86 iterate faster? The reason, he concluded, was something that nobody had thought was particularly important. It was the fact that the F-86 had a hydraulic flight stick whereas the MiG-15 had a manual flight stick.

Without hydraulics, it took slightly more physical energy to move the MiG-15 flight stick than it did the F-85 flight stick. Even though the MiG-15 would turn faster (or climb higher) once the stick was moved, the amount of energy it took to move the stick was greater for the MiG-15 pilot.

With each iteration, the MiG-15 pilot grew a little more fatigued than the F-86 pilot. And as he got more fatigued, it took just a little bit longer to complete his OODA loop. The MiG-15 pilot didn’t lose because he got outfought. He lost because he got out-OODAed.

These insights lead us to Boyd’s Law of Iteration: speed of iteration beats quality of iteration.

So what does iteration mean in this context? It means how quickly you go through Boyd’s OODA loop.

In the aerial dogfight, the loop looks like this…

  • Observe the other aircraft
  • Orient yourself by analyzing the situation
  • Decide what to do
  • Act (steer or fire)

The underlying model of the OODA Loop also applies in a much broader context…

Introducing The Universal Learning Loop

I first heard about the OODA Loop in 2005. The next time I thought about it was when I had a thought leader agency, and one of my clients was a world-renowned expert in artificial intelligence. He helped me see that AI followed the same exact sort of loop…

  • Sensors or programs collect data
  • Algorithms analyze that data after it is stored on the internet
  • Then, there is experimentation in the world to test the ideas
  • Feedback from the experiment is used to improve

In other words, the loop is:

  • Data
  • Algorithms
  • Experimentation
  • Feedback

Immediately, I saw the connection with our own intelligence as animals and humans…

  1. We collect data about the world through our five senses.
  2. Our brain, which is made up of biological algorithms, makes sense of the data so we can make decisions.
  3. We move around in the world and try things out.
  4. We use the feedback to do better next time.

I also saw it in academia. I interviewed Berkeley-trained researcher Theo Dawson and learned about her Virtuous Cycle of Learning model. Also, Harvard researcher David Kolb’s model of experiential learning has the same logic. And, I also learned about it when studying epistemology and the scientific method…

“There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.”

— Philosopher Denis Diderot

Finally, I saw it in business with Eric Reis’ Build-Measure-Learn Loop.

In other words, across warfare, AI, learning sciences, business, philosophy and animal intelligence, there is almost the same exact loop. I call this the Learning Loop mental model, and it is the fundamental learning process of the universe. It’s a durable model of learning that will last you the rest of your life.

Each step builds on the next in a compounding loop.

  1. Information. Taking in information via people, info, and experiences.
  2. Algorithms. Processing that information unconsciously and via reflective questions. And then taking notes.
  3. Experimentation. Taking action on the reflections to identify and move forward on the highest leverage actions without procrastination.
  4. Feedback. Identifying key variables and rapidly seeing the impact of your experiments on those variables.

By applying the Learning Loop to your life, you can dramatically increase your success in two ways…

#1. Compound Your Learning Like Warren Buffett

The following passage from the only authorized biography of Warren Buffett drives home the power of compound knowledge…

If you are investing in your education and you are learning, you should do that as early as you possibly can, because then it will have time to compound over the longest period. And that the things you do learn and invest in should be knowledge that is cumulative, so that the knowledge builds on itself. So instead of learning something that might become obsolete tomorrow, like some particular type of software [that no one even uses two years later], choose things that will make you smarter in 10 or 20 years.”

The reason compounding is so powerful is because, as time goes by, the interest from your past investments does most of the work for you. We’ve all heard the story about how if you just put $100 per week into your bank account starting at age 20 you’ll be a millionaire by the time you retire. The same applies to learning. Follow the 5-Hour Rule for your entire career, and you will be a mental millionaire.

This chart is essentially why Albert Einstein reportedly referred to compound interest as the eighth wonder of the world.

On a practical level, compounding your learning means using a modified version of the compound interest formula…

The beauty of this simple formula is that it gives you three leverage points (the three variables) to improve your learning. In this way, I think of The Learning Loop as the E=MC2 of learning.

Other approaches to “accelerated learning” are often based on passing a test. With these approaches, the focus is often on speed reading and memorization. The Learning Loop, on the other hand, is the best model for improving your success and impact in the real world.

Finally, whereas compounding happens over a long period of time, the learning loop is immediately helpful. It helps you…

2. Iterate Fast So You Can Adapt To Any Change

“When a new venture does succeed, more often than not it is in a market other than the one it was originally intended to serve, with products or services not quite those with which it had set out, bought in large part by customers it did not even think of when it started, and used for a host of purposes besides the ones for which the products were first designed.” — Peter Drucker

One of the most famous sayings in Silicon Valley is that no business plan survives first contact with the customer. No matter how smart or experienced an entrepreneur is, there is always a gap between what they think the customer will buy or use and what they actually do.

Business history is rife with smart entrepreneurs who raised boatloads of cash and built huge products and then crashed.

The software and technology industry has learned how to manage uncertainty with lean and agile philosophies. All other creative industries have learned this too.

Rather than having huge learning loops where one mistake can take months to learn and kill the company, the goal is to shrink the learning loops so you can make many small mistakes quickly and learn from each one as you go along. In other words, the goal is to build a science laboratory, not just one big experiment.

The visual below captures the power of the fast iteration philosophy. Small iterations help you course correct and go in the right direction. They give you more at-bats so you have a higher chance of finding your home run.

Inspiration for visual from @Jackbutcher

This agile approach is also helpful outside of product development in software startups. It’s relevant for every single person who wants to maximize their learning every day.

To my knowledge, no one in the world of knowledge work has mastered using the small learning loop more than self-made billionaire investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ray Dalio.

Most people view meetings as going through an agenda. In other words, they view it as being about execution only. A good meeting is one that gets through the agenda as quickly as possible.

Dalio thinks differently.

At any point in a meeting, any member in the meeting can announce that they feel the meeting is a waste of time, and then there is discussion about it. Furthermore, every single person in the meeting rates the meeting and its presenters on multiple dimensions in real-time. This level of granular feedback makes it so that meetings are learning opportunities for presenters and also opportunities to improve all future meetings inside the company.

Compare the rate of meeting improvement between a company who is deliberately improving every single meeting and one that only reflects on meetings once per year. The difference is astronomical. Given that employees spend a significant amount of time in meetings at large companies, this idea can pay huge dividends.

We can apply this same sort of thinking to individual work sessions. Rather than just looking at hour work sessions as opportunities to move down our to-do list, we can look at them as opportunities to improve how we do work…

  • How we prioritize what’s important
  • How we keep our energy high
  • How we eliminate distractions
  • How we handle rabbit holes
  • How we get feedback on our work in order to improve
  • How we experiment with new work approaches

Then, at the end of the work session, we can leave time for reflection. Compare this approach of constant deliberate practice with someone who only evaluates their work patterns once a quarter. Once again, it’s night and day.

Once you shorten your learning loop, you find lots of spaces to fit in learning in your schedule:

You can also shorten your learning loop by following some of my favorite rules of thumb…

  • Reflect once every ten minutes while learning. This forces you to organize and contextualize what you’ve learned and not go into passive mode.
  • Take a small action immediately. When you have an idea to take an action, you have a 5-second window of motivation that you should leverage. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that you will take any action. This is known as the 5-Second Rule and was coined by Mel Robbins.
  • Aim to get better every time. Add time at the end of every discrete experience throughout your day to think about what you could have learned better.

Take Action

The beauty of the learning loop model is that it gives us many accurate intuitions on how to learn faster and better. Here four immediate takeaways you can use in your life right now…

  • Learn fundamental mental models so your knowledge compounds and doesn’t become outdated. This is why I became obsessed with mental models and created the Mental Model Club.
  • Shrink your learning loops so you can iterate faster and adapt to any change in your environment. I talk about the importance of speed in Learning Speed: What Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, And Bill Gates Know That Most People Don’t
  • Address bottlenecks. The four steps of the Learning Loop are connected like the links in a chain. The loop is only as strong as your weakest link. So, it’s important to recognize where you are weakest and to remedy it. In our Learning Ritual Course, we have a weekly call to help you identify and overcome your bottleneck. I recommend a weekly review process you do on your own too.
  • Address fixed mindset and limiting emotions at each stage. Each stage of the learning loop evokes different emotions. Those emotions range from positive (wonder, confidence, patience, resolution) to negative (impatience, insecurity, confusion, frustration). With practice, we can train ourselves to feel positive every step of the way.

Want help systematically applying the learning loop to your life?

To help you immediately increase your learning speed, I created a free 5-lesson course.

Each of the five lessons 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 this free training series, I will help you…

  • Overcome information overwhelm (the №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)
  • Use a simple memorization strategy that Greeks and Romans used to remember what they learned (that is also backed by science)
  • Find time in your busy schedule to build a bulletproof learning habit

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

Get the free training series >>

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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