Elon Musk’s Rule For Learning Anything Smarter And Faster
Musk never learns a piece of information at random — everything must connect back to the deeper, more solid base
I’m a huge fan of self-directed learning — there's so much you can know and apply to improve your life on your own.
The information age makes it incredibly easy to access the best knowledge from anywhere in the world — if you know where to look.
Learning is one of the most underleveraged tools.
If you are constantly finding ways to feed your mind to become a better writer, investor or entrepreneur, learning is likely one of your important personal rules for getting better and smarter.
The most successful people value life-long learning.
Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey and many other successful people value personal learning — they set aside at least one hour a day for deliberate learning.
Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks. Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports.
Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day, according to his brother. He is a polymath and learns beyond his industry. He reads hundreds of books. And works with top-level thinkers.
He has one of the most incredible minds today. But have you ever wondered how he got so smart?
“You don’t know what you don’t know. You realize there are all these things out there,” Elon Musk once said.
In the course of his career, Elon Musk has dominated online payments, rocket flight, electric car manufacturing, and a host of other industries.
His expertise ranges from rocket science, engineering, physics, and artificial intelligence to solar power and energy. He is an expert-generalists who is also good at applying what he learns immediately. That’s how he has built his industry-changing businesses.
He is an insanely ambitious entrepreneur who reads to lead.
His goals include reducing global warming through sustainable energy production and consumption, and reducing the “risk of human extinction” by “making life multi-planetary” by setting up a human colony on Mars.
Musk’s approach to learning anything faster — seek first to understand the basics
Every topic or subject has a logical structure to it — root, trunk, branches, and leaves. Seek first to understand the basics.
In other words, you have to get to know the tree’s root, trunk, then branch out from there. Don’t start from the branches or the leaves, pursue the root and work your way to the top. You need to understand the foundation first.
In his book, Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future, Ashlee Vance says:
“It’s amazing to watch the amount of knowledge he has accumulated over the years. I don’t want to be the person who ever has to compete with Elon. You might as well leave the business and find something else fun to do. He will outmaneuver you, outthink you, and out-execute you.”
In the course of his career, Elon Musk has dominated online payments, rocket flight, electric car manufacturing, and a host of other industries. In a Reddit AMA, a user asked him how he learns so much so fast. He answered:
“I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can,” says Musk. “They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
What does this mean for you practically? Not everything is weighed with equal importance when you start learning any subject.
Whatever you choose to learn or study, start with the basics. Don’t get smart about basic knowledge first. You are better off knowing the root of a subject than looking out for leaves and branches with no firm foundation.
Start by doing what everybody else did. Once you master the basics, you can go out and do your own thing. Learn from the experts. Widen your horizons and emulate the experts.
When it comes to learning, it pays to know which material hangs from a branch and those that make up the base of the trunk of your tree.
Musk is a master of understanding the core of his industries — and what he should be focusing on first to build a firm foundation.
He never learns a piece of information at random — everything must connect back to the deeper, more solid base.
Elon Musk says “when you want to learn something, you have got to boil it down to its simplest form, and then work your way up from there. You can never learn from others’ work.”
If you want to learn anything faster, start with the materials at the bottom and work your way up. Don’t get distracted by the branches.
Without a sturdy root and trunk, you won’t have the base to support any additional learning and skill.