How To Learn In One Week What A Job Would Teach You In 6 Months
Learning is the most important activity of your life.
People want to give you that same piece of advice: quit every job, start your own thing, and don’t look back.
But they forget one incredibly important truth. When you’re working a full-time gig, you’re getting paid to learn from people who are further in their careers and lives than you.
You want to be a millionaire? Get paid to literally build skills.
A good job isn’t something that just puts food on the table. It’s basically a full-time, college level education that earns money.
You won’t get that deal from a single University, no matter where you go.
The trick is, to learn fast, save the knowledge and be ready for the next leap.
Don’t get stuck in a job when you’ve “graduated” — learned all the skills that you can in your current environment and role — you need to be looking for the next leap. The faster you can learn that information and that knowledge, the better it’s going to be for you. I’ve found that in almost every role I’ve had, that learning point comes no sooner and no later than the 6 month mark.
Here’s how to beat that mark by 31 weeks.
Here’s how you can learn in one week what a job would teach you in 6 months of grind:
🍕 Ask Questions Early
🍕 Don’t Pretend You Understand
🍕 Repeat Every Single Task!
1. Ask Questions Early.
This is probably one of the most important things I can tell you. In every single circumstance where I have had the opportunity to ask a question, to clarify, to say that I don’t understand and I want to understand, I have been able to learn faster. People stop teaching you when they think you’ve learned everything you need.
If you ask the right questions, you’ll get the right answers.
If you ask the wrong questions, you’ll be able to find data from which you can extrapolate the right questions.
If you ask any question at all, you instantly increase your store of knowledge. That’s the goal. The more questions you ask, the more queries you put out, the more information gained, and the faster you’ll reach that point of leveraging knowledge to move further into your trench.
Ogilvy, one of the most culturally important, billion dollar advertising firms on the planet, agrees:
Brilliant thinkers and scientists never stop asking questions. “Asking questions is the single most important habit for innovative thinkers,” says Paul Sloane, the UK’s top leadership speaker on innovation.
Newton: “Why does an apple fall from a tree but, why does the moon not fall into the Earth?”
Darwin: “Why do the Galapagos Islands have so many species not found elsewhere?”
Einstein: “What would the universe look like if I rode through it on a beam of light?”
Asking these kinds of basic questions started the process that led to their great breakthroughs. And asking questions is as relevant today. Only by constantly asking why can you find better products. In his book “A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas”, Warren Berger cited the example of Edwin H. Land, who invented the Polaroid camera in response to his 3 year old daughter asking why the camera that they used couldn’t produce a photo immediately. There are plenty of other cases; Airbnb exists as a response to the question “why should you be stuck without a bed if I’ve got an extra air mattress?”
The questions we ask guide learning. You can’t gain new information without questioning the data that you already have. Every single data scientist I know, building growth hacks and engines that are literally worth millions of dollars, begin with a question.
Every scientist and doctor working to cure cancer are doing the same thing. If you asked any of them, she’d tell you that right out.
And every time you ask a question in your job, you’re taking a leap into a new area of knowledge.
Alison Gopnik, the philosopher, professor of psychology, AI expert and author of “The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life” likens the process of asking questions to childhood development:
Asking questions is what brains were born to do, at least when we were young children. For young children, quite literally, seeking explanations is as deeply rooted a drive as seeking food or water.
Children are the greatest learners in the world. Between the age of 0 and 5, they learn how to kick, crawl, walk, run, talk, sing, write, eat and shit. If they do all of that learning through the process of asking questions and seeking answers, so can we.
2. Don’t Pretend You Understand.
My first day working at McDonalds, I was 13 years old. And I was showed how to top up the Shake machine when it ran out of milkshake mix. I didn’t understand about 80% of the instructions. But I didn’t want to seem like an idiot, so I faked it. I pretended I had followed along perfectly. And when it came time to perform the task on my own for the first time, what do you think happened?
I fucked up. I fucked up badly. I spilled an entire bag of thick, creamy shake syrup all over the floor. I probably set back every single order in the store by about 10 minutes in the middle of the lunch time rush. Because when I failed to understand, I followed that failure up with a much, much worse one.
I pretended that I had got the instructions perfectly. Which means that my instructor missed out on the opportunity to properly teach me, I missed out on the opportunity to learn, and a bunch of people missed out on their Big Macs.
…and let’s be honest, shake mix isn’t the most complex element in the world. You know what’s harder? Programming languages. Here’s developer Ken Mazaika talking about applying that principle of not-bullshitting-your-knowledge to software:
I had been researching other programming topics, which lead me to a technology called Docker. I found it pretty interesting. So I watched a couple of videos about it, reviewed the website, and even tried to test it out. I was able to hack some stuff together. But, to be totally honest, I didn’t fully understand how everything really worked under the hood.
A few weeks later, I went to another programming event. I found myself having a conversation about how to install programs on computers. Initially, I installed my development environment (think programming language, databases, etc) using normal programs on my computer. Eventually, I learned how to use vagrant, a pretty cool way to manage virtual computers — and it changed the way I installed my web development environment for the long term. I started talking with another developer about this, and he asked me a question:
“How come you don’t use Docker?”
I froze. This would be the ultimate test of my mindset shift. I responded like this:
“To be completely honest, I’ve researched it a bit. It seems pretty cool and I got something up and running using it fairly easily, but despite the fact that things seem to be working, I don’t really understand all the things that Docker is actually doing.
In a lot of ways I understand the theory, but I don’t fully understand how it maps to what’s happening on the computer.”
Something really cool happened.
The developer started explaining Docker to me. He explained:
Exactly what Docker was
How it worked
What the point of it Docker was
How to practically use the tool
My feeling of confusion immediately shifted to pure enlightenment.
Don’t pretend you understand if you don’t fucking understand. Put your hand up and ask for more information. That’s how you’re going to learn, and it’s how you’ll learn faster than if you just dive in and start fucking the whole thing up.
3. Repeat Every Single Task. The Kumon Method.
I used to work at the Kumon education centres, when I was younger. And before that, I finished their whole programme myself, as a student.
It’s a Japanese learning system. The idea is that students don’t learn anything by completing a task just once. It goes in one ear and out the other. It’s the same reason you probably remember very little of the information that you crammed for when you were a student yourself. You’re leaving a small, shallow impression on your mind instead of a lasting imprint.
The Kumon method is simple. It involves having students complete the same sets of worksheets over and over again. This pushes the information deep into their minds and it means that they have a deeper memory and recollection of the materials, examples, information, resources and methods. One of the best parts of the system is the set of number boards every Kumon centre has. When a student arrives, they are given a set of numbers and asked to place them in the right order on boards of 30 and 100.
From Kumon’s own content:
The entire goal of the exercise is to internalize the topic for the student. The student should know the topic so well, that it becomes second nature. To do this, KUMON establishes thresholds for accuracy and speed for each worksheet, and a student will meet those thresholds only if the topic has been assimilated.
But an instructor will not be able to do justice to repetition on their own even by following the above process and needs the help of the parent and student to make it work i.e., maximize progress with each repetition. The goal of each repetition is to improve upon the earlier performance and ultimately reach the Kumon thresholds or target accuracy/speed.
As a general rule of thumb, the target accuracy could be defined as “at least 2 worksheets with 100% score and no more than 2 sheets with a 70 or 69% score in a 10 page set”. The speed requirements, called standard completion time (SCT) are listed on the first page of every answer book.
That repeating task trains minds, puts students into a groove, and instills knowledge and understanding of underlying patterns that rule large parts of our mathematic knowledge. The pattern recognition even helps with subjects that aren’t number based, because language and science and history are often still focused around various pattern recognitions.
This (repetition) is perhaps the most intuitive principle of learning, traceable to ancient Egyptian and Chinese education, with records dating back to approximately 4,400 and 3,000 B.C., respectively (Aspinwall, 1912, pp. 1, 3). In ancient Greece, Aristotle commented on the role of repetition in learning by saying “it is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency” (Ross & Aristotle, 1906, p. 113) and “the more frequently two things are experienced together, the more likely it will be that the experience or recall of one will stimulate the recall of the other” (p. 35).
Through repeated pairing of a conditioned stimulus (or stimulus which is to be conditioned) and an unconditioned stimulus (i.e., a stimulus which naturally produces a reflex response) Pavlov was able to condition the reflex to be triggered by the conditioned stimulus (Pavlov et al., 1928, p. 23).
If you can repeat important tasks, over and over again, you’re not wasting time doing something you already know how to do. In fact, you’re allowing your brain to recognise the patterns, apply and consume deep learning, and become a part of a bigger and more contextually relevant system.
Learning isn’t normally about hustling. But it should be. We do have the power to consume and understand immense levels of information, and we should always be pushing ourselves to learn more. No matter what your career is, your success will likely depend on your knowledge of your field. Growing that knowledge ought to be your highest priority.
Growing it fast?
That’s just going to give you the only edge you need 😉