How motivated creators can get more done with a Minimal Viable education
We all learn differently. I am obsessed with learning, but didn’t do well in the structure of traditional school. I couldn’t get out of that environment fast enough, so I could start learning what I wanted to learn on my own.
The problem — when you’ve got the world’s knowledge available to you 24/7/365 —isn’t funding something to learn. The problem is knowing what to choose and how much to absorb once you choose it.
As we’re building our next product, writing our next book, or starting our next startup, not only do we have to be careful of how many features we add to this dream idea, but also how much we need to learn to get there.
Similar to analysis-paralysis, we can dig ourselves into learning paralysis too.
We’ll never learn all there is to learn. We cannot consume one-millionth of the available information about a given topic during our lifetime. So, how do we decide what we should learn to complete our task and move forward with our latest project?
Welcome to the minimum viable education (MVE).
With the world’s knowledge in our pocket it’s easy to grab for more information as an excuse for working towards a goal. I’ve found, when I reach a sticking point, I’ll revert back to learning more. This makes me feel like I’m working if I dive-deeper into a chosen subject. But is all that learning going to good use?
If we learn a new task too early in the development process we won’t use it.
Instead, we’ll spend valuable time trying to absorb an interesting aspect of our task, then we eventually get back to work and never use what we learned. Once we reach the point where we need the additional information, too much time passed between education and execution.
The passage of time between learning and doing requires us to learn twice.
Think of all the extra time spent learning non-essential information we can always learn later, once a certain step requires it. Instead, I believe it’s important to break-down each step of a project and uncover the MVE required to complete only that step.
It’s time to get productive.
We can’t get any more time. Once it’s gone it’s gone. If we spend too much time learning a new skill non-essential to our core project, not only will we lack the opportunity to apply the skill immediately, but we lose chunks of our lives we can’t get back.
We find our MVE and stop
When we learn a small amount and apply that lesson immediately to our real-world project, not only will we retain the information much better, but we progress our work forward towards our goal.
As we develop our next project we need to keep the momentum going. Stopping to learn an essential task feels like momentum, but it’s a disguise.Only the actual doing is momentum.
We may need the education piece to keep working, but we’ve got to keep the education to the smallest amount possible, the MVE, so we don’t lose our forward progress.
Momentum is easy to maintain, but easier to lose.
To maintain forward momentum on any project all we have to do is complete one simple task that moves us a tic closer to our endgame. When we stop to learn more than we should, it’s easy to get excited about the learning parts.
Meanwhile our forward progress on the project has stopped.
Try starting an aircraft carrier from a standstill. The solid propeller shaft (the screw) has to turn and twist, up to five times before the propeller is able to start spinning at the stern. When you stop to learn too much, you become the stalled aircraft carrier. You’ve got this mental engine inside you, but it’s working so hard, in multiple directions, you can’t force yourself to move ahead.
In contrast, try stopping a moving aircraft carrier. It’s hard. Once moving, the vessel powers-forward, cutting the water with little perceptible effort. Maybe the captain had to re-adjust the course (a quick pause for an MVE), but the boat never stops moving forward.
So, take those ten minutes to learn that one thing you need to learn, but get back to your work ASAP. When we stop too long and fall into the learning rabbit hole, the work stops too. The propeller shaft has to work 100X harder to start the boat moving than to keep it moving.
Find your MVE then stop absorbing more material.
There will always be more to learn
We can’t learn it all. It’s tempting to try, I know. I get stuck in YouTube binges almost every night. But I don’t do this while I’m working. I learn during my downtime.
My forward progress is spent doing, not thinking about doing.
There’s another alternative to the MVP as well: skipping the education altogether. We don’t have to know everything. We can always outsource certain parts of our work to people who know more than we do.
I’ll admit I have a hard time with outsourcing, as I’m a natural grinder. I’d rather do everything myself than ask for help. It’s a flaw, but it’s mine and I own it.
If you do have the ability to get others to do your bidding you can shorten your MVE sessions down to almost-zero. Use the education of others to move your work forward.
There will always be more to learn.
If you’re hungry for knowledge, do it in your downtime, not during the middle of a project. Small progress forward makes for massive results later. Welcome to the MVE.
We’re waiting for you.
August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. A self-proclaimed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indie authors how to write books that sell and how to sell more of those books once they’re written. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor.