One of my favourite physicists and human being, Richard Feynman once said that “if you want to learn anything well, explain it.” And to a large extent, this rule is very helpful. But I often find it difficult to find people interested in the topics I want to talk about. That is more to do with my less outspoken nature than unavailability of audience. So to overcome this issue, I developed a framework to familiarize myself with any subject and dive deep into it. What follows are the steps one through five that helped me learn a subject.
Once I am confident that I can talk, I go hunt that online audience and share my thoughts. So here’s what the framework is all about.
Yes, that’s the step one. In order to fully learn a subject, it is obvious to start somewhere. If you wanna learn about India, it doesn’t matter if you wanna start with your street or Delhi. What matters is starting. And do this as quickly as possible. For example, I started reading up on Circular economy. The first thing I did was google Circular economy and opened the first link that popped up. That helped me get a feel of it. So if you’ve been meaning to learn about something, it might as well be just a google search away. So go find out and start SOMEWHERE.
The best place is to start where you heard it. If it was an online/offline conference and someone said it, start with that person. Study their profile if they’re a big shot or if they’re a participant like yourself then get their contact details and talk offline.
Similarly, if you came across a certain concept in a blog post, then see if they have any relevant reference links. Else you can always comment for suggestions or google the concept.
This is perhaps the most important step to continue to learn a subject. From my experience, the probability of you continuing to learn about the subject largely depends on the questions you ask. So be mindful of the kind of questions you ask. The why-why strategy is a good strategy to follow for asking better questions. It’ll help you dig deeper into any particular statement at the same time give you more insights into the follow-through articles you need to read.
For example, when I first read about the circular economy, I was bombarded with the concept of recycling. I asked why should we recycle anything? Then I learned that it’s the only way to reduce the burden on natural resources. But why does recycling reduce the burden on natural resources? Because everything we consume is made from natural resources. And if you reuse the product after its end of life then you don’t have to create a new product from a fresh batch of natural resources. You can read more about this thought in my tweet below.
So ask questions and that will feed you with ideas on how to proceed in your learning journey.
Find Common Grounds!
Once you ask questions, you will find some answers. But how do you make sense of those answers? More importantly, you don’t wanna end up in a rabbit hole of researching on that answer again. If you do, it won’t be much time before you give up feeling hopeless. So it’s important to find some common ground. These common grounds will act as anchor points and help put things in perspective for you to learn the subject quickly.
For example, when I wanted to understand how software apps are made, I fell back to my own experience of developing hardware and Mechanical products. I realized that every product irrespective of Software or Hardware or mechanical follows the same cycle of Concept phase, design phase, validation phase and Launch phase.
The details may vary like software products may use wireframes to create concepts and a mechanical product uses clay modelling, but the fundamental principle remains the same. So try and see where this new concept fits into what you already know. But don’t forcefully fit this new worldview into your old view, that would be fatal to your understanding.
Find The Subject’s Uniqueness!
And that brings me to my next point. Find what’s so unique about the subject you’re learning. Why is this important you may ask? The short answer is that it is something you’re studying. You’d much rather read something unique than generic because the unique concept helps you learn a new thing. But even more importantly, finding what’s so unique about a subject helps you assign a place in the grand scheme of things you care about.
Assigning a place to a subject is important because it helps you link how this concept interacts with other subjects you already know. For example, if you’re an ethologist you’d specialize in studying animals in their natural habitat with a focus on behaviour in the context of how they evolved. If you’re a comparative psychologist, then you’d compare how humans behave in “comparison” to animal behaviour. So an ethologist is very close to understanding human behaviour when they understand the uniqueness of both the subjects. It helps you seamlessly learn about other subjects.
Relate It To Everyday Life
Researchers can sustain long years of extensive research because they have a means to keep seeing what they’re studying. They have lab rats to experiment and validate their hypothesis. But us normal beings don’t have any such means. But we don’t normally study subjects that need such experiments independently either. But observation is a key aspect of learning a subject. So it is important to observe what you’re learning in action.
Many personal finance books talk about investing for a long term in equity is the only way to create long term wealth. Ok! Fine, but how do I know. There are two ways to know. One either you yourself invest and see how the wealth is created. Second is to observe the past trends. If that statement is universal then it is as true yesterday as it should be 10 years hence.
Similarly, if you have read a book about public speaking, then it helps to watch a public speaker and validate how many principles they use.
So that’s my 5 step framework to learning any subject. What do you think about this? Let me know about it in the comments below.
Thanks for sticking with me till the end. Hope it was worth your time.
Because you liked this one, you may find the below articles useful as they help you improve yourself.
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This is post no.30 in the weekly blog post series. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org for any feedback or collaboration. Alternatively, you can drop me a DM on Instagram.