Suppose Charlie Munger and I both started to learn how to build a rocket, and we both know nothing about it, and we both have a one-year limit.
Guess who will learn better at the end of the year?
You guessed it – Elon Musk!
Just kidding, of course it will be Charlie Munger.
Then here comes the question: why do some people learn BETTER than others?
The answer is, it depends on three things, and I call this framework “The Master Triangle“.
The Master Triangle shows that the quality of our learning depends on three things:
- The quality and quantity of the input information.
- The quality of information processing.
- The quality of information internalization.
1. The quality and quantity of the INPUT information.
To learn something new, the first thing we need to do is to find the best learning material in this field. This material normally comes in two forms:
- Non-people. Books, videos, streaming, web pages, podcasts, pictures, games, VR teachers, lectures and observations. Anything that comes in the form of words, images, audio, video, and reality.
- People. Experts, people who work or have connections in this field.
The critical problem is: although there are tons of materials on the internet on any subject, 99% of it is junk and bullshit. So how do you FIND the 1% great info? And after you find it, how do you get ACCESS to it?
People are far more important than non-people as learning material. People are information filters with intelligence that you can interact with. They have already gone through the information collecting and filtering stage, distilled the best info and formed a knowledge system in this field.
For the previous example, Charlie Munger will crush me right on this first step.
For starters, he could grab his phone and give a call to Elon Musk, Elon will give him the best learning materials to start with, and he could show Charlie around his SpaceX factory, and introduce a bunch of world-class rocket engineers to him. “If you got any problems, just give me a call and we can discuss it face-to-face.”
Me? All I have is Google, the Aerospace department in my school in which I know on one, and the library.
By the end of the year, Charlie will be in NASA managing projects, and I will still be struggling with making sense of basic terminologies.
2. The quality of information PROCESSING.
This means the ability to aggregate, understand, summarize, make connections of, and create new insights from the newly learned knowledge. This is the understanding step.
This ability is basically determined by the mental models (or thinking models) one has. Mental models are like the software running in our brains, it decides how we process the information fed into our brain, and what result we get.
Mental models are learned, so don’t worry, as you learn more and think more, you will build more and more of them in your brain, and learn better and faster with them.
Charlie Munger will kick my ass in this step again. He is like the master of mental models. When we both learn a principle in rocket building, he can instantly understand “this is actually similar to the X rule in biology” and “this principle serves the same function as the Y rule, just under different conditions” “maybe we could use this as the guideline for building that rocket part”.
Me? I would be like “come again?” most of the time, with question marks all over my head.
3. The quality of information INTERNALIZATION.
OK, now you learned some new knowledge and understood what it’s about. Next is to really internalize it.
Internalization means you not only remember and understand the knowledge logically, but also feel it is right emotionally.
There are two ways to Internalize:
1. Output. The best ways to do this are 1) writing what you learned down, like a book review or book summary, and 2) teaching others, like the Feynman Technique.
2. Experience. This means doing and failing. This is the GOLD of learning. Learning is in essence literally changing our minds. But we human beings are emotional creatures, we all know that people’s minds are damn hard to change. To REALLY learn a new idea and let it change our mind a bit, we need to really FEEL it is right.
For example, let’s say I write a book called The Life Manuel. I could put all the major rules to live a fulfilling life into a single book under 200 pages, it covers all respects of human life, such as career, relationship, finance, health, hobby, value, you name it. Then I hand this to all parents in the world. Will all the kids live a more fulfilling life after reading this book? Chance is no. Because humans learn best from trial and error, not preaching. Logically they know what in the book is right, but they don’t FEEL it, so they just ignore it, until they experience it for themselves.
I call this The Firsthand Learning Rule. You can read more about it here.
Back to the story, Charlie Munger will beat me into the ground again for this third step. Because he can build real rockets in SpaceX’s factory, and I can only build it in my dream.
The Master Triangle and how people change.
If we zoom out a bit, we’ll find that The Master Triangle actually tells us something astounding, and it’s the relation to the word “destiny”.
I am not a real buyer of the concept, but it has some strong support. Why it’s hard for people to get out of their situation? Because the three aspects of learning new things are often not on their side, as a result, they can’t upgrade their mind and get stuck.
They can’t find or get access to the best people or material in a field, they don’t know many mental models, and they don’t have the resource or connections to practice what they learn.
The Internet has broken most of what I just said, you would say. But here is the fatal point: people seldomly change on their own, all the major changes in anyone’s life are passive. It could be someone that comes into their life, could be something that happened to them or people around them. Either way, it’s passive.
Most of the time, people are forced to change.
But more on this later.
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