I had a professor once, a big fan of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, who was emphatic about the limits of didactic learning.
“Try to learn how to farm from a book,” he’d say, “and you’ll discover when it’s better to learn from experience.”
It’s true, one cannot learn ANYTHING from a book (or from the web, or through online courses, etc.), but the number of things that you’re ABLE to self-teach is growing exponentially.
(I know you agree on some level, but to get this viscerally check out the Kahn Academy’s videos that explain EBITDA, the law of large numbers, 3-variable linear equations, or the Geithner plan. This was built by one guy in his spare time.)
The pace of progress is hard to process, but I can’t help but notice, gathering dust on my bookshelf, a 15-year-old copy of German in 10 Minutes a Day, whose text exhorted me, unsuccessfully, to say “eeech seeche minuh koffer” (“I’m looking for my luggage,” in useless phonetics). I threw in the towel after Lesson One because this was no way to learn a language – me alone with a book, sounding things out.
But if I wanted to try again, today, I could go online and have interactive, audio learning, repetition, playback that taps into the parts of my brain I need to activate to learn to communicate. The excuse that I couldn’t learn German without going to Germany used to be true, and it isn’t any more (and the same logic applies to understanding balance sheets and cashflow statements, DCF valuations, C++; Ruby on Rails; PhotoShop….you name it. That means that the reason I don’t have a good working knowledge of everything on that list is because I choose not to).
If you’ve already gone to school, to college, through graduate school under the old system, getting your head around the new system requires a drastic rerientation. The first thing to understand is that the barrier, for most of us, has silently shifted from what we’re able to learn to what we’re willing to learn.
- The value of deciding, of initiating, of self-directed action keeps on going up – because we have so much more leverage for each thing we decide to learn
- The value of things that only YOU can share and teach, things that someone cannot learn by themselves, has gone UP – and your ability to share these things with everyone for free has gone up as well. (And that’s a lot to wrap your head around too – a post for another day).