Willing and able

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.

Two conclusions:

  1. 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
  2. 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).

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