How to Learn Something Fast / by Lewis Lin

To have a successful career, you'll have to learn and master new domain knowledge...all the time.

A couple years ago, I read Tim Ferris' book on rapid knowledge acquisition, and I absolutely loved his concepts. I've summarized my favorite takeaways from his book below.

Start with DSSS

DSSS, or DS3, is an acronym on how to learn quickly. It stands for:

  • Deconstruction. Identify the minimal (learning) building blocks you need to know.
  • Selection. Of those building blocks, what 20% do you need to focus on to get 80% of the outcome? A 1 page cheat sheet is a great deliverable to distill and select the most important concepts.
  • Sequencing. What order should I learn these topics? Sequencing is important because it not only increases learning efficiency but also minimizes learning frustration. (And giving up is a surefire way to NOT learn something fast.)
  • Stakes. What kind of consequences or rewards should I setup to follow through on my learning?

Good Questions to Learn Something Fast

Shoulders of Giants Questions

To help deconstruct the key learning building blocks quickly, start by identifying the top thought leaders in the domain (the giants). Here are some good questions to do so:

  1. Who are the most impressive, lesser-known teachers?
  2. What are the most impressive, lesser-known books in the space?
  3. Who are the top 3 thought leaders in the space?
  4. What are the top 3 books that industry experts have on their bookshelf?
  5. What are the best instructional books on this subject?

Forced Choice Questions

To help select which 20% you should learn, here are some clever questions to get that more quickly:

  1. If I could only do X things to get better in this area, what would that be?
  2. If I had only 24 hours to prepare for competition where I have to perform X for a shot at winning a $1,000,000, what Y things should I do?

Mistake Questions

To help sequence your learning effectively, ask mistake questions:

  • First, what are the biggest mistakes novices make when learning X? What are the biggest misuses of time?
  • Even at the pro level, what mistakes are the most common?

Photo credit: Rijans007