TECH TALK: Letter to a 2005 Baby: Advice for Life (Part 2)

Dear Abhishek,

Learn to Learn

To make big plans, you will need the capacity to learn to learn. Let me explain. We are learning a lot when we are growing, and in school and college. But sometime later, as we start our work life, for many, this learning stops. Time freezes around us. Today becomes like yesterday, and yesterday was just like the day before. We lose the will, yearning and capability to learn. We become content to go through the rest of our lives as if on auto-pilot. We attribute it to the needs of family, our children, or whatever. In doing so, we lose the ability to learn. That becomes a very sad day. Unfortunately, few ever realise this until it is very late.

The ability to learn to learn is perhaps the most important that you should possess. Behind these simple phrase is a much deeper inner discipline that you need to develop. It is something that you will probably have to develop on your own. Our education system may not necessarily impart that to you! In fact, many times what the education system will be in dissonance with building out this learn to learn capability.

What do I mean when I say you need to learn to learn? Learning to learn means having a fundamental understanding of a latticework of concepts which will allow you to build and refine your mental models of the world around. It means having an openness which does not hesitate to question (or be questioned) on what one knows. It means looking around and thinking about what is happening, and placing the event in perspective. To build this rich model, you will need to read widely and think deeply. Keep these words from Charlie Munger in mind:

I’ve long believed that a certain system which almost any person can learn works way better than the systems that most people use. What you need is a latticework of mental models in your head. And you hang your actual experience and your vicarious experience (that you get from reading and so forth) on this latticework of powerful models. And with that system, things gradually get to fit together in a way that enhances cognition.

And you need the models not just from one or two disciplines, but from all the important disciplines. You need the best 100 or so models from microeconomics, physiology, psychology particularly, elementary mathematics, hard science and engineering [and so on].

You don’t have to be a huge expert in any of those worlds. All you’ve got to do is to take the really big ideas and learn them early and well.

If there is one regret that I have, it is that I did not understand the importance of this until very recently. Our narrow education inhibits us. The world around does not necessarily encourage us to delve deeper. After all, there is stuff to do and theres only so much time. Wheres the time to contemplate? This is where many of us go wrong.

When you are young, you will have few cares in the world. And that is the best time to learn to learn. In my childhood, one such companion for me was the BBC World Service. I would spend hours everyday listening to their various programmes on radio. Close my eyes, and let the imagination run free. Choose as companions some of the worlds great writers and explore the world that we live in and how we got here with them. Learning about our past along multiple dimensions will give you a perspective to build the world of tomorrow. Done right, this ability will stand you in good stead through your life.

Tomorrow: Advice for Life (continued)

TECH TALK Letter to a 2005 Baby+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.