The Kaizen Newsletter #37 (10/03/2020) - The 5 key areas to work on to master any subject

One thing that I always tell people the reason why I loved my engineering degree, even though I use maybe 10% of it nowadays, is that I learned how to learn.

And in a sense, I was right. Most of the classes, I had to pretty much teach myself everything I needed to know to pass the exam. I would go to class tutorials, watch some Khan Academy videos, ask some friends and do a lot and a lot of exercises to make sure I was ready. And then, after the exam, I would most likely forget everything and I'd repeat the same steps over and over and over for every class.

I realize now that I didn't really learn how to learn. I didn't actually understand the concepts or theories of what I was learning. What I was learning - was how to pass my exams. I didn't really care about being "top of class" because it didn't really mean anything to me.

But now that I'm in the workforce, I actually WANT to be the best at what I do. And sadly for me, I can't learn the same way that I did in University since there's no such thing as passing exams.

When I was learning how to pass exams at school, I would pretty much concentrate on doing as many problems as possible and just trying to figure out how to apply the formulas in different situations.

The problem with this is that it's an incomplete way of learning. I now understand why I would always get around 70-80% in exams since I would be able to solve most problems through pattern recognition and applying the formulas, but if there was a problem that I've never seen before, I would almost never be able to solve it, since I didn't really understand the fundamentals of what I was learning.

However, I now realize that I was missing a lot more than just the fundamentals. The only 2 areas that I did use were frameworks and repetition. The other three were fundamentals, skin in the game and review.

In total, we have 5 important areas that I believe we need to understand and apply to achieve mastery in every subject.

So let’s deep-dive into each one of these areas to make sense why each is important.


Learning the Fundamentals

This is probably the most obvious one, but for some reason, I tend to skip these ones whenever I was learning a new subject in class.

I now realize how important it is to sit down and understand the fundamentals of anything that you’re learning. It’s not just about how you solve problems, but you should also understand WHY you are doing it.

Learning the Frameworks

I think this is the one thing that I did very well in University and it was learning the important frameworks to use.

What I mean by frameworks is the tools that you will be using to help you make decisions or solve problems.

In engineering terms, these would be learning all of the necessary formulas required to solve problems and understanding when to use them.

In sports, this would be when is the best moment to make a 3-pointer, or when is it better to go for the 2 or to make a pass.

In product, this could be prioritization frameworks.

Frameworks are a lot easier to use in University since you are given what tools you need to use and you just need to learn on when to apply them. But it's a lot more difficult in the adult world, which is why I would definitely focus on this area.

I believe that fundamentals and frameworks kinda go together. How I view them is that frameworks are the “how” you solve problems whereas the fundamentals are the “why”.

Repetition

This is definitely THE most important one. Without repetition, then you will definitely fall behind in terms of learning.

In whatever subject you are learning, you have to put in the reps. And to become a master at anything you do, then it has to become 100% natural to you.

A great sports example is Lebron James. We all know that Lebron is considered as one of the best basketball players that ever played the game, but every year, after the season would be over, he would mark one aspect of the game he would want to improve on and work on it during the whole off-season. For example, in the 2011 off-season, he decided to improve his post-game and it certainly helped Miami capture a championship during the 2011-2012 season.

Skin in the Game

For any subject you want to master, you have to have skin in the game. And what is skin in the game? It's a concept that was coined by Nassim Taleb that basically means that you have to put yourself at risk by being involved somehow in achieving a goal.

For sports, this is as easy as playing in the NCAA and exposing your skills to the world.

In other subjects, I would say that the best way to have skin in the game is to create something and post it online so that you expose yourself to criticism.

Skin in the game basically helps you put your theoretical knowledge against the real world and see if it matches up.

I think the important part here is that you should be starting early. You shouldn't be afraid of criticism and the fastest way of learning is to actually get piled on ASAP so that you can improve your theoretical and practical knowledge and improve it as much as possible.

Review

The last key area is the review. It's a very simple concept, but I think this is one key area that most people avoid or forget to do since it's usually the most boring one. But in reality, it's so so important.

In sports, it’s relatively easy. You can just review video of your games or practices and see what you did well and not well so that you know what to work on for the next time.

In business and tech subjects, it's a bit more difficult. I think the best way to review what you've done is after completing a certain project or activity, take the time to sit down and review what you've done and really look back at your process of decision making and regardless of the results, see if those decisions made sense.

Reviewing your work is important since it allows you to see in which areas you still need to concentrate on so that you can improve.


I truly believe that if you focus on these 5 key areas and continuously apply them in your learnings, then you can definitely become a master at whatever you want to learn.

It seems very simple, but the hard part is to work on it every single day. I’m definitely still lacking in some categories, so I also have a long way to go before I master any subject, but at least I know what to work on to get there.

Now, on to the newsletter.


Weekly Favourites

📃 Article

  • Introducing: Study Club - online professional support groups - Smaller communities will be a big theme in the 2020s, and this is one of the most exciting projects that I’ve seen so far. It's basically a small gathering of professionals in the same domain where you talk about your challenges at work, how to solve them and also share best practices. This is definitely something I would want to do, but for a group of up-and-coming product people.

  • Coronavirus Primer for Reasonably Rational People - It's crazy because COVID-19 is THE topic everyone is talking about in the Twitter groups that I follow, but I feel that it hasn't really hit Montreal yet, so whenever I mention that I want to prepare for it, my friends think I'm crazy (hey maybe I am!), but hopefully this article gives you more explanation on why I'm acting this way and why you should too!

🎙 Podcast

  • Tyler Cowen on the Tim Ferris Show - Enjoyed this podcast with Tyler Cowen. The most important thing I took away from this podcast was the best way to improve in anything you’re working in is to find the equivalent of practicing slabs on the piano every day. If you break that down, basically find a way to do something every day that will allow you to “practice” on whatever you are working on.

  • Brené Brown on the Tim Ferris Show - I'll be honest and say that the podcast was just alright, but I did LOVE her 80/20 rule for relationships. It's a bit long to explain, but it goes a bit likes this.

    • What this means is that whenever you have low energy or you don't feel well, then you can say to your partner like ok I'm a 20 today and then your partner should be saying ok well I'm an 80 today, so I'll take over. So that person doesn't need to stress about anything else and that you're gonna cover the rest for him/her.

    • The interesting part is when both don't meet 100. So if both of you say a 20 or one is a 10 and another is a 30 max. Then what you need to do is see how will you alleviate the stress from both of you guys. Remove the stress of food, so for the next few days, you will just order out, instead of stressing on what to cook, etc. Cancelling plans with people that you don't really want to see or need to see. Reducing activities, etc.

🐦 Tweets

  • Coronavirus ain't stopping these guys from going to the gym

  • Cool framework I'll use from now on when asking for feedback for my articles

  • Okay, I'm sold as well.

🎧 Music

Albums

Songs

🙏 Shoutouts

  • Shoutout to my new friend Willy for making my trip to Boston (and back) less lonely, but also not as awkward as I would've thought 😬.


👋 End Note

If you want to know what I'm up to now, you can check it on my website here.

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