Knowing how to learn has become the most important skill. Without cultivating masteries across multiple fields, it is now impossible to compete and prove your value to someone.

Yet, 99% of people don’t truly understand how to learn or the importance of learning, leaving the 1% with all the life-changing opportunities.

The most successful know this.

Bill Gates consistently reads 50 books a year and Elon Musk used to read 2 books a day. Both of them surround themselves with the smartest people they know.

If you make yourself just 1% smarter for 5 days a week, you will be 13 times smarter after a single year. That is the power of building strong habits that compound over time. There is so much potential that the 99% aren’t taking advantage of.

This article shares the 2 simple techniques that you can start applying today to learn better and faster.

The Feynman Technique

If I asked you to explain contents of the last fiction book you read, or the last university course you studied, how many times would I need to ask “But why?” before you start running out of answers?

Bill Gates calls the Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman the best teacher he never had, because of his ability to explain complicated concepts in an incredibly digestible manner.

The Feynman Technique goes like this:

  1. Try to explain a concept you just learned without using any jargons or assuming background knowledge. Speak it aloud, or write it down.
  2. When you feel stuck for words, go back to revise the part you were stuck on. Think about how you could further break that down into simpler terms.
  3. Iterate.

The technique challenges you to understand a concept in an incredible depth and detail.

This is because when we learn something difficult, we fall in the trap of simply memorising the jargons and accepting them without truly evaluating whether we truly understood the concept or not.

And by forcing ourselves to explain a concept in our own words, we can identify the gaps in our knowledge where we get stuck, revise and iterate until we can explain that concept in simple terms comfortably.

As we are forced to optimise for memorising in school, we aren’t taught the value of deep knowledge. But in reality, it is the thing that matters the most.

Elon Musk’s Tree of Knowledge

Have you ever studied for a test, then forget all the knowledge as soon as the course is done?

When Elon Musk was asked how he learns so many things so quickly, he answered:

It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.

Connecting new knowledge back to a concept that you have an existing strong foundation for helps you retain and recall the knowledge faster.

Next time you learn a new concept, try to visualise where it fits in your own tree of knowledge. Does this new piece of information have strong branches to hang onto?

If it doesn’t, this is a great sign for you to first fill the gap by identifying and learning the foundational knowledge of that topic first.

Both Feynman technique and Elon’s tree of knowledge may seem like a lot of extra work for no tangible result, like a number in an exam.

But even if you are looking to network your way to a job or build a personal project to win over hiring managers, knowledge is what will keep you relevant — it is far too easy to tell when you are speaking to an idiot or staring at the work of a novice.

If you truly prioritise learning better and faster than your competition, you will unlock the best 1% of opportunities in this world.

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Blake Im

Blake is a co-founder of Next Chapter and current data science and decisions co-op scholar. Outside of Next Chapter, he's an investment intern at OIF, with previous track records at companies like J.P. Morgan and Westpac.