Writing Is The Greatest Untapped Learning Opportunity
When’s the last time you read a life-changing book and then forgotten everything about it a week later?
I’m obsessed with learning new things. Who isn’t these days? There’s no shortage of learning opportunities in our interconnected society. I make considerable investments in books, courses and conferences.
Despite my consumption of all this knowledge, I struggle to absorb the material. I’ve read those life-changing books too. I suffered a sleepless night or two from the excitement, and then moved on with my life like it never happened.
It wasn’t until I started to write that I began to learn in earnest. Five simple techniques facilitate this process. You can use these techniques individually or combined.
1. Apply One Concept To Multiple Domains
Let’s start with the basics. Most subject domains revolve around human behavior or human nature (hard sciences like chemistry and physics are the obvious exception). There is significant overlap of the underlying theories, concepts and ideas.
When it comes to human nature, these lessons and observations are wide-ranging. You can port knowledge from one domain and apply it to another. Many sales and marketing tactics rely on understanding human nature, decision-making, and biases. Relationships, psychology, economics, politics and a slew of other categories rely on the same basic tenets.
I recently wrote a piece on how pain and pleasure are two important decision making motivators. The idea came to me from a sales lesson a mentor taught me fifteen years ago. I applied the principle to my personal life as a way of motivating myself to take action.
Try asking yourself this question.
How can I apply the [fill in the blank] concept of [fill in the blank] to [fill in the blank].
Here’s how I asked the question from the pain and pleasure example above.
How can I apply the “sales” concept of “present pain” to “motivating myself to take action”
2. Creative Adaptation
You can also tweak a concept from one domain and then find a way to use it in another. This technique is a bit more advanced than the one I just described. I like to express it in the following formula.
Existing knowledge or concept + Creativity = New Concept
Instead of porting a concept over, you create something new. You can try it by asking yourself a variant of this question.
How can I adapt the concept of [Fill in the blank] to be better at [Fill in the blank]?
Having an end goal in mind is essential. Putting a constraint around the question enhances your creative power. My favorite example comes from a copywriting concept applied to compliments.
The original lesson involved the use of specificity to enhance plausibility and meaning. It spurred an idea. How can I adapt the same principle to compliments? I explored the concept a year ago. Writing about it helped me flesh it out and enabled me to put it into practice. I wrote about the results here.
Here is the example of the question I asked.
How can I adapt the concept of “Specificity in Copywriting” to be better at “Giving Compliments”
Experimentation is an underutilized learning tool. Many experiments become permanent habits and rituals. Even failed tests prove valuable. They teach you what does not work.
I’ve developed a mild addiction to experiments: dietary habits, personal development practices, exercising, sleep patterns, new products on Indiegogo.
My wife made fun of me last night, recounting many of my experiments: spray on magnesium, intermittent fasting, nightly journaling, eye-rolling supplements, sleep induction mat, oh so many others. Some of these have failed while others have become permanent.
I wasn’t much of an experimenter until I started writing. Now, I experiment with the intention to write about the results. The writing process helps you discover the benefits of your experiment. It’s often difficult to judge the results just by thinking about it.
Write about your experiment from the perspective of an observer. Pretend that you witnessed someone else try the new activity or product. You’ll gain a deeper understanding and provide more value to those who read your piece.
Think about the knowledge and skills you feel most confident. Did you learn it once, twice or multiple times? If you’re an expert programmer, I’m willing to bet that it took you years of practice to reach that point. The same goes for personal growth strategies, sales and marketing techniques, or any other skill.
Several years ago, I subscribed to a newsletter. The price was low, too low for such valuable information. People always asked the creator why he wrote the newsletter. He was a wealthy man and didn’t need the modest revenue. Here was the classic response. It was one of the triggers for my writing career.
“Writing about the stuff I already know, reminds me of what I should be doing in my own business.”
Make it interesting by approaching the topic from different perspectives or different angles. There is an endless number of ways to write about one topic.
5. Teach With Intent
Teaching is the most underrated learning technique. Teaching a new, strategy or theory requires you to break down the concept into its simplest components. You need to explain it so that someone with little or no background knowledge can comprehend.
Teaching with intent is more challenging than it sounds. If you’ve tried it before, you know what I mean. Teaching can benefit the teacher more than the learner. The process of breaking down the concept forces you to learn.
You can make the argument that all nonfiction writing is teaching. I’m advocating teaching with intent.
What does that mean?
Pretend that you are writing to someone with little knowledge of your subject and they are paying you to educate them. It forces you to take a different approach to the process.
Begin by asking yourself this question.
“How would I explain this to someone who knows nothing about…”
The question will frustrate you in the short-term, but you will come away with a better understanding of the material. It’s difficult to judge whether or not you’ve achieved your goal since you already possess a knowledge of the material. In most cases, our readers and we benefit from additional attempts to simplify the concepts.
And What About All Those Books And Courses?
You can exploit any one of these techniques to crystallize the knowledge you gain from books, courses, videos or conferences. I suggest the following sequence:
- Teach it until you understand it.
- Reinforce so you don’t forget it.
- Experiment and determine if it works for you.
- Apply it to a new domain (if possible).
- Creative Adaptation.