Minimum Effective Learning Dosage: Jack of All Trades, a Master of Learning

“These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy, there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.”

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Being elite at one thing is admirable. However, there's also a lot to be said of being good at many things. Being good in one area with little crossover into other fields means you are specifically competent. Being a jack of all trades doesn't mean you're a master of none, it means you're elite at learning. To learn things in many sectors requires a certain level of self-learning. One could call this an autodidact or a renaissance person. In theory, we believe generalized knowledge will make us mediocre, but a person of real competence, they are generally good in many areas, and in particular areas, the best. There are skill and knowledge transfers from one activity to another. If you get good in one area, there is a way to make the following discipline that much easier.

You often cannot have exceptional skill without exceptional curiosity. They go hand in hand. Having a high IQ, for instance, does not imbue the recipient with vast amounts of knowledge, never having to read a book ever in their lives. (The same is true of sports, having athleticism does not imbue one with Nostradamic knowledge of the rules and strategy of every sport.) IQ implies a certain capacity to recognize things, but one still requires curiosity to go find things to learn. If you have curiosity and a drive to learn, there are ways to maximize it.

We all have responsibilities, juggling time in itself can be an ordeal. Initially, I focus on the minimum effective learning dosage. How quickly can I become effective? From there, improvement and mastery is a matter of course. You must first understand, everything is an exchange. I'm exchanging "x" amount of time, energy, and possibly money for "y" in increased ability. The value added must outweigh the value lost. If you don't have an optimal model, you will find yourself in a weak value proposition and your journey will end before you get to a level worth mentioning. "I am spending way too much time and not getting anywhere."

My Magic Training Number

The first question I ask myself is, how often must I practice to get better? Not elite, just better than I am. If you asked yourself how often you would need to practice the guitar to be as good as Eric Clapton, you might decide that it would take an infinite number of hours or that it's impossible. "Better than I am" is something we can work with.

How many days a week must I dedicate to be better than I am? This may take some trial and error to figure out. Let me use a concrete example: my Brazilian jiu-jitsu practice. I am currently a competitive brown belt, and that is an honest assessment of my level. There were times in my twenties I was training twice a day, six times a week. Now in my thirties, I am married, I run a business, and I have a multitude of responsibilities. Training that often is no longer feasible, practical, or warranted.

Training Volume: Days per Week of Training

[This is not prescriptive. This is just an example, you must create your own scale for effectiveness.]

Decay (0) - My abilities as a martial artist is high but will diminish the longer I go without training. Sometimes taking time off is good for my body and mind (and sometimes it's unavoidable). Understanding the formula for my improvement can ease my mind and help me get back into the swing of things.

Maintain (1-2) - I need one to two training days a week to maintain my current level. It will be different not just on individual needs, but also on how much skill you've already accumulated and the complexity of the activity. It will require regular evaluations since this number may change over time. In the past, I needed more days to maintain my abilities. However, in a competitive setting, maintenance does not shield one from being surpassed. You may not be getting worse, others are just getting better.

Improve (3-4) - This is where I make gains. As a beginner, I had to train regularly just to be awful. It's easy to forget things you've learned in the prior week because it hasn't been cemented. You will constantly be battling decay. To improve, you must surpass your rate of decline. Three to four days per week is my minimum effective learning dosage.

Peak (5) - Five days per week is my magic training number. It's my ideal training volume where I get the most value for my time. It's often difficult to maintain this consistency, but it helps to manage my schedule and not overwhelm myself if I know I'm only shooting for five. Not infinite, not twice a day every day, and not whenever I feel like it. I don't always get five, but my aim is to get as many of these weeks in as I can a year. You must think of it as an aggregate.

Knowing there is an upper limit to my training helps me rank what I need to work on during each session. What things I should work on first? There are many moves in jiu-jitsu, but if I am confined to a limited amount of time, I need to ask myself, what are the moves that have the highest percentage of success? The success ratio needs consideration if effectiveness is the priority.

Burnout (6 or more) - If I train six times a week or more, I know from experience that I will either be exhausted for the next week, burn out, get injured, or all the above. I will also lack the mental clarity it takes to learn. Diminishing returns, where I get the least value for my time. As time progresses, my burnout point changes depending on the activity. With physically strenuous activities, I burn out sooner as I age. With activities that are less strenuous, I have more discipline to sustain it longer. (It is not by accident that discipline means both subject and the ability to stick to a code.) Every year, I ask myself, what's my magic training number?

Necessity of Practice

Skillset never has a fixed point of done. If you don't spend some amount of time maintaining it, you will lose it. If you spend too much time, you will burn more than you gain. Get the most for the least. Sometimes you must subtract to add.

Series Vs. Episodic Learning

The things I work on later in the week will build off of things I did earlier in the week. Each week will build off the previous week. It will be cumulative, like a serialized TV show that builds off of the last episode. Many practice episodically. Each practice session is stand-alone, having nothing to do with the other practices. This requires no organization and will compromise improvement. If each session lasted one hour, then in a serialized format, you would have your first hour of training, the next day your second, the next day your third, and so on. With episodic, each session will be its own first hour. If my main topic is jiu-jitsu, but every day I study a different subtopic, I would never string enough information together to get anywhere. Not an optimized use of my time. Peak training should mean the time I spend practicing should come at a discount, where I get the most value for my day.

Spacing effect and good sleep, your brain and body needs rest. When it rests is when what you learned downloads to long-term memory. When you space out learning, the time spent will better served. When you sleep well, you run at full capacity.

What’s Your Learning Style?

Someone might say, "I quit tennis because I suck and I never got better." The reality might be, their ability to improve lagged behind their tendency to give up. You may also hear, "I was studying hard and really getting this subject, then I got sick," or, "I always get injured right when I'm making a breakthrough." You're burning out before you get any better. This is why optimal learning practices are critical, so your learning is well ahead of the burnout curve. This begins with understanding how you learn.

I have a regular training partner named Vidal and whenever he's doing a move, he talks. He explains the move. One day after he explained the move to me for the eighth time, I said, "Hey Vidal, I know the move. You don't need to explain it to me." His answer gave me an "aha" moment. He said, "I'm not explaining it to you, I'm explaining it to myself." He can conceptualize the technique, but he has a hard time doing it, so he walks himself through it.

Vidal is a verbal learner, though he's learning through physical practice, he improves the most when he's explaining it (or it's being explained to him). During instructor-led training, we're told to train in silence. Get as many repetitions in as possible without distraction. I do well with this method. The more repetitions, the better I own the technique. This isn't as helpful for guys like Vidal; his learning curve spikes the most when we practice on our own and he can speak freely.

I know a brilliant professor who told me a story about one of his colleagues. This colleague is a respected scientist, but his quark is, he cannot learn unless he gets up and does karate. That's an overstatement, he can learn, but he recognizes that he learns at his best if he is learning while doing karate. So imagine, here is this respected and well-to-do scientist in the back of an auditorium with world renowned speakers... doing karate. But no one questions it because they know that's how he learns. Just as you can't judge the learning ability of a fish by seeing how well it climbs a tree, the same can be said of how people respond to traditional learning environments. There is an optimal learning mode for everyone. This scientist has figured his out and is owning it. We already know this to be. Some learn best in a bustling setting like a cafe, others in silence, others with music, others in public silence like a library. When you know what works, own it.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
— Confucius

People aren't cookie cutter and neither are subjects, they won't fit nicely into a preferred learning style. You'll have to put some thought into your best approach for learning. Sometimes the best learning style is a hybrid. We won't know unless we first reflect on learning.

Learning Styles

  • Visual: You prefer demonstrations, images, and spatial reasoning.
  • Aural: You prefer sound and music.
  • Verbal: You prefer words — written, read, or spoken.
  • Physical: You prefer using your body, to feel, to sense, to move.
  • Social: You prefer to learn through participation, with other people, groups, and feedback.
  • Isolated: You prefer to work alone, avoid distraction, and are self-directed.
  • Systematic: You prefer logic, reasoning, structure, and formula.

[Learning styles are not limited to just these. One must also consider active and passive learning. Also different modes at different levels.]

Do not take these names and descriptions as written in stone. There is a whole theory of multiple intelligences and there are also counterpoint theories. What's important is to recognize the benefit of thinking of learning as a tool chest. Picking the hammer to set a nail is more efficient than using a screwdriver.

These learning styles are weighted differently depending on the discipline. In the example of jiu-jitsu, though you may learn better when things are explained to you, having it explained a hundred times will not be as important as the experience of applying the move. Jiu-jitsu is kinesthetic and requires you to learn through the body. If you can complement the best learning style for the discipline with your personal learning style is when learning is at its most active. You'll improve more and save time.

Some people do better complementing their main practice with taking notes. Some do best with one on one instruction. Others from watching online instructionals. (YouTube is a goldmine for visual learners.) Don't do something that works for your friend, find what works for you. There is an initial time you must invest in figuring out your best learning mode and the best mode of learning for your subject. And as you progress in level, you may have to adapt your learning to the demands. Modes may need to change in order to keep learning fresh and overcome plateaus.

When you do take notes, do it longhand rather than taking notes on your computer, studies find it improves retention. There's less distraction with longhand, but it also forces the notetaker to slow down, to be selective, to only note the essential — and that extra processing time allows for better encoding of memory. Longhand also creates better external-storage, so being able to retrieve information becomes more efficient, as opposed to writing it down verbatim through computer, laptop, or audio, which leads to overload. Quizzing yourself and using your notes as a reference for answers is also effective in improving retention.

I use multiple modalities to learn. Each layer adds another dimension, so not only do I better understand it, I better retain it. Retention is the name of the game, so for instance I often like to take visual notes (images with words), especially when dealing with complex things like martial arts. I am setting myself up with multiple cues and different types of mnemonics so I can retain the most amount possible (dual-coding theory), not only to remember but to master.

Sometimes the Fish Will Insist on Climbing the Tree

It is not automatic, you may feel motivated to learn one way, even though you would be better off learning another way. I have known people who are physical learners, yet instead of practicing the move, they will want the move to be repeatedly explained. Even when the person is not a verbal learner, they have been taught that this is the only way to learn. They want to learn as a passive participant and have it demonstrated and explained, rather than actively engaging the technique itself. This is how we've come to understand learning and we will try to learn against our best interest if that's the only way we know how to learn. This is average. What we are shooting for is outside of average, and it's known as efficient and effective.

A fish may try to learn outside of water, up a tree. Yes, you can do it that way and yes it is a way of doing things. I am not invalidating your approach or trying to hurt your feelings. On the topic of accelerated learning, what I care about isn't a method, I care about best method. We have a romantic way of thinking. We believe if we have a way of doing things, it must be just as good as every other method, it's just different. Or our method is automatically the best, because we are used to it. We're being defensive and resisting change. We think if something needs to change, it is somehow a slight against us, that we were doing it wrong. That we are dumb. Yet it is quite smart always to improve. There is no failure and no need to be sensitive. Resilience aids learning and ego squashes it. Ego hates empiricism.

Public speaking is a verbal act. Nothing will replace practicing the speech out loud over and over. You may be a social learner, doing best in a community and being actively engaged. Then don't practice your speech in isolation, practice it in front of your friends and family, get feedback from them.

As a teacher, I sometimes over-explain a technique and the student will stop me. "Oh, I get the concept, I just can't do it yet. I need to keep practicing it." Sometimes the teacher knows best. Sometimes the student knows best. Look at things objectively and ask yourself, "How is this working for me?"

Use the best learning style for the subject then complement it with your best learning style. If the best learning style for the subject matches your personal learning style, then you will be naturally adept. You're social and you're learning leadership, great. You're an aural learner and you're learning music. It's a perfect fit. You're an aural learner, but you want to learn jiu-jitsu — like my friend Charles. Charles learns best while practicing with country music and using sound effects. For grabbing the head, Charles will say, "boom." To indicate an essential point, it's "bam." To say he needs to backtrack, he may say, "whoop." If he executes a technique incorrectly, he may stomp his feet or clap his hands. It seems silly, but it works for Charles — and he has the medals to prove it.

We may already have learning habits that make us better learners and be completely unaware of it. Once you do become aware, you can better optimize your system and leverage it for accelerated learning. (You've proven it already works, so make it better.)

Leverage All the Learning Styles

You should seek out teachers and experts, but the learning doesn't stop with them. There is a need for self-study. The most control we can have over our learning is when we study on our own. This is where we need to make our biggest strides. However, no matter how optimal our learning model is, without a teacher for guidance, we can learn the wrong thing perfectly.

Get direction. Adapt to the learning situation. Self-correct and improve your learning style. Don't think of mastering any particular subject, master learning.

If I am giving a public speech, after reading the speech, I will practice writing it down from memory. Then I will practice reading it out loud. I'll take a recording and listen to it on loop until I can anticipate my words like a song I know well. I'll practice along with my recording. I will block out the movements to physically memorize the speech. I'll make a video recording where I include my emphasis points, pauses, gestures, voice, and cadence. (This is easy to do on a smartphone.) I'll practice with the video, make modifications, then re-record. Testing my fluency improves retention and process. Finally, I will practice in front of people and get feedback.

I also use synesthesia in my learning. For example, I may chew a distinct flavor of gum while memorizing this speech. I may wear the same cologne every time I practice, but not any other times. I print the speech on parchment paper and run my fingers down it as I prepare. What I learned has a smell, it has a taste, it has a feel, it has movements. All of these elements heightens my learning. I won't just retain it, I will embody it. When the day comes to deliver the speech, I will wear the cologne, go over my notes, and chew the gum. It will trigger sensory memory.

I'm leveraging all styles so I can produce the highest quality within the confines of the time and effort I've allocated. Some people try to create quality by throwing as many hours as they can at it, but in exchange, everything else must suffer for it. I want to maintain my family life and all my other responsibilities. I will not blindly assume that spending any amount of time will automatically make something productive. I want to use my hours effectively; that the time away from other things was worth it.

I know how I learn. This is why I'm confident in my ability to learn. I know how to adapt myself to learning.

My Journey into Learning How to Learn

I've cultivated a systematic way of learning through trial and error. I'm a good observer and I learn visually. I was a poor physical learner and naturally gravitated towards art, drawing, and film rather than sports.

I went to a high school for the arts. Ironically, as I learned about art in an academic and systematic setting, I lost interest. I was a talented artist, one of the best in my school. Having to think about my process and the rules I naturally applied to them went against how I perceived talent. I wanted to believe it was innate, and having to decode it, much of the aura around talent dissipated. I thought art school would weed out the talented from the talentless. I didn't think their intention was to improve skill as a material, tangible thing.

I stopped drawing. It wasn't a conscious decision, I might have told myself, "well I guess I'm not that passionate about it." But to even deconstruct my loss of passion, loses the aura of passion. It came down to: I wanted to be special. And if other kids could be as special as I was, then I would no longer be special. This context may explain your own past behaviors. Or the behavior of others who may have squandered their talent. When talent begins to look like skill (something that is cumulative and progressive), we can take it for granted.

Other students I once helped are now working commercial artists. One classmate of mine who I thought had almost zero ability, is in my opinion the finest artist of the bunch. He is a concept artist for some of the most popular video games and films.

Things that looked cool drew my interest. I didn't want to know why it was cool because then it would no longer be cool — it would be school. I have heard "school is cool," but in my youth, I did not agree.

Even though I am a lifelong martial artist, my first great interest outside of art wasn't the martial arts. It was hip hop and breakdancing. My parents enrolled me in martial arts, but I wanted to master urban dance.

Breakdancing is especially physically demanding, which wasn't my strong point at the time. I loved it because it seemed innate; no system, just groove and feel and kick-ass moves. Yet even here was an underlying system. I watched a lot of footage, I was willing to put in hours of physical practice, but I wasn't social and I wasn't systematic. I was good, but not TV good. For that, I would need social learning from other "b-boys." Join a crew or a team. The more I studied hip hop, the more I realized that dancing isn't only inborn and feel. It too had a system, counts, basic movements, musical rules, and choreography. A lot of hip hop is about swagger, and swagger can be broken down into gestures, clothing, and facial expressions. (Korean pop music has turned it into a global money-making formula.) I learned, naturally "good," isn't really that good in the grand scheme of things. To get beyond amateurish and have real "swagger," you have to get "good" at systems.

Circling Back to Martial Arts

Up until this point, I just dabbled in martial arts. There is something called skill transfer which makes learning easier. As you learn one thing, some of it will transfer over to the next activity, making it easier. I still feel the benefits of dance in everything I do. Through dancing and a penchant for visual learning, I became skilled at katas and techniques. Show me a move, I could immediately mimic it. But when it came to sparring, I was mediocre. In front of an audience, I would go from mediocre to woeful. Then I watched UFC I and it forever changed my life. I saw Royce Gracie beat a string of big men and I knew it wasn't by mistake. Being a good observer, I knew right away what I was seeing wasn't mysticism. Small guys could beat bigger guys if they had a better system. What Gracie was doing was logical, well-reasoned, and had been perfected through the trial and error of street fights and family challenge matches. The way I viewed martial arts changed and I had to come to terms with developing systems.

In Pebbles of Perception: How a Few Good Choices Make All The Difference, Laurence Endersen writes:

When we are captain of our own ship, life can be a wonderful continuous voyage of discovery. Yet we frequently pigeonhole our learning and discovery into limiting discrete blocks.

The more I thought about a better system martial arts learning system, the clearer it became to me that learning was learning. Why does the subject matter? We focus too much on the subject and not enough on the system we use to learn subjects. Whether my cup was used for water or grape juice, what was important was, does my cup have a leak? Is getting good at martial arts any different from getting good at anything else? If that is our belief, then it is clear why it's so difficult to get good at many things. Each one becomes its one individual battle that has no payoff for anything else.

The Tea Master and the Samurai

There is an old story of a samurai who felt slighted by a tea master and challenged him to a duel. Before the duel began, the tea master performed a tea ceremony and offered tea to the samurai. The samurai drank the tea and was so impressed by the tea master, he recognized that it was he who was the student that had insulted the teacher. The samurai asked for forgiveness. This story taken into context asks: are there that many ways to get good at something? There are a variety of masters but one path to mastery. In the instance of feudal Japanese culture, whether it's excellence through tea or the sword, it is the same learning process and care. The experience of the subject is secondary to the experience of learning. I am not a lifelong martial artist, I am a lifelong learner.

My academics improved. Wanting more practice time than what I could get in the dojo, I decided to join the wrestling team. Compared to the grind of the wrestling room, school was easy. In school, I compete only against myself. If things get hard, I can slow down or lower my workload. I can ask for extensions, ask for leniency, ask for help from people who are more than willing to do so. There are a myriad of resources outside of myself, available to bail me out. In combat, I can't slow down, I have to just do. And if I can't just do, instead of looking for outside help, I have to look within myself. That is life, get help when it is available, but be self-reliant in your practice. If you only exercise, for instance, when you have someone to go to the gym with, you will only improve so much.

Start Specific Then Broaden Out

Miyamoto Musashi said:

These things cannot be explained in detail. From one thing, know ten thousand things. When you attain the Way of strategy, there will not be one thing you cannot see. You must study hard.

Find a subject you enjoy, and while you are learning, consider how you can apply these lessons to everything else. Pick a discipline, use it as a way to beta test the best ways to learn. Whether the topic is art, dance, school, or martial arts, learning is learning. Find the underlying system and learn the framework that other ideas are built upon. Ask yourself, what are the rules for this system? What elements keep recurring? Are there patterns and formulas? My sparring improved when I saw that the end of one move was the start of another. (Skill transfer.) It feeds the next technique. Chaining learning together was no different than stringing together a punching combination. Combinations are the key to excelling.

Improved learning is unavailable to the person who says, "Don't confuse me, I've already made up my mind." An improvement is a form of change, you must be willing to change to keep improving.

To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.
— Winston Churchill

How Important Is This Thing I'm Trying to Learn?

There's an old story about investment tycoon Warren Buffett. One of Buffett's employees was finding frustration managing all of his aspirations. He asked the employee what the top 25 most important things are for him. The employee took some time and listed them out. Then Buffett asked him, out of these items, which were his 5 most important. The employee took more time but narrowed down his top 5. Buffett asked him what he planned to do. The employee said he would work on his top 5 now, giving them priority, and work on the other 20 sporadically when he can — as he saw fit. Buffett disagreed. The other 20 are the enemy of his top 5, Buffett said. They steal time and energy from your primary focus. Avoid them until you have succeeded with your top 5.

As you try to improve in one area, you'll have less time to develop other areas. In the film Rushmore, the protagonist Max Fisher wanted to be renaissance man. He was in every school club, sport, and activity. He was also terrible at them. To say he was a jack of all trades would only insult the jack. This was the movie, Max was stealing time from his primary talent, which was playwriting. When he was able to focus, was when he became who he was trying to be all along.

Work on a few things at a time, it'll get easier as you go. In a lifetime, you'll accumulate many talents. Your prime focus will bleed into your secondary focus. When your secondary becomes your primary, most of the work would have already been done.

Clean up your goals. Is the value gained learning basket weaving at any level of proficiency worth the value lost? If your answer is no, then don't do it. There isn't time for everything. There is, however, a lot of time to do a few important things.

My Basal Comfort Level of Proficiency

Ask yourself: how good do I want to get? Followed by: how good do I need to be? Some things are important to learn, but do I need to be extraordinary in them? I have an adequate knowledge of plumbing and electricity. Having a business, I consciously learned how to handle many of the minor things without having to call an expert. I'm comfortable with my current level and have no plans on increasing my knowledge unless it happens by nature. To learn more than this would only diminish the return for my efforts. I am not trying to be an expert. I am better off letting a professional handle any major problems.

If my interest in something is only related to leisure or enjoyment, then I only need to learn enough to keep it fun. If mastery happens along the way, then so be it. It doesn't need extra.

My Proficiency Scale

  1. None
  2. Limited
  3. Fundamental
  4. Adequate
  5. Respectable
  6. Proficient
  7. Strong
  8. Advanced
  9. Expert
  10. Professional
  11. Elite

Having clear reference points takes the emotion out of improvement. Instead of vacillating between "I suck" and "I'm good," you can use objective benchmarks to calculate how to proceed. This is also helpful in a broad sense. Looking at several disciplines or subdisciplines at once, and how best to use time and energy. If I am studying for the SATs, knowing I am advanced in verbal, but only adequate in math will factor into how I study. If I don't categorize them, I may spend an equal amount of time on both. Or even devote more time on my strong-suit and compromise my possible score.

My Four-Step Process for Learning

1. Scripted - Follow the traditional approach. Practice mechanically, as is, and drop anything that is unnecessary. Seal up learning leakages and make slight improvements during each repetition. Break up large chunks into smaller pieces. Practice over and over. I like to study intensely for 20-minutes, then pause.

2. Situational - Learning for recurring patterns. What situations commonly arise? If I were learning an instrument, it could be a musical transition. It could be performing in public. If it was learning how to sell, it might be common objections. In physical activities, it may be common positions. In chess, there are the classic scenarios. In language, what are the most common situations I might run into while traveling? This is still controlled but no longer scripted. I'm being creative while having a definite aim. This forces creativity to concentrate on things with the highest likelihood of success.

3. Live - Live is the opposite of scripted. It is a chance to apply everything I've learned, then taking notes on what worked and what didn't. Making the theoretical, practical. It could be a quiz at the end of a subject. It could be applying probabilities to real life situations. In wrestling, this was the live match. In sales, this might be role-playing. Things will be variable, can I adapt? Do I understand the broader systems? Do I have a framework for creativity? Do I know the rules? Or am I hacking away and just using tricks?

In the case of sparring, I cannot control my opponent. They will create situations I may not have planned for. Some things will work, some things won't. I won't know until I get that feedback. No failure, only beta (a measure of volatility). One of the most helpful aspects of live practice is, it takes abstract concepts and makes them real. In science, they call it experiments. Imagine buying the first self-driving car, but finding out they never tested it or ran experiments on it? Our emotions will do that to our learning. It will want to avoid those uncontrolled situations. Yet learning requires that data.

Live learning gives a purpose to your learning. There will be something real that you will be using this for. Knowing you will use this and use this often will speed up the process and hopefully remove the emotional aspects that deter people (i.e., fear of failure).

4. Teach - If you were to teach the subject, what areas would you focus on? What areas would you drop or spend only a minimum amount of time? How would you simplify it?

Read, reflect, write. This is so powerful and I can't stress it enough, not just in learning situations but in any life situation. It has helped me through some of the most challenging aspects of life.

Read about the topic, reflect on the topic and your own learning, then write about it to see if you can synthesize the material and make it coherent to others. If I can't explain it to others, chances are it's still not that clear to me either. You can replace reading with watching and listening, perhaps you take a seminar or attend a lecture. You can also explain what you learned to others rather than writing it down (you're a better talker than writer). What you cannot replace is the critical step of reflection, it should be constant. (Just as learning is lifelong.) Here you will make some major breakthroughs before you go back to step 1.

Jack of All Trades Vs. a Polymath

We listen to people like Warren Buffett because his singular expertise is so exceptional, we assume it will carry over to other areas. We see him as a polymath. So he's worth listening to.

A polymath isn't a jack of all trades, they're better than that. They have expertise over a significant number of varying subjects. They have a strong universal framework of understanding that can be applied in many ways. They are versatile problem solvers that can draw from their complex knowledge to solve specific problems. Learning is problem-solving. A problem-solver should be able to solve many types of problems. A CEO, who can only shine in particular circumstances should not be a CEO, they should be a specialist. Elite universities only enroll those students who are the most competent, not just narrowly intelligent. They groom for success, not groom for specific tasks.

Once you develop a framework, the rest is about connecting the dots and applying those concepts in innovative ways. My framework was built upon my knowledge of martial arts: efficient systems create the most outcome; resilience is mandatory for any level of consistency.

I've continuously applied this method and have attained knowledge in many disciplines by understanding my minimum effective learning dosage and my magic training number. Your youth shouldn't be the only time for learning. In fact, you should be learning more as an adult than as a child. You have more access, a better understanding of similar subjects, more crossover knowledge, and less barrier to entry in many regards. You no longer have to ask your parents for permission or get money from them (hopefully).

Every time I learn, I am adding more hours to learning. If you're six years old and you're learning golf, you have 10,000 potential hours or more to improve. I've accumulated considerably more than that in the art of learning. For me, the secret to staying young is continuous learning and being a lifelong learner.

The future is about information and its currency will be your ability to learn. Learning shouldn't be so daunting or time-consuming if you deconstruct its parts. Putting together furniture isn't as challenging when it comes with instructions that break up the process into actionable chunks. Break up learning into pieces you can digest. Rather than learning in a hazy fog, learn incrementally. The key is never to stop. Once you stop learning, you get old real fast.


We think of a jack of all trades as a mediocre man or woman, that a generalized skillset makes for mediocrity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only someone of merit can learn a variety of dissimilar skills. It is the mediocre man or woman who cannot learn multiple tasks. They lack general interest and a curious drive. Since their interest in all things are low, it only makes sense they are equally bad in all things. One does not acquire this through learning, it comes through not learning, avoiding learning. Being specialized in one aspect of the car-building process of an assembly line does not make one a master. The advantage of specialization is that it allows a group of unremarkable people to build remarkable things. But a jack of all trades, master of learning can do this on their own. It is the difference in an automobile factory where everyone knows how to do their specific part vs. a factory where every employee knows how to build a car. There is a historical difference in competitive advantage. Specialization is easy and cheap to replace, versatility is not.

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