There Are Only Two Ways To Learn

Posted on Wednesday, January 1, 2020. Reading time: 4 minutes.

There are only two ways to learn...
screwing things up and learning from other people who have screwed things up.
The second way is generally faster.

From what I can tell, the world is full of incredibly important problems to solve and valuable lessons to learn, but people burn time and energy re-solving the same old problems and re-learning the same old lessons over and over again. We’d all make progress on the important stuff a lot more quickly if we could just skip the solved bits and focused on the unsolved ones.1

And so I give you Two Ways To Learn. This blog represents my own tiny contribution towards solving that immense problem. I will try and identify the most valuable, most costly, and/or least-likely-for-you-to-run-into lessons that I have learned across my job and life, distill them down to a handful of minutes of reading, and then share them with you so that you don’t have to spend time and energy learning them the hard way.2

What kinds of lessons will I focus on? Well, not surprisingly, I put a lot of thought into my job, so most of the content is going to revolve around lessons that I’ve learned about software, technology, leadership, and execution. Luckily, there’s still a lot of headroom for improvement there (read: software’s generally a mess), so hopefully I can provide some value.

Now let’s be clear about expectations. In terms of novelty, I don’t claim that I will be the first person to come up with any of these ideas or to write about them. In fact, I often realize that I’ve already read about a lesson after learning it the hard way (or in other cases probably should have). As such, these lessons won’t always be something new, but should always be a useful curation and color commentary grounded in a practical context that can help folks internalize and learn.

These posts also won’t be about specific war stories or simple “I screwed up A and then learned B” scenarios. Most of the lessons I value most are the synthesis of many different positive and negative experiences over time, and so there aren’t singular origin stories. And while I plan to provide as many positive and negative examples as possible to ground everything, ultimately this blog is about learning and looking forward, not focusing on the past (plus I want to be super respectful of my current and past employers’ intellectual property).

And finally, these posts won’t be comprehensive. I’m not trying to write a textbook on any particular subject, but rather trying to share specific, high-value lessons that I have learned in the field that often complement, emphasize, or in some cases contradict those textbooks. My only criteria for success is “does this post provide value?", and I’m a big believer in “perfect is the enemy of good”.

So sit back, relax, hopefully learn some things, and then go figure out something new of your own. Stay busy, make mistakes, and try to share your lessons with others (#twowaystolearn)! I’m a huge fan of questions, feedback, discussion, or requests for follow-up details and examples, so feel free to leave comments, tweet at me, or send me an email. And please share any posts with your network if you think it could be valuable for them too!

And with that, I think we’re done here. Let’s do this thing :)

  1. OK, so that initial quote isn’t entirely fair. You can also learn by getting lucky and doing everything right the first time (or reading about someone who did), but the poor experimental controls tend to yield less confidence in the success drivers. Plus, empirically, I’ve just found the “screwed it up” lessons to yield the highest value learnings :) ↩︎

  2. But Robby, you learn things so much more deeply if you have to learn them the hard way! Don’t worry, I totally agree. But I think of this as a “total learnings” optimization problem. For any given lesson, maybe you learn it 100% if you learn it the hard way, and only 50% if you read about someone else who learned it the hard way. Buuuuut in the time it would have taken you to learn that 1 thing the hard way, you could have learned like 15 things the easy way. That’s 1 volume of learning vs 7.5 volumes of learning! ↩︎

New to Two Ways to Learn? Welcome! Check out the manifesto, enjoy some more posts, and share them if you like! As always, I love questions, feedback, discussion, and requests for follow-up details or examples. Leave a comment, tweet at me, or send me an email!

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