Today I’m going to write about learning.
No, not classroom learning and not intellectual learning. This post is about highly practical professional learning and how to accelerate it.
It assumes a few things:
1. You don’t have time to spend four years studying to see the results you want.
2. Money is on the line — you need results now.
3. Years of schooling have killed your love of learning and your knowledge of how to do it.
Whether you’re in marketing and sales like me or you’re an operations person, a designer, a developer, a creative type, or anything else, you need to be able to take in knowledge and turn it into something valuable quickly.
This is not a definitive guide. It’s just what I’ve learned in the last few years about learning.
Read less, observe more
It’s like this: you settle on developing a new skill — maybe you want to be a better email marketer. You go to Amazon and order dozens of books or Google “the best marketing blogs.”
You learn a lot, but you find quickly you reach a cap and you still feel helpless to take that knowledge and turn it into something useful.
You’ve probably never been told “you’re reading too much,” but you are. Reading about professional skills can only get you so far, and it’s a much slower process than the alternative which is: observe what others do.
How does this work?
Suppose you want to learn to build an email campaign for an online course launch. There are probably some great books out there that can give you a general framework to follow and they might be worth reading, but a better way to learn this would be to sign up for an online course launch.
When I launched a course for a company I was working with, I did exactly that. I signed up for Ramit Sethi’s “Zero to Launch” email list and archived every email he sent during the 3-week reopening period.
This taught me far more about successful course launches than any book could have.
You can do this for almost anything.
If your first question is “how do I learn X” your second question should be “whom can I observe doing X?” Find a company or an individual who you know has the knowledge you want and watch what they do by signing up for their sales funnels, studying their website, watching their speeches, reading their writing, etc. Then reverse engineer that.
Artists have done this for hundreds of years. During the training of an artist during the Renaissance, the artist would regularly reproduce works from other masters as a study in how they did their craft.
You can do the same for most professional skills today.
Learn just in time
Tim Ferriss first introduced me to “just in time” learning in his book The 4-Hour Workweek. The idea is simple — study can become your enemy when it’s done without defined timelines and outcomes for two reasons:
1. It distracts you from other essential learning you need.
2. You’ll probably have to relearn much of it when it comes time to apply it.
The solution he suggests? Learn to the task. Rather than trying to cram your head with professional skills that you MIGHT one day use, find creative tasks and learn the essential skills you need to deliver on that task.
For example, if you want to design a graphic, it makes far more sense to learn the exact tools you need in Adobe Creative Cloud during the process of designing that graphic than to spend months studying the software in full. By the time you finish, you’ll forget much of it and likely still woon’t have a graphic.
Just in time learning gives you the graphic and the essential knowledge you need to move forward. Once you’ve completed a project, take on another one and another one.
You can learn email marketing when you need to build out your first email campaign. You can learn Facebook ads when you need to run your first ads.
Go directly to the source of knowledge and experience (apprenticeship and Clarity.fm)
In most cases, you’ll be better served by asking questions than doing research on your own. It might take me hours to find a solution to a technical problem when emailing or calling someone who has already done it can teach me the same thing in a few minutes.
I’ve become a regular at this and even spent around $800 for a phone call with Ryan Holiday.
Praxis does this with our participants. Rather than having them consume a ton of content, we match them with experienced professionals as advisors and place them at startups where they apprentice under successful people in their field. They learn by direct observation, mentoring and coaching and can speed through their career in a way that self-study wouldn’t allow.
If you have a particular learning goal, try to find someone who you can talk to about it. Clarity.FM has a platform where you can pay experts for their time, but you can often just email people as well.
When I wanted to learn how a particular video I saw on YouTube was color graded, I just emailed the producer.
I got my question answered, saved myself hours of research, and made a new connection.
Create every day
One of our philosophies at Praxis is that you should create something every day.
When I wanted to learn web design, I did a new test site every day for a few weeks and regularly tweaked my blog. When participants want to become better writers, they blog every day for 30 days.
If you want to become a great marketer, the best way to do it is to put yourself in a situation in which you have to do it every single day.
Apprenticeships, internships, and free work are all low-barrier ways to do this, but you can start now without approval as well.
You can create a product and try to sell it, build an eBay store, set up a Shopify site, or write an eBook.
If you don’t know what you want to learn, that’s fine too. Find a project that excites you and learn everything you need to build out that project.
This is how true professional learning happens. It doesn’t happen in the classroom, and it doesn’t even happen on its own through study. You need a constant process of active participation in the particular skills you’re trying to learn.