My self-education program consisted of three parts: reading, reviewing, and rehearsing.
READ - At Notre Dame, I set a goal of reading one non-fiction book every day until graduation. Goal: condense decades of experiences into the shortest period of time possible. Fastest way to do this? Learn vicariously through other peoples’ experiences. Why? Our brains can’t tell the difference between something real and something vividly imagined.
I taught myself how to speed-read and devoured books about business, politics, psychology, economics, technology, science, and more. My objective was learn as much about the world as possible. But it wasn’t just books. I poured through hundreds of annual reports/10ks, how-to manuals, trade publications, scientific studies, and reports on a variety of industries, from Drywall Contracting to Natural Gas Wholesaling. Goal: learn everything possible about the structure of commerce to discover the patterns of business success.
REVIEW - After significant research on the neuroscience of learning and memory, I developed a spaced-repetition schedule for reviewing all concepts I wanted to remember: a day later, a week later, a month later, then every six months.
REHEARSE - I organized different topics into frameworks. From there, I further segregated the information into scripts, using various mnemonic devices that I practiced applying to specific situations. For example, I took all the best tactics, techniques and strategies from my studies of negotiation and synthesized them into an acronym to aid in recall. Then I practiced ‘using’ these strategies with mental rehearsal - replaying real or fictional negotiations in my head while applying the tactics.
This is the ‘corporate athlete’ equivalent of doing what I did earlier in my life as a basketball player shooting 1000 free throws in a row with the goal of flawless execution during the game. Growing up, I played competitive basketball, tennis, football, baseball, paintball, table tennis, chess, and golf.
You can learn from experience alone. But as Ben Franklin said, “Experience is a dear teacher.” Why not learn from other people’s mistakes and use the strategies employed by the most successful people and organizations?
EXAMPLE - Blackjack. There is a best way to play to maximize your probability of winning. It is as simple as a series of rules - if dealer shows X, you play Y.
Slow way: You could learn the ‘best way’ by spending thousands of hours playing hands. Maybe you’d learn through trial-and-error, but most people cling to irrational, money-losing strategies.
Fast way: Spend one hour memorizing a chart showing when to hit and when to stay. In one hour, you will be in the 99th percentile of Blackjack players.
There are usually faster, better ways of doing things if you do your homework. First knowledge, then experience. Think, then do.