Eric Friedman (analyst at Union Square Ventures) and I have been having a great dialog offline the past few weeks.  We’ve been discussing the idea that throughout life, you need to be on an accelerated learning curve.  I’ve been thinking about this and realized why it’s such a great idea:  it’s the opposite of how most people live.
Think about it – if you follow the common path, you gain education in a structured setting and use that as the basis for a career.  You continue to learn things, advance and grow – sure.  But it’s growth as a byproduct of your experiences.  That’s important too but by itself is not a consciously accelerated path.
A majority of individuals, whether in structured settings or during their careers, don’t consciously put themselves on an accelerated learning curve.  But that’s exactly what you should do.
To prime yourself for this, first you need to realize something:  you know nothing.
Only when you realize this is your mind ready for accelerated learning.  When you live life thinking you have all the answers your mind is closed and unreceptive.  Approaching situations with the mindset that you know nothing is powerful as you enter them objectively, not subjectively.  And an objective, measured mindset is necessary for learning.  When you take the subjective mindset you have already lost most chances for learning.
Once you have realized this, you’re ready.  Here are the specific next steps you should take to put yourself on an accelerated learning curve:
1.  Quit your job…if
  • You are not given both creative and analytical projects.
  • Your employer doesn’t allow you to engage in metacognitive projects such as blogging about your industry.
  • You have totally mastered all areas of it.
  • Your organization doesn’t have remarkable leaders.
  • You are a part of a process you have no say in shaping.
  • Your employer doesn’t send you to industry conferences.
  • You’re not learning new skills/participating in new experiences daily.
  • You’re not solving problems that have never been solved.
Overall, you need to be in a job that nurtures an accelerated learning curve.  An easy way to know this if you’re unsure is the following thought exercise:  if you don’t think you’ve learned more in the  last year than you have in the previous 3, you need a new job.  The whole idea of an accelerated learning curve is you need to be acquiring knowledge at an increasing pace.
Remember, the real value of your job or even business you own is not about how much money you make, but how much you learn.  That is, if you care to be on an accelerated learning curve.  I didn’t say this was for everyone.
The reason this is listed first is your job is where you spend a majority of your time.  If you don’t have a job inclusive of the above items and you have a desire to be on an accelerated learning curve, you have the wrong job.
2.  Engage in independent learning
You need to not just be learning while at work or from others, you need to be learning on your own.  This is an opportunity to get out of your vertical and become exposed to others.  Interesting results always happen at the intersection.  Read blogs, books and case studies.  Explore the internet and libraries.  Get books online and in local shops.  Don’t close yourself off to knowledge because it is in formats of media that are unfamiliar.
My approach to this is to have less structure/specific tactics and instead overall areas of focus.  For example, I’m fascinated by sociology and psychology.  And so I have a queue of books/blogs/studies/content I keep full that I dig into during free time.  That’s pretty much the extent of my structure, but I manage to get through the queue quick enough I’m regularly filling it back up.  Your independent learning can be more structured if that works for you, but I think the most important point is it’s a subject that’s pleasurable to you.  That way you’re likely to fill free time with it.
An intake of knowledge without necessarily being required to do anything with it is powerful and allows you to reflect and contemplate versus apply.  In most areas of learning, there is always a “next step” with data or content you consume.  But not all learning should necessarily be like this.  Instead, this type of knowledge acquisition is part of a broader mix of tactics.
3.  Learn with and from others both digitally and in person
Not only should you have a group of others you’re learning from/engaging with digitally, you need this in person/offline too.  In Richard Florida’s book, Who’s Your City, the central theme is simple:  the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life.  That’s because you need to be surrounded by others who motivate and push you to higher levels of success.  Equally important, learning from others in 1-1 or small group situations presents opportunities far beyond that of larger classrooms.  Developing these types of relationships is an integral step to being on an accelerated learning curve.
I’ve discussed the reasons behind this previously in the link above, but to put it simply:  art is something that anyone can and should create.  It is not limited to those who society deems creative.  That’s a silly idea.  We’re all innately creative, and all of us are potentially artists.  It is not a unique skill set to individuals, it’s unique to our species.  You either decide to nurture this ability or you don’t.  And to exercise your mind in this way taps into an area that otherwise lays dormant.  Creating art is actively learning.
5.  You should document your progress
And an easy way to do this is to blog.  It’s very possible to fit blogging into a busy life.  Documenting your thoughts/lessons learned/creative ideas in a physical, public format forces you to organize them and provides a future reference point.  Essentially, this allows you to build on ideas as you move forward.  Any other reasons for blogging aside, it’s in a sense like going to the gym for your brain.
6.  Teach/mentor others
I’ve been doing this as an electronic music artist for more than 6 years, and every time I give knowledge transfer to someone else, I find it helps my own growth too.  It’s win-win – you help inspire someone new and concurrently you’re forced to articulate your processes, tips, tricks and strategies to someone else real-time.  When you do this, it causes you to analyze and reflect on them in a different way than you normally do.  In time, it helps you refine them.
I personally wouldn’t return to school for additional learning.  I’m unsure that structured learning — at least a structure defined by someone else was as effective for me as what I’ve outlined above.  Your mileage may vary of course, and the specific mix could be different for you.  But it’s highly worth considering how you can put yourself on a path of continued, accelerated learning throughout life