Try This And Get Smarter Every Day
Have you ever tried underwater basket weaving?
It's not just a fictional course designed to inflate a university catalog. It's a real course designed to...inflate a university catalog. Well, OK, it's really just recreational course offered by Rutgers University (alas, no credit or degree granted) that also teaches the fundamentals of scuba diving.
What's amazing to me is not that such a course exists—there's all kinds of crazy stuff out there in the world—it's that I can so easily find it.
A quick search of "underwater basket weaving" not only led me to information about it, but I could actually watch people doing it. Weaving baskets. Underwater. Scuba weavers?!
The internet has a whole universe of learning. Despite the even larger universe of passive entertainment and mindless consumption, there are jewels of knowledge just waiting to be claimed.
While you might debate whether underwater basket weaving counts as 'valuable knowledge', it will be hard to disagree that if you can find out about underwater basket weaving, you can learn something about almost any topic.
Are you taking advantage?
The 2-Week Challenge for Your Mind
So here's the 2-Minute, Two-Week Challenge to stretch your mind:
Take 2 minutes every day and watch a short YouTube video on a topic you know very little about.
Most of us spend years adding depth and focus to our knowledge. This is how we specialize, land paying jobs, and establish ourselves as experts in a field. However, there is also benefit in expanding the breadth of our knowledge.
So why should you take valuable time to expand the breadth of your knowledge? Here are 3 reasons to consider.
First, we live in a creativity-driven economy.
As Steven Kotler writes, creativity "tops nearly every 'Twenty First Century Skills' list ever made." From CEOs to individual contributors, from entrepreneur to hourly wage worker—creativity plays an important role in surviving and thriving.
How do we stay creative?
One of the hallmarks of creativity is the ability to take disparate ideas and combine them in new ways.
Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and author of Creativity, Inc., emphasizes the importance of continuous learning as an ingredient to nurturing creativity. At Pixar, Catmull helped establish "Pixar University" to introduce employees to classes such as sculpting, painting, acting, belly dancing, computer programming, and ballet, among other things.
Why spend time training employees on things that have no relation to their direct job? As Catmull describes, the goal was to keep "our brains nimble by pushing ourselves to try things we haven't tried before."
In other words, expanding your breadth of knowledge expands your ability to be creative.
Second, our global and tech-driven economy is rapidly changing.
Skills acquired 20, 10, or even 5 years ago can suddenly become irrelevant. Most of us will need to learn new skills during our lifetime to remain gainfully employed. Not all skills will become obsolete, but many new skills will be required.
For example, the requisite skills of an artist have remained relatively unchanged for centuries. However, very few artists can sell their work today without being at least somewhat familiar with web-based marketing—an entirely unknown skill just a few decades ago.
How do we stay on top of changing skill demands?
Repeating college every 5-10 years seems impractical and daunting. Fortunately, there are many outlets for becoming individually educated and skilled without having to re-enroll in a 4-year degree (a little more on this below in Ultralearning).
However, how will you know what you need to be good at? This is where expanding your breadth of knowledge can become exceedingly useful.
Will your job benefit by using artificial intelligence? You had better learn about what artificial intelligence is.
Should you be investing in cryptocurrencies? You should first learn how they work.
Do you need a modern design? You should take a few minutes to understand modern design philosophy.
Likely there are some very useful skills in the world that you don't even know exist. A conscious effort to expand your breadth of knowledge will help reveal these options to you.
Third, learning makes us happy.
We are happiest when we are learning, growing, and challenging ourselves. As stated by the famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:
Contrary to what we usually believe...the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times...The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.
Our minds thrive in growth. Our happiness depends on challenge, not ease. It's easy to get caught up in the infinite sources of entertainment that exist in the world. While entertainment does play an important role in relaxation and recovery, it does not typically produce learning, growth, or development.
It is growth, challenge, and mastery that brings full satisfaction in life. So why not invest a little bit of your spare relaxation time into learning something new?
Go Wide. Then Go Deep.
After spending some time doing the 2-week challenge, you might begin to wonder how hitting a random assortment of educational topics will benefit you in life.
Good point. Endless viewing of random educational YouTube videos will probably not transform your life in a meaningful way.
However, an analogy might be helpful.
Imagine you're an oil driller looking for a new oil well to dig. Unfortunately, you have no geological maps, no prior knowledge, and no guidance. You'll probably start digging near your current location. Or you might wander around randomly until you find a spot that seems promising.
You may get lucky with this strategy, but most likely, you will come up dry.
Now imagine the same scenario, but this time have access to a geological map and aerial photography. You have notes about where oil was discovered before and where you might go to find it in the future.
In this situation you can strategize your efforts. You can pick the locations with the highest likelihood of striking oil and then concentrate your efforts there.
You zoom out, find a promising location, then you go to that location, zoom in and start digging.
Similarly, with our learning, we should zoom out, survey the field, learn about what we don't know. We can learn the language of a new field and allow ourselves conversations with experts in that field. Then, when we find a promising topic, we have a good sense of where we can go deep.
I won't go into much detail about how to go deep in this article. However, once you've find some additional topics that you feel passionate about exploring in more depth, consider how you can quickly and thoroughly explore that topic.
For some additional tips on learning, I'd highly recommend checking out Scott Young's website on Ultralearning. He has some great tips for self-education and deep learning. Some of his blog posts include:
5 Scientific Steps to Ace Your Next Exam
Strangely Useful Career Advice
Twenty-Five Useful Thinking Tools
Why is it So Hard to Build Permanent Habits
Unraveling the Enigma of Reason
So take some time in the next 2 weeks to survey the fields of knowledge about you. There is so much to learn. Go wide.
Then identify somewhere you can really benefit, and go deep.
Then do it again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Where to start?
I won't tell you where to start your new learning habit, but if you need a few ideas to springboard from, consider the following short (less than 4 minutes) videos:
Get a starting list
Sign up below and I'll send a daily link for the next 2 weeks to some short YouTube videos that will educate you in a variety of topics.