In the video above, the always entertaining Tim Ferriss explains the techniques he used to teach himself to play a song on the drums in front of a live audience in only a week. This is indeed a fun feat that pushed Ferriss to think carefully about how to learn fast and come up with genuinely useful rules of thumb.
But it's hardly the most impressive example of learning one can imagine. In a world that includes the theory of relativity, the plays of Shakespeare, and a worldwide web of instantly connected supercomputers, it's not difficult to come up with other people who might have even more authority to talk about how to learn hard things quickly.
Thankfully, the geniuses behind just these sorts of jaw-dropping feats of intellect have been more than willing to share their tips. In fact, figures no less respected that Albert Einstein, his fellow physics Nobel laureate Richard Feynman, and super entrepreneur Elon Musk have all offered practical advice anyone can use to accelerate their learning of the subject of their choice.
1. Albert Einstein: Enjoy yourself.
Einstein might have revolutionized how we conceive of the world around us, but he didn't do it by grinding away joylessly at his work. According to Einstein, great mental leaps and fun go together, and the more you can enjoy learning, the faster you're likely to pack information into your brain and make breakthroughs.
In 1915, he wrote the following happy advice to his 11-year-old son, Hans Albert, who was attempting to master the piano: "I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano ... play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don't notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal."
2. Richard Feynman: Explain it to a child.
Legendary physicist Feynman won the Nobel Prize for his work in one of the subjects that's the most difficult for the human mind to grasp -- quantum mechanics -- yet his top advice for accelerating learning is actually to make whatever you're studying as dead simple as possible. So simple, in fact, that you could explain it to an eight-year-old.
"When you write out an idea from start to finish in simple language that a child can understand (tip: use only the most common words), you force yourself to understand the concept at a deeper level and simplify relationships and connections between ideas. If you struggle, you have a clear understanding of where you have some gaps. That tension is good -- it heralds an opportunity to learn," blogger Shane Parrish has written, explaining Feynman's approach.
3. Elon Musk: Think of knowledge as a tree.
Einstein might be among the most iconic geniuses of all time, and Feynman can boast a Nobel Prize, but when it comes to the sheer diversity of learning, Musk might even beat the two great physicists. He has, after all, built a world-changing online payments company, revolutionized the auto industry, and dared the world to dream of putting boots on Mars in the next decade. That represents an incredible breadth of knowledge.
How did he learn so much about so many different fields? When someone on a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) posed just that question, Musk was happy to explain. First, he instructed learners to have some self-confidence. "Most people can learn a lot more than they think they can," he insisted. Then he shared this specific strategy for speedier learning:
"It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to."