What can I learn in one minute that will be useful for the rest of my life? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
So many articles and ads claim to teach people to do something as quickly and painlessly as possible. Hacks, shortcuts, quick solutions.
It reminds me of a counterfeit study done by Dan Ariely, Francesca Gino, and Michael Norton.
In the study, two groups of women were given pairs of designer sunglasses. They took the sunglasses from boxes labeled "authentic" or "counterfeit." But in reality, all the sunglasses were authentic.
The two groups of women were then asked to wear the glasses while answering simple math questions. They would be paid for each correct answer. But they were also given the opportunity to cheat when checking their own answers.
The results: 30% of women wearing the "authentic" sunglasses cheated. And amazingly, 71% of women wearing what they believed were "counterfeit" pairs cheated.
Francesca Gino summed it up perfectly: "When one feels like a fake, he or she is likely to behave like a fake."
This concept is similar to a Richard Feynman quote: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool."
There are always consequences to shortcuts even if they are not visibly apparent. The path to expertise takes patience. Unfortunately, our society encourages us to take the hack road.
Our Shortcut Society
How to get a complete workout in 1 minute.
Conquer your fear and become an entrepreneur. (As if bravery is all that's required!)
Instantly become more productive with this one hack.
Articles like this are everywhere because our society values speed and convenience. It revels over the 25-year-old millionaire. It worships the altar of convenience and encourages us to hack our way to success in 48-hour increments rather than taking a longer, hard-earned route.
Just as the fake sunglasses take a hidden psychological toll on the wearer, there's a cost to taking shortcuts--one you don't fully understand until much later. Always be wary of people who claim to have an exact prescription for doing something hard.
I'm not saying you should never use hacks, or that they have no benefit. They're only beneficial in a very narrow type of situation.
For example, a hack that claims you'll learn how to play the piano in a month is offering a very weak definition of proficiency.
If you're trying to learn one specific song for your Christmas party, you might be able to play it adequately at the end of the month. But if someone starts singing a new song after you're done playing, you won't be able to improvise along with them. (For those older in age, replace piano with guitar, the middle-age crisis instrument of choice).
Hacks are not meant to replace a deep learning experience. You'll likely abandon them as you develop a deeper understanding of what you're doing. Hacks are formulaic and may solve simple problems, but complexity requires a holistic and multidimensional understanding.
You have to look at your subject matter from many different dimensions. You have to look at modular components and see how they interact with each other and the system as a whole. Step by diligent step you increasingly understand reality in all its complexity.
The Benefits Of Learning
What's the rush to learn something new?
You have a long life. You're going to work for a long time, which is perfect because it takes time to really become an expert at something. There will be ups and downs, surprises, scars. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes and learning from them. Those experiences make you who you are.
I had the chance to reflect on my own experiences recently. I was with a handful of my MIT undergraduate friends, and we were telling story after story of nights and weekends trying to conquer impossible problem sets. I remember taking 6.111 (Digital Design) with my good friend Chris Mayer. Once, we were so tired that our fraternity brothers put pots on our head and hit them to try to wake us up for the Final Project Review. Neither of us woke up or remember the pots at all.
But we do remember the class and what we learned. No weekend working on Arduino could replace my in-depth 6.111 experience.
By taking shortcuts, you lose out on formative moments.
Don't underestimate the discipline you acquire when you put yourself through challenging situations. The failures, the suffering, the winding road--there's a long-term benefit in those things that you don't get when you take a shortcut.
Taking the time to learn something and master it provides you with a whole repertoire of skills and approaches. These allow you to recognize and adapt to new situations, and gain confidence in your abilities.
If all you know are hacks, uncertain or unexpected situations overwhelm you. You have no foundation to rely on--and this limited toolkit can only get you so far.
From Fake To Expert
No one can pretend to be an expert for too long. Your experience will always show through. I know, because I was afraid of being considered a fake at one point.
I was already a fully trained and licensed medical doctor when I started business school. After getting my MBA, I could have been making a substantial salary given my credentials and experience. But I did the opposite. I took a large step backwards, almost all the way to an entry-level position.
It seemed crazy to some people, but it was a conscious decision on my part. I had taken an unorthodox route to business school, and I didn't want to skip any steps or miss the fundamentals others had learned before school.
I moved up quickly. But by going through that process, I had the foundation and experience I needed to feel confident in any situation.
There's plenty of societal pressure to race your career forward as fast as possible, but take a step back and give yourself time to understand your field in-depth. You will have far less competition and much more confidence.
Take the hard road. It was worth it.
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