Compounding Nature of Knowledge

8 August, 2021

Want to read two books in a day?

The good news is that anyone can do this.

The bad news is that it takes time to be able to do this.

But if you want to do so, the first step is to understand the mental model that knowledge compounds.

At face value this doesn't sound awfully profound.

But stop.

Think about it.

What does 'knowledge compounds' actually mean? How can knowledge compound? Why is this helpful to know?

Compounding Knowledge Explained

Information becomes more valuable and easier to comprehend when you have existing information to connect it to. Bill Gates can read 100s of challenging books because he has a large knowledge base. The more he reads, the more he can read.

If two people read the same thing, the person with the larger knowledge base will learn more.

If you read a book you read 10 years ago, you will learn more from rereading it today. This is because you connect the ideas to a larger knowledge base.

I often say that if I had my 'learning gap year' again, I would learn 10x more. And I would. But this isn't because I would spend more time learning. It would instead be because (1) I am better at learning, and (2) I have a larger knowledge base.

Duncan Anderson articulates this masterfully:

What you can learn is a function of what you know. The more you know the more you can learn.

What you can do is a function of what you have done. The more you have done, the more you can do.

This can also be described by the Matthew Effect of accumulated advantage, or the adage "the rich get richer", which also applies to reading.

The Utility of Multidisciplinary Knowledge

Ever wondered how Elon Musk built four multibillion dollar companies by his mid-40s?


Multidisciplinary knowledge — that is, learning the big ideas in the big disciplines — provides a greater knowledge base.

In his teenage years, Elon would read two books per day. His reading spanned philosophy, programming, science fiction, religion, engineering, physics, product design and more.

This allowed for learning transfer. Learning transfer is taking knowledge from one domain and applying it to another. By looking at diverse disciplines, Elon compounded his knowledge.

But it doesn't stop at Elon.

What's common to Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry page, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos? They are all polymaths who compound knowledge.

So, what's the first step you can do to accelerate your rate of compounding? I'd say (1) learn the most important skill, and (2) learn the fundamental mental models across the large disciplines.

If you do this, you will dramatically improve your knowledge base. This will improve your ability to comprehend new ideas, and one day, it will mean that reading two books per day might become a reality.

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