The Most Important Skill

21 January, 2021
Self-improvement; Productivity

There are a deluge of articles on the internet luring you in through clickbait headings: “10 skills of billionaires”, “5 lessons from Elon Musk’s day”, “The Most Important Skill ;)”...The list goes on.

From within the web of information and misinformation, it is difficult to find the signal amidst the noise, the proverbial needle in the haystack.

One way to discern signal is to look for when different people from diverse disciplines across many generations give the same advice.

And there is one piece of advice that is repeated more than any other – there is one skill that accelerates the acquisition of every other skill: learning.

Charlie Munger calls it becoming a learning machine:

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines.

The ‘Warren Buffet Formula’ has been said to be “going to bed smarter than when you woke up”.

Reid Hoffman calls it becoming an infinite learner.

If you are a lifelong self-learner, you can get wiser every day. You can pick up other skills more quickly.

1: How to Learn

A: Read, read, read.

Warren Buffet estimates he spends 80% of his working hours reading.

When asked how to get smarter, Buffett said, “Read 500 pages every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

B: Read 3.0

Podcasts, articles, online courses, Twitter and online communities are the books of modernity. While books tend to be more original in their ideas, these alternative information sources are becoming increasingly valuable.

By learning the big ideas from the major disciplines, you can make decisions from a more holistic, multi-disciplinary grounding. Learning compounds.

C: Exposure

Whilst reading teaches you mental models, being exposed to the real world teaches you how to translate and grow that knowledge in practice.

One of the fastest ways to learn is to put yourself around 5 people who are more knowledgeable than yourself.

D: Discussion

Verbal sparring with friends forces you to revise your opinions and sharpen your thinking. It helps you learn to communicate. It helps you store knowledge into memory.

2: What to Learn First

Here we go. Here’s my list of skills and resources that speed up the adoption of other skills:

  • Speed-reading (but beware Goodhart’s law)
  • Time management
  • Energy management
  • Procrastination management and focus
  • Learning how to learn. Books on learning (that I’ve read): Four Hour Chef; Ultralearning; Deep Work; Willpower; The Power of Habit; Bounce; The Talent Code; The Art of Learning; Atomic Habits
  • Multidisciplinary Thinking & Mental Models
  • Mindset
  • Emotional regulation
  • Cognitive biases (read this)
  • Open-mindedness
  • Sleep
  • Meditation
  • Breathing (seriously!)
  • Exercise
  • Nutrition

“Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day” – Charlie Munger

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