I am diving deep into the fascinating world of learning more skills in a simple fashion. I got a review copy of Josh Kaufman’s new book, The First 20 Hours, and as I get into it (review coming soon!) I realized that if we all had a few more simple techniques to learn useful skills we dream of doing, we’d probably all keep learning all the time. Today I am going to share a little learning technique first taught to me by my genius (mad genius) father: live demos.
This is not a new concept, but hopefully this will serve as a cool reminder that it’s often easier to learn when you get away from abstract thoughts and put things in real, concrete form. When I was 10, my dad decided to try to teach me genealogy over a summertime dinner, and then told me I would be making a family tree. That was not me idea of a fun vacation, but you didn’t really argue with my father, and he made it sound important: “genealogy.” I had no idea what he was talking about as he used words like “second cousin once removed” and my head was spinning. I got angry. He pulled all the sugar packets out of the carafe on the restaurant table where we were and started making a tree of people on the table. He wrote on them. He got the salt shaker involved. Then the forks and knives. Soon he was borrowing french fries from plates. After about 30 minutes of making this abstract idea real, and going through all out family members for several generations, I finally understood “family trees.”
I also understood how to learn abstract concepts more simply.
If you are stuck on an idea that makes no sense, try to sketch it out with objects. Whether its paperclips and thumbtacks, coins, wood blocks or post-it notes, whatever appeals to your sense of reason and feels right, use it to map out the concept in real terms.
Its a very simple but quite awesome way to make concepts “real.” Give it a roll. You might be surprised how much more clear things are when they become material objects rather than “ideas.”
Here’s more to inspire you to learn, a TEDx talk from Josh Kaufman on the first 20 hours of learning new skills:
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