The aim of this post is to synthesise all the information about learning I have come across over my academic and professional life. Two recent authors stand at the centre of this synthesis: Computer Science Professor Cal Newport and the writer and programmer Scott Young. I will begin with a summary of the three books that have been the most helpful to me. I have never paid for any of their coaching programs as I feel that it would be hard for them to deliver beyond the wealth of implementable information that their books already contain.
This summary might be useful if you want to get acquainted in a systematic way with the full breadth of their advice in under one hour. Also, it might serve as a knowledge repository that can be used to refresh certain insights and techniques.
2 The Core
The four books summarised below contain an abundance of well-researched, actionable insights on the question of how to learn - no matter which subject or skill you want to hone.
2.1 So Good They Can’t Ignore You
A book about why “follow your passion” is bad advice (Rule #1) and how skill (Rule #2), control (Rule #3) and mission (Rule #4) are the three central tenets of a thriving career.
2.1.1 The Four Rules
Rule 1: Don’t Follow Your Passion
The notion that “following your passion” should be the guiding principle in your quest to find meaningful work that you do well is called the passion hypothesis. Newport did a very convincing job persuading me that the passion hypothesis is nonsense. First, passions are rare. Second, passion takes time and develops, it never happens instantly. In that way, Newport argues, it is a “side effect of mastery” (Ch. 2). Finally, he concludes passion is not only innocent or ineffective but actually dangerous. Holding out for just the right kind of occupation and never fully committing might prove out to be the wrong strategy in light of the fact that you need to study anything before you can truly enjoy it. Newport summarises his analysis of the steady downward trend in job satisfaction by writing that “the more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it”.
Rule 2: The Importance of Skill
Rule 3: The Importance of Control
Rule 4: The Importance of Mission
2.1.2 Actionable Insights
2.2 Deep Work (Newport 2016)
2.2.1 Central Argument
Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
2.2.2 Actionable Insights
2.3 Ultralearning (Young 2019)
Ultralearning: A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense.