How I Learn

On a personal level, I've realized, learning brings me joy and exposes me to attractive opportunities. Below is a summary of how I learned and more importantly, how to internalize and apply it. Towards the end, I've also put in the list of a few resources I admire.

The Internet has been a blessing. There is so much to grasp, and the beauty is whatever you chose, it's available with a few clicks and often free of cost. One thing to consider, however, is that learning can quickly turn into an illusion of knowledge. We have limited time and too many things to grasp. People need to be very calculative with how they spend their time. Learning is powerful because it compounds over time.

My Mindset and Approach towards Learning

  1. Have a fixed time slot for learning every day. I actively dedicate time outside of work hours and a fraction of work hours both. Most progressive organizations today, value that.

  2. Learning evolves. What looks like the ultimate truth today may very well be a big misunderstanding tomorrow. Learn how to unlearn. Hit undo as many times as needed when it comes to learning.

  3. Run fast, because speed matters. It matters more than we think it does, and with speed, I'm able to cross the local maxima quickly. Specifically, in products, there is enough to get comfortable and pacify self without having done anything. Setting short time frames and repeatedly improving is what I go by because there is never a perfect solution. As Mario Andretti says; 'If you've everything under control, you're not moving fast enough'.

  4. Have a North Star and a hypothesis. Learning is the second half of the equation. It would help if you were clear about why you are learning what you are learning. That does not mean you start daydreaming and do nothing.

  5. Shoot for the moon. Specifically, in the product domain, what I build will be revisited again and again. So, as I think in terms of scale and longevity, I often stumble into unchartered realms and grow. It also means keeping an eye on the horizon for newer developments. Think in terms of impact and the legacy you are leaving behind.

  6. Dare to say yes to opportunities. However intimidating. The most extraordinary things in the world are centered around first principles. Mostly, I don't know a solution, but I give it my best to figure things out. When you shoot for the moon, you will land somewhere high enough.

  7. Pick the circle and sources wisely. They say you are the average of five people around you. I try my best to surround myself with excellence, but that's not enough. Once, I have the correct sources and circle; I try to be curious. Ask the right questions. Know what's happening at the core or under the hood. I think of it like this. Even a casual tea break should leave me wiser than I was. That said, step back from brilliant jerks — people who are smart but cynical, pessimistic, or find themselves superior, or who keep complaining.

  8. Observe, hypothesize, validate, and course correct. Also, leave the ego at the door. Observe failures, feedback, decisions, good and bad reviews, particularly complaints. The best of my learnings have come from customer complaints. I've grown to become thankful for challenging situations in life. Saw a company's quarterly release? Observe what the experts have to say. Saw a beautiful product, and understand the journey, the design, and the code. Create a hypothesis and always take your opinions with a pinch of salt. Unless you are constantly improving, calibrating, and being observant, time is working against you. Your ego is often the silent enemy.

  9. Explore alien territories. We tend to gravitate towards things that align with our line of belief. We are just confirming our biases that way. By stepping into the unknown, you will end up discovering interests that you never knew, you had. Also, intersections breed genius. Two of the best product people I know have a background in psychology and economics.

  10. Learn both for the long and short term. Whether it will matter in 4 years is an excellent question to ask but occasionally, also focus on skill sets aimed at short-term exposure and doing a specific task. With more exposure to trivial things, my playground widens. With a wider playground, I can invite more opportunities. Also, with a sweet mix of short-term and long-term learning, compounding kicks in.

  11. Document everything. The biggest mistake I made in the early years was working on groundbreaking ideas and not documenting them properly only to have lost so many rationales behind decisions made over time. Also, documentation helps you in recalibration and unlearning which we talked about above.

  12. Seek a personal coach. We all have mentors in our lives, and they mostly help with professional matters. A coach will help you with a perspective and even at times, personal issues. I realized this very late. Almost all executives attribute their success to a coach.

  13. Don't take learning too seriously. I am always trying new things, and it can get overwhelming. Learn the art of skimming. With time, you will be able to skim across things fast and be able to pick the relevant material directly.

  14. Define your style. I don't have a fixed rule. For example, I don't read one book every week. At times, I am reading two books in a week, and at others, I am reading one book over two weeks. There is no template.

How to Internalize what you learn?

  1. Declutter your mind from time to time: If I don't remember what I learned a few months back, I probably never used it, and if I never used it, it was probably a wrong decision to understand it in the first place. Be selective. You don't have to stress about not knowing everything people around you are trying to learn.

  2. Practical over Theory: I learned this the hard way. Practice is what helps me internalize. At times, even practicing is not enough. Reflection on what I learned and practiced both are needed to internalize. All in all, If I am not reflecting and learning by doing, I am most likely learning only at a surface level. Invest in Experimentation. The journey starts with a single step, and the 1% growth rule kicks in silently. The rewards are humongous.

  3. Organize: Often; we come across ideas and thoughts. We stumble into items we wish to highlight. I always consciously document it. I have a document for quotes I like to use, phrases that impressed me, words that I learned, and Ideas that I had. Every time, I go to add a new item, I glance through the original list, and surprisingly with a little effort the list stays small, relevant, and of supreme quality. Don't be lazy. I have scribbled all over most of my books. I regret the initial few years I didn't document what I was learning. Thankfully, I had a realization.

  4. Share learnings Early: The best of the colleagues I've worked with often hold back from experimenting with rough ideas. You don't have to figure it all out to start. Do and learn. Avoid perfectionism while learning.

  5. Give back: The best way to learn is to teach. Find people and start conversations. When you share, the other person shares back. It's a win-win. I do it with people you don't meet every day as well. Every time I am conducting an interview, by the end of it, I try and share something that will benefit the candidate and for which they can thank me later.

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©2023 Dheeraj C

©2023 Dheeraj C

©2023 Dheeraj C