At the beginning of this summer, I decided that I wanted to read one book a week.
The reasoning behind this was simple. Books are a resource that authors spends years crafting and compiling their knowledge and experience that I can pick up for less than $20 and learn about what they learned in a mere couple days of reading. The vast wealth of information, experiences, and perspectives are so immensely large that not reading books would mean missing out on a great deal of learning.
It hasn’t always been easy, however, to fit in reading time in between all the different things that I have been working on this summer, but I did my best to be intentional and consistent with my reading time.
So in no particular order, I’ve had the opportunity to read the following books this summer:
- Inner Game of Tennis
- The Promise of a Pencil
- Zero to One
- The Obstacle is the Way
- The Art of Learning
- I’m Feeling Lucky
- In Defense of Food
- Jesus’ Son
- Black Swan
From the engaging narratives of The Promise of a Pencil, I’m Feeling Lucky, and Jesus’ Son to the deep philosophy of Black Swan and The Obstacle is the way, reading has definitely given me a better perspective of the world and how I approach things. It’s given me frameworks to think about everyday choices, and how I can better myself and the people around me.
This is a habit that I hope to continue for years to come, and perhaps I’ll write my own book one day. Feel free to follow me on goodreads, I love chatting books!
When looking at an outcome and trying to replicate it, I often try to break it down by analyzing the things that contributed to it’s success. It makes logical sense that if I can break down everything that happens, I can figure out the reasons that things happened the way that they did.
People do this all the time. Books are written, talks are given, and curricula are organized all with the intent of formulating a step by step process to achieve a certain goal.
But it’s rarely that simple. As The Black Swan argues, “no evidence of black swans does not mean evidence of no black swans.”
In my experience, I find that even when I follow all the rules, and do everything that I theorized based off what I learned from other people, that the outcome is rarely the same outcome as someone else. Human life is so complicated that taking a specific habit or routine directly out of someone else’s life will work when applied to yours.
For instance, consider the area of health and nutrition. In my recent study of nutrition (reading In Defense of Food), it was brought to my attention that the results of eating natural, organic vegetables is completely different and much more positive than eating the exact nutrients known to mankind within the vegetables. In other words, having a healthy diet is much more than simply counting the nutrients in the foods, even though much of nutrition-ism claims equivalence.
The truth is, most things are so utterly complex, circumstantial and unpredictable that simply trying to sum parts together will leave gaping holes and blind spots that are impossible to be aware of.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that people should stop learning as much as possible from as many people as possible. The value in sharing experiences and learning from people isn’t in applying things verbatim, but having a wider range of perspectives in how to approach your own endeavors.
On one end of the spectrum, having too much information can be paralyzing and overwhelming, but with the right attitude and framework for learning, a vast wealth of information can be used to create a breadth of understanding that allows a person to be well rounded and wise in all areas, being open to the vast ranges of possibilities of things to come without the expectation of a single outcome.
Summing the parts you know doesn’t always result in the outcome you want, but it’s better than nothing.
I’m learning how to drive manual.
And in learning how to drive, like any other active learning process, there are two mentalities that emerge. The Inner Game of Tennis talks about these two mentalities that often are at odds with each other, often leading to a self-sabotage of the learning process.
The first, called the outer self, is the part of the learning process that thinks logically about the situation. For example, in driving stick, the outer self sets specific speeds at which to change gears, and attempts to give specific instructions on what to do with the stick at what point.
In contrast, the inner self is the part that learns intuitively and by feeling. When someone learning to drive stick stalls the car, the inner self assesses how the car felt during the time, and internalizes the feelings associated with failing.
As Timothy Gallwey argues, the inner self is what allows tennis players to achieve mastery through proper focus and mental performance. Most of the time, the outer self is much louder than the inner self, and reacts negatively whenever a mistake is made.
Thus, the challenge in letting the inner self learn properly is about knowing how to quiet the part of the mind that is micromanaging every action. It’s about learning to direct your focus on how things feel, and trusting yourself in the process.
While learning manual, accidentally stalling the car at a stoplight brings out the intense conflict between the inner and outer self. The outer self is calling myself stupid, while the inner self is attempting to learn from the mistake. Of course, since it all happens so fast, it’s easy to let the outer self take over, panic, and stall the car three more times at the same intersection.
Quieting the outer self is about being intentional about recognizing and acknowledging thoughts, but not engaging with or judging them. It’s about learning to focus deeply on what is happening, and how your focus or lack of focus on the task itself is affecting the outcome.
It’s not positive thinking, it’s properly directed focus.
Over the past couple months, I’ve had the privilege of working closely with some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. The founders of The New School SF, a charter school to open in the fall of 2015, asked me to help support their web and marketing initiatives. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a part of starting a school, an item on my bucket list that I thought I wouldn’t be able to cross off until decades later.
The New School SF is a charter school with three main distinction points. Firstly, the school will be k-12, making it a complete 13 year program from kindergarten to graduating high school. Second, the school will be mixed income, promoting diversity and openness to all of San Francisco’s children. And last (and probably the most exciting personally), the school will have an inquiry based education model.
The inquiry model is a model that is based fundamentally on student inquiry. The student takes initiative in asking the questions and figuring out how to learn. Through exploration, exposition, and expression, students are able to use the innate curiosity to fuel their passion to learn. I’ve read and written about inquiry based models for a long time, but I’ve only ever used it myself, not in an environment of a whole group of students.
Through exploration, exposition, and expression, students are able to use the innate curiosity to fuel their passion to learn.
Over the last two weeks, The New School SF put on a pop-up program in which we were able to bring together a class of students ages 5 to 10 to attempt an inquiry based learning unit. We had amazing teachers from the UCLA lab school (a school doing inquiry based learning for the last 100 years) come in to show us the ropes of inquiry based education.
The students learned about roots and wings through creating collaborative projects, learning aspects of communication along the way. Pictures can be found on our Flickr album.
Even though I was running around doing errands, taking pictures, and designing the website, I realized that even the process of what I was doing was a manifestation of experiential learning. In one of the debrief meetings after a day of the pop-up, I listened in on insights and perspectives of teaching that I’ve never heard before. Besides feeling completely unqualified to be a part of those conversations, I saw how inquiry based learning starts with building community and identity, and attempts to relate everything to empowering a child’s dream.
Throughout the whole two weeks, I couldn’t help but wish that my own education had been inquiry based. Getting to know each student individually brought a whole new depth of learning to each of the students that brought growth in a mere two weeks. I already miss the kids, but I’m excited to see how inquiry based learning scales from two week pop-up to a 13 year program.
“We all spend so much time putting up walls so that others can’t see our vulnerabilities, but those same walls often enclose us within our own insecurities” – Adam Braun
The Promise of a Pencil, a book by Adam Braun, details the journey of starting the “for-purpose” organization Pencils of Promise. Adam Braun, although coming from a upper middle class family in New York, responded to questions and challenges in a very uniquely purposeful and significant way. He recounts near death experiences, being laid off, and other big risks and realizations.
In short, Pencils of Promise is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring education to children all over the world, mainly through fundraising and building schools in other countries. They’ve scaled to the point of opening a new school every 90 hours.
What fascinated me the most about this story was Adam’s ability to think outside the box, go against the life career path that he was set up to take, and go down his own unique path.
Let’s face it, we’ve all made excuses as to why we are not capable of taking a bold step to change the world. We’re not tall enough, fast enough, smart enough, rich enough, social enough, weird enough, knowledgeable enough, skilled enough, qualified enough, etc. Our excuses aren’t completely irrational, as much historical data points to people more or less growing up to remain in the same social position as their parents. Malcolm Gladwell even argues in Outliers that much of who we become is a function of our background and environment we grow up around.
I’ve always found this to be a tricky debate, torn between seeing people stuck with struggles similar to their parents’ and the idealistic hope of the American Dream. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that rising above the “glass ceiling” isn’t about working hard, but working smart.
Simply working harder won’t necessarily bring you to winning a Nobel Peace Prize, starting a company, or changing the world. In fact, many times hard work without proper grounding in passion and purpose leads to burn out and frustration. The question in our modern day connection economy is no longer how many units can you produce on a product line, but how can you work to be effective in the things that you produce?
Today is my birthday, and I’m giving it to help give kids an education. I’ve partnered with Pencils of Promise in an attempt to raise $1000 for kids all over the world. It would truly make my day if you could help some kids out!
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” -Robert A. Heinlein
Growing up, I was instructed to pick one career and take the path from high school to the lucrative career of my choice. Over and over again, I heard the advice to focus on one skill in order to make a career out of it.
I don’t know about you, but my natural tendencies and interests make such advice nearly impossible to follow. My interests range from technology to education to agriculture to health, making it really difficult for me to simply focus on one of the above.
Recently, I came across Tim Ferriss’s post about being a jack of all trades, and it started to get me thinking about the principles behind the well-intentioned specialization advice.
The argument for becoming a specialist rather than a generalist is that specialists have depth in one field, making it easier to leverage that one skill in order to make money and be effective in his or her career. I find the reasoning behind this argument extremely sound, and agree that everyone should aim to for depth in fields that their interested in.
But what I’ve begun to realize is that people generally overestimate how much time it takes to becoming world class at a skill. With the level of resources we have available to us in our modern day, becoming an expert at certain skills has never been easier.
In fact, I’ve found that people who are constantly learning new things beyond the scope of their comfort zone have an even easier time becoming world class at new skills.
The specialist who spends their entire life learning one skill may make more money doing what they do best, but the generalist who intentionally, systematically, and purposefully learns and explores are much more fulfilled with a vast variety of experiences, can make internal interdisciplinary connections, and are all around much more interesting people to be around.
The key to being successful as a generalist is to be constantly mindful of the story you are creating. The worst generalist, the person which the conventional wisdom warns not to be, is the one who can’t make up their mind about what they want to do, switching focuses whenever something becomes too challenging or emotionally distressing. To be a successful generalist means being very focused on a day to day basis, specializing on a daily basis so that they can generalize on a yearly basis.
The point is, specialization is for insects. Humans have such great capacities to learn and explore a whole breadth of topics as well as take the time to explore the depth, so long as one is intentional about it.