For those of you know know me as more than an acquaintance, you’ll know that I’m pretty intense when it comes to learning new things. I love to learn new ideas and new skills. I love it so much, I compete with myself to learn more than I already know and be better the next time I do it.

I would never claim to be an expert at anything though because the more I learn about one subject the more I recognize there is to learn. But see, that’s my point! There is so much to learn out there and all it requires is a little investigation and an interest in learning it. I also take a particularly strong bias towards anyone claiming to be an expert because if you’ve reached the point of “expert” and that’s your claim then where do you have left to go?

I was asked by a co-worker the other day “How do you learn so fast?” and my answer was that “I’m interested in learning the subject.” His response was “I’m interested in the subject as well, but that doesn’t mean I’ll learn it.”

I had to make a distinction in the conversation. The subject isn’t what’s important, it’s the interest in the act of learning that’s important. If you don’t have a focus in overcoming your ignorance on a subject then you’ll have a much harder time actually picking any of it up.

I don’t consider myself to be extra smart, just a skilled learner and a little compulsive towards new skills which has lead me to have an very open mind towards other ideas. I’ve learned that almost all subjects have an underlying logic and rules that apply to it’s performance. For instance, I love wood working. Ignore some basic rules though about how differing types of wood will respond to nails, screws, cutting and stain and you’re pretty much going to ruin your project.

In a recent presentation by James Bach, a claimed expert in software testing, he breaks down the path to continual learning and it’s worth sharing here:

Level 0: I overcame obliviousness

I now realize there is something here to learn.

Level 1: I overcame intimidation

I feel I can learn this subject or skill. I know enough about it so that I am not intimidated by people who know more than me.

Level 2: I overcame incoherence

I no longer feel that I’m pretending or hand-waving. I feel reasonably competent to discuss or practice. What I say sounds like what I think I know.

Level 3: I overcame competence.

Now I feel productively self-critical, rather than complacently good enough. I want to take risks, invent, teach, and push myself. I want to be with other enthusiastic students.

James’ presentation is very animated and really interesting but it’s worth taking note the lessons above.

When I did tech support years ago I heard a pretty common cry of “I wish I knew computers, I just don’t know where to start.” Anywhere! Pick up any book or talk to anyone and just ask some basic questions. If you’re interested in self-teaching yourself something then just get started.

Granted, this approach is a little cumbersome at first if you’re trying to teach yourself but once you’ve found at least one nugget of interesting content that should be enough to move forward if you’re truly interested in the process.