How to start? Develop the foundation skills that you need in order to get smarter!

Before we start out on this adventure, we should keep in mind two things. First, as Matt Ridley points out, humans around the planet all have roughly the same amount of intelligence. In other words, the differences in raw intelligence or capacity between peoples is not that significant. So as we try to get smarter, we are not trying to increase our overall capacity. Instead, we are learning how to use the capacity that we already have more effectively. Second, psychologists tell us that intelligence is situational. In other words, we tend to get smarter in a given field or with respect to a given topic. Then when situations arise where we can apply that learning, we act in a more intelligent manner. So to get smarter we have two challenges (1) look at the situations where we need intelligence, and (2) focus on processes within these areas that help us perform better in those areas.

So what kinds of situations are we most interested in? Good question. The more narrow the field that we pick, the more focus we can bring to it.  For example, if we say we want to learn how to cook better, we will be less focused that if we commit to learning how to make a better cake. This is an important idea because we want to get better faster. And the more we can focus, the faster we can learn. At the same time, the more narrow our focus, the fewer situations we will be able to apply it. We will be really good at something that we only do sometimes. We have a problem.

There is some good news. There is the solution. We need both. We need to see the big picture. The big situation. Like being in the kitchen. But as soon as possible, we want to break that big thing into pieces, and focus on the pieces that will be used most frequently.  This is the thinking behind Tim Ferriss’s 80/20 rule. When we want to learn something, we break down the overall set of things we need to do into pieces. Then we try to identify those pieces that most important. They are the 20% that will get us 80% of our overall mastery level.

Let’s apply this. Everyone talks about how smart Elon Musk is. How did he get there?

He actually answered that question in an interview. It was simple. Well before he started implementing great plans, he created “the context” or the “agenda”  for what he had to learn. In the interview, he states this very clearly – and it is very broad. That means he will be looking at a broad range of situations where he needs to learn. He  may or may not be able to do everything in that field. That doesn’t matter. Seeing the broad context pulls him forward. It creates mental space.

It is a bit like sailing. In most cases, the wind does not push the boat forward, the boat is pulled forward. Or if you want a more modern example, it is like “warp drive“. One might be able to travel faster than the speed of light if one is pulled forward by negative energy.

The next step is to break the broad area into smaller activities to master – the 20% that will give 80% of the mastery we want. Musk does not get into his selection process. But we can make a few conjectures. First, he selected a study discipline that gave him the tools to take apart the big problems he was thinking about. BTW, he does say that he recommends studying physics — as it teaches you to think in terms of first principles rather than analogies. Second, his adventure started when he made decisions about how to apply his learning. Each decision gave him a testing tool to see if he could go farther or not.

This is what I mean by creating context. Setting an agenda that pulls you forward, deconstructing it, and then making a series of decisions about where to focus. Three steps worth remembering!

So what is our agenda? If we want to get smarter, we need to understand what most of being smart is all about. In the old days, the conventional wisdom was that it was about IQ (Intelligence Quotient). It was an individual gift. More recently, we are learning that intelligence has an underestimated social dimension. Steve Johnson brings this out in his search for “where great ideas come from“. This gives us a starting point. To get smarter, we need to be smarter at how to be social. So we will focus on social skills sets and building on this one step at a time.

The first step? We need to be able to communicate effectively. This is a matter of (1) negotiation, (2) conflict management and (3) persuasion. If we know how to do this stuff, we have critical skills to create space. And that is what Take Five first level training is all about.

Books to read

  • Getting to yes! Fisher and Ury
  • The Power of a Positive No!, Bill Ury
  • To Sell is Human, Dan Pink
  • Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath
  • The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr
  • How to Argue and Win Every Time, Gerry Spense

Here are a few questions that we are thinking about

  • Why don’t people listen to me?
  • Why is it so hard to get to a sale?
  • How can I avoid getting sucked into conflict?
  • How can I use my communication skills to make other people smarter?

Some linked posts that you might enjoy


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