November 16, 2022

If you work in Technology, everything in that industry changes rapidly, and whenever you are in a Technical or Management position, you need to learn quickly. If you don’t, operating on outdated assumptions will lead to ineffective decisions, or both.

As with most things in life, I do not think there is a universal magic technique which works for everyone in every situation, so do not take this blog post as a recommendation, but rather as the outline of key practices that work for me.

Ask – I tend to learn faster by asking questions and having discussions rather than passively consuming information. Some might even call it Arguing rather than Asking. This helps me to process information better as well as focus on details which I consider relevant, rather than what the person doing the presentation thinks they are. This interrupting presentation or lecture with “random” questions may not work in all cases and frankly can be seen disrespectfully but it works best for me. I also think it is important not to be afraid to ask “stupid” questions as we all have information gaps in what others may consider “obvious” and ignoring such gaps only makes them bigger. I think we can learn a lot here from young children who tend to ask questions without paying attention to how relevant their question is. As we grow, we become more polite and pretend to be smart, but we pay for it with slower learning.

Practice – The “Theoretical” knowledge I gain by asking questions may not stick for long. Putting this knowledge into practice is very helpful to ensure long-term retention and familiarity with non-obvious “nuances”. When you read a book or attend a presentation, you often get a simplified and “sanitized” version that is likely to miss many of the nuances of real life that apply to a particular situation. Good practice takes a lot of time, so I have to be discerning about what I get “hands on” and what I just study theoretically. This is also the reason why I often abuse my position to save time by handing the team raw notes on problems I’ve discovered, rather than creating proper detailed repeatable case studies. You might call it laziness and selfishness, or you might recognize that different people in an organization have different “values” of their time and energy.

Teach – Finally, teaching a topic you’ve just studied is a fantastic way to improve the depth of your understanding. I believe that if you can’t explain something, you don’t really know it. In so many cases, when I think I know something, I find that I don’t understand in depth, especially in preparation for possible questions that people might ask. You also learn a lot from the questions people actually ask, because they will undoubtedly be completely different angels that you haven’t even thought about. This is one of the reasons I encourage everyone (both individual authors and managers) to blog about their field of expertise, share their thoughts on social media, and participate in related events. Teaching is a win-win-win when you can help the world by sharing your knowledge, help your company, and build your personal reputation.

These three shortcuts can be remembered by their APT (Ask-Practice-Teach) abbreviation. Want to become a better student? Consider practicing APT 🙂

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