Erika Andersen on Be Bad First, Part 10

In the book, Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future, Erika Andersen shares her mindset and techniques for learning new things well and quickly.

These are some of my favorite concepts and takeaways from reading the book.

Chapter 8: Slaying Your Personal Dragons: One the Road to Mastery

In this chapter, Erika Andersen discusses some of the personal challenges we will face when we try to become high-payoff, Michelangelo-style learners. She offers the following observations and recommendations for us to think about:

For questions on Endless Curiosity:

Q: But some things are just BORING. How can I possibly get curious about stuff that makes me want to go to sleep?

A: Nothing is intrinsically dull – it has more to do with the lack of interest on our part. It is, however, possible to get interested in anything. That is a much more productive belief than the other way around. Holding the idea that some things are, by their very nature, uninteresting will limit us from a lot of learning.

Q: Can you be too curious?

A: If we define curiosity as “a deep need to understand and master,” we cannot be too curious. We also need to be mindful of some things that masquerade as curiosity and lead us to produce bad results. One such fake curiosity is our need to control everything and micromanage our environment. Micromanaging, even if it’s disguised as curiosity, is “thinking we already understand something and that we need to make other people better at doing it.”

Another kind of fake curiosity is “endless divergent thinking.” Endless divergent thinking can lead us to brainstorm and fact-finding missions, but we never settle on a course of action. It wastes mental and emotional energy that could be better used for authentic learning.

Q: I’m worried I’ll look dumb if I ask questions that demonstrate my lack of knowledge or understanding. What if I’m the only one who doesn’t know?

A: When we ask curious questions, it is not that we look dumb but think we will look dumb. One way to shift our self-talk in this area is to think of someone we respect who is willing to ask “novice” questions. We should ask ourselves, Do I think that person looks dumb when he asks an I-don’t-know type question? One caution is to avoid the novice trap of asking a curious question already covered in the conversation because we failed to pay attention.

Q: When people talk about things I don’t know about, I lose focus fast. How can I stay engaged?

A: When someone is discussing a new topic, our minds can take one of two directions. One direction is curiosity, and the other direction is disinterest. If we are losing focus, we are walking down the path of disinterested self-talk.

One technique to reengage our curiosity is summarizing what the other person is saying. To digest something someone is saying, we first have to understand it. If we try to understand what someone is saying well enough to summarize it, we begin listening as though we are curious.

The essence of curiosity is the need to understand. Once we pay attention to something this trying-to-understand way, our actual interest often gets catalyzed, and we find ourselves engaged in the topic.