Chapter 10: Hyper-Learning Practices – Hyper-Learning

CHAPTER 10

Hyper-Learning Practices

As we get further into the digital age, we all must ask ourselves two big questions:

1. Can we adapt and evolve in ways necessary to stay relevant and flourish?

2. Can we and will we embrace a New Way of Being and a New Way of Working in order to become Hyper-Learners who have meaningful employment and the ability to add value to society in ways that technology alone can’t?

The first nine chapters presented a path forward—a way of increasing your chances of saying, “Yes, I can!” in answer to those big questions.

We have been on an active-learning journey together. In part 1, you learned about why and how to develop a New Way of Being (your Best Self) in order to Hyper-Learn, and you began your own journey toward cultivating Inner Peace, a Hyper-Learning Mindset, and Hyper-Learning Behaviors.

THE CHALLENGE/OPPORTUNITY

Based on my experience and feedback from companies and individuals (not rigorous scientific experiments), the top two reasons why people are unable to cultivate Inner Peace or become Hyper-Learners are (1) a lack of self-discipline and (2) trying to do too much too soon.

Self-Discipline

People start out with the best of intentions. Most begin their journeys using some practices and working on one or two behaviors, but then life gets busy at work and/or home and so they skip a day, and then over time they are skipping more days, and eventually they are skipping all days. This journey to a New Way of Being and a New Way of Working is a daily one. In other words, you need to make your journey a top priority.

Professors Anders Ericsson, Lyle Bourne Jr., and Alice Healy are world-class cognitive psychology researchers. Professor Ericsson studies expertise and deliberate practice, and Professors Bourne and Healy focus on the best ways to train people to learn new things. In full disclosure, I know all three of them. Dr. Bourne was my graduate psychology advisor and has been an anam cara (soul friend) for four decades.

Their research clearly indicates that learning something new or improving a skill requires practice, practice, practice in small bits or chunks and that you are more likely to be successful if you measure yourself daily.

Regarding measuring yourself, in my work, people have found having an accountability partner to be very helpful. I recommend such a partner at work and at home.

Another example comes from one of the leading executive coaches in the world, who disclosed in one of his talks that no matter where he is in the world, his accountability partner calls him nightly to check in on how he did that day on the behaviors he was working on.

What I have learned studying and working with people who are working on achieving their Best Selves is that having the self-discipline to be on the journey is, in and of itself, very meaningful and rewarding. You feel good being on the journey, and you face life with a more positive attitude.

Starting Small

The second reason many people abandon this journey is early frustration with a lack of meaningful results, often caused by trying to do too much too soon. You have to start small.

Here is what I recommend:

Start out with your Daily Intentions. Reflect on them daily. Take 10 to 15 minutes. Visualize behaving that way.

If you need to learn how to meditate, start out with 2 or 3 minutes and then over time work up to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 to 30 minutes. Do not start out trying to do 20 minutes. You will get too frustrated. Use an app featuring one of the leading meditation experts, such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, or Sharon Salzberg.

Pick one additional behavior to start working on at work and home. Create a plan to change or adopt that behavior. Reflect on why that good behavior will help you and visualize doing your new behavior many times each day. Grade yourself every day in your Learning Journal.

Before every meeting, take 2 minutes to read over your Daily Intentions (using your phone or a 3″ by 5″ card). You need to create your own words. Here are some of my words as food for thought only:

• Take three deep breaths (actually do it).

• I am not my ideas.

• This is not about me.

• Smile and be kind.

• Listen to learn, not to confirm.

• Ask, don’t tell.

• Be a positive life force.

On your way home, mentally review how you did that day with your Daily Intentions:

• Where did you make progress?

• Where did you not behave as you wanted?

• Think about how you felt when you behaved that way. What triggered you to act that way?

• Record your results nightly in your Learning Journal.

• At least weekly, talk about your results with your accountability partner or a trusted team member.

Remember that every person sharing a personal story in this book about his or her own journey began that journey in a very different place, but through years of daily hard work and self-discipline, they changed themselves. Yes, you can change yourself—if you really want to!

Reflection Time

I invite you to stop here and reflect on what we’ve discussed is this chapter so far. Have you ever started a self-improvement plan and then quit? Many people do that every year with their New Year’s resolutions.

Why does that happen?

Have you quit a self-improvement plan in the past?

Did you get too busy? Did you forget? Could you not control your time? Did you get sick? Did a family member need your time? And on and on?

 

Many people I have worked with pick a time—either first thing in the morning or in the evening after personal home activities are done—to focus on self-improvement. Some people who commute on trains or buses do it on their commute home. The key is to pick a time. And make that time habitual! For example, my time is first thing in the morning when life is quiet. I can find 30 minutes or more every morning. And because my schedule allows it, I can usually also find 30 minutes every late afternoon.

Start small. Be patient. Reflect on how good you feel every time you work on your self. Experience that inner warmth.

In this chapter, I want to share with you some Hyper-Learning Practices that you can use on a daily basis that will help you become a Hyper-Learner and help you implement your Hyper-Learning Mindset and Behaviors.

These Hyper-Learning Practices are in addition to the EnPro practices discussed in chapter 9.

GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE NEW, THE DIFFERENT, AND THE UNKNOWN

There are several practices that can help you do this.

Become More Childlike

Do you remember when you learned to ride a bicycle?

Think back to that time.

How did you feel? Scared? Excited? Both?

What did you do?

My guess is someone held the bike and helped you get on it or the bicycle had training wheels and you got on by yourself.

How did you learn to ride that bicycle?

My guess is you started trying to make it move. And my guess is you fell off the bicycle many times. (I fell off more than once.)

Then what did you do?

I venture to guess that it took courage, iterative learning (trying to ride, falling off, learning from your fall) and resilience—getting up and trying to ride the bicycle again, considering what you learned.

Young children’s days are filled with exploration and discovery, experimenting with the unknown, and learning through trial and error.

Reflection Time

How is the discussion above relevant to our conversation?

Think about how children behave when they are young, say between the ages of two and eight, as compared to how you behave as an adult.

Do young children fear or worry about failure? Do you?

Are they concerned about making mistakes? Are you?

Are they concerned about looking bad? Being judged? Not being thought of as smart? Are you?

Are young children fearful of telling you what they think?

Are you fearful of being totally honest at work?

Are young children spontaneous? Are you? Or are you guarded or cautious at work?

Are young children good explorers? Learners? Are you? Why not?

Are you spontaneous? An explorer? Fearless? Courageous? Why not?

How much time do you spend thinking about or worrying about what other people think of you?

 

I suggest that if you are in a work environment that is safe for you, you need to bring your childlike behaviors back. Awaken the child in you and embrace play when you feel safe to do so.

Actively Explore

Currently, your brain prioritizes or seeks:

Efficiency

Speed

Confirmation of what you already believe

Affirmation of your ego through cognitive and emotional self-protection

Cohesiveness of your inner stories

All of that hinders Hyper-Learning.

In the digital age, humans must excel at the types of thinking and emotional engagement with other humans that will be hard for smart machines to do. That is generally imaginative, creative, innovative, and emergent thinking, all of which involve positive emotions and accessing and managing the unique inner voice of your subconscious.

In the digital age, you need to train your mind to better prioritize:

Seeking novelty, exploration, and discovery—not primarily confirmation, affirmation, and cohesiveness

Actively seeking disconfirming information that challenges what you believe

Asking questions that lead to exploration and discovery (Why? What if? Why not?)

Deferring judgments (saying, “Yes, and” not “Yes, but”) in order to explore and discover

Embracing differences and trying to make meaning of differences

Embracing ambiguity by not rushing to the safety of making comfortable, speedy decisions

Embracing the JOY of Hyper-Learning every day by continually learning, unlearning, and relearning and updating your mental models of how the world works

Getting hooked on Hyper-Learning as opposed to being hooked on “knowing”

Excelling at “not knowing” and knowing how to learn (That is the wilderness of Hyper-Learning. It is in the wilderness that we can learn and update our mental models.)

Embracing the powers discussed earlier in this book:

• The Power of Serenity

• The Power of Humility

• The Power of Positive Emotions

• The Power of Slowing Down

• The Power of Presence

• The Power of Reflective Listening

• The Power of Making Meaning

• The Power of Exploration

• The Power of Reflection

• The Power of Emergence

• The Power of Owning You

Each day, write down in your Learning Journal what you explored, what you discovered, what you learned, and what you want to explore tomorrow. Consider forming an “explorer club” with trusted team members at work or trusted friends and share your explorations with each other weekly. Make exploration and discovery part of your New Way of Being.

Change Your Brain and Mind

To become Hyper-Learners, we all have to become proficient at updating our mental models. That means we all have to create new neuronal connections in our brains.

New neuronal connections result from intensely focusing on learning new things, new perspectives, and new habits and from mentally simulating new ways of behaving. Visualize, then do.

Norman Doidge is a leading research neuroscientist who for decades has been one of the leading experts of neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to structurally change throughout our lives. Research shows that we humans can actively help that process along. For example, Doidge and colleagues have built a technology-enabled app called Brain HQ, which is designed to stretch your brain with short exercises. They designed the app to help older people, but the skills it’s designed to help the user develop are important for all of us.

Another way to build new connections in the brain is by intentionally thinking and acting differently. For example, by actually behaving like an explorer and seeking to learn something new we can change our minds and brains in ways that make exploration and new learning a habit.

There is also research that shows that we can learn new physical activities by mental simulation practices.115 I interpret that to mean that we can rewire our brains in ways more conducive to, say, collaboration by mentally rehearsing how we want to behave in a meeting or in a collaboration exercise. We can mentally rehearse asking the right exploratory questions and trying to connect and relate to other people. That is a powerful tool. I find it so fascinating that this neuroscience is consistent with the teachings of some of the ancient philosophers who advocated deep reflection as a learning tool. For example, there is an ancient belief that you can overcome a fear of dying by mentally rehearsing how you want to physically act on your death bed and mentally simulating dying.

Reflection Time

Why not mentally simulate doing a desired behavior? Choose one of your desired Hyper-Learning Behaviors to visualize doing. Yes, right now, please.

 

Mental rehearsal becomes super powerful when the new things you do in and of themselves help you be a better learner and help you develop emotional and cognitive skills you don’t have. For example, by mentally visualizing the act of reading another person’s emotions and responding in ways that help you and the other person get in sync (as discussed in chapter 7) you can improve your ability to do it in the real world.

Mental rehearsal can also help you develop nonlinear thinking skills such as sense-making, storytelling, and divergent, emergent, innovative, and creative thinking. The way to develop those skills is by having the courage to try them and by not worrying about looking bad at the beginning of your learning process. In other words, you need to just start. Don’t procrastinate or put it off. Just do something each day to learn and get better.

Here is another good example of what you could do to practice embracing the new and different in ways that can change your brain and mind: take an improv training course. The research shows that learning improv helps you communicate better emotionally with others. When I was creating the Leadership Institute at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School 15 years ago, we intentionally designed a course to take students out of their daily comfort zones with four specific experiences: improv training, diversity training, learning the life of a homeless person, and an immersive experience at the U.S. Marines Leadership Center at Quantico, Virginia (students spent an evening and night as enlisted Marines and a day in officer leadership experiential training). The purpose was to put students in novel situations and activities requiring focus and engagement.

I suggest that you do more activities that take you out of your comfort zone and enable you to stretch yourself. That is what we all need to do. And you can do it yourself without going to Quantico.

Here is a simple thing to try. I love grocery shopping. I used to always start on the far-left aisle of Whole Foods here in Charlottesville. One day, I decided to start on the far-right aisle. Geez, you would think I had gone to another planet. It took me more than double the time to do my shopping because I had to think differently. Try it. See how your brain handles it.

Try writing your name with your nondominant hand. Try it multiple times over a week or more. What did you learn?

Try driving to work a different way every day. What did you notice?

To learn how to adapt to and flourish in a new world, we need to train ourselves to love going into the new and the different. Training ourselves on low-stakes novel tasks can build the confidence we need to truly thrive in the constantly changing and uncertain environments of the digital age.

Reflection Time

Do you recall the last time you ventured into something new or different?

How did you feel?

What did you do?

How did you figure out what to do?

What happened?

What did you feel at the end of the event or action?

What did you learn?

 

The velocity of change in the digital age is high and constant. Think back to the Hyper-Learning Mindset chapter. What philosophical concept could help you become more comfortable in that kind of environment?

If you said impermanence, you are correct.

Thriving in a rapidly changing, uncertain environment starts with having the right mindset—an attitude that sets you up to seek novelty, explore the unknown, and be comfortable in ambiguous situations, the kind of mindset that helps you confront key questions like: What is changing? How is it changing?

A mindset that is comfortable with impermanence enables you to be curious about the answers.

Be Curious

It’s curious people who will thrive as the digital age advances.

To pique your own curiosity, I suggest asking yourself the following questions frequently throughout the day (add them to your Daily Intentions):

What am I missing?

What is new?

What is different?

These questions prime you to notice, sense, and discover the new and the different.

The goal is to learn to love the new, the different, and the unknown.

The goal is to love exploring and learning every day. The goal is to not end the day knowing only what you knew yesterday.

Be on the lookout for new insights.

The following Insight Discovery Questions can help:116

What are we trying to do here? What kind of thinking should I be using?

Is there any data here that contradicts or is inconsistent with what I believe? If so, what could that mean?

Is there something new, unusual, or out of the ordinary present that I should think about? What could that data mean?

Can I look at the data differently and produce a different answer?

Is there a pattern here?

If I define or reframe my question or problem differently, would that open up new alternatives or help me see more data or create a different pattern?

What in the data or exploration is surprising? Why is it surprising? What could it mean?

Could it be important? Why? Why not?

What do I feel? Why am I feeling that? What do I want to do with that feeling?

What is my body telling me? What do I need to do?

If I did this, what could happen? Visualize it. How did that feel?

What did I expect? What happened? What can I learn from that?

Use Tools Designed for Exploration and Discovery

You can learn to embrace the new and see the different, and I predict that if you do something every day to learn something new, you will get hooked on learning because it will be emotionally rewarding. It will generate the release of emotionally positive hormones that will give you a learner’s high.

But to fully embrace the new and different, it helps to have tools to figure out the unknown.

One such tool is the process underlying scientific experiments, which is the same process that underlies such well-known business processes as Lean Startup, Effectuation Thinking, and Design Thinking. All of these processes share the same learning approach.

Think about it.

What is an entrepreneur trying to do?

What is an innovator trying to do?

What is a creative person trying to do?

Are they trying to find or create novelty through exploration or discovery, or are they trying to confirm what they think they know?

Okay, so what do entrepreneurs, innovators, and creative types actually do?

In many cases, they use a process designed for exploration and discovery, which is basically the scientific method:

1. First, they create a hypothesis (e.g., I believe if I do X, person Y will do Z. Or, if I do X, Z will happen).

2. They ask themselves:

• What must be true for that to occur?

• What would make my hypothesis false?

3. They design an experiment to test the hypothesis.

4. They find relevant data (e.g., through interviews or research) to test the hypothesis.

5. They ask themselves: What happened? What did I learn?

If you have a way of learning in new situations, a way of exploring that is low-risk, and a way of iteratively learning in small steps, change is no longer so scary.

Reflection Time

What are you going to do differently tomorrow to get better at going into the unknown?

Do you agree that the scientific method is a tool you can easily use daily to discover the new and the different? To go into the unknown?

 

Please understand, I am just sharing what I have learned. I am not saying do it my way. Heavens, no! Remember you have a CHOICE! What I am suggesting is that you develop a process for exploring that is easy and low-risk. I am trying to stimulate thoughtfulness and action, not compliance.

Engage in Activities That Are New and Different—Break Your Routine Way of Being

(I’ve put an asterisk beside the ones I’ve personally tried.)

Which will you try?

*Learn the scientific method. (This is a must do.)

*Take improv training. (This stuff works.)

*Take an art class. (This was a big “new” for me, and I want to do more.)

*Take a dance class. (I was awful. It was not fun.)

Take a martial arts class.

Learn to play a musical instrument.

*Learn to play a new sport.

*Visit museums and learn about the creation of art.

Do a maker’s workshop. (Go make something.)

Take a storytelling class.

Take a writing class.

*Play thinking games, such as chess or bridge. (I love bridge and want to do more this year.)

Put yourself into very different environments via volunteer work.

*Take daily walks in natural environments, intensely focusing on the foliage, the sounds, the colors, the sky, the stars. (I now try to do this every day.)

Take a Design Thinking course.

Take Andrew Ng’s Coursera course on AI for Beginners.

Do creativity exercises with your children.

Read Regularly

Do you remember what Charlie Munger said about reading?

Do you remember what Marvin Riley said about reading?

I recommend regularly reading in fields where you have little knowledge and in fields that add to your understanding of how the world works and how you tick. Focus especially on the areas of physics, biology, psychology, artificial intelligence, and emotional intelligence and read some novels or poetry.

Follow Thought Leaders on Social Media

Follow thought leaders and peruse their postings weekly. When you find a thought leader who helps you, look to see whom she or he follows. I recommend that every quarter you prune the list of people you follow, keeping the most helpful and trying some new ones.

Listen to Podcasts

I suggest listening to at least one podcast every week in which thought leaders present their views. Here are some leading podcasts to consider (try some and choose a topic weekly from a couple of different people):

Back to Work

TED Talks

The Tim Ferriss Show

Farnam Street’s The Knowledge Project

StarTalk, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science Weekly

Quirks & Quarks

The Vergecast (technology news)

a16z Podcast (technology)

Planet Money

Sometimes I go on YouTube and search for thought leaders to follow on podcasts. That has been helpful.

Keep a Learning Journal

Writing makes you think about what you really know and whether you can explain it in ways that other people can understand. In the case of fiction, writing helps you become creative and imaginative and more able to access and understand feelings and emotions.

I highly recommend continuing to keep a Learning Journal and writing down your learnings each day. That is what Ray Dalio did and from that journal came his book Principles and his investment strategies.

A Learning Journal is also good for writing down ideas or thoughts that arise from your subconscious. That can happen when you wake up or after you have taken a walk in nature or when you have done your physical workout. Or whenever they pop into your head.

Why not write your life story so far? An outstanding book to use in doing that is The Path of the Everyday Hero by Lorna Catford and Michael Ray. A couple of years ago I worked through the exercises between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It was an illuminating and meaningful exercise that helped set a more focused course of action for the following years. It helped me look at my life and think deeply about when I was the best me. What was I most proud of? When was I the most courageous? Were there any consistent approaches that brought me inner joy? I wrote down a list of the things I had done that made me feel really good—that felt like the real me or that had a positive impact on others—and I found some consistencies.

What did I conclude? I concluded that when I went to Wall Street I became a very different person than I was before. My 20 years in investment banking were very rewarding in many ways, but on reflection, they were my years “in the wilderness” because I got caught up in the success game as opposed to being in the purpose game. One part of me took over my life, and I lost for a while the parts of me that brought great joy to my heart—my soul. In many ways, my story is similar to Marvin Riley’s story when he shared with us his approach to life when he began his career and how he had to change. I, too, had to change to be true to myself.

This type of deep reflection practice can be very helpful in helping you center your sense of self—in helping you identify the uniqueness that you can bring to the world to find purpose and meaningful work.

Follow Leading-Edge Think Tanks

For no money, you can follow these institutions to read about their latest thinking and discoveries:

Santa Fe Institute

Brookings Institution

McKinsey Global Institute

Singularity University

Oxford University Institute for the Future of Humanity

Deloitte Center for the Edge

Leading Edge Forum

World Economic Forum

Pew Research Center

MIT Media Lab

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence

Use Templates Daily

Here are three templates that my students and consulting clients have found helpful.

Getting Ready to Collaborate and Listen Checklist

© Edward D. Hess 2020

1. Take deep breaths, then ask yourself:

Am I calm emotionally? Take deep breaths until you are calm.

Is my mind clear? Am I really ready to focus and be present? If not, take deep breaths and get ready.

What is the purpose of this meeting? Exploration? Critical thinking? Feedback? Making a decision? Defining the problem?

2. Then say to yourself:

Slow down. Don’t rush to conclusions. Don’t interrupt. Think, don’t react.

Listen to understand and learn. Don’t be defensive.

I am not my idea. This is not about me.

My mental models are not reality, they are only my perception of reality.

Being accurate is more important than being right.

Collaborating is not a competition.

3. Then remind yourself:

Don’t interrupt.

Don’t think about your response while the other person is talking. Focus on listening.

Don’t get defensive.

Reflect and make meaning together.

Do no harm. Critique ideas, not people.

Be a humble, empathetic, and caring listener.

This is not about me.

Ratio of inquiry to advocacy: 1:1.

Ratio of positive to negative feedback: 3:1.

People won’t care what I believe unless they believe I care about them.

Critical Thinking Questions Checklist117

© Edward D. Hess 2020

  1.   What do you think?

  2.   Why do you believe that?

  3.   What assumptions are you making to get to that point?

  4.   What inferences are you making?

  5.   What facts must be true for that to be true?

  6.   How credible are the sources of those facts?

  7.   Do you have enough (quantity) credible (quality) evidence to make those assumptions, inferences, or conclusions?

  8.   What facts would disprove your assumption, inference, or conclusion? Did you look for them?

  9.   What other interpretations or meaning can you draw from the facts?

10.   What alternatives did you consider? Pros and cons of each? Why did you choose X?

11.   Are we focused on the real issue/problem?

12.   Have we gotten to the root cause?

13.   Have we looked at the problem from different viewpoints?

14.   Do we have enough data to make a decision?

15.   Who disagrees with this course of action? Why? (Warning sign if no one disagrees)

16.   If we do this, what is likely to happen? What would that cause to happen? What could result then?

17.   Is there something here that just doesn’t make sense or feel right?

18.   Have we illuminated all the unacceptable risks of this decision or course of action?

19.   What is the probability we are correct? What are the big downsides if we are not correct? Have we mitigated or hedged the big downsides to nil?

20.   Have we considered self-interest bias? Confirmation bias? Satisficing? Availability? Anchoring? Overconfidence? Loss aversion?

Unpacking and Stress-Testing Assumptions Checklist118

© Edward D Hess 2020

1. State the belief clearly.

2. Use the “5 Whys” to illuminate what assumptions or inferences must be true for the belief to be true.

3. For each assumption, ask the following:

What facts do we already know that confirm the assumption?

What facts do we already know that cast doubt on the assumption?

What specific facts would confirm the assumption?

What specific additional facts would disconfirm the assumption?

4. For each specific additional fact that would confirm the assumption:

Who knows those facts?

Where do we find those facts?

How many different confirming sources do we need?

How will we mitigate confirmation bias in our search?

5. For each specific fact that would disconfirm or cast doubt on the assumption:

Who knows those facts?

Where do we find those facts?

How many different disconfirming sources do we need?

Let’s go back a moment. I have shared lots of ideas with you.

You can’t do all of them.

Remember, start small and be rigorous in daily execution and then add more activities when the new ones have become habitual.

Pick some personal practices that are going to help you be the person you desire to be at home and at work.

It should be clear by now that the goal here is for all of us to find a workplace where our Best Self can flourish. Only then will we be whole and only then will we have the chance to be all we can be. Only then can we bring our human uniqueness to work to make a meaningful contribution to something that we believe is meaningful.

As noted poet David Whyte stated:

“To have a firm persuasion in our work—to feel that what we do is right for ourselves and good for the world at the same exact time—is one of the great triumphs of human existence.”119