The Learning Leader Show With Ryan Hawk

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Episode #337: Scott H. Young – How To Become An Ultra Learner

Scott Young is a writer who undertakes interesting self-education projects, such as attempting to learn MIT’s four-year computer science curriculum in twelve months and learning four languages in one year. Scott incorporates the latest research about the most effective learning methods and the stories of other ultralearners like himself—among them Ben Franklin, Judit Polgár, and Richard Feynman, as well as a host of others, such as little-known modern polymaths like Nigel Richards who won the World Championship of French Scrabble—without knowing French.  He is the author of the best-selling book, UltraLearning.


  • Commonalities of leaders who sustain excellence:
    • Understand how excellence works
    • Learning, constantly thinking about the process of improving
  • Being interested in learning new things… Scott finds the mind fascinating
    • Encountering things that people have done that are jaw dropping
  • Projects:
    • Why he failed to learn French as an exchange student
      • “Simple decisions you make early on can have big consequences.”
      • Because he didn’t go all in and immerse himself in the language, he always reverted back to his native tongue
  • Go for inversion from the beginning.  This is why he did the “year without English.”
  • “Doing the hard thing makes it easier in the long run, it accelerates skills more quickly”
  • UltraLearning – A strategy for acquiring skills and knowledge that is both self-directed and intense
  • As a manager, recognize that there are many different skills you can possess to be successful…
    • Know what you need to be good at.  Break it down to the component skills… Have a process
    • Get better at each important skill
    • Think: “What would it be like to be amazing at this?”
  • Tristan de Montebello:  He wanted to learn a new skill that was completely outside of his current skill set (he’s a musician)
    • Instead of learning another instrument, he chose to become a world class public speaker
    • He started as an amateur and ended as a finalist for a public speaking championship.
      • How?  He got on stage twice a day, took improv class, and compressed the process.
      • “He made the conscious decision to become excellent.”  And then executed…
  • Process for a person who has a full time job/family/mortgage:
    • This doesn’t need to be a full time endeavor
    • “How are you using every minute of every day?”
    • Take on intensive bursts
    • Follow your curiosity and obsessions
    • Ramit Sethi — “See the game being played around you”
  • Principles:
    • Spend time figuring out the best way to learn what you want to learn.  What tools and resources are available?
    • Drill, attack your weakest point.  Sometimes you shouldn’t learn a skill (ex: fixing your car… Hire a mechanic instead)
    • Every complicated skill has components
    • Test to learn
      • Repeated review – read over and over
      • Free recall – read the text once, then close the book.  Try to recall what you learned.  In an experiment, free recall learners retained more.  PRACTICE remembering something.  It impacts how you process information.
  • Anders Ericsson – Deliberate practice:
    • In 40% of the cases, feedback hurt.  Task oriented feedback works best.
    • How we process feedback is most important
      • “If you’re doggedly trying to be an ultra learner and sustain excellence, emotional consequences are important…”
  • Born with it vs. Ability to learn:
    • Anyone has the ability to learn anything
    • Everyone has their own abilities, their own pace.
    • Recognize your capacity to improve but don’t compare to others
  • Life advice:
    • Read more books – It expands your mind
    • Meet more interesting people – Subtlety informs choices, expands group you meet
    • Go do ambitious things – bold projects
  • Why joining The Learning Leader Circle is a good idea

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