Things You Really Need to Learn

Guy Kawasaki last week wrote an item describing 'ten things you should learn this school year' in which readers were advised to learn how to write five sentence emails, create powerpoint slides, and survive boring meetings. It was, to my view, advice on how to be a business toady. My view is that people are worth more than that, that pleasing your boss should be the least of your concerns, and that genuine learning means something more than how to succeed in a business environment.

But what should you learn? Your school will try to teach you facts, which you'll need to pass the test but which are otherwise useless. In passing you may learn some useful skills, like literacy, which you should cultivate. But Guy Kawasaki is right in at least this: schools won't teach you the things you really need to learn in order to be successful, either in business (whether or not you choose to live life as a toady) or in life.

Here, then, is my list. This is, in my view, what you need to learn in order to be successful. Moreover, it is something you can start to learn this year, no matter what grade you're in, no matter how old you are. I could obviously write much more on each of these topics. But take this as a starting point, follow the suggestions, and learn the rest for yourself. And to educators, I ask, if you are not teaching these things in your classes, why are you not?

1. How to predict consequences

The most common utterance at the scene of a disaster is, "I never thought..." The fact is, most people are very bad at predicting consequences, and schools never seem to think to teach them how to improve.

The prediction of consequences is part science, part mathematics, and part visualization. It is essentially the ability to create a mental model imaging the sequence of events that would follow, "what would likely happen if...?"

The danger in such situations is focusing on what you want to happen rather than what might happen instead. When preparing to jump across a gap, for example, you may visualize yourself landing on the other side. This is good; it leads to successful jumping. But you need also to visualize not landing on the other side. What would happen then? Have you even contemplated the likely outcome of a 40 meter fall?

This is where the math and science come in. You need to compare the current situation with your past experience and calculate the probabilities of different outcomes. If, for example, you are looking at a 5 meter gap, you should be asking, "How many times have I successfully jumped 5 meters? How many times have I failed?" If you don't know, you should know enough to attempt a test jump over level ground.

People don't think ahead. But while you are in school, you should always be taking the opportunity to ask yourself, "what will happen next?" Watch situations and interactions unfold in the environment around you and try to predict the outcome. Write down or blog your predictions. With practice, you will become expert at predicting consequences.

Even more interestingly, over time, you will begin to observe patterns and generalities, things that make consequences even easier to predict. Things fall, for example. Glass breaks. People get mad when you insult them. Hot things will be dropped. Dogs sometimes bite. The bus (or train) is sometimes late. These sorts of generalizations - often known as 'common sense' - will help you avoid unexpected, and sometimes damaging, consequences.

2. How to read

Oddly, by this I do not mean 'literacy' in the traditional sense, but rather, how to look at some text and to understand, in a deep way, what is being asserted (this also applies to audio and video, but grounding yourself in text will transfer relatively easily, if incompletely, to other domains).

The four major types of writing are: description, argument, explanation and definition. I have written about these elsewhere. You should learn to recognize these different types of writing by learning to watch for indicators or keywords.

Then, you should learn how sentences are joined together to form these types of writing. For example, an argument will have two major parts, a premise and a conclusion. The conclusion is the point the author is trying to make, and it should be identified with an indicator (such as the words 'therefore', 'so', or 'consequently', for example).

A lot of writing is fill - wasted words intended to make the author look good, to distract your attention, or to simply fill more space. Being able to cut through the crap and get straight to what is actually being said, without being distracted, is an important skill.

Though your school will never teach you this, find a basic book on informal logic (it will have a title like 'critical thinking' or something like that). Look in the book for argument forms and indicator words (most of these books don't cover the other three types of writing) and practice spotting these words in text and in what the teacher says in class. Every day, focus on a specific indicator word and watch how it is used in practice.

3. How to distinguish truth from fiction

I have written extensively on this elsewhere, nonetheless, this remains an area schools to a large degree ignore. Sometimes I suspect it is because teachers feel their students must absorb knowledge uncritically; if they are questioning everything the teacher says they'll never learn!

The first thing to learn is to actually question what you are told, what you read, and what you see on television. Do not simply accept what you are told. Always ask, how can you know that this is true? What evidence would lead you to believe that it is false?

I have written several things to help you with this, including my Guide to the Logical Fallacies, and my article on How to Evaluate Websites. These principles are more widely applicable. For example, when your boss says something to you, apply the same test. You may be surprised at how much your boss says to you that is simply not true!

Every day, subject at least one piece of information (a newspaper column, a blog post, a classroom lecture) to thorough scrutiny. Analyze each sentence, analyze every word, and ask yourself what you are expected to believe and how you are expected to feel. Then ask whether you have sufficient reason to believe and feel this way, or whether you are being manipulated.

4. How to empathize

Most people live in their own world, and for the most part, that's OK. But it is important to at least recognize that there are other people, and that they live in their own world as well. This will save you from the error of assuming that everyone else is like you. And even more importantly, this will allow other people to become a surprising source of new knowledge and insight.

Part of this process involves seeing things through someone else's eyes. A person may be, quite literally, in a different place. They might not see what you see, and may have seen things you didn't see. Being able to understand how this change in perspective may change what they believe is important.

But even more significantly, you need to be able to imagine how other people feel. This mans that you have to create a mental model of the other person's thoughts and feelings in your own mind, and to place yourself in that model. This is best done by imagining that you are the other person, and then placing yourself into a situation.

Probably the best way to learn how to do this is to study drama (by that I don't mean studying Shakespeare, I mean learning how to act in plays). Sadly, schools don't include this as part of the core curriculum. So instead, you will need to study subjects like religion and psychology. Schools don't really include these either. So make sure you spend at least some time in different role-playing games (RPGs) every day and practice being someone else, with different beliefs and motivations.

When you are empathetic you will begin to seek out and understand ways that help bridge the gap between you and other people. Being polite and considerate, for example, will become more important to you. You will be able to feel someone's hurt if you are rude to them. In the same way, it will become more important to be honest, because you will begin to see how transparent your lies are, and how offensive it feels to be thought of as someone who is that easily fooled.

Empathy isn't some sort of bargain. It isn't the application of the Golden Rule. It is a genuine feeling in yourself that operates in synch with the other person, a way of accessing their inner mental states through the sympathetic operation of your own mental states. You are polite because you feel bad when you are rude; you are honest because you feel offended when you lie.

You need to learn how to have this feeling, but once you have it, you will understand how empty your life was before you had it.

5. How to be creative

Everybody can be creative, and if you look at your own life you will discover that you are already creative in numerous ways. Humans have a natural capacity to be creative - that's how our minds work - and with practice can become very good at it.

The trick is to understand how creativity works. Sometimes people think that creative ideas spring out of nothing (like the proverbial 'blank page' staring back at the writer) but creativity is in fact the result of using and manipulating your knowledge in certain ways.

Genuine creativity is almost always a response to something. This article, for example, was written in response to an article on the same subject that I thought was not well thought out. Creativity also arises in response to a specific problem: how to rescue a cat, how to cross a gap, how to hang laundry. So, in order to be creative, the first thing to do is to learn to look for problems to solve, things that merit a response, needs that need to be filled. This takes practice (try writing it down, or blogging it, every time you see a problem or need).

In addition, creativity involves a transfer of knowledge from one domain to another domain, and sometimes a manipulation of that knowledge. When you see a gap in real life, how did you cross a similar gap in an online game? Or, if you need to clean up battery acid, how did you get rid of excess acid in your stomach?

Creativity, in other words, often operates by metaphor, which means you need to learn how to find things in common between the current situation and other things you know. This is what is typically meant by 'thinking outside the box' - you want to go to outside the domain of the current problem. And the particular skill involved is pattern recognition. This skill is hard to learn, and requires a lot of practice, which is why creativity is hard.

But pattern recognition can be learned - it's what you are doing when you say one song is similar to another, or when you are taking photographs of, say, flowers or fishing boats. The arts very often involve finding patterns in things, which is why, this year, you should devote some time every day to an art - music, photography, video, drawing, painting or poetry.

6. How to communicate clearly

Communicating clearly is most of all a matter of knowing what you want to say, and then employing some simple tools in order to say it. Probably the hardest part of this is knowing what you want to say. But it is better to spend time being sure you understand what you mean than to write a bunch of stuff trying to make it more or less clear.

Knowing what to say is often a matter of structure. Professional writers employ a small set of fairly standard structures. For example, some writers prefer articles (or even whole books!) consisting of a list of points, like this article. Another structure, often called 'pyramid style', is employed by journalists - the entire story is told in the first paragraph, and each paragraph thereafter offers less and less important details.

Inside this overall structure, writers provide arguments, explanations, descriptions or definitions, sometimes in combination. Each of these has a distinctive structure. An argument, for example, will have a conclusion, a point the writer wants you to believe. The conclusion will be supported by a set of premises. Linking the premises and the conclusion will be a set of indicators. The word 'therefore', for example, points to the conclusion.

Learning to write clearly is a matter of learning about the tools, and then practice in their application. Probably the best way to learn how to structure your writing is to learn how to give speeches without notes. This will force you to employ a clear structure (one you can remember!) and to keep it straightforward. I have written more on this, and also, check out Keith Spicer's book, Winging It.

Additionally, master the tools the professionals use. Learn the structure of arguments, explanations, descriptions and definitions. Learn the indicator words used to help readers navigate those structures. Master basic grammar, so your sentences are unambiguous. Information on all of these can be found online.

Then practice your writing every day. A good way to practice is to join a student or volunteer newspaper - writing with a team, for an audience, against a deadline. It will force you to work more quickly, which is useful, because it is faster to write clearly than to write poorly. If no newspaper exists, create one, or start up a news blog.

7. How to Learn

Your brain consists of billions of neural cells that are connected to each other. To learn is essentially to form sets of those connections. Your brain is always learning, whether you are studying mathematics or staring at the sky, because these connections are always forming. The difference in what you learn lies in how you learn.

When you learn, you are trying to create patterns of connectivity in your brain. You are trying to connect neurons together, and to strengthen that connection. This is accomplished by repeating sets of behaviours or experiences. Learning is a matter of practice and repetition.

Thus, when learning anything - from '2+2=4' to the principles of quantuum mechanics - you need to repeat it over and over, in order to grow this neural connection. Sometimes people learn by repeating the words aloud - this form of rote learning was popular not so long ago. Taking notes when someone talks is also good, because you hear it once, and then repeat it when you write it down.

Think about learning how to throw a baseball. Someone can explain everything about it, and you can understand all of that, but you still have to throw the ball several thousand times before you get good at it. You have to grow your neural connections in just the same way you grow your muscles.

Some people think of learning as remembering sets of facts. It can be that, sometimes, but learning is more like recognition than remembering. Because you are trying to build networks of neural cells, it is better to learn a connected whole rather than unconnected parts, where the connected whole you are learning in one domain has the same pattern as a connected whole you already know in another domain. Learning in one domain, then, becomes a matter of recognizing that pattern.

Sometimes the patterns we use are very artificial, as in 'every good boy deserves fudge' (the sentence helps us remember musical notes). In other cases, and more usefully, the pattern is related to the laws of nature, logical or mathematical principles, the flow of history, how something works as a whole, or something like that. Drawing pictures often helps people find patterns (which is why mind-maps and concept maps are popular).

Indeed, you should view the study of mathematics, history, science and mechanics as the study of archetypes, basic patterns that you will recognize over and over. But this means that, when you study these disciplines, you should be asking, "what is the pattern" (and not merely "what are the facts"). And asking this question will actually make these disciplines easier to learn.

Learning to learn is the same as learning anything else. It takes practice. You should try to learn something every day - a random word in the dictionary, or a random Wikipedia entry. When learning this item, do not simply learn it in isolation, but look for patterns - does it fit into a pattern you already know? Is it a type of thing you have seen before? Embed this word or concept into your existing knowledge by using it in some way - write a blog post containing it, or draw a picture explaining it.

Think, always, about how you are learning and what you are learning at any given moment. Remember, you are always learning - which means you need to ask, what are you learning when you are watching television, going shopping, driving the car, playing baseball? What sorts of patterns are being created? What sorts of patterns are being reinforced? How can you take control of this process?

8. How to stay healthy

As a matter of practical consideration, the maintenance of your health involves two major components: minimizing exposure to disease or toxins, and maintenance of the physical body.

Minimizing exposure to disease and toxins is mostly a matter of cleanliness and order. Simple things - like keeping the wood alcohol in the garage, and not the kitchen cupboard - minimize the risk of accidental poisoning. Cleaning cooking surfaces and cooking food completely reduces the risk of bacterial contamination. Washing your hands regularly prevents transmission of human borne viruses and diseases.

In a similar manner, some of the hot-button issues in education today are essentially issues about how to warn against exposure to diseases and toxins. In a nutshell: if you have physical intercourse with another person you are facilitating the transmission of disease, so wear protection. Activities such as drinking, eating fatty foods, smoking, and taking drugs are essentially the introduction of toxins into your system, so do it in moderation, and where the toxins are significant, don't do it at all.

Personal maintenance is probably even more important, as the major threats to health are generally those related to physical deterioration. The subjects of proper nutrition and proper exercise should be learned and practiced. Even if you do not become a health freak (and who does?) it is nonetheless useful to know what foods and types of actions are beneficial, and to create a habit of eating good foods and practicing beneficial actions.

Every day, seek to be active in some way - cycle to work or school, walk a mile, play a sport, or exercise. In addition, every day, seek to eat at least one meal that is 'good for you', that consists of protein and minerals (like meat and vegetables, or soy and fruit). If your school is not facilitating proper exercise and nutrition, demand them! You can't learn anything if you're sick and hungry! Otherwise, seek to establish an alternative program of your own, to be employed at noonhours.

Finally, remember: you never have to justify protecting your own life and health. If you do not want to do something because you think it is unsafe, then it is your absolute right to refuse to do it. The consequences - any consequences - are better than giving in on this.

9. How to value yourself

It is perhaps cynical to say that society is a giant conspiracy to get you to feel badly about yourself, but it wouldn't be completely inaccurate either. Advertisers make you feel badly so you'll buy their product, politicians make you feel incapable so you'll depend on their policies and programs, even your friends and acquaintances may seek to make you doubt yourself in order to seek an edge in a competition.

You can have all the knowledge and skills in the world, but they are meaningless if you do not feel personally empowered to use them; it's like owning a Lamborghini and not having a driver's license. It looks shiny in the driveway, but you're not really getting any value out of it unless you take it out for a spin.

Valuing yourself is partially a matter of personal development, and partially a matter of choice. In order to value yourself, you need to feel you are worth valuing. In fact, you are worth valuing, but it often helps to prove it to yourself by attaining some objective, learning some skill, or earning some distinction. And in order to value yourself, you have to say "I am valuable."

This is an important point. How we think about ourselves is as much a matter of learning as anything else. If somebody tells you that you are worthless over and over, and if you do nothing to counteract that, then you will come to believe you are worthless, because that's how your neural connections will form. But if you repeat, and believe, and behave in such a way as to say to yourself over and over, I am valuable, then that's what you will come to believe.

What is it to value yourself? It's actually many things. For example, it's the belief that you are good enough to have an opinion, have a voice, and have a say, that your contributions do matter. It's the belief that you are capable, that you can learn to do new things and to be creative. It is your ability to be independent, and to not rely on some particular person or institution for personal well-being, and autonomous, capable of making your own decisions and living your live in your own way.

All of these things are yours by right. But they will never be given to you. You have to take them, by actually believing in yourself (no matter what anyone says) and by actually being autonomous.

Your school doesn't have a class in this (and may even be actively trying to undermine your autonomy and self-esteem; watch out for this). So you have to take charge of your own sense of self-worth.

Do it every day. Tell yourself that you are smart, you are cool, you are strong, you are good, and whatever else you want to be. Say it out loud, in the morning - hidden in the noise of the shower, if need be, but say it. Then, practice these attributes. Be smart by (say) solving a crossword puzzle. Be cool by making your own fashion statement. Be strong by doing something you said to yourself you were going to do. Be good by doing a good deed. And every time you do it, remind yourself that you have, in fact, done it.

10. How to live meaningfully

This is probably the hardest thing of all to learn, and the least taught.

Living meaningfully is actually a combination of several things. It is, in one sense, your dedication to some purpose or goal. But it is also your sense of appreciation and dedication to the here and now. And finally, it is the realization that your place in the world, your meaningfulness, is something you must create for yourself.

Too many people live for no reason at all. They seek to make more and more money, or they seek to make themselves famous, or to become powerful, and whether or not they attain these objectives, they find their lives empty and meaningless. This is because they have confused means and ends - money, fame and power are things people seek in order to do what is worth doing.

What is worth doing? That is up to you to decide. I have chosen to dedicate my life to helping people obtain an education. Others seek to cure diseases, to explore space, to worship God, to raise a family, to design cars, or to attain enlightenment.

If you don't decide what is worth doing, someone will decide for you, and at some point in your life you will realize that you haven't done what is worth doing at all. So spend some time, today, thinking about what is worth doing. You can change your mind tomorrow. But begin, at least, to guide yourself somewhere.

The second thing is sometimes thought of as 'living in the moment'. It is essentially an understanding that you control your thoughts. Your thoughts have no power over you; the only thing that matters at all is this present moment. If you think about something - some hope, some failure, some fear - that thought cannot hurt you, and you choose how much or how little to trust that thought.

Another aspect of this is the following: what you are doing right now is the thing that you most want to do. Now you may be thinking, "No way! I'd rather be on Malibu Beach!" But if you really wanted to be on Malibu Beach, you'd be there. The reason you are not is because you have chosen other priorities in your life - to your family, to your job, to your country.

When you realize you have the power to choose what you are doing, you realize you have the power to choose the consequences. Which means that consequences - even bad consequences - are for the most part a matter of choice.

That said, this understanding is very liberating. Think about it, as a reader - what it means is that what I most wanted to do with my time right now is to write this article so that you - yes, you - would read it. And even more amazingly, I know, as a writer, that the thing you most want to do right now, even more than you want to be in Malibu, is to read my words. It makes me want to write something meaningful - and it gives me a way to put meaning into my life.


  1. Loved Stephen's list and have forwarded to many. In response to your comment, Colleen, sadly our institutions often have got a list of the 'good stuff' but it gets lost somewhere in translation into action. For example, my local education departmnet has this wonderful list but where is it happening at the core of education?
    Valued attributes of a Lifelong Learner

  2. Gerry, I think you are quite right to include the ability to estimate, understand statistics, and measure.

    I actually did consider two of these (measurement didn't occur to me) but decided they were covered under item 1.

    But the comment is well taken - it may well be worth adding a paragrah or so somewhere to draw these out as explicit skills. I'll have to think about it.

  3. Stephen, great list. I especially like the inclusion of 'How to empathize,' something that is often greatly overlooked.

    And in return for the gift of this list, I'll offer you my own small gift - - heed rule 8 already, and QUIT SMOKING (unless you already have, in which case, good on yah, I haven't seen you for a while).

  4. Hiya Scott,

    Thanks for the kind words.

    You'll be pleased to know I quit smoking March 8th, my second day on the Magdalene Islands during my hiatus. It was actually much easier than I expected, once I decided to quit. Haven't touched one since then and the urges are minimal.

  5. Here's a comment I posted in response to Clark Quinn, who commented on this article.

    Interesting comparison. And of course I would hardly say any of my list is unique to me, but rather, serves more as a statement of what I think on the matter (which may or may not have been thought of in the same way by other people prior to me, which would be great).

    There's a lot of similarity between your list and mine, and I suspect if we rooted around underneath the titles we would have very similar lists. That said...

    - problem-solving including research and design

    I have much less emphasis on 'problems' per se, perhaps being less influenced by Jonassen. For me, a lot of research and design overlaps well beyond the domain of problem solving, and therefore, so does a lot of learning. A lot of my own work in both areas is based on 'I wonder what x would look like...' or 'I wonder what happens if...' types of motivations, and are not addressed to any specific problem. Other of my work is just pure description, maybe cast into a framework or metaphor, but in either case, intended to pass along some experience.

    Generally I class problem solving under the head of 'creativity' and I guess what I say under creativity would be, in very short form, my approach to problem solving. But problem solving also involves critical thinking, reading and understanding consequences.

    - systems-thinking with model-based reasoning and modeling

    This all falls under pattern-recognition for me, for the important reason that all systems are patterns, but not all patterns are (interpreted as) systems. Hence, again, under creativity.

    I think if we examined it our approaches to science and discovery have a lot of overlap, but there are nuances that cause a shift in emphasis. For me, to separate out something like 'systems thinking' is almost analagous to separating out 'induction' and 'deduction'. But these cut across classifications, and are more specific types of *content* rather than the more process or function oriented approach I wanted to take.

    - working with others covering leadership as well as communication

    On communication we both agree and I suspect we would find strong elements of agreement to a fairly deep level, if your writing style is any indication of your thoughts on this topic, which I believe it is.

    The rest of it I would separate out and cover under empathy, valuing oneself, and living meaningfully. And I would value 'leadership' per se as a skill). I don't believe in 'leading'. I believe in empowering. And empowering, from my perspective, comes from a strength of self and purpose.

    - values covering both ethics and stewardship

    I would need to know more about what you mean by stewardship in order to comment.

    With regard to ethics, I am concerned the the proposal implies that there is some body of ethics already known that could, and should, be learned by a student. Sadly, this is not the case. Even with some pretty basic precepts - such as murder and cannibalism - we find that there is significant disagreement within and among societies.

    Ethics, therefore, is something that is either imposed from without, as a form of memorization and indoctrination, or is developed from within, as a process of reason, emotion and knowledge. For various good reasons, I reject the former. Hence, I accept the latter, and have, instead of trying to look at ethiocs specifically, thought of the tools that would be needed for a person to define and live according to their own ethics.

  6. Thanks for the list and thank you to everyone for your comments. I'll pass this on through my network. My goal is to recruit volunteers who understand this list of skills and who will volunteer time to mentor them to youth in structured, non-school, tutor/mentor programs that operate in Chicago and other cities. I maintain a list of such programs in the Program Locator at

  7. Thanks for this post. Certainly looks like more than half-hour of reflection. I wonder if being prepared to 'travel' is another lesson, which picks up on your mention of empathy, creatvity and communication. We tend to be taught to think in boxes, then need to 'unlearn' this and think (travel) out of boxes...

    In terms of the boxes and health professionals as an e.g. they spend several years getting to know their 'box'. The SCIENCES anatomy, biochemistry, physiology... Now the doctors spend more time on communication skills, because if they treat people purely as a diagnosis, as a physical 'machine', then the quality of care as perceived by the patient and an independent observer will be of likely poor quality.

    Some nurses (to stereotype) are models of efficiency, but most though are prepared to 'travel', i.e. to put themselves in the patients (carers) shoes and see the world through their eyes - empathy! Taking IT in health as a further example, you can manage a project with PRINCE or other methodology, but if you don't look beyond the processes (trends) and how people are responding, things may become very 'difficult'. Maybe that's why there's so much emphasis on words and disciplines like - integrated, transdisciplinary, socioeconomics, interdisciplinary, psychosocial, geopolitical, neuromarketing....

    There's a conceptual framework called Hodges model with four knowledge domains that can help reflection and creativity...

    using neuromarketing for e.g.

    INTERPERSONAL box: behaviour, experiments, freewill, ethics, personal choice, memetics
    POLITICAL box: consent, security, legislation, costs, public health, governance-control, measures
    SCIENCES box: brain imaging, bioinformatics, research programmes
    SOCIAL box: media, languages, social nets, cultural acceptance, public perception

    Using the model and 'travelling' you don't have to think of it as being in or out of boxes. Take Hodges model on A4 paper:

    - and mentally fold it.

    Suddenly disparate ideas, issues, techniques are thrown together. As the physicists show (in theory only alas) your previous journeys (new experiences - role plays, placements, secondments...) mean you don't have to travel the full distance*: you can warp space. In addition I'm better equipped to take the patient / carer with me and (try) to get their engagement. It's true that many of these combined horizons may not work, but that's the nature of creativity and risk for you...

    Many thanks Stephen, your an inspiration.
    I've a blog and podcast in preparation - lot of catching up to do...!

    *People do need timeout, refresh training, change of role/team periodically
    Peter Jones
    Hodges' Health Career - Care Domains - Model
    h2cm: help 2C more - help 2 listen - help 2 care

  8. We (in the US at least) ask our schools to do everything so it should be no wonder they do nothing especially well. We want them to teach manners, teach sex ed, teach behavior patterns, teach every possible subject well (oh and the list of subjects to be taught keeps going up - used to be science, math, history, english, and history...), and while doing all this, make sure the students do well on the tests that verify compliance to No Child Left Behind and, for older students, the SAT/ACT tests.
    Let's not forget that we don't want to pay sufficient taxes to support even the current teaching load. If you want teachers who can manage all they have on their plate now AND teach things like critical thinking, it means we need teachers who know how to think critically and we'll need to pay them enough to keep them out of the business community and in education.
    Great stuff, but don't hold your breath.

  9. Nice post. However, regarding "how to predict consequences," isn't this something we humans do very naturally? For example, small children have no trouble learning to predict how their parents will respond to a given behavior. The difficulty seems to be in predicting consequences in circumstances that are unfamiliar to us. Teaching someone or oneself to predict consequences in situations that are unexpected and/or which arise suddenly strikes me as being very difficult.

  10. To Robin: the problem with Guy Kawasaki's post, in my view, is that it treats executives as simply unable to comprehend or handle deep thought, either because of time or (more cynically) capacity.

    I don't really but that, but it comes under the headings of 'how to read' and 'how to communicate'. My article can be read and understood in 30 seconds or less, just by reading the section headings. It then offers about 30 seconds of detail under each heading. This provides the quick access, with the depth of content. The links (and there should be more) moreover offer more depth, if needed.

    Adjudging content merely by quantity is always misleading. My post could be 400 pages worth of content, but if it's well written, can still be comprehended (from a certain perspective) in 30 seconds.

    To pat h.: yes, humans predict consequences naturally, however, as you point out, we have problems with unfamiliar content, and additionally, we are prone to a number of well-known errors of reasoning.

    In particular, for example, we tend to think that the more specific is the more probable, which is exactly false. And we tend to see only what we are looking for, which leads to our being blindsided.

  11. Pretty good advice. I would add 11. Recognize the chip on your own shoulder. We all have one in most any situation we get into. It's easy to see the chip on the other guy's shoulder, but recogninizing your own is the key to being no one's fool = least of all your own.

    (From your toady friend in Tulsa.)

  12. Wow. Thank you - lots to think about, and tons to study.

  13. Very much enjoyed reading and thinking about Things You Really Need to Learn - a great topic.

    I come to this with a background in film-making, predominantly factual, and therefore particularly found myself in agreement regarding the importance of empathy - being able to imagine how people feel is the key to all work in the field of communication, including the TV business I'm in as well as writing of all kinds.

    Likewise your points about creativity, connecting and pattern recognition (as a learned skill) struck a chord with me. Nothing makes me prouder as a parent than seeing creative, independent thinking in my boys. Apart from when they behave with kindness and consideration, which links to your final point about living meaningfully, and is also the flipside of Valuing Yourself (with a bit of Empathy thrown in for good measure).

    On creativity, I think you're spot on characterising it as "a response". By and large, it tends to be reacting to a problem or, perhaps the more refined kind, responding to an opportunity - which is linked to the key skill (also learnable) of spotting opportunities.

    Where I'd diverge would be bringing #8 right up the ranks as it's all pointless without good health - you take your learning with you to a large extent when you shuffle off this mortal coil and the more time you have to transmit some of it to people around you the better.

    As a related point, I'd add 8a. How to help others stay healthy - learn First Aid. Never understood why that's not compulsory at school. I was once lucky enough to have the opportunity to help an ould fella we found bleeding and collapsed on Horn Head in Donegal - we only knew what to do because my two friends and I had just been editing a film that showed some of the basics of first aid. It certainly proved one of the most satisfying bits of learning (the old man survived).

    I liked Gerry's additional point about estimation - it's something you can use most days of life to great effect.

    On the subject of estimation, you do a lot of it recording voice-overs. I learnt a rule of thumb years ago at ITN in London - three words per second to estimate a script length. You mentioned an estimate of "about thirty seconds of detail" for each of your points. It's just taken me three times as long to read How to Read at quite a lick, without slowing to absorb anything. I'm not making a point of pedantry, but rather reflecting that one inevitably lays oneself wide open in advising about communicating and writing. For example, I found the tone of your piece, imagining it from the point of view of a young person seeking guidance, a touch too imperative. A difficult balance, of course, clarity and openness/dialogue. This is not by way of criticism, but rather to highlight that all ten of your perceptive points take a lifetime to learn…

  14. Wow. Your article really inspired and motivated me. I came to this text accientally just today, but actually I have been praticing and learning most of these things you described for almost 6 months now. Somehow I found the same exact things important and committed myself to learning them. So if you bear, I would like to tell something about me.

    What really set me on this track was a failure, probably first one that I really cared about. Failure was that I failed the admission for a leading business school, which I relatively worked hard for and wanted. For sometime I lingered and thinked that what went wrong, which actually I alredy knew, I didn't know how to study and learn. For past years in elementary and high school, I got good grades with almost no effort of any sort, just with my existent knowlegde and thinking skills. So with this background I tried to succeed in admission test, which was considered one of the most hardest of all, in our country, Finland.

    So I got my first lesson that one must have to learn to learn. I searched online and read tons of books about learning, reading, memory and brains, and more I learned, the more I found the subject worth learning.

    From there I understood the value of good health, thing what most people of my age (I'm 19) doesn't seem to get They see it as a issue that they have to deal with when they're in their fifties. I realized that health is something you have or may not have and that what you eat, drink and how you live and sleep, is something that affects your whole life and performance at this very moment. So I started changing my eating habits to better and excercising daily.

    Creativeness was something which a I had always valued almost over everything else. I like to draw, paint and sculpture, aswell as I like new creative ideas and things. But creativeness was something I also had problems with, since I didn't know how to control it. So I added in to my mental list of things where I should improve.

    Just recently I noticed the importance of predicting consequences, aswell as the importance of knowing how to empatize. Communication was also something I always knew was essential since you cannot put your ideas, knowledge or skills in use if you don't know how to express them.

    Living meaningfully was too something that guided my life, since the worst thing I know is that I end up living and working at somewhere, not knowing why and where I'm heading to.

    Knowing that other people think the same as I do and find same things important, motivates me even more to continue on my journey, and your well structured list clarified some of my thoughs and feeded them something new. Thank you for that.

  15. Just came across this post again. It reminds me of Dan Pink's book, "A Whole New Mind", as well as the excellent graphical synthesis of Pink's ideas at Presentation Zen. Then I noticed that both posts were made on the same day (Aug 30, 2006) - talk about zeitgeist.

    Your post could be the making of an unschooling curriculum; something that we will be doing soon.

    Check out the graphic.

  16. 11) What the expression "to pontificate" means, and why you should avoid doing that.

  17. thanks for spreading the education across the universe.. i'm one of your fan in Malaysia.. just wishing you all the best in your writing and hoping that you always healthy and strong.

  18. Excellent post. Thanks for the effort and for sharing. I have a similar post with a few additional concepts to consider:

  19. Stephen, I am interested are you still free from smoking? I am asking because you wrote here that you "quit smoking March 8th, my second day on the Magdalene Islands"...

    Quit Smoking Pro

  20. Wow. This is an incredibly valuable entry. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

  21. > Stephen, I am interested are you still free from smoking?

    Yes, it has been 15 months now. No special programs or aids needed - I just quit when I decided to.

  22. >> Stephen, I am interested are you still free from smoking?

    >Yes, it has been 15 months now. No special programs or aids needed - I just quit when I decided to.

    You are right totally! Anyone just need to know that to be non smoker is much better than being stinky smoker.

  23. hi
    congrats! I live without cigarettes more then 1 year and it's great!

  24. Just imagine if everyone in the world would take this to heart. Before I read this post, I've had a gut feeling about the importance of each one of these things, (and a few more that I separated out for emphasis i.e. conflict resolution, frugality, self-identification etc.) but I was never able to dictate these principles with much clarity. I suppose my communication skills need some tuning. Now that I've read your article, it's no longer just a gut feeling; I have something tangible to work with and improve. So, I thank you. I will now re-read your article for repetition's sake.

  25. You missed one: How to regard History.

    The society today is focused on the negative. In this zeal of finding faults we tend to miss the lessons history so readily grants us. A student is more than happy to rebut his teacher on a mistake yet the same enthusiasm is lacking in learning from the same person. The same attitude is visible in our attitude toward our parents, peers and anyone who says something resembling advice. We, as a people, have stopped listening to history.

    Sadly history is brutal to those who ignore its lessons.

  26. Thank you for this great post.

  27. I think that the advice given in this list is pretty legitimate. They all in a way assist a person in their journey through life. Though, in my opinion, some other things deserve to be part of this list. For example, it does not have decision making on it. It does, however, have "How to predict consequences". But although it has this, predicting consequences is but an aspect of decision making. Also, how to live successfully should also be on the list. Not necessarily how to have a good life, but more so, how to put together the other advice on the list together, so you can have a life worth living. And one more thing i should seek to mention is how to better things. You could kind of see this as being part of emphathizing. But learning how to better things can assist with living a meaningful life. You'll actually be doing something worth the time. Meaning, bettering others, bettering society, the community, anything. This also includes bettering your life through what you can do. In a way, lots of things left out of the list can either assist with the other things on the list, or are the bigger picture drawn together by the list.

  28. I'd add one more:

    Consider the possibility--unlikely as it may be--that you are actually wrong in any point your are asserting.

  29. I just sort of stumbled across this, but I'm glad I did. I've seen comments at the top from what sounds like teachers. I'll add my point of view then as I'm 17 and a year out of college.

    I actually agree with all of what you said. When I left school I realized that nothing that they had taught me was going to help in the real world, and I went to what was meant to be one of the best schools around.

    So I started to think what do I really need to learn now to survive, and most of your points where actually in it, and I seen some that weren't, but now are.

    What I'm trying to say is that even as a student I regonised that the school don't prepare you for life, just like what your saying.
    Just wanted to thank you, for confirming that I wasn't just being a silly teenager thinking school was useless. Thanks

  30. I always thought everyone has a decision to make in their life. The way the world is today! I am tryin to better my self, and my children. For there I am going to set a "Good Example " on my childrens to do my best to my knowledge to go through with this course that I am in. Thank God for all these schools out there to help mothers to better themselves, and to build up their self-esteem. When, I was a child,I actually hated school. I did not want to be there. I thought school was useless, cause ,I didn't know any better like I do now!

  31. I always thought everyone has a decision to make in their life. The way the world is today! I am tryin to better my self, and my children. For there I am going to set a "Good Example " on my childrens to do my best to my knowledge to go through with this course that I am in. Thank God for all these schools out there to help mothers to better themselves, and to build up their self-esteem. When, I was a child,I actually hated school. I did not want to be there. I thought school was useless, cause ,I didn't know any better like I do now!

  32. wow! i liked it. I don't really read that much and i know I need to do a lot of reading because english is my second language, I speak spanish. but reading your article got me so motivated that I am thinking on writing something as well.
    Thank you, Thank you I really think I should be in Dominican Republic right now, but I chose to read your article instead and I feel better.

  33. wow! i liked it. I don't really read that much and i know I need to do a lot of reading because english is my second language, I speak spanish. but reading your article got me so motivated that I am thinking on writing something as well.
    Thank you, Thank you I really think I should be in Dominican Republic right now, but I chose to read your article instead and I feel better.

    I really admired your work. Today I started a blog, and will keep following you, because I started it because of you, Thank you so much for writing such useful information. All the best to you.

  34. I'm a lawyer, writing from Barcelona, Spain.

    You give interesting insight based on your life experience. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and emphasizing the importance of feelings.


  35. Hi Stephen,
    I just read your great piece of writing today - words of wisdom.

  36. This is an amazing article, thank you for helping me realise quite a few things that are wrong in my life. You even may have boosted my self-confidence a bit.

    Thank you very much, have you considered going into psychiatric therapy?

  37. 16 and i love it.
    You've opened me up, and now i'm determined
    to make a change.


  38. Stephen, I think you've just beautifully summarised life in it's complexity. I love the way you explain it. I think and speak similarly and to speak so many words in condensed logic is not easy. I appreciate this so much.

    I've bookmarked this and definitely plan to use it to help overcome my own personal barriers. Every kid should grow up reading this.

    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  39. Thankyou sir! Twas a eloquently written and delightfully recieved.

  40. I am 17 and that's help me a lot
    i really appreciate your work
    and i have to say your time certainly worth it
    thank you sir!
    greeting from Algeria

  41. These are wonderful. Could almost base a curriculum around it. ;)

  42. This is interesting because all of the things on your list are very true, but you are making so many sad assumptions about society which make them true. For example "Most people live in their own world, and for the most part, that's OK." That is not OK at all. The whole point of living for most people is that we are presented as separate entities with distinct brains, and we are given tools so that we can conquer this separateness and connect with other people.
    It seems like by making this a conscious list of things that people should think about learning, it implies that people don't think about these things anyway. People should ALREADY BE empathetic. They should already be predicting outcomes. These things are not really basic skills, but the core/meat of what life is. By implying that they are things to consciously think about learning, they are being separated from experience and living, because living is learning.

  43. I have 19 years, from brazil..and this text is so fuckin cool! thanks
    You have done something meaningfully i my life ;)

  44. Thank you Stephen for this article. 'How to predict consequences' was interesting for me to read. I'm like most people. I'm very bad at predicting consequences. I'm trying to improve by focusing on what I want to happen. In my mind it's already done.

  45. I just became a fan! I definitely learned a lot of things compared to the things I have learned from my teachers. You just solidified my decision on shifting college degrees. I'm going to take up Psychology now instead of Computer Engineering. Wish me luck! :)

  46. I enjoyed reading through your list of the “top ten”. I teach adults who are re-entering the education world after (sometimes) long absences, and find that I am constantly encouraging them to work on several of your points. In particular, I find these students are rediscovering how to learn, stay healthy, value themselves and live meaningfully. I didn’t realize these were actually part of a list out there, but am glad that I seem to be on the right track!
    Charlene OLTD 501

  47. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and am going to pass it on to all my educator friends. I teach in both a bricks and mortar and an online school. I teach languages, math and English. Teaching students to learn to think for themselves is big on my agenda as is looking for patterns (something I think essential to both languages and math and learning in general).

    In terms of using technology, you mentioned blogging a few times as a way for students to practice and master some of these skills. Are there other online tools and strategies that you could also recommend? Do you have any suggestions on how teachers could incorporate some of this into their courses in an innovative manner.

    Thanks again for this article.
    Carla Wilson OLTD 501

  48. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and am going to pass it on to all my educator friends. I teach both in a DL and bricks and mortar school. I teach languages, math and English. Both thinking critically and questioning and looking for patterns is high on my agenda (something I think essential for both math and languages, but probably many other subjects as well).

    You mention blogging a number of times in your article as a way for students to explore and develop some of these skills. Do you have other suggestions of how technology can be used to help students explore and further develop these skills? What about teachers? Do you have any suggestions on how they can creatively encourage students to develop these skills within the content of assignments (particularly in an online environment?

    Once again, thanks for a great article.
    Carla Wilson OLTD 501

  49. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and am going to pass it on to all my educator friends. I teach in both a bricks and mortar and an online school. I teach languages, math and English. Teaching students to learn to think for themselves is big on my agenda as is looking for patterns (something I think essential to both languages and math and learning in general).

    In terms of using technology, you mentioned blogging a few times as a way for students to practice and master some of these skills. Are there other online tools and strategies that you could also recommend? Do you have any suggestions on how teachers could incorporate some of this into their courses in an innovative manner.

    Thanks again for this article.
    Carla Wilson OLTD 501

  50. > Are there other online tools and strategies that you could also recommend? Do you have any suggestions on how teachers could incorporate some of this into their courses in an innovative manner.

    I have a set of suggestions in this video:

  51. Taking a single, critical thinking course changed my life. I wholeheartedly, agree with this author's admonitions.


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