Ulrich Boser, CEO, The Learning Agency
Founder and CEO of The Learning Agency, best-selling author, and Foundr course Instructor Ulrich Boser sits down for an in-depth discussion on becoming a better learner, the misinformation surrounding information, and the big secret to mastering any skill (and we mean any skill).
The ability to absorb and retain information effectively is often thought of as some sort of elusive skill that you’re born with, but Boser seeks to dispel this once and for all. The ability to learn effectively isn’t something assigned at birth, no one has a “set learning” style, and your ability to absorb information ultimately comes down to how you decide to approach everything.
Author of the best-selling Learn Better, Boser reveals to Foundr’s Nathan Chan why he started his company, why feedback is crucial, and why he believes everyone should throw away their highlighters if they want to learn better.
In this conversation, Boser takes everything you thought you knew about learning and spins it on its head. If you have any questions about Boser’s upcoming course, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected]
- Boser discusses how his childhood sparked his passion to hone and master the ability to pick up skills effectively
- Why Boser began The Learning Agency
- Boser discusses the prevalence of learning myths
- Common learning myths and why they impact learning
- Why active learning will always overshadow passive learning
- How to engage with the material; quiz yourself, and identify gaps in your knowledge
- Why previous knowledge on a topic will boost your learning
- The importance of feedback on your learning
Full Transcript of Podcast with Ulrich Boser
Nathan: Ulrich, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. So, the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Ulrich: Listen, I’m just so thrilled to be here. You have such a great team. Huge fan of your work, really. What an honour to join you. So, thank you so much.
Nathan: You’re welcome.
Ulrich: So, how did I get my job? I got my job really as a kid. I struggled with learning. I spent some time in special education. I repeated kindergarten, which takes some doing. In fourth grade, I managed to, within a 45 minute time period, get in trouble for talking to my neighbor, not doing my homework. Then, I couldn’t read my homework. I know this because there was a psychologist who was sitting in the back of the room on this very specific day in January, and writing all these notes about how I couldn’t learn.
And over time I came to gaining some of these kind of learning to learn skills myself, as many students do. Thinking about your own thinking, really important skill, but always became fascinated with learning, with education. So, after college I worked for an education newspaper, worked for another magazine, always just [inaudible 00:04:52] exactly is it that allows people to learn effectively. And then, wrote a book on it, and company and now, really just trying to do my best to share this with as many people as I can.
Nathan: Yeah, amazing. So, when did you start The Learning Agency?
Ulrich: The Learning Agency itself is now a few years old. I need to double check, but maybe three or four. More recently we launched a nonprofit. We’ve been doing well enough that we can have a philanthropic arm, The Learning Agency Lab, which really allows us to push more stuff out for free, which has been great. But it’s been a wild and exciting ride.
Nathan: Yeah, wow. That’s awesome. So, I’m curious, when it comes to learning, I’m massive on it, right? I honestly believe that if you can out learn your competition or your peers, that’s how you can grow a company faster than ever. The big reflection, you’ve got to have an incredible team, but a big reflection of a company’s growth is the ability for the founder or co-founders to all level up as fast as possible, and just out learn.
So, I’m curious, I really want to delve deep on this. But, where should people start if they want to be able to absorb the information that they’re taking in faster or retain it?
Ulrich: I think the first place to start is really just to explode some really important myths that are out there. I see them all the time. One, people often talk about learning styles. That they are visual learners or auditory learners. There’s no evidence for that. Highlighters. Pre-pandemic I would often work at a law school because it was quiet. They had free wifi, and I’d be surrounded by… And I didn’t want to pay for office space. So, I’d be surrounded by these young law school students who loved their highlighters. No evidence for that.
And then, the things that work, like talking to yourself. They seem a little bit weird, right? You don’t want to do that while sitting in a law school library, but highly more effective. But what I really want to stress to people is there is a research learning, and the more that you embrace it the faster you can learn. And that’s why these myths are dangerous. They’re based on weak evidence, and if you practise them, you’re really just not going to get the results that you should be getting.
Nathan: Interesting. So, what are these myths? So, highlighters don’t work.
Ulrich: Learning myths, let’s just run through them a little bit. One, highlighters, no evidence for them. Second, the idea that some people have learning styles, that some people are visual learners, people are auditory learners, no evidence for it. Another one, that you should engage in blocked practise. By block practise it means practising the same thing over, and over, and over again. Much better off mixing up your practise. Another one is rereading. A lot of people think rereading is a very effective way to learn. It’s not.
Nathan: And how do you know? Because I know another one that you’re big on is, and I want to talk about that and go deep on this one, the 10,000 hour rule. You’re not a fan.
Ulrich: I’m not a fan. Let’s take my driving as an example. I have been driving for more than 10,000 hours. I can assure you of this, and not only have I not gotten better over time, right? I’ve actually gotten worse, and I still am nervous when I come into curves. I’m still a little uncertain when it comes to the snow or parallel parking. And the fact is, is that just doing something, even if you’re just practising it in this kind of weak way, isn’t going to actually get you better at your craft. And you can take my driving as an example. I don’t get feedback, I don’t actually, frankly, spend that much time really thinking about it, right? If I was really like, “Okay, today I’m going to be a better driver.”
I’m going to, one, have a sense of goals for myself. That’s really important for learning. Do all these things we know work for learning, and when we look at the research, there’s a lot of research that people can do the same thing over, and over again or get weak forms of practise, and really not become experts. So, what I want to do is really share tools, tips, practises. Help make tools, tips and practises that are going to make people better learners.
Nathan: How did you come across this idea that… because everyone knows the 10,000-hour rule. Had you come across, or what? I’m just curious, have you done case studies? Have you done… Tell me about the research piece around that.
Ulrich: Sure. So, the 10,000 hour… We’re going to go down a little wonky hole, but you interrupt me when it’s time to stop. So, yeah, the 10,000 hour rule comes from a Malcolm Gladwell book. In that book he sites a guy named Anders Ericson. Anders actually recently passed away, was a notable prepotent of something called deliberate practise, which is a subset of ways to practise. And if you kind of read Gladwell’s book you can see where he took one study and drew too many conclusions of it. [inaudible 00:10:36] or did speak to Anders Ericson, and looked at his work. There was no evidence for this idea of this 10,000 hours was what actually made you an expert.
What Ericson does, and his research is really quite powerful, is speak to this form of practise that can be very effective. And, if you look at other forms of research, like learning styles or I mean, one, some of these things, they fall apart when you first think about them. Although, all of us have done things hours at a time. Handwriting. I have definitely spent more than 10,000 hours working at my handwriting. It has not gotten better over time. There I can tell you, quite unequivocally, it’s gotten way worse since I started to write. There’s also some good papers looking at students. Happy to send them or post them on the website from students practising . This came out of a study in South Korea where they were able to, not the 10,000 hours level, but just show that students studying on their own exams, this was in physics, they don’t get better over time.
So, really what makes a difference is effective learning approaches. And are you making that learning a little bit more difficult? Are you getting feedback? This was what Anders Ericson was really big at. Can you create a system of feedback that gives you the tips, the instructions, the insights that you’re going to need to get better? So, we can quibble a little bit about what exactly Malcolm Gladwell meant.
We can certainly agree that learning takes time. We can say that it takes quite a bit of time in many cases. But this idea that there’s just 10,000 hours, and if you just spent time on it, it’s going to make you an expert.
Nathan: When it comes to, I guess, if we know that if you just spend crap tonnes of time on something, it’s just kind of false hope that you’re going to get better at it. What are some of the tools, tips and practises that people can do? Because I think if you want to become a better entrepreneur you can listen to podcasts, you can watch interviews like this, you can read books. But it doesn’t mean that you’ll retain that information. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to apply that information. How can you effectively get better at your craft as a business owner, as an entrepreneur?
Ulrich: I’d like to encourage people to think about learning as a project, that they should start to think about getting their ASANA or whatever they use for project management to really get in there. So, one thing you really want to do is set very clear goals for yourself. When you’re learning something, and I think this happened to many people around a forgien language. You get excited. You’re like, “Hey, I’m going to vacation in Thailand and I’m going to learn some Thai and just get myself started.” Then, you get a few days in, and you’re like, “Oh my God. This is so crazy hard. I can barely say hello, how are you?” And you give up.
And this is where goals are really important. You need to set goals, set a crust time where you can really make sure that you are gaining that information. Then, there are other practises that are really important, like being an active learner. When I say an active learner, so much of what we’re doing, especially as founders, is sitting in front of a computer. It’s really knowledge work. So, when you’re an active learner, it’s not just that you’re doing this stuff. That’s important, but really making sure that you’re quizzing yourself, that you’re explaining it to other people, that you’re really being cognitively engaged. This is why rereading as a practise is not super effective.
Oftentimes, when someone rereads they just kind of reread it again, but they’re not really wrestling with the material. So, one of the ways that you can force yourself as a founder to wrestle with the material, one is explain the idea to someone else. Second, just do a brain dump. So, if tomorrow you have to brief your board and you need to read an article in a newspaper because you need to brief your board on it. Let’s say it’s a trade newspaper. Most people would reread it, they would call that studying. Evidence, happy to share lots of citations from Nate Cornell, Bob Biord, Hugh Gargorwal, and many others that say what you’re much better at is putting the newspaper article away and just engaging in a brain dump. Just describe what you learned.
These are all ways to make your learning more active. So, those are just two quick ones that I wanted to mention to you Nate, because they’re really important. Setting goals and making learning really active. Enjoy that you’re participating.
Nathan: I see. That’s awesome. So yeah, I love the idea of setting goals and sharing what you’re learning with people, also being present. And this idea of doing a brain dump. I’m also curious when it comes to reading, what is your thoughts on speed reading?
Ulrich: I’ve never seen any convincing evidence that people are able to speed read. But let me give you a few caveats. The thing that’s going to make you a more effective reader is knowing something about the topic. Let me just give you an example. [forgien language 00:15:59], that’s German for have you had any breakfast this morning?
Now, if you don’t know those words, even though you can look them up on the internet immediately, even though you have them on your cellphone, unless you have them top of mind, unless you have some background knowledge, it’s going to be very hard to speak German. So, the best way to become a better reader is to know something about the topic, because it’s just going to click a lot of times. It’s like if you wanted to… I don’t follow Cricket, I don’t know much about Cricket. It is very hard for me to even listen to people talking about Cricket, and it’s very hard for me to read about Cricket, because I’m like, “Ah!” I get lost.
But if it start about basketball, which I know a lot, I can read really fast. I know the nuances. So, speed reading like the way that people describe it, where you should only read every seventh word, I haven’t found any evidence for it. There are ways to improve your reading, and that is by having some previous knowledge about the topic.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. So, what if it’s a topic, like for example, at the moment I’m reading a book by Andy Grove called High Output Management. I’m finding the… I know a little bit about the topic, right? But I’m finding it quite dry and it’s a bit difficult to get through. What would your advice for me to be there, to retain that and to really get ……?
Ulrich: Sure. So, my question for you is, are you just not interested in the topic or, so it is a motivation problem? Or is it just that you’re not being able to retain the information?
Nathan: Well, it’s quite a dense book, and yeah, he’s talking about production lines. He’s talking about just kind of like… It is difficult to get through. So, I’m not really enjoying the book that much thus far, no.
Ulrich: Hey, I’m glad we’re comfortable enough that you can confess this. One, when you’re having issues learning, categorising the types of learning is important. So, sometimes there are issues of motivation, happy to talk about that. Sometimes there’s just, are you getting the material that’s really relevant to you? What I hear you saying is it’s actually just difficult to get through, right? It’s just dense material.
I haven’t read this book, but we do a lot machine learning, AI, and LP stuff. And it’s just technical, right? You’re just reading about coding, and besides what we mentioned already, what I think is also really important for folks is to, one, take breaks. Engage in reflection. It’s very easy when you’re reading and when you’re learning, to really just try and jam through stuff. But you’re better off taking lots of breaks. One, sleep is important. I know this might be weird for founders who are trying to stay up all night, but if you’re really trying to retain the information, one, sleep gives you a break. Second, it allows your brain to, what experts describe to me, is like take out the trash, right? Rearrange your neurons, allow you to really learn.
The other thing when the information is super technical, besides breaks, besides active learning, besides goals, is to space it out over time. Our brain forgets. It forgets at a very regular rate. We now have a great ability to predict how quickly you’ll forget. So, to account for that type of forgetting, it’s going to be really important, especially when you’re learning technical information. So, researchers now have this forgetting curve. You can Google it a lot online. There’s a great Wiki to it, but the key thing to keep in mind is that it’s incredibly easy to forget.
And that the way that the mind works is that it keeps things, kind of like an attic. Let me put this in a different way. You should really think about forgetting as a type of attic because the stuff that you really pull out frequently has always got to be near the front. But, stuff that you don’t draw on very much, it goes further and further in the back and collects dust.
Ulrich: So, there’s known evidence that suggest that no matter where you are in your life, that you forget nothing. So, even when you were a three year old, and you saw someone’s shoes, deep in your brain that’s somewhere in there. But your brain basically engages in this type of forgetting be you want to remember not this person’s information, those shoes, you want to remember information like where you put your cellphone earlier today. Not where you put your cellphone a few days ago.
So, that long winded thing is to say, give yourself, especially when you’re reading technical information, time to learn about it a little bit, forget it, and then revisit it.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. So, I’m trying to read this book. I’m doing 10 pages a day. And yeah, it’s just not a fun book. But I know it’s super important, and everyone talks about. It’s a well renowned book. It’s like the premise of where OKR’s come from, and yeah, so I am giving myself breaks. But I am struggling to get through it. What else would you say to me to get through it, retain it, and really start to enjoy it? Do you think that is possible?
Ulrich: I don’t think you can enjoy something that you don’t find enjoyable. I mean, it’s just who we are as humans. But, when it comes to motivation, especially motivation for things that you know you need to do, like say accounting or your taxes. Lots of business owners not excited about them, but you have to do them. And especially when it comes to learning, it’s really take time to figure out when exactly are you going to apply this learning? How exactly is it going to make you a better founder? How is it exactly going to help you in your job? And making sure that you try and create those connections in a very concrete way so that you can say, “Yeah, I see exactly where this is relevant.”
And there’s some really fun studies come out of a professor, Chris Holman at the University of Virginia where he just has students, and these are learners of all ages, just write about how material is relevant to them. How they see they’re going to apply it in their own lives? And I think often when you see people when they teach statistics, they just think like, “Well, I’ll just put a little baseball on top of it.” Or maybe in Australia or England, Cricket. And that will make people think it’s interesting. That’s not a good approach.
Just saying Kim Kardashian might be mentioned in this book, not enough. You have to think about how is this going to improve your own life. And for some people reading Andy Grove’s book, they’re not going to go into business, they might think it’s important because their child is going to go into business. But they’re going to go into nursing, and they’d love to talk about OKR’s in their nursing. So, really just trying to think about, hey, how is this going to help me, is a great way for you to really boost your motivation.
Nathan: Yeah, I see. And what about this idea of when you said talking about brain dumps, do you think… or sharing with other people, do you think that it would help me to retain or increase my comprehension if I every time I go through the book, every 10 pages, is there anything else I could do there?
Ulrich: Well look, I haven’t read the book. But if the book is like so many other business books, it’s set up in this way. There’s a story about how Andy was a young child. Then, he takes over the company. There’s all sorts of garbage, he cleans it up and then he’s the hero, right? So, if the book is like that, you don’t really necessarily, or maybe you do if you want to retain that information, then by all means. And there’s some cases in which you might, right? You’re going to go meet Andy Grove and you want to be able to talk to him one on one and tell him about these stories, and retain them.
But my sense is that you really actually could care less about his stories of daring do, and what he did. You want the actual meat of the management.
Ulrich: So, one, just cut out the fluff. Skip to those parts about management that are going to be important.
Nathan: Oh wow.
Ulrich: Once you’ve identified that, it’s love. I mean, I don’t feel like that’s an oh wow moment, but I’m excited that you found an oh wow. I’m like, “Cut the fluff.” Everyone’s like, “Of course you should cut the fluff.” But we’ve cut the fluff, and you go to these things like OKR’s. How exactly do they work? What do they stand for? Why are they important? How do adjust them over time? What happens in the middle of the quarter when change is made? This is the type of stuff that might be more important for you as a manager.
And in those cases, exactly what you describe has got to be important. I wouldn’t necessarily wait for every 10 pages. But once you have a nugget and you know it’s really going to be important, close the book and think to yourself, “Okay, let me explain this as if I was explaining it on a podcast. I was talking to someone, what would this look like?” Also, engaging that brain dump, just writing it out. And then, trying to teach it to someone else is really important. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen, where someone cuts you a new kind of software. You’re kind of good at it, but then you needed to teach it to a colleague.
Ulrich: Teaching it to a colleague is a great way to become a more active learner, right? It’s that cognitively demanding. But then, you also have to think about where will they be confused? So, all these things take a little bit more time, so you should make sure you’re engaging those key ideas that are really important, that you really want to learn. But then, spend a lot more time making sure that you deeply understand them, that you’re really applying yourself more cognitively to them.
And ways in which you can do that is this brain dumps, explaining it to someone else. Even just thinking about if you were to explain it to someone else can be really effective. Those types of things that make you really engage in that material.
Nathan: Yeah. I think the unlock for me was this idea that if the book is dry, just cut the fluff. Actually just look for the really solid parts of the book that you want to get from it. Don’t just read the book, because when I read books, like anything, if I start something I want to finish it. I want to do it properly, and yeah. So, you’re a fan of carving through books that way?
Ulrich: The one caveat that I have about that, and this often happens when we’re learning, is that people are over confident. And over confidence is rampant. If you look at studies, most people believe that they’re smarter than average. Most people believe that they’re better looking than average. My favourite is that most people believe that they work harder than their average colleague. People are just very over confident.
Some over confidence is a good thing. I would not be here talking to you, expounding on these ideas, if I myself was not somewhat over confident, right? I mean, it just takes a little bit of over confidence to talk to you, to be in a public place. It takes some over confidence to become a founder. But when it comes to learning we’re often over confident about how much we know.
And, this is really important, especially when it comes to some of these dry details that can be really important to work, right? If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of SEO, figure out what the really dry [inaudible 00:28:00] is that can drive some big changes in your company really try and be humble. Try and learn as much as you can. Figure out ways in which you can push back against this type of over confidence. You know, if you had a quiz on this tomorrow, do you think you would really pass? But use these types of tools to make sure you’re not over confident.
Nathan: So, I’m curious as well, when it comes to these myths. What are some other myths that you think are common? We talked about the 10,000 hour rule. We talked about blocked practices, rereading, we’ve talked about speed reading. What are some other myths?
Ulrich: Well, let’s talk about the block practise one a little bit because I think it’s important to unpack why block practice is bad. It’s amazing to me how often I see block practice out there. Professional sports players, whether you’re Reinaldo or Lebron James, they have these videos, promotional videos of them practicing . And it’s crazy to me, they will do the exact same shot, take the exact same shot, again, and again, and again. And the evidence is very, very clear that mixed up practise is better.
But, you have to do the mixed up practise in a very certain way. And what is a better way to practise is to pull things together that are somewhat similar.
Ulrich: And make sure that you mix them up in this way. So, let’s just say you wanted to become better at playing the piano. And most people would choose, hey, they’re just going to play lots of Beethoven. They’re going to play Beethoven all day, and then the next day the play Mozart, on the third day they play Boche. And what they’d be better at is doing a little bit of Mozart, a little bit of Boche, a little bit of Beethoven and you mix it up on the same day.
You want to make sure that when you’re practising this way that these skills that you’re practising are somewhat similar, so you can learn. And this [inaudible 00:29:57] benefits of this mixed up practise is that when you play Beethoven right next to Boche, right next to Mozart you start to understand a little bit more about what makes Beethoven, Beethoven. What makes Boche, Boche.
And this is also true about a put. You get to really know about what a 10 foot put is, and how much muscle you need to put on an eight foot put. This is also true for business. Right? If you wanted to learn better about funnels, different types of funnels, why they matter and you’re practising your idea of funnels for sales as opposed to funnels for a class. Then you’re going to be like, “Oh, well here’s the different types of funnels. Here’s why I need a wide funnel.” You’re going to get a better sense about the nature of kind of what works when it comes to funnelling this.
The other reason that mixed up practise works really well goes back to something we’ve already spoke about, is it just makes you a more active learner. If you just keep on playing the same Beethoven again and again, you still practise the same idea again and again, you just become bored. This is the nature of humans, and that mixing up of practise forces you to pay a little bit more attention.
Nathan: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So, for example when I was being coached in boxing, my boxing coach was pretty hardcore, kind of old school kind of dude. And he’s just like, we just focused on the same drill, that one drill for so long, months. That one drill. And, it was just like, well there was probably a couple of key drills, maybe two, and that was all. That’s all we focused on. And he’s like, “Yeah, we’ve got to focus on the principles. We’ve got to get the foundations right.”
And it was a grind, but he’s like, “That’s how it’s done.” You would say that we should have done other things?
Ulrich: What I would say is, look, when you really don’t know something, like just say you’re learning to ride a bike today.
Ulrich: Just practising balancing and getting down the street is very helpful. But once you’ve acquired the basics, you’re moving to practise, okay?
Ulrich: When you’re moving to practise you’re going to be much better off practising a jab, a hook and a cross because… and mix it up, as opposed to 10 jabs in a row, 10 crosses in a row, and 10 hooks in a row. Because when you mix up your practise, one jab, one hook, one cross, one jab, one hook, one cross, you’re going to just, you’re going to see the subtly. How do you move your shoulder a little bit more? How do you move your back leg a little bit more?
And that variation is really key to practise. So, we’ve been talking about sports, we’ve been talking about music. I mean, let’s take this a little bit more in a business setting because when I see people practising their pitches they’ll just be like, “Today’s my elevator pitch day.” And they just try and think like, “Is it two minutes, or is it one minute and 58 seconds?” They’d be much better just trying to mix up their pitches, and to figure out what makes a good elevator pitch? Should it be two minutes? The answer to that is no. It should be way shorter.
One of the things that makes these pitches really singing and what context, and how are you going to vary that little detail if you’re speaking to a 75 year old, old grizzly, business person versus someone who’s in the Valley, or someone with a way different context? Or you only have 30 seconds versus 10 minutes. All those types of things is going to make you a much better person who gives pitches because you’re going to think more about those nuances.
Nathan: Interesting. I see. So, one thing I was thinking about that just come to mind, that I had to write down, was in a business context there’s so much information, right? There’s so many podcasts, there’s so many blogs, there’s so many YouTube videos. There’s just so many pieces of content on social. People are just overwhelmed with so much stuff. And as a founder like you, you only have a limited amount of resources that you can allocate your time, and what you’re really trying to do to grow your company is allocate those resources, your resources or team’s resources efficiently to be able to effectively multiple capital and provide value, right? You don’t have that exchange of value to receive capital.
So, I’m curious, when it comes to learning, I could spend all day reading management books but I’ve got all these other things to do. So, how often do you think someone should be thinking about their personal development or professional development across books, podcasts, videos, like a week or a month? If we could allot a time as a business owner or founder, should it be five hours a week? Should it be two hours a week? Should it be 10 hours a week?
Bill Gates, as an example, or no, a better one would be Warren Buffet. He reads a book a day. Crazy stuff. What is your personal take there? I’d love to hear.
Ulrich: I’m much more goal focused. So, what is it that you’re trying to accomplish? For many founders, you’re really trying to figure out the latest idea in a specific domain. So, if you’re really into marketing, really into SEO, I don’t know, you really want to know the latest idea. And more than that, I would really say it’s so important to just get people on the phone. And by the time books are published they’re too old.
And in fact, by the time blogs are published they’re too old. If you really want to just, if you’re trying to learn the latest, and whenever I give an example of this it’s like by the nature some crazy little sub domain of a sub domain, or a sub domain. If you want to learn the latest about that, you need to talk to people on the phone for the simple reason is that you want to get to people before they’ve even pulled together their thoughts so they’re coherent enough for a blog item. You know? Or even for a tweet.
So, talking to them, people just tend to ramble. They tend to talk about ideas that are a little bit disjointed. But, once you start to talk to 10 people in a field, that’s how you’re going to get that really cutting edge information and I think this is whether you’re doing agriculture, or you’re selling in the nursing business. Talking to people on the phone, especially when you’re goal is to try to get that cutting edge information is really important, I think, dramatically undervalued.
So, that’s where in my mind you really want to… Not think of it necessarily as learning, but as interviews. Then, if you really want to stay, go deep in the topic, that’s where I think some of the things that Bill Gates does are really valuable, which is blocking a whole day. I don’t know if he does this anymore, but he did it at Microsoft, right? He was just going to read books. I don’t know the nature of the books that he did, but this was for that type of background reading, right?
Let’s say you entered into a new domain, you want to just make sure you kind of know the history of that space. That’s what reading these types of books can be really, really helpful. But, when you’re a founder you don’t have a lot of time. So, you have to be really careful with your time. So, when you’re doing that type of learning, making sure that you’re [inaudible 00:37:45] are really just in sync with your goals because it’s so easy when you’re faced with all that information to become simply overwhelmed. And when you’re overwhelmed you’re either going to give up, or you’re just going to settle on that information that’s just really easy to understand, when you want to get that information that’s really going to dramatically change your business.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree. So, another thought that came to mind was like, when it comes to learning, what is your take on if you have peers that you want to learn with? So, let’s say as an example, myself and a friend want to get better at SEO, and we purchase a course perhaps. Is it better to do that course together with a peer versus doing it yourself? Because you talked about these ideas of speaking to someone and all that side of things. What’s your take there?
Ulrich: One of the key things that keep people from learning is just motivation. We’re in a world where everything seems like a fire you need to put out. So, we put learning on the back burner. So, what are things that we can do to keep motivated? And to a degree, this isn’t necessarily all the different than you want to lose weight or do all these other things you know are hard.
So, it’s important to keep in mind that humans are incredibly social creatures, right? We’re way more like bees and ants, these highly networked animals. So doing things with other people, or at least leveraging other people, is great. So, in these pandemic times I really recommend just going on to social media, not for social media’s sake, but to make a public commitment because we hate being embarrassed and we really hate being embarrassed in front of our friends. So going out there and being like, “Hey, today I’m going to take an SEO course. And I’m not going to speak to anybody until this SEO course is done.”
Then, you know if you pop up in there people are like, “Hey, you just promised us, you’re not supposed to be here. Get back in that SEO course.” It’s not necessarily taking the class with the other person, but it’s leveraging our very social nature, right? The nature that we don’t want to embarrass ourselves in front of our friends.
And then, absolutely, taking classes with other people is really powerful and it’s powerful because it offers that motivation. But it also offers that time where you can exchange ideas and in which you can engage with other people about how you’re going to apply that, how are you going to take it back? And those can be really, really powerful for learning.
Nathan: Yeah, I love that idea of a public commitment, or even just telling people. Yeah, I’ve always done that with friends, just to help be accountable because one thing I think is important is if you say you’re going to do something you follow through. So, you don’t trick your mind that you’re always going to tell yourself that you’re going to do something and you never do it. And then, you start to trick your mind that, yeah, you’re not going to do it. So, I try and hold myself just accountable to my word. And yeah, I love that idea of public accountability or holding yourself accountable publicly.
So, oh sorry.
Ulrich: Other thing that I just jump in on there that I think is something we haven’t talked about that I think is really important to founders who are in that spot where they’re being overwhelmed by information. And that’s feedback. The same way at which we, well we were just talking about, right? You don’t want to disappoint your friends. It’s also really hard to give people feedback, and what can you do with the people who work around you to just make it easier to give feedback?
At the end of every one of my one on one’s with the folks that I work with, I’m just like, “Hey, what feedback can you give to me this week? What can you tell me that I can do better?” And sometimes the stuff is really small, sometimes I ignore it. I did this to my mom once. I gave a talk, and I was like, “Mom, you’ve got to tell me what I get better at.” And of course she was just like, “You’re the best. You’re incredible. No one has ever given a talk as awesome as you just gave that talk.” And I was like, “Mom, you’ve got to give me one thing.” And it was great advice, she was like, “You should not chew gum while you’re giving a talk.”
I hadn’t even really noticed it myself, and kind of an embarrassing thing now to confess to you. The point is, is that we can use this feedback from other people and it’s a great way to learn, to get better at something. Because as you said, sometimes you don’t even realise that you’re doing something wrong, but it’s important because it’s the flip side of what we were just talking about. People being really social, because we don’t feel comfortable giving feedback, right? It feels like ugh, you’re giving bad information.
But it’s so hard not to become better, it’s so hard. If you don’t have feedback, you can’t become better.
Nathan: Yeah. I love that. So, look, we have to work towards wrapping up Ulrich. I could talk to you all day about learning and how to get better at it. That’s why we’ve partnered with you to create this incredible programme, which we’re really excited to talk about in the future. But, look, is there anything, just working towards wrapping up, is there anything that I didn’t ask you? Or anything that you’d like to share with our audience?
Ulrich: No, I think we’ve covered these really important ideas around making sure that… Actually, let’s just talk about one thing just for fun, and you asked. As we look towards wrapping up, one thing that I’d really remind people of this idea. It comes from a professor at UCLA called Desirable Difficulties. And I think it’s a really good way to summarise some of the things that we’ve been talking about.
And the idea is that if learning is really easy, you’re actually probably not learning. Then, what we want in learning is what Bobby Ord calls Desirable Difficulties. Want to make it a little bit difficult for yourself. This helps us understand why we want to mix up our practise. This helps us understand why we want to kind of forget and then come back to something. It makes it a little bit hard. I think it’s a great way to think about learning in a way that we want to learn, which is get that information, get into our heads, and then apply it in those situations, whether it’s marketing or counting that we know really matter.
Nathan: Yeah. No, that’s really great advice because I think when you think of learning, learning sounds boring. Right? For some people, right? But it’s the idea, for me, that excites me around skill acquisition, mastery, levelling up. The outcome side of that, you know what I mean? Not the idea of why do we have to do all this work, but that outcome of the end product, the output, the result. So, yeah, no that’s a great way to think about it. I love that.
So, yeah, look, this was a great conversation man. As I said, I could talk to you all day, and you’re like an encyclopaedia when it comes to this stuff. But where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Ulrich: Yeah. The Learning Agency is the place to find us online. So, looking forward to hearing from folks. And again, we’re so thrilled about this course. Just looking at what we pulled together, it pushed me in new ways. I feel like we’re sharing content that we’ve never shared before, and I really think people are going to get a tonne out of it.
Nathan: Incredible man. Well, look, thank you so much for your time, and thank you so much for working with our team and producing this incredible product. So yeah, look, I hope you have a good rest of your day and I’ll speak to you soon.
Ulrich: Awesome. This was great. Thanks so much.