Two weeks ago, we featured a piece on using the T-model to build our individual capabilities – a combination of a wide and diverse array of interests represented by the horizontal bar of the letter T coupled with deep specialisation (the veritcal bar) in a specific field that draws upon on the insights from various fields. The author of that piece, Jinay Savla, cited the example of Elon Musk as someone who best exemplifies this “He practically built an internet company, then a financial services company, an electric car company and a rocket company. PayPal changed the way we exchange money over the internet, Tesla changed the way we perceive an electric car and re-usable rockets through SpaceX, completely changing the dynamics of the industry…He has tremendous work ethic and lives by it.”
In this piece, Jake Daghe helps us understand how Musk does it by highlighting two rules that Musk uses to learn anything faster:
“…he reads hundreds of books. He works with top-level thinkers. He has astronomical levels of funding to put towards his every whim. But that’s not what makes him a great learner.
His learning methods aren’t that regal. In fact, his two rules for how to learn anything faster can be implemented by anyone at any time. Including you.”
Underlying this penchant for learning is Musk’s belief that we underestimate the human mind’s true processing power. Infact, his belief that this power for now is only limited by our input and output speeds i.e, how fast we read or see and how fast we can write or speak, underpins his other Moonshot biotech venture – Neuralink.
Musk likens knowledge of any subject to a tree whose trunk or the core (fundamentals) needs to be strong before branching out into the leaves or there is nothing to hang on to:
“…It helps the common entrepreneur understand that not everything is weighed with equal gravitas or importance.
When it comes to learning, there is a difference between material that ends up hanging from a branch and the material that makes up the base of the trunk of your tree.
It’s the periphery vs. the central.
Musk is a master of understanding what is at the core of each of the sectors his entrepreneurial ventures sit in.
He starts there, ensuring that he has the best possible grasp on the “trunk” material before moving off into the minutiae of the branches and the leaves.
Many of us do the opposite. We load up on periphery facts while never fully understanding how or why they connect back to the trunk. This outward-facing-in method leaves many of our brains overcrowded with misidentified and, ultimately, unimportant knowledge.
That’s not learning. It’s cramming.
The result of our efforts is a tree with a toothpick trunk and an overload of teeming branches, threatening to snap off as we try to cram one more idea or thought within our brains.
If you want to learn anything faster, you need to start with the materials that make up the trunk. It might be a tad slower at the onset, but without a sturdy trunk, you won’t have the base to support any additional learning and skill.”
Overlaying this structured knowledge is then an ability to connect knowledge from diverse and seemingly unrelated fields to develop new insight:
“This is how Musk was able to span sectors and shift entire industries seemingly overnight.
He started with solid roots and dense trunks, and then as he began to grow his knowledge upward, he began connecting branches and leaves together with other branches and leaves from other trees.
Musk never learns a piece of information at random. Everything he intakes, he connects back to some deeper, more solid base.
Most learners today are not master gardeners, but stick collectors. We walk around life, picking up tidbits here and tidbits there until our arms are full of sticks.
Once we have a good bunch of sticks, we do what comes naturally whenever there is a pile of sticks lying around. We burn them.
We think the size of our fires equals the size of our learning. But we are slow to realize what Elon Musk has built his entire learning structure on: that fires burn out.
Musk plants trees, in rich soil, that grow to be thick and abundant centers of learning.
You can do the same. You just need to embrace his two rules. Build the trunk first, then work tirelessly on making connections.”

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