One of the key reasons to publish ‘Three longs and three shorts’ is that in a world with information overload, any means to separate the signal from the noise can make a meaningful difference to our understanding of the world around us. This is perhaps the most common problem all of us face when it comes to continuous learning and a problem that is growing exponentially. In this blog, Michael Simmons helps us with a framework to assess how we choose what information to consume. First, he identifies the source of the problem:
“Although we think of information overload as one big problem, it actually consists of four problems that are each getting exponentially worse, and that together add up to one big crisis – Content Shock, Echo Chambers, Constant Distraction and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Content Shock: With the advent of online publishing and social media, the amount of knowledge available to us is expanding so fast that none of us can possibly keep up. Meanwhile, more content is added to the pile every second of every day. The gap between this total collective human knowledge and our time to consume it grows larger every second…The problem: Much new information and many new skills we could learn are out there, but they’re so buried that we don’t even know they exist.
Echo Chambers: As groups grow in size, they become less stable and more diverse, eventually fracturing into subgroups…Each group lives in its own echo chamber, which it believes is the “true” reality, and it fights to maintain this belief by demonizing other groups. And in an age of social media and targeted, personalized content, these echo chambers become even more insular (see The Filter Bubble for more on this), as we’re exposed to less and less information outside our own chosen groups.
Constant Distraction: Our physical and virtual environments are surrounded by more and more content — whether editorial, advertising, or “fake news.” This content is marketed specifically to our own inclinations, which proves a powerful distraction that can keep us from pursuing more useful information or our own goals.
FOMO: Too many good options combined with not enough foreknowledge on which is best means we’re constantly second-guessing our choices.”
The solution he proposes is three pronged. First, to focus on only information that has the potential to transform your life or what he calls breakthrough knowledge. And handling social media is a crucial part of this solution i.e, where we proactively choose what information we consume rather than just consuming what is pushed our way by artificial intelligence driven digital marketing bots.
“People who learn to access breakthrough knowledge quickly while minimizing the noise have a huge advantage over others. These people are living in a veritable information cornucopia with lots of juicy fruit. This is the underrated skill.
The only way to make this potential info-apocalypse into a utopia is to change our approach to media from a reactive to proactive one. We cannot passively have faith in the stream on our news feeds, default settings, and notifications to guide us. The companies that control these do not have our best interests in mind, and they have broken the public trust. These feeds are designed for one thing: Keep your attention for as long as possible in the short-term and long-term. This business model is fundamentally conflicted with our own life goals.
Breakthrough knowledge, on the other hand, challenges our fundamental beliefs about how the world works or introduces a new lens through which to see the world. It sticks with us. Identifying potential breakthrough knowledge is actually fairly easy. There is a question that I ask myself before I consume any media that works as an incredible filter. I simply ask:
Does this have the potential to fundamentally change my life?
This power question helps me avoid mindlessly consuming content because it has a good title, shows up in my newsfeed, and just sounds sort of interesting.
Elon Musk: “It is very important to actively seek out and listen very carefully to negative feedback. This is something that people tend to avoid, because it is painful. I think that this is a very common mistake”
Disconfirming evidence — evidence that proves your existing ideas wrong — is exponentially more valuable than confirming evidence. Scientists throughout history have realized this. Science grows by what is proven wrong, not what is proven right. One piece of disconfirming evidence can be worth a million pieces of confirming evidence just like one breakthrough knowledge book can be worth more than 100 incremental knowledge books.”
The second tool Simmons recommends is the use of mental models to assimilate information coming our way. Simmons presents an interesting way of ranking sources of information based on its power: Tweets, Blogs, Books, Book summaries, Field Summaries and finally Mental Models.
“Mental models are representations of phenomena that have been observed across time, across fields of study, and across domains of life. In my opinion, they deliver the most knowledge value because:
- The knowledge they impart is much more condensed than book summaries or even field summaries.
- They retain their value over time (and even increase it).
- They are broadly applicable across fields.
One of my favorite mental models, for example, is the 80/20 Rule: the idea that 20 percent of efforts or input causes 80 percent of results or output. This rule applies to business, creativity, relationships, health, and many more domains.
Another example of a mental model is Opportunity Cost, which is the value of the choice of a best alternative cost while making a decision. This model is valuable when making decisions across your entire life, because it encourages you to reflect on what potential alternatives to a decision might be. It prevents you from going with the first choice that comes to your head.
When you learn mental models, you begin to see the underlying patterns at work in every area of life, and it becomes much easier to spot the signal in the noise.”
The third tool is build a learning aptitude i.e, learning how to learn systematically:
“Learning how to learn is the bundle of skills that ultimately helps us find breakthrough knowledge and apply it to our life in order to get a result in the least amount of time. Few people even realize that learning how to learn is its own distinct skill set. As a result, they don’t improve.
- Understanding the scientific method in order to identify high quality information.
- Understanding the value of diverse knowledge….People Who Have “Too Many Interests” Are More Likely To Be Successful According To Research.
- Understanding the cognitive biases that lead to us trusting information we shouldn’t (e.g., confirmation bias, backfire effect, Dunning-Kruger Effect, halo effect, ingroup bias)”
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