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How to Hack Your Education: 5 Things to Consider

How to Hack Your Education: 5 Things to Consider

I have been self-educating since I finished school. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways to learn and to educate myself. Over time I became so good in my field that I not only got several jobs, but also surpassed people who only went to university. During the past three years, I’ve learned which five things you need to take care of in order to easily surpass regularly educated people and successfully hack your education. Here they are:

1. Develop a routine.

Since you don’t have a professor or teacher “harassing” you with deadlines and “forcing” you to study, you need to develop solid working habits. You have to experiment and try out different things. This is the first hard step and where most people fail because they are not able to maintain discipline and work on a proper routine. Unfortunately, there are no universal guidelines as to what works and what doesn’t, so you need to find out for yourself.

There are two books that are incredibly helpful in getting the necessary motivation and being inspired by what successful daily routines look like. Nick Winter’s Motivation Hacker will give you a dozen techniques on how you can ensure you’re motivated to work every day, get up early, and keep up with your schedule. In his book Daily Rituals, Mason Currey summarized the working habits of 200 famous artists, writers and scientists. You can get inspired by the habits of Goethe, Einstein, Hemingway and Andy Warhol.

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2. Learn to learn.

Most of us who come straight from school or college have horrible learning routines. Often many students rely on the strategy of cramming the night before exams. If you want to educate yourself and learn something in order to apply it in real life, you need to develop good learning strategies. You should also experiment on these and not stick with the first one that works, since the better your strategies, the more effective you are.

Here are two books and blogs essential to learning how to learn and taking your learning techniques to the next level. Cal Newport, a straight-A student, analyzed the way America’s best students are able to learn and still have a lot of spare time. His book, How to Become a Straight-A Student, will help you learn more effectively and enable you to have tons of free time. He also has a blog.

Scott H. Young might be the role model of many self-educators. He studied four years of electrical engineering at MIT in only one year, without being enrolled at MIT. Scott has an incredible work routine and amazing discipline. Check out his blog, where you can find all kinds of information about learning techniques and developing a successful working routine.

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3. Find the best resources.

Nowadays, you can learn from a lot of quality resources, completely for free. Most of these resources are either identical to a college education or far better. Find out which resources are the easiest to study for you. I am a huge fan of reading books and developing a relationship with the authors and asking them more detailed questions. Also, since I am becoming a therapist, workshops and seminars are essentials for me. Check out different things and track your learning progress to find out what suits you best.

Websites like Kahn Academy or MIT Open Courses often provide very good content and can also be a major resource.

 4. Learn from the best.

The advice above will put you ahead in terms of knowledge compared to those people who follow a conventional education. But still, a college degree comes with a certain status. Therefore you need to put yourself ahead of the usual learners when it comes to status. Telling a potential employer or partner that you read a lot of books or studied online won’t necessarily impress him or her as much as a college degree. So, in order to keep up with applicants or competitors with a college degree, you need to find another way to display professionalism and status.

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Since it is possible to connect with everybody world wide, start to connect with the leading figures in your field of interest. Outstanding figures in a certain field are often willing to answer your emails, as long as your questions are smart or interesting enough. Send out different emails to the stars of your field and evaluate which get the best responses. By asking the best in a field you will get unique insights, as well as valuable connections. In the first years of my career, I built almost all my reputation this way, and often knew things others didn’t because I talked to the people on the cutting edge on a regular basis. Having these connections will give you unique knowledge and will show a potential boss that you are not a scam.

 5. Learning is more valuable than money (at the beginning).

Since you are not following a regular educational path, you need to hustle for internships or opportunities to gain hands-on experience and to show what you are capable of. Students often have this included in their course of studies, but you don’t.

At an early stage, you should take on any job and any offer and even work for free. You need to build a portfolio and display your skills. For me as a coach and speaker, I was hustling for any possible speaking gig or for any opportunity to coach people. This gave me experience, as well as a reputation. During the first year, I was giving talks at esoteric fairs next to fortune tellers and people who claimed to talk to ghosts. I did this because somebody offered me the opportunity to talk there. Obviously, this is not an area I want to be associated with, but it was my best chance to get hands-on experience and talk in front of over 200 people. Eventually, this helped me land my next speaking gig at a university, and later to organize my own workshops and seminars. I never wanted to speak at the esoteric fairs, and felt completely out of place, but it was necessary to do so simply to become a better speaker.

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Whatever your field of expertize is, try to gain hands-on experience as fast as possible. In some areas it is easier than in others, so be creative and think outside of the box!

Over time I have met many outstanding self-educators, who have helped me to improve and develop my own strategies. A great platform to meet other self-educators is Extreme Learners, from Institute for the Future. I am super excited to hear about your strategies, please feel free to share them in the comments below.

Featured photo credit: UGL_UIUC via Flickr

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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