Scott Young (@ScottHYoung) is the host of the Scott Young Podcast and author of Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career.
What We Discuss with Scott Young:
- How Benjamin Franklin, chess grandmaster Judit Polgár, and Nobel Laureate physicist Richard Feynman used Ultralearning to rise to the top of their fields.
- How Scott used ultralearning to absorb the entire MIT four-year computer science curriculum in 11 months and learned four languages in one year!
- The biggest mistakes you’re probably making when trying to learn something new.
- Why school isn’t the only place where intense learning is possible.
- How our brains process languages and why some of our most popular learning options (like Duolingo) may not be optimal.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
If you’re already a listener of this show, it’s probably a fair bet that your love of learning hasn’t been systematically squeezed out of you from years of institutional education. Not everyone is so lucky. But if you’ve come this far, you have some idea of what helps you learn new things, and a heap of ideas of what definitely won’t. Beyond that, what if you could tap into what made intellectual heavyweights like Benjamin Franklin and Richard Feynman such prolific learners? What if you could harness the power of Ultralearning?
In this episode we talk to Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career author Scott Young, who shares the techniques that allowed him to soak up the entire four-year MIT computer science curriculum in 12 months and learn four languages in one year. We’ll smash some common myths about learning, dig into the way the human brain picks up new languages (and why apps like Duolingo might not be ideal for this purpose), and outline the biggest mistakes people commit when studying or strategizing something new. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
THANKS, SCOTT YOUNG!
If you enjoyed this session with Scott Young, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
Click here to thank Scott Young at Twitter!
Click here to let Jordan know about your number one takeaway from this episode!
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career by Scott H. Young
- The Scott Young Podcast by Scott H. Young
- Scott Young’s Website
- Scott Young at Facebook
- Scott Young at Twitter
- Scott Young at Instagram
- The MIT Challenge, Scott’s Blog
- Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis
- The Year Without English, Scott’s Blog
- Language Switching Costs in Bilingual Visual Word Recognition, Journal of Memory and Language
- Three Important Problems Faced in the Transfer of Learning, Your Article Library
- The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the US Labor Market by David Autor, MIT
Transcript for Scott Young | Ultralearning Your Way to Skill Mastery (Episode 241)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most brilliant and interesting people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you.
[00:00:21] Today's guest, Scott Young, has been hacking the learning process since before metalearning and language hacking were trending online and self-improvement spaces. In a well-known stunt, if you will, he managed to learn the entire MIT four-year computer science curriculum in 12 months and he learned four languages in one year. It was not the same year, just so we don't all feel horrible about ourselves right now. Today we're smashing some common myths about learning, including the idea that school is the only place that intense learning can take place, how we absorb languages, and why apps like Duolingo often fail us as language learners. We'll also explore options like immersion and outline the biggest mistakes people commit when studying or strategizing something new. This is a great episode for you, whether you're looking at learning a new skill or career or if you're just interested in learning more about how your mind and your brain both learn and recall information and new skills.
[00:01:18] If you want to know how we managed to book all these great guests and manage all of these relationships, I've got systems and I've got tiny habits and it just takes a few minutes a day. I've got a free course for you about this called Six-Minute Networking, and that's at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests here on the show actually subscribed to the course and the newsletter. So, come join us and you'll be in great company. Now let's hear from Scott Young.
[00:01:42] Scott, this topic is pretty meta because it's about learning how to learn and a lot of people, this is buzzwordy now, metalearning and everybody's learning how to learn. And some people will go, “Oh, we don't need to learn more stuff.” Everybody's got information overload. So, there's some criticism that comes with this, but you've really put your money where your mouth is because you proved that you don't need to go to school to learn things, which coming out of my mouth now sounds a little bit obvious, but you actually did have, was it a four-year computer science program at MIT? You did it without going to MIT and you did it in 12 months, right?
Scott Young: [00:02:17] Yeah. This was back in 2011, I did a project, I called The MIT Challenge, which was to learn MIT's four-year computer science curriculum, but instead of going to MIT and taking the class and doing the usual way, I decided to use all the free resources they put online. A lot of people don't know this, but MIT puts a lot of their classes online for free. And so around that time, I was thinking, “Why has no one tried to replicate a degree or try to get that knowledge without having to go to MIT and spending a bunch of money on tuition and spending four years of your life?” So, the process of the challenge was to try to pass the final exams and do the programming projects, and I did that over 12 months, starting in October 2011 and ending in September 2012
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:02] I assume you had absolutely no life outside of this during that time.
Scott Young: [00:03:06] Well, actually it wasn't as bad as you think. Like obviously it was a lot of work I had to study and focus hard. But for me, I actually think that compared to the idea that I was just only doing this, you know, I worked hard in the daytime, but then in the evening I had that off and I usually took the weekends off as well, at least one day a week, sometimes both days, on the weekend off.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:26] That's surprising because it's supposed to be a four-year degree from a really challenging school. Now, to be fair, you didn't get the degree right and that's, yeah. It's not that you didn't do the work, it's not that you didn't, did you take the exams and things, you must've, right?
Scott Young: [00:03:41] Yeah. The way I evaluated it was a bit of a simplification because of course getting exactly the education at MIT student would is kind of out of the question. I'm piecing it together with the stuff that they put online. So, what I decided to do instead was focused on passing the final exams. So that makes a kind of a pretty clear evaluation of did I learn the material from the class. And then for the classes that did have programming projects, I would try to do those as well. And then just evaluating it based on does it do the thing it was supposed to, sometimes for certain classes they would even have a testing suite. You could just hook it up to the testing suite and it would say whether or not it did what it was supposed to do, something like that basically.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:19] Okay. So, you took the exams, you took all the coursework. What's the catch though? And I've highlight again that you didn't get the degree. And the reason I'm saying that is because degrees are often a rubber stamp that gets you promoted or hired in the first place. Can we address that? Because a lot of people are going, wow, this kid's a genius and I want to address that later too because you and I both know that you are no genius.
Scott Young: [00:04:42] Absolutely. You know what I will say is that I'm definitely not arguing here or in any part of my book culturally, I'm definitely not arguing that school is bad and that no one should ever go to school and that you should do this instead. But I think the problem is, is a lot of people go into school unthinkingly. They're struggling in their careers. This is a kind of nebulous problem that they don't really know how to advance. They don't know how to get promoted. They don't know how to get the job they want. So, they say to themselves, you know what I'm going to go back and do my masters or I'm going to go get an MBA. And then a hundred thousand dollars later, they find out that, well actually it doesn't get them that many better opportunities than they had before and they're kind of puzzled by that. And so for me, I think it's all about analyzing what actually drives progress in your career. And sometimes that's going to be having that certificate. I mean, you were a lawyer, you had a law degree, you can't practice law at least in most places without having a law degree. So, it's not even just a question about like a lot of grease, good to have. I mean you can't be a lawyer without it. Similar to being a doctor or an engineer. But there are lots of professions where that's not true. And so, the interesting thing is that a lot of people think that you require to have a degree, but what employers really want is for you to have skills. And so, I think there's sometimes a conflation between you need to have a degree versus you need to be able to do the things that employers want to hire you for. Sometimes the degree is the way to do that, but I think this example illustrates, it's not the only way of doing it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:05] Okay, well that's fair. And you're right. In most states, you can't practice law without a law degree. I think California ironically is the exception. But you know, let's not, let's not go down that road. Usually, it's a good idea and certainly having taken the bar exam is generally a good idea. Although judging by many of the attorneys I've retained in the past, pretty much optional and sometimes you'd rather have somebody who just is throwing something at the wall and seeing what happens compared to…I used to have a lawyer, oh god I wish I could say his name. His last name was Worms and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about how this guy behaved and conducted himself. Worms and he was from New York and we used to meet in an office that wasn't his. And it would be like if someone would come by, he'd be like, you know, not hide under the chair but basically like the next best thing and we meet in these vacant buildings. That's a whole story for a different show. But the point, I think your point was you're supposed to have gone to law school and have a law degree to practice law and that's true in a lot of professions that make a difference. But for you here you just wanted to what proves that this could be done and also show that you can learn things that are outside of formal education and probably do it much faster. Was that kind of the idea behind this?
Scott Young: [00:07:18] Well, yeah, there were different motivations. If you look at my case, I had done a business degree beforehand. The marginal value of adding an extra degree on top of my old degree wasn't that high, especially at the undergrad level. I mean this wasn't like I just went out of high school and I did this. It was I did a degree, I studied something different, and I wanted to be able to program in computers and understand computer science and I was interested in this topic. I'd thought I was going to study at university and then ended up choosing a different path. For me going back and doing another degree, I mean it might've helped a little bit, but I think at that point people see that you have a degree, they mostly carry can you do the actual skills? And so, the interesting thing is I've talked to a lot of programmers who don't have degrees in computer science. They have degrees in music or business or philosophy or something and they just learned programming somewhere else but now they're employed as full-time programmers. I think that's another one of these myths that you have to work in exactly the field you studied. Most people don't seem to do that.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:17] I think it's pretty interesting that when you were on Reddit and online and asking people, “Hey, do you think I could get a job if I completed this?” A bunch of, I think, HR people that said, “No, you absolutely have to have a degree. This is ridiculous. Don't even bother.” And then all these actual hiring managers and programmers were like, “I would love to hire you if you do this.”
Scott Young: [00:08:40] I've always wanted to run an online business. I've always been interested in computers, just more from being able to do the programming for my own life rather than becoming a full-time programmer. For me even doing this project, I wasn't thinking, okay, well now I'm going to become a software developer but obviously a lot of people who would like to do a project like this, that's where they would like to go. And so, when this project kind of got picked up and people were talking about it, it's absolutely right. It was the typical kind of Redditor who is saying, well it's too bad that this wouldn't matter because the only thing employers care about is degrees and then it's the employers who are writing back. “No, actually we care about people who can program and we just use degrees as a filtering mechanism.” I think that's a really interesting discussion because I think a lot of people see, “Well, don't apply for this job if you don't have this degree,” is more, “We don't want to get 400 resumes from people who are obviously not qualified”. But I mean how do most people get jobs? They get references from friends. They get someone to introduce them to someone else. Although there are probably certain hiring situations where not having a degree will be an impediment and you really have to look at each individual situation on a case-by-case basis. But I'm really of the belief that what employers typically care about is can you do the things that will make them money or do the things that will accomplish their organizational goals, and if you can do those things, then the degree is nice to have, but it's not always a requirement.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:02] So this little amazing stunt here and the fact that we're talking about it is illustrating the idea that a lot of people who are feeling may be stuck in their career, they go, “Oh, I need to go back and get my MBA”, or “I need to go back and get another degree that's going to allow people to take me seriously.” You take three, four years; and your life is miserable. During that time, you'd get tens of thousands if not six figures in debt and then you're no better off than you were before in many cases.
Scott Young: [00:10:29] Oh well it's cost-benefit. Yes, having a degree is really nice, but the costs are also super high too, and that has to be factored into your decision. And not to mention, I think that like when we're thinking about higher education, we're usually thinking about college-aged kids. Like should they go to school or not? But the truth is a lot of us would like to advance in our careers and we see, well maybe I should go back and get more schooling, but that's not a really attractive option. You don't want to put your career on hold, you don't want to go off and do that. It was really interesting doing the research for this book to gather all these stories of people who have learned hard skills to accelerate their career but not in the traditional approach of going back to school, but basically from teaching themselves things using this kind of ultralearning approach.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:13] Now what about something like languages? I mean you and I talked to preshow about languages. Language learning is something I really enjoy. I don't do kind of super in-depth immersion, simply because I usually don't really have that kind of lifestyle where I do that. However, the language I know best besides English is German. And the reason I know it's so well is because I moved there during high school, went to school, took chemistry class, took calculus or algebra or whatever the hell it was, and chemistry, all these different classes at a public high school. I didn't know what the hell was going on and then left being able to do chemistry and calculus in German. So, immersion is obviously the way to go, and that sort of mimics a lot of the ultralearning type strategies but in a lot of ways, we can't do that. Languages are one in which there's a natural sort of immersion, but it's pretty hard to say, I want to get really good at really complex quantum computing topics. I'm just going to go get a job at a company doing this. Not going to happen. So, we have to stick in the ultralearning principles and put those into action but let's start with the language. This is the perfect example of ultralearning or at least the way that you've applied it.
Scott Young: [00:12:25] Yeah, so this was for me a real turning point because I had a similar experience to you. I don't know how long you were living in Germany, but when I was in university, I did an exchange in France. But unlike you, I didn't have all my classes in French or in your case, German. I signed up, I didn't speak any French before I went there, just like the very basic bonjour, au revoir, that kind of stuff. When I signed up, I was thinking, I have to do university classes. These count for my grades back home. I can't pick classes in French. I won't be able to do them. So, I pick classes in English and then when I went there, I did what most people do, I don't speak French. So, you make friends that speak English to you and then after a little while you realize that you're surrounded by this bubble of people who speak English to you. And this is kind of funny because if you haven't had this experience before, if you've only sort of living in your native speaking country, a lot of people think, well if you go on exchange or if you live in another country that speaks a language, well why don't you just automatically learn it? Because everyone's speaking it to you all the time. And this actually turns out to be more of the exception than the rule. In my travels of meeting lost people who have lived sometimes for decades or more in places, they often don't learn the language very well because of this exact phenomenon you surround yourself with this English bubble.
[00:13:40] My first real introduction to ultralearning was meeting a guy named Benny Lewis who became somewhat famous for his fluent in three months' challenges, which admittedly were a challenge he set himself rather than his claim that he could do this repeatedly. But his goal was to go to a country for just three months and learn as much as he could in that short period of time. The method that he used is as soon as he started, he's got a phrasebook and he's speaking to people. And so, this was sort of my first inspiration that maybe if you choose the right way to approach learning, you can get better results. And after that experience with France, I did really work hard and I was able to get to a decent level. But after that, this was about four or five years later, I decided I'm going to do it the right way this time. I went with a friend and we did a project that I called The Year Without English and we went to four different countries to Spain, Brazil, China, and South Korea. And the method that we used was that as soon as we arrive, we wouldn't speak English to each other or to anyone where you'd meet. So that would basically force us to learn the language in the country and it worked fairly well. We were able to get to conversational levels in these languages and be able to interact and do things like make friends and go on dates and watch movies and have fun stuff in the language in a way that I wasn't able to do when I was in France or a lot of people struggle to do after years of high school Spanish classes.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:05] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Scott Young. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:10] This episode is sponsored in part by BetterHelp. BetterHelp is 21st-century counseling and therapy. BetterHelp online counseling offers licensed professional counselors who are specialized in issues like depression, stress, anxiety, relationships, sleeping, trauma, anger, family stuff, LGBT stuff, grief, self-esteem. I mean the list is long, but so is the list of things that can go wrong with us, pesky humans. You can connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Everything's obviously confidential. That's pretty convenient. The mainstay of this though is convenience. You can get help at your own time, at your own pace, secure video or phone sessions plus chat and text with your therapist. And if you're not happy with your counselor, you can request a new one at any time, there's no charge for that. And by the way, a couple of people have said, “Oh I, you know, I did this and I switched counselors.” The pro tip here is you call them and have them rematch. You don't try to rematch yourself. A lot of people have been like, “Oh, I'm looking on the website and I'm trying to find a new…” No, no, that's their job. Don't worry about that. BetterHelp wants to take care of you. When I solicited your feedback about sponsors, a lot of positive stuff came in about BetterHelp and a lot of sort of pro tips like, “Hey look for somebody in your same time zone, which seems really obvious,” but a lot of people didn't do that and that's the pro tip. And Jason, I know we got a deal for him and I know you're a big fan of BetterHelp, so let's rock.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:16:33] I'm a big fan of BetterHelp. Actually, I did switch therapists, my first therapist was helping me with family issues that I've talked about on the show many times before. But I transitioned over to a new therapist talking about my anxiety disorders and he has really helped me understand that a lot of the problems I have in my life are from my anxiety disorder, not what I thought they were. So, it's fantastic to find somebody on BetterHelp that can really help me out and I love these guys. Best of all, it's a truly affordable option for our listeners. You can get 10 percent off your first month with a discount code, Jordan. Get started today. Go to betterhelp.com/jordan. Simply fill out a questionnaire to help them assess your needs and get matched with a counselor you'll love. That's better.help.com/jordan. You won't regret it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:17] This episode is also sponsored by the box of awesome by Bespoke Post. These are a box of awesome collections from the Bespoke Post. Guys, get the best stuff every month. So, you're looking to rule the pool. You want to lounge and style with something tropical in hand. Box of awesome has you covered. So, they've got style stuff, grooming stuff, barware, cooking tools, outdoor gear and these are great gifts. What I got were these whiskey glasses. I don't drink whiskey a lot, so when I do, I like to be very extra fancy about it. And there's this, the set of glasses, they don't…it's hard to explain but they sort of lay on their side and they roll around in a circle, not motorized or anything. Just the design has them doing that. So, it opens up the whiskey instead of you slashing it around in your hand. Am I painting a picture here, Jason? I don’t know if I'm just painting a picture here in that.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:08] I do believe, so physics, it's all about physics.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:11] The bottom is like an upside-down triangle, right? So, it rolls around instead of being flat and so it opens up the whiskey and it's kind of cool because you can sort of lean the glass on the side and look very fancy. Also, some way to infuse tequila that I've still kind of haven't done much with yet but is looking pretty swag on my counter. So, you can go take a quiz at boxofawesome.com and your answers help them pick the right box for you or for the person you're gifting it to. New boxes every month. Tons of different categories. Free to sign up. You can skip a month so you're not just like, ah, I got all this crap down. You can cancel anytime. Each box is about 45 bucks, has over 70 buck’s worth of gear inside. Jason, there's more to it.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:18:54] Get 20 percent off your first monthly box when you sign up at boxofawesome.com and enter the code Jordan at checkout. That's a box of awesome.com, code Jordan for 20 percent off your first box.
[00:19:05] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. Don't forget we have a worksheet for today's episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Scott Young. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. If you'd like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to jordanharbinger.com/subscribe. Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player so you don't miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Scott Young.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:43] That sounds extremely exhausting. I know what it's like to force yourself when you're tired to be like, do we have, how the hell do you say cereal? I'm just going to cut somebody. How do you say…? Let me find my translating dictionary, my phone or whatever and look this up even though it's 9:00 PM, I'm half awake, I just want a bowl of cereal. That's hard. That's hard. It's, it's easy to do for an hour a day. It's not easy to do all day every day when you just want to have a beer and like chill. It's very difficult. And then you feel like every conversation you're having is with a four-year-old and that you're a four-year-old trapped in the body and mind of an adult or vice versa.
Scott Young: [00:20:29] So you know what, I'm going to push on that just a little bit. I do agree with what you're saying. Obviously, people listening to this right now are thinking, “Okay, that sounds super easy out. Let me get on that right away.” However, I think a lot of what makes sometimes immersion or practicing a new language challenging is the back and forth. It’s the going back and forth between, okay, well now I'm speaking English and okay, now we're going to start again. We're going to start again speaking this other language. And so, what I found is that doing this approach is it kind of compresses that difficulty into the first two weeks, I would say for the European countries and probably more like two months for the Asian languages, but it compresses it into a shorter period of time. And so, what happened is that even though we were not fluent certainly after a month, we had gotten into this habit of speaking all the time that you could go accomplish your kind of communication goals. You learned how to accomplish them in this method. And then by the third month, I feel like when we were in Spain, it was just completely invisible, the whole speaking in this language approach. Whereas when I was in France, I lived there for a year and it always felt like a struggle to start speaking French because I just recently had been speaking English and it was so easy. And now, ugh, okay, I got to go back to doing this. So, it was kind of funny that sometimes if you engineer the environment in the right way, it can push you to do something that's really intense or seems really intense from the outside. But just because of how you've structured it, you're actually able to stick to it more easily.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:55] Right. So, it's almost like not switching costs, but the comparison that you have and the switching costs.
Scott Young: [00:22:03] Yes, switching costs, and whenever you do anything difficult often the most difficult part is deciding to do it right. So, if you're going to the gym, for instance, what's the hardest part about going to the gym? It's deciding to go to the gym, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:19] It's not even nothing I do at the gym.
Scott Young: [00:22:21] And what's the hardest part about reading a book? It's deciding, okay, I'm going to put down the phone and read this book right now. And it doesn't mean that there's never any difficulty in the middle, but once you're in the middle of it, you're carried along with the momentum. Yeah, there's frustrations and little difficulties and hiccups. But the problem is that if you do the approach most people do for learning the language, they're starting and stopping constantly, and they're probably spending maybe three or four times the amount of time thinking, “Oh, I should be practicing this language.” Like let's say you live in France and you want to learn French, but all your friends are speaking English, you probably spend about three or four times the amount of time like chastising yourself or not speaking French and not learning it better than you actually do practicing. Sometimes it can be almost the opposite that you spend most of the time in this like getting the ignition start on the car rather than driving down the highway.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:09] Yeah. Nothing I do at the gym is even close to as hard as putting on my gym clothes. I'll tell you that. I think you're right. There's something to be said for once you're, once you've got momentum and you realize, “Look, I can only speak German. I'm the only American here and nobody's really speaking English to me.” There's also a turning point for me that I could have turned earlier by just forcing myself to speak German. The turning point for me was when I realized, “Oh man, my German's better than even the people who speak English, English.” So, it's more efficient for me to just say it in German. And then once that happened, that was just like, then I just only spoke German and I started to dream German and think in German, and then it was just kind of easier than speaking English in the first place. And here's one thing that, that I never believed that other people say happened to them. “Oh, I feel like I'm forgetting things in English.” That never happened to me and I couldn't tell if they were lying or if some people just can't keep more than one language in the front of the brain.
Scott Young: [00:24:05] I have not had that experience with English. I don't feel like I'll ever forget English. But I have had that experience going from let's say Spanish to Portuguese. That's a bit treacherous because there are similar languages and there's even some neuroscience that suggests that those second languages may be stored somewhat separately from first languages. And so it may be possible for your second languages to overlap more easily than your first languages, especially if there's similar, like Portuguese and Spanish are so similar that it helps when you're learning it, but it also can be really confusing when you want to like keep them separate and make sure, okay, I'm only speaking Portuguese right now. I'm not speaking Spanish.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:44] Yeah, I feel you. But I'll tell you is stuff's still when I'm trying to speak, let's say Serbian, which has really rusty stuff, comes out in Chinese and those are not similar languages. It's just you're right there. English is in the operating system and safely tucked away. But all those second languages, they're somewhere else. They're saved in different places. And I know it's not German but I don't know if it's not Chinese or Spanish or Serbian. And what about these language apps? Like Duolingo? You kind of mentioned this before. I would love to do a little mini takedown of trendy language apps because a lot of people use these. But whenever I try to use the languages, people say they're learning with these, I'm very unimpressed with results.
Scott Young: [00:25:25] So here's what I'll say. So, first of all, if you love an app, just don't listen to me, use what you want to use. But I will tell you why I don't like certain apps from my perspective, so that if you've been like, “Hey, it hasn't been working for me for the last six months,” you maybe know why. I think that. So, a Duolingo is probably the most popular app, so they're the easiest one to pick on, although there are lots of problems with lots of other apps as well. But in Duolingo as case, I think the problem is that they have a really slick program. It's like kind of gamified. You get these little like gemstones, I guess when you complete things, and you're getting the tasks and it gives you these little push reminders. A lot of people feel like the design is quite good, it's quite sophisticated. However, under the hood, I'm less impressed because one of the major ways that it tests you, at least on the mobile phone version the last time I used it, was that it would give you, for instance, a sentence, let's say if there's a sentence in Italian and then he's got a word bank in English and you have to tap the words in the right order to make the sentence. And the problem is that actually speaking a language is from a cognitive perspective, very unlike this, that you actually have to recall them from memory. There's no word bank that has like 15 words and you'd have to pick the like seven that match when you're actually speaking to people. It's not like you're going to be just having to dissociate, like between 30 words I've learned and these are only the words that are going to be applied in this sentence because they're not going to involve any words I've never learned before or those are going to be underlined if I haven't learned them yet.
[00:26:52] And so I think the problem is that a lot of people use Duolingo and Duolingo itself as a company wants to make their app as addictive and as engaging as possible. But sometimes for these subtle reasons, it can often be very difficult to transfer it to actually speaking it. I think I forget where I heard this, but I was talking to someone and they were saying, “Oh yeah, using a Duolingo Spanish for six months.” And then someone asked him in an interview as like, “Oh, hablas español?” And then the person had to like pause and think about it and said, “Sorry, could you say that again?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:24] Oh man, that’s really bad.
Scott Young: [00:27:27] You know, if you're spending six months with an app, you should be able to do something like that. I think Duolingo is not my favorite app. I think it might be okay if your goal was only to read, it might be okay. I still don't think it would be the best. But definitely, if your goal is to speak and have conversations, I don't think it's going to cut it, especially not the longterm.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:49] I got to say I use some of those tapes at the beginning of new languages. I'll use like, and I know you mentioned this Pimsleur method, and it's funny because all it is this guy says…This is the one where he says simple sentences that then building complexity, right?
Scott Young: [00:28:05] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:06] So that's the one I'm using. Yeah, I love it. It's like shoes, shoes, shoes, shoes. And the language, right? And then it's like my shoes, my shoes, I bought my shoes, these are my shoes, whatever. And then suddenly, like by the end of your 40-minute commute, you're saying, I bought my new shoes today at the store and you remember it forever. And you can say a bunch of different variations of that and all you've been doing is listening to this guy rattle off. And that is extremely useful. And I know it doesn't sound very complex, but if you think about it, if you're doing flashcards, you'll be lucky to bank permanently, two or three words in that whole session that you then don't really have to see over and over and over again. You still have to practice them. But two or three words is not bad. And I've been studying Chinese for seven years, doing the flashcards, and I think I know like 3000 or something like that. That's a lot. But it's really not that much considering that it's been 10 minutes a day, five minutes a day, whatever it is. You really need to build quite slowly. Now Chinese takes longer because they're pictographic and they don't look like anything. You can't sound them out. There's no mnemonics that are really useful. So that's, that's a whole unique beast. Another language would be much easier, but these types of learning, they can really be, the apps are trendy, but hearing someone talk is old fashioned as it sounds seems to speak to your brain in a lot more of a sort of natural way where we're likely to actually remember and be able to use the language.
Scott Young: [00:29:36] Well, the thing I like about Pimsleur is basically that it does the opposite. What I just said, that when you actually have, okay, well now say this, in some senses it's a little bit more restricted because translating and exact sentence and often a somewhat formal, stilted one, maybe not the exact one you'd actually see in real life is a little bit, there's going to be a little bit of discrepancy between real life. However, the main thing it has going for it is that you have to actually recall it from memory. So, it says now say, and then it'll give you some sentence to say and you have to recall it from memory, which is you know, that's important. And then the second thing is that you're actually saying, so you get used to producing the sounds with your mouth. So that is also important because very often you will hear it and you can understand it perfectly. But then when it comes time to say it, you haven't been getting any feedback on your pronunciation. So particularly for a language like Chinese, which has tones in the beginning, if you aren't getting that feedback, your thing is not going to sound anything like what the native speakers sound like and it can lead to some difficulties understanding you. So those two factors mean that I think doing a month of Pimsleur before you start immersion is a good idea for languages. I do think there are limitations to Pimsleur as well, but I think for a strict beginner resource, I prefer it to Duolingo.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:30:54] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Scott Young. We'll be right back after this.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:00] This episode is sponsored in part by Omigo. This sponsor, I was so stoked for this that I actually requested more from them. I get it washing your butt with a sprayer seems gross but think about what you're doing with toilet paper, like think about it. Think about getting into a stranger's car and going somewhere. Booking a vacation in someone else's house. It's, it started off weird cleaning up with TP this is like memorizing phone numbers. It's like rewinding videotapes. When it comes to cleanliness you got to kick it new school. You got to wash yourself right. Toilet paper is not working out. It's bad for the environment. It's bad for your body. It's really gnarly and I've put this in the one I told them when they were sending us the copy that I was going to use this and I wanted to get it approved. If you drop peanut butter on your arm when you're making a sandwich, do you wipe it with dry Kleenex or toilet paper and then assume your arm is clean? No, you wash it off because that's how you get stuff off your skin. Okay, so this Omigo, this is the bathroom fixture. No one's talking about that. We need the most. So, what this is, is it's you can adjust the water temperature. You can adjust the position, the pressure, the width, the movement. This is a hygiene necessity, not just a luxury for weird Japanese tourists. And you're, you've, you've ever stayed at a hotel and a lot of Japanese tourists, you know what I mean. They see it, by the way, is heated. That alone is worth the price of admission. You go sit down at night. And ladies especially imagine, you know, when you sit down, it's warmer than your bed. Also, ladies/guys, there's a nightlight, so if you sleep with a guy who doesn't, who claims he can't see at night and doesn't want to turn the light on because he doesn't want to bother you, there's a nightlight. You don't have to turn on lights in the middle of the night. You can see the bowl; you can see the toilet. You know, where you're sitting. You know, where you're aiming. There's a remote control. It's got a magnetic dock. You're not touching some weird piss covered control thing on the toilet. There's a deodorizer with a carbon filter that eliminates odor. There are all kinds of cool stuff on it. This is, this is the iPhone of toilet seats. I hope I'm allowed to say that, but I just did so there it goes. And Jason, we've got a deal for him.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:12] Yeah. Jordan can't live without his own Omigo. I hear about it all the time and I'm jealous. So maybe, I'm going to take, take advantage of this deal. Get 20 percent off your order when you go to myomigo.com/jordan. That's Omiga with an O as in, “Oh how did I ever live without this?” For better health and hygiene, stop wiping and start washing, you'll be glad you switched. That's myomigo.com/jordan to get 20 percent off the toilet seat. That's changing lives one wash at a time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:40] Your butt won't regret it. This episode is also sponsored by Progressive.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:33:45] Saving money on your car. Insurance is easy with progressive. It's an average savings of $699 a year for customers who switch and save. In fact, customers can qualify for an average of six discounts on their auto policy when they switched to Progressive. Discounts for just starting a quote online or owning multiple vehicles. Get your quote online at progressive.com and see how much you could be saving discounts not available in all states and situations.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:08] So this episode is also sponsored in part by HostGator.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:34:12] Remember blogging, prolific bestselling author and business guru, Seth Godin was on the show recently and he makes time to blog every day. While he might use Twitter and Facebook to alert his audience to these daily posts, he doesn't build them in someone else's backyard. He owns his own website where he has complete control over what he decides to share. As a result, his grateful readers are spared the intrusion of someone else's algorithms and advertisements cluttering up the place and having their data for nefarious reasons. Seth may be savvy to spinning his own strands on the worldwide web, but you don't have to be if you want the independence and empowerment that comes with owning your own website. Thanks to HostGator, one of the Internet's oldest and well-known web hosting companies. Your online parlor can be open for visitors in minutes, write a blog, display your art portfolio, or sell stuff. It's your website. Do what you want. HostGator's 99.9 percent uptime guarantee and around-the-clock support ensures your website is available to the eyes of the world every day and night of the year. You've got a tight budget. No worries. As long as you're a new user, you get to try any HostGator package for up to 62 percent off the normal price, just for hearing the sound of my voice. And if you're not completely satisfied with everything HostGator has to offer, you've got 45 days to cancel for a refund of every last penny. Check out hostgator.com/jordan right now to sign up. That's hostgator.com/jordan.
[00:35:33] Thanks for listening in supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals and don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. That link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Now for the conclusion of our episode with Scott Young.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:55] Doing a year without English, as tedious as it might sound, sounds like there had to be so much temptation to break this, not just when you're tired, not just when you're cranky, and not just when you're frustrated, but let's say you meet new people while you're out or you just can't communicate something or you meet somebody from another country, so your third language is English and it's really tough when you're two guys or whatever, cruising out internationally and you meet some women who don't speak the target language, but they speak English like what do you do?
Scott Young: [00:36:23] Yeah, yeah, no, the very first, so like within 10 minutes of landing off the plane in Spain, it's almost as if like the universe was testing us, like, are you really committed to doing this for a year? Because within 10 minutes we get to the train station and there were two girls from England who had attracted British girls and they're asking us questions about how to get to where they want to go in English. Now we have been doing a little bit of our Pimsleur lessons, so we know a little bit of Spanish, we don't know zero Spanish and we try to respond to them in Spanish and they, of course, don't know any Spanish at all. So, they reiterate their requests in English and we try again in Spanish and then they get kind of frustrated and huff off. But for us that was sort of like, okay, this is our testing moment right here of like, this is actually where you're going to want to break and use English. Can we actually stick with it? Yeah, we did and in Spain was probably the purest one where we had the fewest breaks of that to a no-English rule. And definitely, it resulted in the purest immersion and the furthest progress that we were able to get.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:23] What are some mistakes, some of the biggest mistakes people make when learning? And I don't even mean languages, I just mean in general people who are studying, let's say classroom material. What are the biggest mistakes people make? Because I mean the classic book smart versus practical is a cliché. People learn all kinds of things in a classroom that they can't apply. And I think I would go so far as to say the vast majority, possibly 90 percent of things I've ever learned in a classroom, maybe even higher things I've ever learned in a classroom, I cannot use at all.
Scott Young: [00:38:01] Yeah, so this is actually a really well-studied problem within the field of educational psychology and it's known as a problem of transfer. Transfer basically means when you learn something in one context, say in a classroom and then you want to apply it to another context, let's say in real life. And there are studies going back, well almost a century that show that people are much worse at this than you would expect. One of the great studies that I remember reading was that economics majors in this study did not do better on questions of economic reasoning than non-economics majors, which makes you really question like, what's the point of getting an economics degree if you don't do better on questions of economic reasoning? And this seems like an isolated example, but the literature is just robust with situations where you teach someone how to do something and then you just change the problem slightly or you ask them in a context where they don't expect it and they're not able to transfer the knowledge. This has become such a robust problem and there's been all this sort of paper and ink spilled about how we should fix in the school system. As a learner, there's an easy way to fix it and the easy way to fix it is to learn what you actually want to get good at. Start by asking yourself, before you learn anything, “Where do I want to use this? What's the situation?” And just by asking yourself those questions, you're going to start guiding your project, guiding your learning efforts toward using it in situations that resemble that. If you're talking about language learning, for instance, you could look at Duolingo and say, well actually tapping with my thumb on some letters on the screen to match up the words is not that similar to speaking the language. Let's make sure that at least a little bit of the time I'm practicing having some conversations maybe with a tutor or a friend or a spouse or a partner. And similarly, if you want to learn something like computer programming, the question is not to ask yourself, “Okay, well which class should I take?” But what do you want to make? Because if you ask yourself what do you want to make, you're automatically going to be kind of pushed into the stream of which sort of tools should I learn. Where should I get started? And you'll make sure that you learn it in the right places. This isn't to say that transfer is impossible, but definitely, anyone who's approaching any new learning project has to be wary that if they learn it in some completely removed context, it may not apply to where they actually care about.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:13] This is a common experience for me as well. I think a lot of folks who've learned something in a classroom and can apply it are kind of nodding their head right now. One of the ideas that you mentioned makes perfect sense. You're not quite, but almost working backward from what the result is that you want. If you want to build your own house, you've got to do a lot of things and learn a lot of skills. The way to do this though is not necessary to become an architect. It's to learn all a lot about a lot of different things and almost become, you'd rather be a general contractor than an architect. Now you need, of course, codes and laws and all these types of things. Let's say you're building a shed, so it's a little simpler. You don't need to become an expert at drafting the plans. You really need to know a little about a lot in fact and work differently at those skillsets. There's an example that doesn't quite hit the hit this on the nose but really does remind me of college in a way. When I was back in undergrad, and I think I've told this shit on the show before, back in undergrad, a friend of mine who is a, like my roommate’s buddy walked into my room and I was on the computer and he goes, “Oh hey man, what's going on? Wait, what kind of computer is that?? Because the side was open and I had PCM, CIA, whatever those things, those PCI cards sticking out or something like that. And I was like, “Oh, I just built this.” And he goes, “What do you mean you built it?” And I'm like, “Well, I got the motherboard, I mounted the processor, I put these sound card whatever it was at the time in there, mounted the hard drive.” And he's like, “How did you learn how to do that?” And I went, “I mean, I just figured it out. It's really not that hard.” And this is sort of the worldwide web was around, but it wasn't really as popular as it is now. There wasn't YouTube or anything to learn this. You just had to sort of piece it together or ask people. And I said it's really not that hard. I guarantee you; you could do this. And he goes, “I'm a computer science major and I don't know how to do this.” And I said, “Well, you can do this. I promise you this is something that I could teach you.” And he ended up switching, funnily enough, to French because he was so discouraged that somebody who wasn't even taking his field of study could figure this out. And he thought he could never do it and that's kind of a shame because frankly, I bet you if you took a day-long computer building class, you would be ahead of where I was in terms of building machines. And this is a guy who spent three years in a program, couldn't do it and, and decided that this wasn't for him, but I wanted to make a computer. I don't know anything about coding network architecture and all the things that he had been studying. But if you wanted to at the end of your four years know how to build and maintain a computer, he would have been screwed. And I would've been fine.
Scott Young: [00:42:55] And I think you're absolutely right, a lot of learning and particularly this kind of ultralearning, self-directed learning, that we're talking about is a kind of reverse engineering process that it's figuring out what do I want to be able to do? What do I want to know? What do I want to be good at? And then what do I do to get there? And it's a little bit different from how we typically think, which is sort of a forward building process of like, well I need to like stack up these classes or stack up these books and get, just get through them. And I think if you have the reverse-engineering approach, there's a lot of subjects like what you were saying, you don't need to know any computer science to build your own computer. It's like you're going to learn a lot of math in computer science, that's not going to be relevant at all. Maybe you need to know a little bit about what computer components mean, but you don't need to know that much. Not that everyone who's wanting to learn computer science necessarily wants to build a computer, but you have things that you want to learn. If you actually think about what those things are and what contexts you want to use them and you can make sure whatever other things that you're doing on the side, you spend at least some of your time in that kind of starting point. And that way you won't get into this kind of situation where you spend a lot of time learning something, but like your friend who can't symbol the computer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:03] So whenever we want to learn something new, what's our move here? Ask ourselves how we're going to apply it. Once we've done that, then how do you break this down? Is there a step by step with figuring out what skill we're going to do and how we're going to break that skill down? I want people after they listen to this, to be able to go, “Okay, I want to learn this. So, here's what I'm going to do,” more or less step-by-step.
Scott Young: [00:44:25] One of the first things that you can do, and it sounds again really trivial once you say it, but how many people actually do this? But you're going to spend, let's say you're going to spend about a month learning something. This a serious project, it's not just doing something that's going to take you an hour. Why not spend like an hour or two on the Internet just googling how do other people learn this? If you Google how to learn programming, how to learn another language, how to learn whatever skill you want to learn, there are going to be just reams of videos, and tutorials, and websites and people who have learned it before, forums, other things like this. And it's surprising to me how seldom people will do this or if they want to learn a skill, they'll just pick whatever resource they first find. And so, they want to learn programming. They just go and they just pick up, this book looks good and they pick that book and then they go through the book and they find out that this book isn't very good and then they give up. Doing that sort of what I call Metalearning Research of just learning how to learn the subject in the first part and it starts usually with Google searches is going to be your foundation. There's other things that you can do if you're, if we're talking about a longer project or if it's something that's harder to learn, like let's say you're trying to get a promotion or you're trying to transfer into a new career and so it's a more serious learning project. Then another good technique is called the Expert Interview Method where you just find someone who is either accomplished the goal you want to accomplish or they have learned the thing you want to learn and you just ask them how would you approach this. And very often you'll get a lot of advice that will work well for a starting point. I'm sure. If someone was asking you right now, what would you recommend for learning German? You'd have a lot of advice to give them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:55] Yeah, I would honestly. But some of it would be…I mean my language advice is always immersion as much as possible because people go—
Scott Young: [00:46:03] But that’s good advice.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:04] It is good advice, but people go, “Oh, but you're learning it day by day.” I go, “Yeah, but how many people...” I'm not just trying to pat myself on the back here, I've, I've referred hundreds of people to language teachers and I know when they sign up and I know how long they stick with it because I get the little points or whatever from the language school and it's a pretty much like 99.9 percent failure/quit after a couple of weeks. It's not super high engagement and I've been doing it for seven years, several times a week. Most people aren't going to do that. And in fact, most people, including myself, are not going to do that with anything. Immersion is really the best way to learn that type of skill, especially when it comes to a language. But that works for everything. I mean you ever go like whitewater rafting for a week and at the end you're like, I am good on the water, I'm a good swimmer, I'm good on the water, I know all these different things about the raft. I'm feeling strong. I've got, I'm going to camp and then like you go again four or five, six months, a year later and you don't know shit. You're agreeing again, you’re huffing and puffing in five minutes, not just out of shape, but you don't know where anything goes. Everything's getting wet. Immersion works best for everything. Now short of that being very consistent and having even half an hour a day to practice a skill will go a long way doing this sort of brick-by-brick method. But even then, I feel like I need immersion to activate things.
Scott Young: [00:47:33] Yeah. You know what, you said something very interesting there because you said that a lot of people, you know, they go and they want to learn. Let's say they want to learn another language from your language course. They want to learn Mandarin, let's say. And then they go and they do a few lessons. They're like, “Oh, this is hard,” and they give up. And I think this happens a lot and I think one of the reasons that this happens as well is because there's no short-term goals there. The goal is to learn Spanish and there are no milestones. There's no nothing to save or nothing to enjoy and said you have just six months of grinding and you can't really do much to show for it. And so, one of the things again is this sort of Direct Approach that I'm advocating is you start with sort of simple concrete things that you can do something and be like, “Oh wow, that was actually fun. I can do that. I'm good at that.” That it didn't take you 10 years to reach. Now maybe that's not your end goal. You want to be able to do more than that, but it starts that positive feedback loop. It starts making you feel, “Oh this is actually kind of fun. I had a 10-minute conversation with someone. That's kind of cool. Like I'd like to keep doing that.” And I think, not only do you need patience and persistence, but you need to chunk it down into goals that will actually give you some positive encouragement early on.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:41] I agree. Yeah, I think you're right. Doing something, even if you can't do immersion, there's something to be said for taking three, six months of Chinese, three times a week and then going to China for four days or Hong Kong and using it and find it. I mean it's different Chinese, but, and then using it and going, wow, this is really, I can't, or even going to a Chinese restaurant and trying to order and just having the confidence boost of that and having the waitstaff come out of the kitchen and go, “I can't believe you just ordered in Chinese.” This is amazing. Let me tell you something funny, uh, I’m in California so everyone around me is Asian. I'm married to an Asian, so my family is Asian. I'm like the one, I often look around and I'm the only white guy and I just didn't notice for a while. I often will speak Chinese, not necessarily to my friends, but to waitstaff and stuff. Because my friends love having me order and my family does it because it's funny. My Asian buddy whose parents don't speak Chinese or speak a little Chinese, but whose grandparents, of course, be fluent Chinese. He's like, “You know, it really sucks. I could spend 20 years learning Chinese and nobody would be impressed by my skills. But you, you come in here, you order a freaking sweet and sour chicken and everyone's running out of the kitchen to come to see the white guy speaks Mandarin.” And it's true if you're Asian, even if you're like Burmese, if you speak Mandarin, nobody cares to get no props. None.
Scott Young: [00:50:08] But I think there's a lot more to learning skills, but even learning languages specifically than even just being impressive or like, “Oh wow, that's, that's great.” I think you get to interact with people that like you have conversations with people that you would never have met otherwise. I mean we were talking before the show about like how China in particular because it's got a sort of separate Internet system that it's a completely different world, but if you only interact with like the few people that speak English fluently, you just don't see most of it. And so, I think learning languages definitely a gateway to other worlds, other cultures and seeing more things and learning skills generally I think it just opens your mind up to things you didn't even know existed or things that people do or communities or groups. And the art of learning I think is really an art of connecting with other people and other things.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:02] Oh, of course. I agree. And I didn't mean to imply that going to restaurants and impressing people was why I learned Mandarin. What I'm saying is if you take Mandarin for a short period of time and you're feeling like you're not getting anywhere, you do need those little confidence boosts and some great ways to do that are interacting with the local people that you can find. If you can't get it, it's a lot easier to go to a Chinese restaurant that's family owned than it is to get to China for a week. You can go there; you can converse with the waitstaff. I mean honestly, one thing I wish I'd thought of before was there are tons of bars that where the bartender speaks fluent Chinese, especially in Chinatown. What I should've been doing that whole time is going there for a beer or two or three times a week or to read and chatting with the staff there in Chinese. That would have been just as good as any other conversation practice and they have to talk to you there. They're paid to be there and talk to you. You're not bothering somebody who's trying to shop or get on with their life. They are serving you food and drinks. They're going to happily chat with you in that language and correct you and things like that if you ask them to. So that's what I mean, there's, there are chances to get immersion because I'm just imagining now people going, “Oh it's really easy. If you could just fly to China.” That's not what you have to do to get immersion. There's, there are a lot of ways to immerse yourself in skills, even languages without going to the target country. What's up, what's up with people having such a bad attitude towards certain subjects. Did you do any research on this? Because for years I said I'm terrible at math, I'm bad at math and what I tell people now is, which is more accurate, I'm scared of math because I've had bad experiences, but I was in honors math all through high school. I'm not bad at math. I just hate it because I hated that learning experience.
Scott Young: [00:52:49] You know what, it's funny, I think again, even just we're talking about learning, I'm sure there was some people who when we started the podcast just, “Uh, learning.” For some people they have these memories of painful experiences in school and often the experience comes down to, well in your case you were doing well in math, but in some cases, it's being ranked unfairly against the other students. You were near the bottom of the class and so you feel like you're bad at this, even though you know there's nothing wrong with your brain. There's no reason you can't learn it. Maybe there's someone who's learning it a bit faster than you, but why does that matter. And so, I have this story, I have this friend and she got her masters in, I think, civil engineering and she's doing like all complicated projects with like hydroelectric dams, and I was having a conversation, with her once about computer programming of all things. And she said, “Oh yeah, I could never do computer programming. I took the intro computer science class and I was like, ‘Oh no, I can't do this.’ “And I was thinking to myself, I was like, there is no way the intro computer science class is anywhere remotely as hard as like master's level civil engineering, projects that involve calculus and fluid dynamics and all these kinds of things. But what probably happened is that in that class there was one nerdy kid who had been learning computer programming on his own since he was about 10 and then he shows up to the class, whizzes through it, she looks at what he's doing and says, “Oh, well I can't do this like that. I'm not getting it. I must be that I'm not good at this subject.” I think it's very interesting how much our education system really does impose this kind of ranking. For some people, if you weren't in the top of the class, you feel like garbage. You don't feel like you want to learn that or you don't feel like you're any good at it. And it's funny how arbitrary that is. Like, you know, if you go back to 300 years from when most people were illiterate, like, I mean, just being able to read me, you were very smart 300 years ago. So, the idea that you can't learn something just because you were a little slower than someone else just seems manifestly wrong to me. But it really holds a lot of people back and it has this emotional influence on how they learn things.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:55] I agree. I couldn't agree more. In fact, I read for my Chinese class, some of the stories that I read are not quite, well I guess fairytales kind of, but they're ancient Chinese parable, I don’t know, it's kind of hard to split fairytale from historical fiction from partially true kind of deals with these Chinese books that are sort of classics. And you see that the people who controlled the government, they all came from rich families and all they did was study with a tutor and they learn things like Confucian thought and reading and writing, and that was really it in a lot of ways. Some people specialized in things like nature or magic spells and things like that, that they called medicine back then. But most of what it was, was like, “Holy cow. Oh my gosh, you can. Or is, it'll say something like the master of the house could read as could his eldest son, but nobody else could. So, they ran to him to have something read that the emperor sent.” And it's like, yeah, imagine if only the people who control the government could read. I mean that was what you were dealing with back then. There are similar skills now, of course, knowledge is more democratized, but you have to remember that just because you're sitting next to somebody who's really good at something or everyone around you looks like they're really good at something, doesn't actually mean that you're bad. It is relative. And I had this exact problem when I got to college, I would be sitting next to, I would have such a hard time with the math I was doing. And I'd asked the kid next to me who wasn't even taking notes, who looked like a skater who was like stoned the time and he could do the problems in his head. And I thought, “Oh, I am, I'm screwed.” And then after a couple of years later, I saw that same kid and I was like, “Hey man, what's going on?” And he's like, “Yeah, not much, I'm just working on studying this.” And I was like, “What do you study?” I can't even remember what it was, but it was something that was such an advanced level of engineering that when I thought back to it, I went, “Oh, you are actually like a mathematic sort of linear thinking genius.” And the fact that I compared me trying to struggle through calculus or whatever it was with you made no sense. And as it turned out, he was actually in high school when he was in that class. That's why he looked like a stone skater because he was, he was like, yeah, 15 and his mom was driving him to campus and I was sitting there comparing myself to him and then I would go off to do some subject that he probably could never do because I was actually in college. So, it was like really, you have to be careful because our brains love to talk us out of our ability to do something when most of us are naturally inclined to learn pretty much any skill that's available. Would you agree with that?
Scott Young: [00:57:28] Yeah, I, I absolutely agree. No, I think that the ability to learn I think does vary from person to person. I think there's no real arguing that some people seem to be smarter than other people or being sure learned some skills faster than others, but at the same time, I think…I have this story that I like. If we were to imagine two students, we put one of them in a Portuguese class and we put one of them in a Russian class and then we'd give them both a Russian test. One of the kids is going to do well and the other one's going to do abysmally. We all naturally accept that different approaches to things. Basically, which class you choose is going to have a different impact on how you learn. Now the problem is that we go through these education systems that are these extreme conformist bottlenecks where everyone does things in exactly the same way and so the only variation left really is differences in how smart people are. Like there's not that much variety in how you can go through a lot of classes. I mean there are still differences in how you can study and you can study more effectively, but when we're talking about learning real skills in life, the variety of how you can approach it and the different ways that you can take things is so broad that for some of us, we don't even realize we're taking the Portuguese class for the Russian test and we're blaming it on our intelligence, but we're just not in the right class.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:40] Learning things throughout my life, especially as an adult has made me, I would say even more so as an adult has made me very, very happy. Obviously, it's increased my income, it's increased my ability to get by and do great business. But I know that we derive such satisfaction and meaning from the things that we are good at and I find now joy in the process of learning that I never had before. Can you speak to that a little bit? Because I know that over years, I've accidentally gotten good at a lot of things by applying the proper or a near proper approach. And of course, when I didn't have the right methods like I speak English the whole time because I'm in Serbia and everyone's English is amazing. I had less of a result. So, this isn't just about professional success, I think it's about getting joy out of life and I think that's important. And I want you to speak to that and I also want you to tell us why ultralearning or learning, in general, is starting to become an essential skill because global changes are really changing the way that we have to learn and what we have to do to be successful period.
Scott Young: [00:59:44] I'm going to answer those questions in reverse order. Let's start with professional success and then let's talk about personal success. So, one of the main reasons that I wrote this book Ultralearning was because I recognize that what is going on right now is that school is, it's great. You can get degrees like we were talking about earlier; it can rubber stamp you from some professions, but the costs are accelerating dramatically. It's getting increasingly unaffordable. And at the same time, the difference between the people who have world-class skills that are top performers and the people who are mediocre or not able to do complex things is widening. So, one of the pieces of research that was very interesting for me when I was putting together this book was the MIT economist David Autor has done work on what is known as skilled polarization, which basically is that we all hear about how income inequality is going up, that the rich are getting richer. But what is missing from that picture is that it's actually not just that income inequality is going up across the board, but that there are two effects that at the top end of the spectrum, it's getting stretched out. You get income inequality, but at the bottom end is getting compressed. And what that would make you think is that if you imagine there being some kind of distribution of income and you just take the middle and you just sort of squeeze it out into the top end to the bottom, that's kind of what's been happening for the last few decades in the United States especially. And so what this means is that what our assumptions are, what our culture has baked in about what you need to do to succeed in life is based on this outdated notion that you work hard, you get a job, you get your seniority, you get your paycheck and you will have a comfortable middle-class life and that's what's disappearing.
Scott Young: [01:01:22] And instead we're in this situation where either you learn skills constantly, you go into these sorts of high-skilled professions where you always have to be upgrading, you always have to be adapting to change and learning new things. Or you fall out into this lower skilled and which is things like customer service representatives, janitors, clerks, people who require social skills and they have to interact with people. It's not going to be automated and replaced by a machine, but at the same time, it's also not going to be a career that necessarily pays very well or it gives you that much financial security for your future. So Ultralearning for me was really seeing what is the pieces missing because if tuition and education is becoming increasingly out of touch with reality, not only in cost, but also in being able to use real-world skills and then also the situation that jobs and work are getting more complicated, especially if you want the kind of work to succeed, then this is the situation that we're in. You have to be able to teach yourself difficult skills. You have to be able to learn quickly. You have to be able to adapt and to grow and change in your career. So that's sort of the kind of hard case for why to do something like this. But I think the Autor case is just kind of what you mentioned, that when you learn new things, the world opens up to you. If you learn a new language, all of a sudden there is an entire culture that was essentially invisible to you that now you can interact with. And this isn't just true of language. This is true of skills as well. As soon as you understand something about the world, you start to see things that you previously couldn't see before, and so I feel like really the act of learning is about expanding these horizons and the more you expand them, the sort of richer and fuller your world is and so to engage in this isn't just to make more money and just have more success. Even the whole, it's often becoming a requirement now to have this kind of learning ability, but at the same time, it's an opportunity to see more of the world and expand the things that make you happy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:17] Scott, thank you so much. I really appreciate your skills, expertise, and of course your time. I really, really appreciate it and the audience appreciates it as well.
Scott Young: [01:03:25] Oh, thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:03:27] Great big thank you to Scott Young. The book is called Ultralearning. We'll link to that in the show notes of course. We're teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits, speaking of learning new skills, and that's over at Six-Minute Networking. That's our free course over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Procrastination leads to stagnation when it comes to your personal and business relationships. You cannot make up for the lost time when it comes to relationships and networking and the number one mistake, I see people make is postponing this and not digging the well before they get thirsty. Once you need relationships, you are too late. These drills take a few minutes per day. Hence the name Six-Minute Networking. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. It's been absolutely crucial in my business and my personal life. It's all for you for free at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show actually subscribed to the course in the newsletter, so come join us. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and/or follow me on social media. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.
[01:04:26] This show is produced in association with PodcastOne and this episode was co-produced by Jason DeFillippo and Jen Harbinger, show notes and worksheets by Bob Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I'm your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yes, I'm a lawyer, but I'm not your lawyer. So do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful, which should be in every episode, so please share the show with those you love. And even those you don't. In the meantime, do your best to apply what
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.