I don’t remember a damn thing about my chemical engineering degree. Not because it was an eternity ago, but because I was learning to learn and not building to learn.
In the world of academia, we are often conditioned to believe that we need to accumulate knowledge through textbooks, lectures, and exams before we can apply that knowledge in a practical setting. We're told to absorb every bit of information, memorize formulas, and understand complex theories before we dare step into the real world and put our skills to the test.
But what if I told you that this traditional approach might not be the most effective way to foster creativity and develop a growth mindset? What if, instead of trying to master every nuance of a subject beforehand, we embraced a different perspective – one that encourages us to build in order to learn?
The 'learn to build' mindset is all about diving headfirst into a project or endeavor and allowing the learning process to unfold organically as you go.
Learning anything is way more effective when you’re on the hook
If you want to learn fast and retain what you learn, create something real.
The idea that learning is most effective when you're "on the hook" is at the core of the 'build to learn' mindset. It's all about the power of accountability, responsibility, and the tangible results that come from applying what you learn in a real context.
Here's why being "on the hook" is a game-changer in the learning process:
Accountability Drives Progress:
When you take on a project or create something real, you inherently become accountable for its success. This sense of responsibility can be a powerful motivator. You're no longer just a passive consumer of knowledge; you're an active participant in your own learning journey. This accountability drives you to take action, stay focused, and ensure that what you're learning serves a purpose.
Real-World Application Reinforces Learning:
Learning in a real-world context provides immediate feedback. You can see the results of your actions and decisions, which reinforces your understanding of the subject matter. This practical application helps to bridge the gap between theory and practice, making the knowledge you gain more tangible and relatable.
Retention Through Experience:
Our brains are wired to remember experiences more vividly than passive information consumption. When you create something real, you're not only learning through reading or listening but through doing. This hands-on experience cements the knowledge in your memory, making it easier to recall and apply in future endeavors.
Things I learned and how I learned them
- Writing & SEO → I wanted to launch a Chemical Engineering blog
- Mobile app design & dev → I wanted to build a travel app
- Web & marketing design → I needed to build a website for my dating app startup
- Webflow → I had to teach no-code development
In each of these endeavors, the common thread was a 'learn by doing' philosophy. I discovered that hands-on, practical learning not only accelerated my progress but also made the journey more engaging and fulfilling. So, if you're ever faced with the prospect of learning a new skill or tackling a daunting project, remember that the best way to learn is often to take the plunge and start building.
Reframe your approach to learning
In fact, I'd forget the intention to learn altogether. Focus on building.
“What do I want to learn?” needs to become “What do I want to build?”
The learning is just a tool. Merely a part of the building process.
The shift in perspective is subtle but profound. Here's why this change can transform your learning process:
Learning Becomes a Means, Not an End:
When your primary focus is on what you want to build, learning naturally becomes a tool, a means to an end. It's no longer the end goal in itself. This perspective shift encourages you to view learning as a valuable instrument in your toolkit, one that you wield with intent to create something tangible.
Building is inherently purpose-driven. When you set out to create something – whether it's a project, a product, or an experience – your learning takes on a new dimension. It becomes guided by a clear purpose, and each piece of knowledge or skill you acquire is chosen for its direct relevance to your project. This targeted learning approach is not only efficient but also deeply meaningful.
Learning Through Application:
Learning for the sake of learning can sometimes lead to a disjointed accumulation of information. On the other hand, when your focus is on building, you learn with the intent to apply that knowledge immediately. This application-driven learning is a powerful way to ensure that what you learn is not only retained but also ingrained in your skill set.
What happens if you build something and it fails?
If the first thing you build and launch on ProductHunt doesn’t take off (it won’t), it wasn’t a failure. You learned.
One of the most significant fears that can deter people from embracing the 'build to learn' mindset is the possibility of failure. What if you invest time and effort into creating something, only for it to fall short of your expectations? What if it doesn't achieve the success you envisioned?
Truth is, it is quite literally impossible for it to be a failure. I can guarantee two things will come out of the building process:
- You will have learned a practical skill applicable to future endeavours
- You will have clarified your trajectory, self-discovered and reevaluated your goals and values
Even the wrong path leads to the right place
By reframing your approach and asking, "What do I want to build?" instead of, "What do I want to learn?" you invite purpose-driven learning, practical application, creativity, and tangible outcomes into your life. This subtle shift in perspective can make a world of difference in your journey toward personal and professional growth.