This likely won't be going to be the final version of this post.
Hyper learning is a coinage for learning through portfolio effects and feedback loops. It's about interdisciplinary thinking, varied collaboration, and collaboration according to comparative advantage.
Hyper learning is basically the thesis of my career path.
The term is inspired by what Writing in hypertext has done for my thinking, allowing me to connect, separate, and compress ideas, as well as the intensity that comes from directing interdisciplinary thinking towards your greatest strengths. It generally happens at a quicker pace than siloed learning by way of more fully integrating past, present, and future experience.
It’s very rare that someone would count as a fully siloed learner. Even working within one company, people will have varied experiences, and they will naturally learn from connecting the dots because that’s just what people do. They may work on one project and unconsciously remember a past similar project to build on. While these sorts of processes form the basis of learning more generally, this is not hyper learning, because hyper learning is a deliberate practice.
An effective hyper learner:
- Intentionally varies their research and experience so they have more dots to connect
- Receives reliable feedback/evidence about whether their ideas are working in practice
- Considers deliberate reflection and interdisciplinary synthesis a core part of their work This usually requires an exobrain support of some sort, Roam and an interconnected blog like this website work great for me
- Focuses on their strengths and fields that are adjacent
This is why I consult and take note writing seriously– I'm trying to gather varied experiences and research while synthesizing. Hyper learning creates knowledge capital, where anything you discover can be used in the future to a degree only limited by imagination. This influenced a key decision point in my life, see Why I chose to consult rather than pursue a PhD.
Three of my clients use some variation of a mood journal within their apps. Three use data visualization as a motivator. I've worked on five different onboarding experiences, and retention for four products. How could I possibly view any of my thinking about my clients or research as siloed? I Follow curiosity unconditionally, reading papers, playing video games, and trying products. Over the course of my experience, I've noticed that Game designers and behavioral scientists are asking many of the same questions as product leaders and CEOs.
I've seen similar problems repeated time and time again, like users dropping off during onboarding because Adoption requires a baseline of user involvement in order to overcome inertia and low retention because the company did not Intentionally design for failure states or Difficulty Matching. It was only because I saw those same principles repeated in different situations that I was able to recognize that they were principles worth paying attention to. Because of hyper learning, I am able to recognize problems that I've already solved, consult my past experience, compare the details of those situations to my present situation, and generate better ideas.
On the other end of the spectrum, a siloed learner would view all of those projects as separate from each other and wouldn't put deliberate effort into understanding how they might be related. They could develop strong domain expertise, but may struggle to pick up principles that can be applied to multiple projects. I remember in college meeting three or four different people who double majored in psychology and economics and never had a moment where they were like, "oh wait, behavioral economics!" They viewed their majors as distinct from each other and did not make any deliberate attempts to make interdisciplinary connections.
A Career Path Designed for Hyper Learning
How I came to give myself varied experiences within the general constraints of my strengths to maximize my learning and impact
In college, I launched my first startup, Aloha. It took a year of most of my time and thousands of dollars to realize that it wasn't where I would make my impact (or money). I was working on all aspects of the business, and much of my time was spent in roles that I wasn't capable of filling.
About a month and a half before I decided to pull the plug on Aloha, I met Whitney Robinson at a design conference. She told me, "…Around age 30, I realized that execution was not my greatest skill, so I decided not to focus on that."
Some people guffawed when I told them this story. They hold the belief that everybody has to be able to execute in order to be successful. But isn't execution just a combination of many skills? What if high quality execution came from collaborations between people who mainly focus their energy on where they shine? Why does it all need to happen in one person?
I took a step back to figure out what my comparative advantages were.
My strengths lie in interdisciplinary thinking, research, creative application of behavioral science to product decisions, vision, and iterating on ideas over time. I'm an excellent communicator, ideator, and thought partner.
What are the areas where you are especially strong?
Soon after, I recognized that I had spent a year of my energy on a project that failed to make the impact that I hoped for. I extended most of my effort towards tasks that other could do much better and more efficiently than I could. I don't do so well with uncreative tasks and marketing. Why did they take up most of my time?
Could I maximize my impact by focusing my time as exclusively as possible on my strengths? What if I collaborated with people who focused on complimentary strengths? Hyper learning can come from combining the experiences of people who look at the world in different ways.
Who could you collaborate with who's especially strong in complimentary strengths?
Being a hyper learner, I realized that my understanding of the world would increase at the fastest rate if I could work on a variety of projects simultaneously and sequentially. Thought has leverage and can apply broadly, so why should I stick to working on one product at a time? Wouldn't I become better at my strengths faster if I could learn from a portfolio of projects?
I intentionally became a consultant because I believed it to be the best incubator for my impact and intellectual growth. This was a decision to direct hyper learning towards my strengths.
Reflection is key to the process of hyper learning. I deliberately transform my experiences into principles that can be applied beyond my present experience. When I solve a problem for one client, I attempt to conceptualize a more abstract form of the problem and solution, making the principle or framework applicable to more situations. As I've been phrasing it, I Learn by going up and down the ladder of abstraction.
Abstractions are the core building block of a hyper learner to integrate varied experience. By allowing my knowledge, ideas, and learnings to cross-pollinate across projects, my output grows stronger rapidly. I can only do this if I can separate the content of my ideas from the questions. Consulting allows me to make bets on ideas across multiple situations to understand their boundary conditions and generalizability.
I have a career path that extends many decades ahead of me. I want to be the most capable person in the world at applying behavioral science to make great products. My dream is to eventually run an organization that is part Startup Foundry, part consultancy, and part independent research lab. We will systematically Make an impact through portfolio effects by producing our own products, improving products built by others, and educate generations of applied behavioral science and product practitioners. Through individual and collaborative hyper learning, we will massively improve the likelihood that any of the ideas we implement are successful.