Think about learning a new topic, whether for work, for fun, or for a changing life circumstance. There is so much you don’t know at the beginning of the learning process that it can feel overwhelming or even hopeless; like you’ll never be able to master the topic. So how do we overcome this feeling? What’s the best way to start our learning journey, on our way toward mastery? I say, “Start with a dot.”
Learning usually starts with a book, a lecture, Googling a topic, or a number of other methods to begin gaining basic information about a topic. This basic information could be things like, vocabulary or acronyms specific to the topic, names of people in the field, specific dates, places, or events relevant to the history of the topic. Think of each of these basic pieces of information as unique individual dots.
As you begin your initial discovery, the first piece of information you learn, represents your first dot. Congratulations! You now know something about your topic that you didn’t know before. Now that you have your first dot, continue the discovery process until you learn another piece of information. Congratulations again! You’ve discovered your second dot.
So now you have 2 dots. That’s good, but it’s about to get great! Here’s where you begin to catapult your learning to a new level. Take your 2 dots and determine how those 2 pieces of information are connected, in relation to the context of the topic you’re studying. Begin connecting the dots.
Once we are armed with a couple of dots, we are now able to go to people who are more knowledgeable on the topic and ask intelligent questions. Our 2 dots allow us to talk in the language of the topic with someone who can help us:
- connect the dots we already have, and
- discover new dots and make connections to those dots from the dots we already have
Here’s an example: When I was first learning to fly fish I learned that dry flies were flies that imitated bugs floating on top of the water. I then learned that files called nymphs imitated bugs that moved along the bottom of the river. With that knowledge, I was able to talk to people who had been fly fishing for many years and ask them about these 2 types of flies and how they were used.
After reading and talking about these types of files with people, I realized that I could use both fly types to represent a significant portion of an aquatic insect’s lifecycle, thus improving my chances of success on the water. If the bugs weren’t on top of the water, I could switch to fishing with a nymph, and vice versa. I now had an understanding of the importance of the roll each of these types of flies played in the overall topic of fly fishing. I had connected my 2 initial dots about fly fishing.
As I explored the connection of my initial 2 dots, my number of additional fly fishing dots (and connections) began to compound. I was rapidly on my way to increasing and applying my newly found knowledge of fly fishing.
The next time you feel overwhelmed at the beginning of a new learning process, just focus on identifying 2 dots. Once you have them, look for the connection. Then, repeat the process of collecting an additional dot and looking for the connections to the dots you already possess. You’ll be surprised how quickly your number of dots and connections will increase.