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December 26th, 2020
In order to catch a Tuna worth $10,000 you have to dig up a worm. But the worm is not for the tuna, it’s to catch a small fish. And if you’re hungry it can be tempting to eat that small fish, but within a day we’re back to square one digging for more worms, and the goal isn’t to dig for worms but to cash in on a $10,000 Tuna.
In order to get that Tuan a man who knows how to fish and feed himself has to fish and endure hunger a little longer. That small fish takes the place of the worm on the hook, and it gets cast out to catch a larger fish. And then perhaps that larger fish is large enough to eat some and work as bait for an even larger fish.
Eventually, we catch more than we can eat, we sell the extra, and buy a boat. We catch even more and with consistency, soon we’re hunting tuna.
This sort of gradual ratchet applies in many areas that we experience: take learning, the beginning is always the most difficult, like catching that small fish and forgoing a meal in order to catch a larger fish. The first wander in a completely new field is usually confusing, frustrating and anything but satisfying, but stick with it, and things begin to click - eventually we reel in our first little accomplishment in a new field.
When engaging with a new field it can be immensely helpful to try and design learning goals to serve multiple purposes, like the larger fish that is big enough to both serve as a meal and as bait for a larger fish.
Take for instance someone who is just starting to learn how to code. Most of the online courses and tutorials teach something so basic and cookie-cutter that it can’t really be used for anything, they are just exercises.
Unfortunately, it does require quite a range of knowledge to go from a blank text editor to something as simple as a personal blog. This is why platforms like Wordpress and Wix are so popular. They allow people to skip the painful learning process so they can get straight to what they want, but someone who runs a Wordpress or Wix blog is incapable of taking the further steps of say, creating an app. But the individual who has gone through the confusing ordeal of creating a blog from scratch is far closer. In fact, the jump from a blog to an app is far shorter than going from zero to blog, and this is because knowledge compounds in the same way the return on those fish compounds. Once a basic knowledge and know-how is established, it’s a bit like the day’s catch always superseding the needs of the stomach, the extra now being sold off for cash.
Let’s say, however, that our coder’s app in mind is quite complex that involves many new aspects that our coder isn’t familiar with. Going for it can be a bit like biting off more than a person can chew and cramp up the whole process. Instead, this idea of the gradual lure is best used. We ask: what distinct piece of this larger project can be broken off to learn and as a smaller distinct project that can perhaps serve a different purpose?
For example, let’s say our coder’s app will have to be able to take payments in addition to a lot of other complexity. Let’s say our coder also has a good friend who is an artist and needs an online store. Suddenly, it’s possible to spot a virtuous combination. Our coder can strike a deal with the artist friend: I’ll build you an online store for a small cut of the profits. This sort of set up works well for both: the artist isn’t fronting cash that may not be recouped if the store doesn’t generate cash and the coder needs to learn how to handle online payments - even if the artist doesn’t bring in any cash, the coder is still ahead, having ticked off an important checkbox of the larger app they have on the hunt’s horizon.
This is an aspect of learning that isn’t addressed enough: mindfully chuckling large endeavours to create a collection of productive accomplishments that combinatorially create the conditions for that large endeavour to come to fruition.
Though each step in this process has the potential to create something tangible and useful, the most vital part of this process is intangible: it creates emotional stepping stones that lead to larger accomplishment. Instead of trying to make the impossibly tough hop from knowing nothing to making something complex, we instead build the path as we go, luring our own selves forward with boosts of accomplishment, fulfillment, and a curiosity about what’s next.
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