It’s amazing to live in an age where all knowledge is at our fingerprints! You don’t have to transcribe ancient texts at candlelight in a monastery or do questionable menial tasks for a guru anymore to gain access to some knowledge. I had a two-hour round trip commute to the university – I quit midway when I figured out I could learn more than what a whole day in higher education had to offer by simply reading a business book in the same time.
That said though, self-study has its fair share of challenges. Some of the reasons we’re not all already Internet-fed renaissance man geniuses are as follows:
It can get lonely…
Reading books, listening to podcasts, taking online courses – neither of these is a particularly social endeavour. Other than the most extreme introvert, most of us can benefit a lot from the synergy of group learning.
…As well as hard to demonstrate
While degrees are dime a dozen these days, they still prove that some level of effort was put into their achievement and that something similar can be expected in an employment situation. “Trust me, here’s a list of books that I’ve read” is not an easy sell (it did work for a few people, however).
It lacks guidance
For a beginner, staring any complex field of study in the eyes for the first time is a very scary experience. Where do you begin? What’s good material and what is rubbish? What a good level to aim towards? These are often questions that are hard to answer without the aid of someone already knowledgeable in the field.
The speed of learning is unpredictable
Take any course, and you have a very clear finish date. You’re going to go and show up x days of the week for y hours, and you’re going to go through z material – because you “have” to. I’ve been consciously focusing on my own productivity, routines, procedures, goal-setting, and motivation for 2 years now, and still, it feels like the stars must align just the right way sometimes for things to be finished in their planned time.
It’s too easy to abandon
There’s a lot of inertia when embarking on getting a degree or a specialization: once you’re on that raft, you’re probably going to float down all the way, detours or not. Quitting university is hell for a number of reasons. Quitting self-study often costs nothing and involves just you. Wake up, delete a folder, boot a game or Facebook and you’re out. From 21 to 23, I’ve picked up and dropped at least five different lines of study.
Now that these flaws are spelled out, we can probably come up with a number of solutions for each individual problem. But how about fixing all of them in one go?
The Study of Direct Action
My friend Shane Radliff had an ambitious goal, and self-study just didn’t seem to cut it. He was aiming to create a comprehensive database of direct action – alternatives to politics, ways to create personal freedom without asking for permission, or being dependent on the choices of large groups of people.
The problem? There are at least 25 different approaches, and many of them are not particularly well-documented. He couldn’t just sign up for the course, or buy the encyclopedia of actionable freedom.
Collecting all of this information and studying it on his own would’ve put Shane on a long and unpredictable timeline. It would’ve been a lonely endeavour, hard to demonstrate (if that was ever needed), it lacked guidance, and it would’ve taken a great deal of willpower over a long time period – jeopardizing the project’s completion.
In short, it would’ve had all of the five drawbacks of self-study. So how did Shane proceed?
The Interview Learning System
Instead of trying to figure out everything on his own, Shane chose to contact experts and ask them for an interview on their specific direct action strategy. In his place, I would probably have been concerned that nobody would answer – but it turns out that he had a response rate of 85%! (more on that in the accompanying podcast episode above the article)
It seems that people like to talk about their field of expertise. 🙂 And since Shane intended to create a public resource from the get go, he recorded and edited these interviews and released them weekly or bi-weekly on his podcast feed (you can find the whole series on the Liberty Under Attack website).
I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you – this was quite a monumental task. From January 3rd to July 14th, 2016, a significant portion of Shane’s time (and those of his co hosts) was invested in releasing 27 episodes of the Direct Action Series. We were in a mastermind together at the time, and every week, for months on end, the goal he would set at the end of our talks would invariably revolve around recording or editing an episode of his series.
My own experience is that it takes more than five hours to produce one hour of an interview, including research, scheduling, the interview itself, editing and releasing the content. At 44+ hours of length, we’re looking at a minimum of 220 hours of brain-intensive active work – very different from sitting in a lecture or just reading books.
But the results are quite monumental too. Imagine reaching out and having an intelligent conversation with many of the people you most admire – well, Shane did that on a regular basis for months on end. And in my opinion, he reached out from a great position: not as a fan, but someone equal in his pursuits to that of his guests, creating great material that people can learn from in addition to making the world more aligned with his needs.
Not to mention that he gained in-depth knowledge about personal strategies for freedom, practiced the skill of confidently reaching out to and interviewing busy people in general, and went on to adopt many of the strategies he learned in his personal life.
As a shorthand, I’ve decided to call this the Interview Learning System. I’m very excited by its potential to be used as a general approach – I think that there’s no reason why similar results couldn’t be accomplished in any field. So if you can handle the work, and like interacting with cool people, here’s what to do.
ILS Action Plan
- Choose a field of study, something that excites and engages you. You probably already know this.
- Decide on your format. If you’ve been thinking of launching a podcast, writing a blog, authoring a book, creating a video channel etc. this structure has many benefits for a new starter.
- Create an initial list of experts you’d like to talk to. Don’t worry about it quantity though – you will get recommendations from guests and your audience. The list can even become too abundant, as Shane has experienced it.
- Create an honest pitch. What will your content be about, what are you trying to accomplish, what is the format – in short, what can someone working with you expect? Feel free to be imperfect.
- Reach out and start scheduling interviews! Referrals and recommendations will be useful here, but even cold emailing can be very effective. Very few people turn down opportunities to be interviewed. (I recommend doing this before even touching steps 6 and 7. Start when you have an appointment already set – that should help you focus on the essentials and not get lost in technical and research details)
- Prepare the equipment that you need and a place where you can share your work. There’s no need to be fancy with this part. It can be intimidating to start using editing software, or setting up a blog but if you maintain a minimalist mindset of “What’s the least that does the job?” you’ll find that you can get in action in an afternoon. (My minimal podcast setup would involve a mailing list, a shortened link to the mailing list’s sign-up URL, and Google Drive for hosting the files)
- Research the author and write your interview questions as the appointment approaches. Feel free to be imperfect.
- Hold the interview. This can be over Skype with a mic or an email exchange or a walk in the park with a notepad. Ask for recommendations and referrals to other interesting people in the field.
- Edit and publish. If you are working with audio or video and this intimidates/bores you, skip the step entirely. Polish is not key to the ILS. Feel free to be imperfect.
- Repeat 7 to 9, and use new leads to keep lining up interviews until you are satisfied with what you’ve accomplished in this project.