Category Archives: Scott Young

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How to Master the Science of Learning: From Tetris to Teaching

How to Master the Science of Learning: From Tetris to Teaching written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch

In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Scott Young. Through his extensive research and exploration into the science of learning, Scott Young has uncovered fascinating insights into how individuals can master the art of acquiring new skills effectively. In this episode we cover the core principles of learning and how they can be applied in various contexts, from mastering video games like Tetris in navigating paths to mastery.

Key Takeaways

Scott Young sheds light on the science of learning, emphasizing the importance of optimizing cognitive load, embracing the value of copying, leveraging teaching as a tool for deepening understanding, drawing parallels between retro gaming and the learning processes of today to access best practices, By incorporating these insights into your learning journey, you can unlock your full potential and achieve mastery in your business or any domain they choose to pursue.


Questions I ask Scott Young:

[02:11] Explain the 12 maxims of learning

[03:28] Talk a little bit about your research methodology in uncovering the science of learning?

[06:38] How does gaming intersect with the science of learning, specifically Tetris?

[09:26] Explain how copying is part of the creative process?

[12:25] What is cognitive load theory?

[14:21] How does teaching improve learning?

[19:36] Where can people connect with you and grab a copy of “Get Better at Anything” ?


More About Scott Young:

  • Connect with Scott Young on X
  • Visit his Website 


Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

Connect with John Jantsch on LinkedIn


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(01:03): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Scott Young. He’s a Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the book Ultra Learning, and he’s got a new book out called Get Better At Anything, 12 Maxims four Mastery. His work has been featured in the New York Times Pocket and Business Insider on the BBC and at TEDx among others. He doesn’t promise to have all the answers, just a place to start. And he lives in rainy, sunny Vancouver. I’m not sure which it is. Rainy, sunny Vancouver, Canada is what I was going to say there. So welcome back, Scott.

Scott (01:41): Oh, thanks so much for having me back.

John (01:43): So get better at anything. Pretty bold promise you and I were talking before I hit record and you let me know. You have two young children, so talk about a new thing to get better at. Yeah, yeah,

Scott (02:00): It’s definitely a crash course when you have your first one and then the second one realizes that actually each kid is unique, so you have to do it again over with a new one.

John (02:09): Absolutely. So 12 maxims. So there obviously are 12 ideas in here, but you’ve kind of broken them up into, I don’t know, types of learning. So you want to start there?

Scott (02:22): Well, yeah. So I mean, the idea of the book was to try to find what are the fundamental principles for getting better for improvement for skill acquisition that we’ve learned from cognitive science. And so I broke it into three parts, and I think you need all three to really get better. The first is C, which is learning from other people. And one of the things that came up repeatedly in the research is that the easier time we have learning from others, the faster we’ll make progress. And often when we get stuck, it’s because something in our environment is making it harder for us to learn from the people who are the best. The second factor is do, which is obviously practice is super important for learning, but not just every kind of practice works equally well. So again, there’s also this sort of myth that if you just do something enough, you’ll become really great at it. But the research actually shows that often we stall often we don’t make progress. And so figuring out what kind of practice matters, and then finally feedback, which is obviously important. You need to get this corrective information from the environment about how to adjust what you’re doing. And so the entire book is a deep dive into the many ways that this goes right and wrong, and how you can engineer those in your own efforts at getting better at things.

John (03:28): So talk a little bit about your research methodology. I mean, this is one of those, if you’re going to teach somebody how to get better at stuff here, you’re going to do a lot of experimenting yourself, I’m guessing you’re going to talk to a lot of people. How do you break yours down?

Scott (03:44): Well, I mean, I kind of have a weird background. So as we talked about in my previous book, ultra Learning, which when we had the interview probably about five years ago, my starting point for a lot of this interest in learning was taking on these aggressive, what I call ultra learning projects. So learning MIT’s, computer science, curriculum, learning multiple languages, portrait drawing, quantum mechanics, a bunch of skills. And that was the starting point. But I think once you learn a lot of things, you get very interested in how does it actually work? What are the mechanisms? What are the principles? And so for this book, I wanted to do a much deeper dive in the science of learning. And that’s a bit of a daunting process because it’s not just like there’s one book you can read and it’ll tell you everything. I mean, learning spans, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, it spans practical and theoretical. You’ve got people working on artificial intelligence models, and then you’ve got the embodied wisdom of teachers who have taught for decades. And so the research project was sprawling, and I read hundreds of books, probably about six, 700 papers. And so this book I try to do is to try to distill what are the broad patterns? What are the things that are not like, here’s a quirky study, but here’s a broad truth that applies to many different fields, many different ways of getting better at things.

John (05:02): This sounds like a canned question, but I think based on the research way you did it, were there any giant surprises, like you were blown away by something that you learned?

Scott (05:12): Oh, I mean, yeah, writing this book was also an attempt to me to write down the things that surprised me. So I mean, one of the things that surprised me right off the bat was John Schweller’s work that I talk about in it’s the second chapter of the book and this research, he found that through these careful experiments that you can get people to solve problems and they don’t learn how to solve the problem, which sounds like almost like a contradiction in terms how do you solve a problem without learning how you solve it? You

John (05:38): Drink a lot, drink a lot of beer, maybe, or I don’t know. No,

Scott (05:41): I mean, these are people who these find some method to solve it. But then if you ask them, well, what is the method that you’re using to solve it? They can’t articulate it, they can’t remember it. And that has big implications for applying that method to new ones. And so I think that was one of the things that really surprised me. I found Dean Simon’s work on basically creative success being very closely coupled to creative quantity or the amount that you actually produce and publish to also be interesting and full of fascinating implications that don’t get mentioned that often as well. So I mean, the book is just full of my own surprises and my own things that I thought were worth sharing.

John (06:16): I’ve never been a big video game person, frankly. I just feel like it’s not a very good use of my time, especially if you read these studies that people are playing Fortnite for nine hours a day or something like that. But the one game that I kind of got attached to was Tetris because I just felt like there was something different about it. You talk a lot about Tetris, so what do we have to learn from Tetris?

Scott (06:42): I mean, Tetris, this was always a risky gamble, putting it in a book, because there’s people like yourself, I don’t play video games. And then you open with a story about video games and it’s like, am I going to lose some people here? But I think it was a story that when I first heard it, this, I heard this from John Green, he was the YouTuber. He started talking about this, and that’s what triggered me to do all this research about Tetris that I wouldn’t have otherwise done. And the thing that was fascinating about it is that it’s kind of a microcosm everything we need to really know about how learning and improvement works. And it’s the fact that it’s in a domain that most people don’t even think about, I think makes it all the more rewarding. So the basic idea is that Tetris comes out in the early nineties.

(07:21): It’s a phenomenal hit. People are obsessed with it. They’re hallucinating falling blocks, and it’s like a cultural obsession. But if you look at the world record performance, the best people at Tetris, these are the people who are truly obsessed. They’re playing it nonstop. They’re actually not that good at it. And the reason we know they’re not that good at it is that now there’s 12 and 13-year-old kids that are unfathomably better at the game. It’s difficult to put into words how much better they are at the game than they were two decades, three decades ago. So what’s the difference? Why are we suddenly much better at playing Tetris than we used to be? And the answer turns out has a lot to do with how learning works. The environment that people play these video games has transformed radically with the invention of the internet. The way you used to play video games when you were in the early 1990s is like maybe your brother, your brother’s friend, he knows a trick or a strategy, and you hear from him.

(08:11): Or maybe you read something in a magazine, and now it’s online. Now you can watch people play the video game. You can see how their hands move. You can learn the techniques that are at the best frontier of play much more easily. And this has huge implications for learning workplace skills, learning hobbies, learning, all sorts of things that maybe matter more to you than Tetris, which is how do you get access to the best practices, the best techniques, which are often hidden and really do make a big difference in not just your individual performance, but how is a field you’re moving forward and innovating.

John (08:45): Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I see entire YouTube channels dedicated to just people talking about how they played the game. So yeah, it’s crazy. One at chapter two really got my attention because I’ve been a long believer in this idea that creativity begins with copying. And I think a lot of people have this idea that I’m not creative or I’m not a creator even. But really almost in every field, certainly all of my work has been informed by math or architecture or something else. I read that I was like, oh, I know how I can apply that to what I’m trying to do. So talk a little bit about that idea that copying is actually part of the creative process.

Scott (09:29): I mean, this was a chapter that I’d been wanting to write for years, even before ultra learning had come out, because when I got the chance to spend some longer time in China, one of the things that I found fascinating is how the culture differed from the west. In West, we tend to make creativity and originality as being these polar opposites that either you’re a plagiarist or you’re an original. And we all want to be originals. We don’t want to be people who copy things. And the thing that I really appreciated from the Chinese context is the appreciation of precedent, the appreciation of learning from the masters and the examples that come before. And as I dig in, and I dig into the research here, that this is how we used to teach a lot of things that we now expect people to just be creative and inspiring off the bat that the artistic training, especially I cover the apprenticeship period during the Renaissance, but also in the academy system that came after it.

(10:24): There really was a fairly structured approach to starting with simple examples, copying from masterworks, basically learning the patterns for how to do something successfully, building up this technique so that when you do want to express an idea, when you do want to do something creative, you have all these tools at your disposal. And I think that whether it’s artistic instruction, whether it’s math instruction, whether it’s any kind of field, like this sort of idea that creativity is built off of copying, of understanding examples, of understanding precedent is something that I hate to say is kind of unappreciated in our current culture, which focuses on genius that comes out of nowhere.

John (11:06): There was a book a few years ago, I had Austin on the show called Steal Like an Artist. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that book and the whole book’s about that. It’s a small little book about that whole idea. And I think you’re absolutely right that people really don’t understand that concept. I remember hearing a musician one time say, we’re all using the same eight notes. Nobody’s making up new notes. It’s really just so we’re all borrowing from that kind of reservoir of stuff, and we’re just having new ideas about it.

Scott (11:37): Yeah, I mean, there was a quote from one of the jazz musicians that I covered in a later chapter where we’re talking about variable practice, and he says, I didn’t know how could people do these jazz improvisations just pull something out of thin air? And he’s like, I had no idea the amount of study and knowledge of knowing what had been played before and understanding what had been played before. So people like Quentin Tarantino, for instance, are very do this very nakedly where they’re doing pastiche and doing things that call back to things they like. But pretty much any great artist, that’s what they’re doing. They’re kind of like, I like these three things and I’m going to do them. And it’s just because they have all this knowledge, they have this ability to do it. I mean, it’s so important and it’s something that I think is not stressed enough.

John (12:22): So this isn’t really a question, I just want to hear you talk about cognitive load theory. Yeah,

Scott (12:30): Yeah. Cognitive load theory. Well, I mean it sounds really complicated, but the idea is very central, very central to learning. And it’s again, one of those things that I think if you understand it, it makes sense of a lot of stuff. But the basic idea is that the way our brain works is we have this central bottleneck called working memory. And working memory is kind of think of it as your consciousness, what things you can hold in mind right now at this moment, not things you’re remembering, not things you’ve written down, things that are in your head at that moment. And it’s very narrow. You can only hold a very small amount of information at a time. But to learn things, it has to go through that bottleneck. You have to go through that sort of narrow window of attention. But there’s a little bit of a trick.

(13:11): Once we gain experience in a field, we gain ways to sort of bypass this bottleneck or make it more efficient. So the classic example is if you are learning letters, for instance, if you give someone a sequence of random letters, people will probably be able to remember between five and nine, and then they’re going to have it drop off. But if you reorganize those letters into acronyms that people understand, I think in the book I use N-H-L-F-B-I-M-B-A or something like that, then those nine letters, all of a sudden you can remember it because you’re within that bottleneck. And so this idea that as we learn meaningful patterns from a domain we can handle more information means that so much of getting better is about figuring out not just what is the best method to learn or what’s the best technique, but how do you deal with the fact that when you’re starting out, you can contain deal with a lot less information than you can when you end up. And so this sort of progressive aspect to it of tuning whatever you’re doing to where you’re at in terms of your own cognitive load ability, it’s huge. It underpins so much of learning, and I think it’s again, another underrated factor and improvement.

John (14:20): So tell me where teaching fits into this. Again, you read a book, you maybe try some things, but then you turn around and try to teach somebody else how to do it. Where does that fit into the continuum of getting better?

Scott (14:37): I mean, I think teaching is often very helpful, especially for when you realize, when you’re teaching something, you realize that you often don’t understand something very well, or you can’t articulate that understanding. I have a whole chapter talking about how as you gain experience in something, part of the way we avoid this working memory bottleneck is that components of the skill, mental steps get automated. They become something that we do unconsciously. So we just skip over things and we just get the right answer. And that can make it very hard when you have to communicate to someone because it’s like, well, you went from step one to step nine. What’s two through seven or two through eight? I don’t get it. And it can be hard for you to articulate that. And so this tacit knowledge is often a barrier when you’re teaching something for the first time, you realize, oh, wait, how do I break this down?

(15:22): How do I explain it to someone? But then I think as well, teaching something is also a chance to refine. It’s a chance to make explicit against some of these ideas. When you’re teaching something, you’re often looking for simplifications, you’re looking for ways that you can explain an idea in a way that maybe is not the difficult way that you learned it, but an easier way to make sense of it. And so, I dunno, I think teaching is a very important part of getting a real conceptual understanding or a real explanatory framework for an idea.

John (15:53): Yeah, it’s so funny. As you were describing that, my wife asked me how to do, she’s not a computer person. She asked me how to do stuff all the time. And I’m like, well, I don’t know. I just do it. It’s like, oh, okay, yeah, I guess I’d do that. And then that. But you’re so right about that.

Scott (16:11): Oh yeah.

John (16:12): So alright, there’s a lot of amazing ideas in this book and concepts in this book. How does somebody take the entire book and make it very practical in terms of getting better at something? I mean, is there a framework for take it step one, step two, or is it really more a matter of you’ve got to plug in where you are?

Scott (16:38): Well, I mean, in the last chapter, I give some sort of practical advice for applying it. But in each chapter at the end, I kind of end with, here’s some ways you can apply these ideas. And the way I like to think about it is that if you were to fix a car, for instance, let’s say you have a car that’s broken down on the side of the road, having a mental model of how a car works is going to be really helpful. You’re going to be able to say, oh, okay, the problem here is we have a flat tire, or the problem here is that we’re out of oil. Or the problem here is there’s something rattling around in here. I got to fix something that’s loose. And so in a similar way, I think the main value of a book like this is having that mental model of learning so that you can kind of self-diagnose in some senses, what is the problem?

(17:17): I’m coming out here is the problem that I don’t understand what the best practice is. Is it like a problem of seeing and do I need to join those groups, find those mentors, find those teachers, find that community to get to that best practice. So I’m not figuring it out on my own is the problem practice is the problem that I am wasting a lot of effort doing things that are not moving my skill forward is the problem feedback that I’m not getting enough information about what I’m doing right and wrong. And so if you have these sort of mental models from the book, if you have these ideas, you can kind of steer toward designing techniques that will suit your situation. Because I do think learning is, despite the fact that we just do it instinctively, there’s a lot of complicated stuff going on. And so figuring out what it is you’re doing wrong or figuring out what you’re doing when it’s working well is the first step to making progress into getting yourself unstuck.

John (18:03): I remember when, back in the day when you’d buy a piece of software off the shelf and it would come with a 400 page manual. And I remember literally, I use this example all the time where you could read the whole book and not know how to do anything really. But then you’d go in and start trying to make it do what you wanted it to do and get stuck, and then you could go back and reference the book, or you could go watch a YouTube video on how to do it. And I think a little bit. So in some ways what you’re saying is there’s almost a combination of all of those kinds of things, isn’t there?

Scott (18:36): Yeah. Well, I’m hoping that the kind of person who reads this book is going to be someone who says, you know what? I want to be a better marketer. I want to be a better public speaker. I want to be a better painter, programmer or skier or something like that. They’re going to read the book and they’re going to notice things about what they’re doing. They’re going to notice kind of like, oh, my problem seems to be here. And then they can find techniques that are tailored to that. And so the book does cover a lot of different ideas, but I think that’s just also because there are so many different kinds of troubleshooting steps you could get into. It would be nice if things just, there’s one thing you have to do and you have work all the time, but it is a little bit more like a car breaking down. And you have to be like, okay, what do I need to fix? And so I think that’s why I tried to write the book and tried to cover the ground that I covered to give people the best possible chance of fixing it. Well,

John (19:21): That’s also great advice. I mean, read the book within the context of what you’re trying to get better at, right?

Scott (19:27): Yeah, of course. I mean, it’s always easier when you approach a book like this with some particular concrete goal in mind.

John (19:34): Awesome. Scott, it was great catching up with you for a few minutes. Is there some place you’d invite people to connect with you and obviously pick up a copy of Get Better at anything?

Scott (19:42): Yeah, I mean, everyone can visit my website, scott h I have a podcast, YouTube channel, a newsletter there all free if you are interested in those things. And then of course, the book is available, Amazon, audible, wherever you get your books, if you’re interested in diving deeper into the science of learning.

John (19:59): Awesome. Well, next time we talk, I want you to have one of your kids come on and I can ask them if you’ve gotten better at being a dad. Okay,

Scott (20:07): Well, we’ll find out. We’ll find

John (20:08): Out. All right. Awesome. Great seeing you again. Hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days again, out there on the road.

Transcript of How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills

Transcript of How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

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John Jantsch: This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Klaviyo. Klaviyo is a platform that helps growth-focused eCommerce brands drive more sales with super-targeted, highly relevant email, Facebook and Instagram marketing.

John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Scott Young. He is a learner and we’re going to find out more about what that means, but he’s also the author of a book called, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart your Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. Scott, thanks for joining us.

Scott Young: Yeah, thanks for having me here.

John Jantsch: Let’s get your definition of ultralearning since that’s the name of the book.

Scott Young: Yeah, so ultralearning is this approach to aggressive self-directed learning and it really started from finding these people that just had these incredible stories. I document some of them in my book. People like Erick Barone who spent five years mastering all the skills of video game development to release a bestselling title or people like Nigel Richards who won the French world scrabble championship, even though he doesn’t speak French. They started by finding these really incredible examples of stories. I found that there was a general sort of approach to this and what it was is people who take self-directed aggressive learning products. Self-directed in this case means that it is initiated and driven by the person who’s doing the project so you’re learning something that you care about as opposed to the way that we think about traditional education where you just sit passively in a classroom. Then aggressive in this case has different manifestations, but the main way I want to think about it is that these people are focused on doing what works to learn even though that sometimes can be a little bit more difficult at first.

John Jantsch: We’ll break down aggressive, that’s a relative term but you shared. I saw you speaking at one of my favorite conferences in the world. I’ll give a shout out to World Domination Summit in Portland. You shared a story about how you embarked on your own kind of first ultralearning project. Maybe share that to give people a sense of the scope of what we’re talking about?

Scott Young: Yeah, the way that I kind of, and as I talked about in my speech that you heard is that I got into this by first uncovering one of the alternatives that I talk about who is Benny Lewis. He has a website which has become quite popular called Fluent in 3 Months where he takes on these projects to travel to a new country and tries to learn a language in as little as three months. I found about this about 10 years ago when I was living in France trying to learn French. It wasn’t going super well. I was struggling. Most of the people around me spoke to me in English and I was having difficulties learning French. It was uncovering his kind of philosophy towards learning where he was taking on these ambitious projects, but also going to somewhat unusual lengths to learn things.

Scott Young: This actually resulted in several years after that experience of trying to learn French actually went with a friend to do our own version of that project, which we called The Year Without English, where we went to four different countries, Spain, Brazil, China, and South Korea to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Chinese, and Korean. The method that we used was what we called the no English rule. When we landed in those countries, we only spoken the language we were trying to learn. The funny thing as I talked about in my speech that I gave is that when I say this to people, people are like, oh my God, that sounds crazy. Like, there’s no way I could do something like that. The funny thing I found is that because it was more effective, it was actually a lot easier than the approach that I’d taken in France.

Scott Young: This is what I wrote the book about is trying to show people these alternative approaches to learning hard skills and show that even though they can sometimes be a little bit more tricky right at the beginning, by using an effective method, you get so much better so much more quickly that you avoid a lot of the frustrations and pitfalls that normal learners face when they’re trying to learn things like languages, but also career skills, programming, all sorts of things.

John Jantsch: Well, and in fact, you also shared a story that you accomplished what was the amount or equivalent of an MIT computer programming degree in two years. I may have got that wrong, but essentially you also showed a giant pile of books. I think a lot of people hear stuff like this and they think, oh, ultra learning, it’s a hack to do it faster, but it’s still a heck of a lot of work, right?

Scott Young: Yeah. The way I’ve been trying to explain ultralearning is that, so there’s no secret, there’s no like, okay, well those are just some kind of weird trick that no one’s ever heard of before to learn things. I mean, there are lots of tools that are underused, so there’s a lot of little specific things that we could talk about that your learners could use to apply or your listeners could use to apply to learn better. I think the way that I think about ultralearning, and this is a recurring theme, and this is why I picked that word aggressive, is that very often something that is initially a little bit scarier or a little bit more frustrating is actually much more effective. The reason that a lot of these approaches are less common is because people won’t do the thing that actually works really well because it sounds like too much but if they were to actually do it, if they were actually pushed to do that or forced to do that, they would find it’s actually easier than they think.

Scott Young: They would actually learn a lot more effectively. There’s even some interesting research relating to this. One of the principles I talk in the book I call retrieval. Retrieval is this scientific idea that if you try to recall things actively from your memory so you don’t have the book open, you just try to close the book and try to recall it, you’ll remember a lot more when the test comes than if you just read notes or read things over and over again. One of the things that was interesting is that they took participants in this study and found that weaker performing students, so students who weren’t doing as well, they wanted to keep reviewing. They’re not ready to do practice testing, they aren’t ready to do this retrieval.

Scott Young: If someone forced them to do retrieval so that they weren’t allowed to do that review, they actually scored better on the test. This repeats a theme in the book and a theme that I try to say in my message that ultralearning isn’t magic. It’s not a secret. The reason that it works is because very often people are not aware that there’s these differences in how you learn things. Sometimes the more difficult, or I would say more initially difficult method is actually much more effective. If you can push yourself to do it, you’ll actually get better results.

John Jantsch: I think most people’s experience with learning goes back to the typical school curriculum book type of learning. I’ve heard you say that ultralearning gets you to the fun part of learning faster. What part is that exactly?

Scott Young: Well, I mean, when we start learning a new skill, there’s often feelings of inadequacy, fear of comparison with other people. Even I’m not immune to this. I recently started learning salsa dancing. I got two left feet. I’m not a very smooth dancer in any way. I remembered going in the beginning of the intro classes and I’m screwing up really basic stuff. I’m not keeping to the rhythm. I remember feeling bad. I’m feeling like, why am I doing this? Why am I putting in this effort when it just feels bad? I think this is what scares a lot of people off from taking on learning projects, learning to speak Spanish when they’ve always wanted to learn Spanish, or learning guitar lessons, or learning to program, or getting better at public speaking, or whatever matters to you. A lot of times it’s this feeling that you get in the beginning of learning where you feel inadequate that makes you reluctant to do this. What ultralearning is often about is about how do you get over those sort of, you kind of blow through those initial phases so you can get to the part where you’re like, oh actually I’m not bad at this.

Scott Young: As soon as you’re not bad at something, learning becomes fun because it is something you’re competent in. For learning a language for instance, when you start speaking Spanish, it feels awful because your ability is really low and people are, you know, “What? What did you say? I don’t understand.” You’re having a bunch of difficulties, but once you can have some minor conversations or you have some interactions where that person understood what you said and now it feels good, now you feel like, “Oh, this is impressive. I have this ability.” For me, ultralearning is often about like, how do you take something that does feel a little bit daunting and you compose it into some steps so you can get through that difficult, frustrating part so that learning stops becoming this chore and becomes this fun activity so that you just enjoy doing it.

John Jantsch: There’s so many people that give the advice of, you know, for people looking for a career or starting a business, “You should do something you love.” I think a lot of what you’re saying is you’ll love something you get good at. If you get good at it faster, that might be a way to actually make a career choice.

Scott Young: Absolutely. Yeah, definitely it’s the case that for a lot of people I think the things that we love are just the things that by happenstance we happen to get good at. For me, this book is not really just a book about learning but a book about finding more things that you love because when you’re good at more things, you love more things. For a lot of people they’ll say things to themselves like, oh, I hate math. Well you hate math because you were bad at math or because it was challenging or because you felt like, “Well, I worked really hard and I only got a B on that exam.” If you were really good at math, if people constantly gave you feedback about how smart and how clever you are, I mean there are people who are like this. I mean, they’re not the majority but they love math. It’s the same thing with lots of skills. I’m not saying you have to learn math, but if you understand the learning process, understand what you need to do to get good at skills, you can love all sorts of things even if you feel like you’re bad at them right now.

John Jantsch: You brought out the, and I’ll use your Canadian process word, is there a specific process for ultralearning?

Scott Young: Yeah, the way I broke down the book was into nine principles. The reason I focused on principles is because in many ways what I’m trying to do is to get people away from the ways of thinking about learning that have held them back in the past. One of those things that I think that has held people back in the past is that there’s one right way to do everything and then you try it. If it doesn’t work for you, then the problem is you. The right way to think of it is that there are many, many, many different ways to learn the thing that you care about as long as you are paying attention to what are the principles of learning. There’s often very different ways you can go about things and still get to the same result.

Scott Young: The first principle and really the starting point for any learning project is what I call metalearning. Metalearning is just a fancy term. Meta usually means when something’s about itself. Metalearning means learning about learning. In this case, what that means is that if you’re going to learn a new skill or subject, it often pays dividends to spend about an hour or two online doing some research of how do other people learn this skill? What are the pitfalls they have? What are the things that people struggle with? What are the resources they use? As you go through this, you’ll find lots of different options because pretty much any popular skill has many, many tutorials online, many different perspectives on the right way to learn it. You can use that as a starting point. Then of course, the other principles that I have.

Scott Young: There’s eight more principles in the book, it can also provide guidance so you can help choose methods that not only suit you and your schedule and your lifestyle and your personality, but also fit within the overall principles of learning so that you will make sure that you don’t get derailed and you don’t spend six or seven months working on something only to find that it didn’t get you the results that you wanted.

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John Jantsch: Here’s a question that I’m sure you probably get occasionally. I mean, aren’t there some people just smarter than other people? I mean, they’re going to learn something that’s more complex than others or is that really just a limiting belief?

Scott Young: Well, I will say this, I do believe that there are different people who have different talents. That even within individuals, we have things that we’re good at, that we’re bad at. Some of that is related to experience. One of the things I talk about in my book is that very often what people misconstrue as being innate talent is actually a difference in prior experience. For me, for instance, I felt really crappy in my French class 10 years ago because I was near the bottom of the class. It was only after talking to people for a while that I realized, oh actually these people have studied French for longer than I have. In the beginning, my negative feelings were thinking, well, I’m just not as good at this but really it was that they had more experience. Similarly, I think a lot of us can often go into let’s say a computer programming class and not realize that the wiz kid who seems to be so smart is actually been doing it since he was five and that’s why he’s so good at the class and why you’re struggling. That would be the first thing I would say.

Scott Young: The second thing I would say is that yes, there are differences in talent. I think that that should also make you not feel bad if you feel like you’re going slower than someone else. If you’re learning something that’s taking a little bit longer, that’s perfectly fine. However, there are large differences that you can get from using the right method. Often I find that what happens to us is that the things that we feel we are good at are usually the things that just sort of by chance we ended up using a really effective approach for learning it and so we think of ourselves as being really good at it, but it was really more just, you unwittingly use these principles of learning.

Scott Young: I wanted to lay them out in the book so that you can see something that you’ve tried in the past and maybe struggled with and see yourself, “I was doing this and that’s why it was so hard for me.” That’s what I want to do with this book is not to deny that there’s any differences between people and everyone’s equally talented. Because if you look around the world, that seems to not be the case, but definitely that the potential you have and the amount that you can get better and especially on things that you have not done well in the past is much larger I think than most people believe.

John Jantsch: You have large swaths of this book talking about career advancement. Would you say that this is, if you want to advance your career, adding things that you can do, being able to speak another language. Your company is global and so now you have an option to work over here and you can program computer languages now and things. I mean, would you say that that, I mean, it just makes sense as a way to advance your resume if you will.

Scott Young: Absolutely. The way when I was doing the research in the book, one of the things that came up was this phenomenon known as skill polarization. We all know that income inequality is rising. I mean this is what every news report tells us, that the rich get richer. If you actually dig into this, and this was done by the economist, MIT economist David Autor, you find that there’s actually two different things going on. What’s happening is that the incomes are being stretched out at the top of the distribution and they’re being compressed at the bottom. The right way to view this I think is to imagine that the middle class lifestyle that we’ve all kind of been culturally conditioned is sort of our birthright, that’s what’s disappearing. That’s what’s getting squeezed into the bottom or spread out at the top.

Scott Young: Part of the reason for this is that computers and automation and technology are coming and they eliminate jobs and while they create new jobs in their wake, a lot of those new jobs are more complicated. At the same time, tuition is getting much more expensive. Going back to college or even if they do teach things at college, they often don’t, going back to school is often not the most responsible option just because the cost is so high. For me in writing this book, I realized that learning in this way or learning skills, this is not just a frivolous thing just for learning a language or guitar, but really a process for getting really good at anything you care about. Whether that thing is again, learning a new computer programming language, getting really good with Excel, learning public speaking, getting good at marketing, getting good at communication, getting good at leadership, these are all skills.

Scott Young: These are all things that you get better at them by learning, not necessarily learning through a book or a textbook. I’ll talk about in ultralearning that often the way that we think about learning that way is wrong. But it’s definitely something that I would approach differently. I think if you can view your career in this light, that your success in your career depends at you being good at things I think that that obviously fits into this picture of ultralearning.

John Jantsch: I will give you your opportunity to be polarizing yourself here. Is college just not cutting it?

Scott Young: Well, I will say this because this is one of the things as well. A lot of people when I wrote this book were saying, “Are you going to say that this is the alternative university?” In some ways it isn’t, not because college is often super great but because there are certain professions or certain career paths where having a degree is necessary. I mean, if I’m going to become a lawyer, I can’t just ultralearn law and then go practice it. I mean, people are going to expect me to have a degree and it’s actually not even legal to practice a lot of professions without college education. The right way to think about it is that a lot of what we are expected to know and be able to perform in our jobs and in our careers is not going to be something taught in school. For many of us, what you actually do on your day to day job is very unrelated to the thing that you actually learned in school.

Scott Young: Where do you learn to get good at that? You learn it by doing, working on the job and by doing projects like these. Then also, I think in many ways college is not cutting it because it is kind of becoming increasingly divorced from the actual realities of the workplace. In many cases there are these issues of transfers. One of the most extensively studied problems in the educational psychology literature is this problem of transfer. That you teach things to a student in a classroom and they just can’t apply it to very obvious situations in real life. Often that’s the way we teach and often that’s just sort of a symptom of the education system in general but that’s definitely a big problem if you spend four years in school and all of that knowledge that you learned is useless when it actually comes to doing the job.

John Jantsch: All right, I want to start my own ultralearning project and of course I’m going to go buy Ultralearning by Scott Young when it comes out. How would I go about getting started? How do you advise people to start an ultralearning project?

Scott Young: As I said, the starting point is always this metalearning. It’s always trying to figure out what are the possible default or starting points for learning things.

John Jantsch: Let me back up a little before that. How do we decide even what to learn?

Scott Young: Okay, good question. There’s two reasons you might want to learn something. The first is an intrinsic project. This could be like, I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish or I’ve always wanted to know how to program computers, or I’ve always wanted to be able to play the guitar, give beautiful speeches, or what have you. If you’re starting with an intrinsic project that’s just sort of what inspires you and often that’s how these projects come about is that they become useful skills, but they start from a different point. The other way that you can start a project is that you actually want to do something. I think this is very relevant because learning is really about bridging the gap between what you can do right now and what you could do if you were able to acquire new skills. Often what it is is not, well I want to do some learning project, but I would like to change careers, or I would like to write a book, or I would like to become a presenter, or I would like to do something that is outside of my realm of ability right now.

Scott Young: When you’re doing that, the next thing to do is to say, well how would I be able to do that? Often it can be a project to do that thing or to get better at it. If you want to get better at writing a book, you might start with a project of writing a book, but that’s usually the starting point of, okay, well I’m going to try to write this book. How do I get good at the skills involved in writing? You might develop some things around practicing, some things around trying to improve your writing ability, of identifying components that you’re going to work on in practice. There is some nuance to that, but definitely I think that’s a useful way to think about it is that a lot of the things that you want to accomplish that you don’t feel like you can right now, think of those as learning projects rather than just, well yeah, I don’t know how to do that. I can’t do that. Right?

John Jantsch: Scott, where can people find out more? Of course, the book will be out everywhere that books are sold in August of 2019 depending on when you’re listening to this, but where can people find out more about you and your work with Ultralearning?

Scott Young: Absolutely. You can go to my website at, that’s I have over 1,300 articles that have written there over the last 13 years on all sorts of subjects including learning. Of course they can check out the book. If you just Google Ultralearning or you go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s or wherever you get your books from, you can find the Ultralearning book. You know what? If anyone who is listening now ends up getting the book and applying it to learning a skill that they care about, I would love to hear about it so please send me an email if you get a chance.

John Jantsch:  You’re collecting ultralearning success stories, aren’t you?

Scott Young: I would love that. Yeah.

John Jantsch: Maybe I’ll come up with one of mine. I’m not sure I can fit much more in my brain, but maybe I’ll come up with one and I’ll be one of your case study. Scott, great visiting with you and hopefully I’ll run into you in beautiful Vancouver someday.

Scott Young: Yes. Thank you so much for having me.

How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills

How Ultralearning Helps You Master New Skills written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with Scott Young
Podcast Transcript

Scott H Young headshotToday on the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I visit with Scott Young. He is an author, programmer, and entrepreneur who stopped by to discuss his most recent book Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career.

Young became fascinated by stories of people who mastered entirely new skillsets by an approach of self-directed, aggressive learning. This led him to dive into the concept of ultralearning and formulate nine principles for implementing ultralearning in your own life.

Whether you’ve always wanted to learn something for fun—like swing dancing or painting with watercolors—or your learning is about staying relevant in an ever-shifting job market, Young shares what the ultralearning approach can do for you.

Questions I ask Scott Young:

  • What is ultralearning?
  • Is there a specific process for ultralearning?
  • Are there some people who are just smarter and better at learning, or is that a limiting belief?

What you’ll learn if you give a listen:

  • How ultralearning allows you to skip over the feelings of fear and inadequacy that typically come along with the early stages of learning a new skill.
  • Why understanding the learning process can help you love new things.
  • Why ultralearning is a necessary skill in today’s job market.

Key takeaways from the episode and more about Scott Young:

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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