In this series, we are exploring how to take your thinking seriously. To see the six previous posts in the series, go here.
Intended Audience: Knowledge workers, students, or anyone who wants to take their learning seriously and compound their knowledge and learning over time.
(Applying what takes you 5 minutes to read today will benefit you for decades, and others for generations to come.)
If you're like me, you have been taught to learn in private for most of your life. Yes, you shared your homework with your teacher, but not with the world. Yes, you probably have a resume of where you have worked, but that hardly reflects what you have learned.
What if, at the beginning of starting something new, instead of hiding your lack of knowledge, your imperfections, your process, or your uncertainty, you shared it with others?
This concept is called learning in public.
Instead of learning in private on your own or even having helpful tools for thought to experience compounding growth in your thinking and resources, you do this in public.
Learning in public helps other people. It also helps you have accountability and encourages you to take your thinking seriously. What's more, the intention of learning in public is to enable you to have community and have people interact with your ideas.
By learning in public, people who read your ideas can ask you questions you've never thought of. They can remind you of what it's like to not understand a concept that was once confusing to you by asking you questions you forgot that you once asked. Learning in public becomes a feedback loop that can sharpen your thinking.
Remember, vulnerability is strength.
You will learn far more if you are willing to authentically share your journey with others.
What if, instead of hiding how little you knew, you asked questions, shared your thinking, and invited others to help you learn more? What if you opened up more of your knowledge to others instead of keeping it behind paywalls or siloed in secret?
If you learn in public and share more of what you know, instead of keeping it private, you will create a log of what you are learning. This could mean that people can follow your learning and thinking for months or even years, but eventually, this could pay off for you personally by having people reach out to you with opportunities. Or it means someone interested in hiring you or partnering with you could pull up what you've been learning on demand which would help you stand out and show how you are uniquely learning and contributing to your field.
If you learn in public, it can lead to surprising connections and opportunities that you could never predict in advance.
Learning in public would enable you to get more feedback, deepen your learning, and increase the value of moving through the build-measure-learncycle.
This would also give you a form of accountability, which would be lacking if you keep what you are learning to yourself, or only wait to share it when it is polished and closer to perfection.
This way of doing things embeds sharing what you are learning as a crucial element of your learning cycle.
We could call this the learn-share-grow model.
Learning in public invites you to carefully reflect and think more clearly. Research from a Harvard study shows the benefits of reflecting briefly on what you've learned and how it improves your learning. Instead of just keeping notes tucked away somewhere, you would be forced to put them into a format that you wouldn't be totally embarrassed to share. It would help you formulate your own thinking about what you are learning.
By learning in public, you are taking a stance that is decidedly different than so much of the marketing that typically occurs, where people only share their finished work or their highlight reel on social media. However, people like others when they're authentic, making you more relatable. By learning in public, you'll attract others who are curious and open to learning and growing themselves.
Short term, this is vulnerable and is not likely to lead to anything impressive. But it can benefit others to see what you are working on while building something, the questions you are asking, and how you grow things over time.
Over time you will create a rich set of resources for others to learn from.
The vast majority of people don't learn in public. So simply by curating the best resources as you come across them or teaching some of what you learn, you will stand out from the crowd. You can help people as you grow, develop a stronger community of people interested in learning the same things you are, and expand your influence in that network.
Develop a practice of generously sharing your learning, work, resources, and interests:
Write a newsletter
Create videos or stream what you're learning
Sketch your notes from conferences
Create write-ups of your most valuable tools or compare tools you use and share why you use them
Create an informal community where you all share what you are learning via Slack or Discord
Take public notes on the books you read
Speak at conferences or local business gatherings
Write demos or tutorials
Unapologetically share what you are most excited about
Organize a monthly meetup
Reflect on and share in public what you learn. Find ways to be the most generous person you can be. Help other people grow.
Why not encourage and inspire others and share what you are working on as you go? What fear is holding you back?
What systems can you create to make it easy to learn in public?
Who can you tell about what you are working on?
"Teaching people doesn't subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you're letting them in on what you know."
Austin Kleon, Show Your Work
"No one learns as much about a subject as one who is forced to teach it."
Peter Drucker, Management
To dig into these ideas in more detail, read this thought experiment of an article or this chapter on how learning in public can compound your growth as a software developer. Or read this book about how sharing your creativity as you go can help your business.