Slow Learning and payback



Ten years ago I devoured this book and passed it along to Clark Quinn, who coined the term “Slow Learning” as a result. Here is his brilliant piece on Slow Learning.

The analogy is apt.

In the dark ages of American sophistication about eating circa 1950, common wisdom was tip was short for T.I.P. meaning “to insure promptness.”* Food in this country was so abysmal that getting the slop to the table fast was the way one measured quality.

In the dark ages of corporate training circa 1980-2010, common wisdom held that the faster learning, the more efficient. Like the food example, training was so abysmally poor that getting it over faster was a great benefit — despite the fact that people learned little.

The definitive research I’m aware of concerns scoreable hard skills: programming, procedures, engineering, specs. But what people need to know is shifting from hard skills because that part of the job is being automated and into complex take-it-as-it-comes life skills. Unpredictable, improv. All that remains will be stoop-labor and improv. Mastering the savvy it takes to deal with complexity takes immersion. It’s tacit, inexpressible in so many words, soft, adjustable, pattern recognition stuff and you get it by, as JSB says ‘marinating in it.’

Marinades act slowly. I like learning from chefs.





I’d begun to have doubts about my happiness project and whether I am really the right guy to pursue the call to make at least a million business people happier. I’ve habituated to making minor improvements.

Then the Slow Learning began kicking in. I didn’t have to check boxes on my daily routine. I could naturally count my blessings, let people know I care, remember to bring joy into the world, and open my life to others. Compared to a month ago, I’m dealing with a lot more people, pouring more energy into my networks, and committed to my Walkabout goal of learning as much as I can in February and March.

And I am a happier person as a result.

The things I am interested in learning about me and my community will come through experience if I open myself up to them, I tell myself. Deep learning takes time. It’s not geologic. It’s not Gladwell’s 10,000 hours to reach proficiency. It’s the savoir-faire you only master by living it. I am inspired by Picasso’s words, “I do things I do not know how to do in order to learn how to do them.” Isn’t that already the way?

A few aspects of my personal life have been slow-cooking in the cerebral crock pot for months, and now I’m savoring the stew. It took a while to come together, but I’m happy again. None of us can mine deep things without the blessing of time and compliance of “the boys in the back room” (your subconscious brain).

I give myself the luxury of slow learning breaks a couple of times a week. Otherwise, I’d have information sickness, the condition when excess information pours back out of your ears and into the ether, never to be seen again.

If you don’t give yourself time to reflect on your learning progress, you’re going to dematerialize rapidly. You’ll lose a lot of your baggage if you don’t take breaks to glue it into your existing neural pathways.

Slow but steady learning wins the race.

What do you think about Slow Learning?

I imagine I’m spending 75% of my time slow learning right now as I research a new field.



* It has meant to give a small gratuity since 1607.