The particular essay I reference sparked a lot of debate. I’m not saying I agree with everything Andreessen said - but his words inspired me to get to work. And I did, for a little over a year. Then, I lost sight of the purpose, and the only thing to get me past this hurdle was learning.
Here, I go through the fundamentals of how we learn, my personal stages of learning, my learning slump, how I found my way to the other side, and why it’s more important than ever for us to embrace a new age of learning if we want to build anything meaningful.
At the end, I share all of my favorite resources for learning (reading, writing, newsletters, note taking, networking and more).
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When I started typing this, I realized I didn’t know much about how humans learn. So I asked Google, “how do we learn?” Without spending too much time I selected the below image. This pyramid was popularized by American psychologist William Glasser as part of an initiative aimed at optimizing the retention of content by students. While there are some educators who will dispute this, it’s helpful for the sake of this essay.
The 95% retention rate on what we teach to others astounded me. If you’re in the same boat, take a look at these studies:
I thought about my learning experiences, which can be broken down into three time periods: elementary student era, college student era, corporate job era, entrepreneur era. Each era was a different type of learning, noted below:
As an entrepreneur I made it to the bottom half of the pyramid. I was primarily learning by doing and teaching. I felt energized and stimulated.
When COVID hit and we were forced to stay home, I was happy to have my own business as a distraction. Per Andreessen’s request, I embraced “building,” which meant taking on new clients and passion projects.
I attempted to take advantage of other forms of learning as a means of distraction. I took online classes at Harvard and sat in on endless webinars. After a while, I caught Zoom fatigue and abandoned my studies.
Then there was the rise of new(er) social platforms. Tiktok was a great tool for learning via sight and sound. It made education fun and entertaining; you could how to dance, cook, and run a startup in 15 seconds or less. Even so, my adoption was slow and short lived.
Clubhouse also became a real champion. I tuned in for a while, but then became overwhelmed with information. Most of made me think I wasn’t doing enough, rather than inspire me.
These new tools for learning weren’t making me better at “building.” They lacked practical application, so I quit them. Looking back, I acknowledge how they changed our world, the ways we engage with each other, how we consumer information and how we share knowledge, forever. If I had spent more time seeing & hearing, perhaps my learning renaissance would have started sooner.
For the better part of 2021, I was in a rut. Even though I was still “building,” it felt slow, monotonous and sometimes purposeless. There were missed milestones caused by supply chain delays, growth struggles, budget constraints, funding stress.
Like many of us, I thought the lack of motivation was a side effect COVID and then, a side effect from the vaccine. As I was writing this I started digging through old emails and notes from that time period in search of an illustrative example. Here’s a screen shot of a note I wrote in July:
In reality, I had become complacent. Complacent with lack of groundbreaking creativity, with an insular network, with unfulfilling projects. Complacency, as Andreessen pointed out, is the enemy of building. In my opinion, it’s not the enemy of building. You can build complacently. That’s why there are so many copycat brands and companies lacking true innovation. Complacency, as it turns out, is the enemy of learning.
In Fall 2021, something shifted. I attribute that shift to several things:
The public frustration and mistrust led me to seek out new tactics for community building - finally, something we could do without VC backed budgets.
In November, the NFT.NYC conference brought activity and excitement to the entire city. I wasn’t attending the conference but it was impossible to escape the attendees. I had limited knowledge of NFTs and the adjacent areas (blockchain, crypto, defi, Web3, metaverse), but after several conversations I was intrigued. I saw the huge opportunity this could represent (for my clients and for me). I didn’t realize this would become the answer to my learning problem.
I asked my new acquaintances for their favorite resources and was shocked by the amount of knowledge they had to share. They didn’t give me the names or links of books to buy. They didn’t tell me to sign up for a specific class. They didn’t tell me which podcast to listen to. Instead, they told me who to follow on Twitter, the blogs to read, the Newsletters to subscribe to, the Discord channels to join, the apps to download (see below, I’ll share a few of my favorites). They introduced me to their friends.
This was decentralized, peer to peer knowledge sharing with community at the core. Armed with their recommendations, I found myself learning across every level of that learning pyramid. I was reading, writing (you’re reading exhibit A right now), seeing and hearing, discussing, doing and finally, teaching. Even better, it was nearly all new material.
Together, the above brought me out of my learning slump and reignited my excitement about building (something critical to have when actually trying to build with meaning.)
Today’s tools enable a learning renaissance powered by accessibility, individual contributors, and interconnected community, where knowledge is more readily created, discussed and distributed. This ignites creativity and unlocks potential creation, making us more capable of rising to Andreessen’s original challenge. It also prevents us from building for the sake of building, which I can tell you from experience, is not the answer to how we change the world or create a better future.
So, in 2022, I encourage you to always be learning and asking others, “what are you learning?” and “how can I help you learn?” Then, start building.
Currently, I’m learning from Candace, Caroline, Avery, Gaby, Yaron, Rob, Ray and Thomas at Blanksoles, Cathy Hackl, Seth Godin, Dan Runcie at Trapital, the team at Samsung Next, the team at Invisible North, the crew at Betaworks, plus a growing list of others. Below are my favorite tools for learning. If you have others, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org or @alexa_lombardo
Not going to go into detail here - but there are some really great reads out there that will explain how to optimize your social platforms for learning/teaching about different topics (and avoiding distraction)
Special thanks go to my past and present teachers (my Mama, my team at Atomic N°8, Candace, Caroline, Avery, Gaby, Yaron, Rob, Ray and Thomas at Blanksoles, Cathy Hackl, Seth Godin, Dan Runcie at Trapital, the team at Samsung Next, the team at Invisible North, the crew at Betaworks, etc.)