Personal Development: Tips from a Year in the JHub
By James Kuht
“If you keep learning all the time, you have a wonderful advantage”Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway.
The law of compound interest (that a 1% improvement in your knowledge each day would make you doubly smart within 70 days) makes a compelling case for investing in your personal development. Let’s take an example.
Jon and Michael are coders. They write software. One might measure their performance in terms of lines of code written. Let’s say Jon is the more effective coder, and writes 400 lines of code a day, and Michael writes 300 (I know a better coder might write the same software in less lines of code, but just play the game okay).
Jon’s a hard worker. He gets in at 8 every morning, works solidly until 5, then goes home. By the end of the year (220 working days, let us say), he has written 88,000 lines of code. A good employee, by common measure.
Michael is a less experienced, but motivated to get better. His mentor advises him that he should spend two hours a day on personal development, upskilling in coding, being able to write code quicker. Immediately this cuts his capacity by 22% since he’s working only 7 hours a day. That means he writes 233 lines of code per day, just half Jon’s productivity. Let us presume, though, that each day he spends working on his coding, he gets 0.5% more efficient at writing code. How many lines of code would he write per day by the end of the year?
The answer? 699.
He is almost doubly effective as Jon, despite working less and starting half as effective. All this despite the fact some might, shortsightedly, say that he was putting off work to selfishly invest in his own skills. I hope this offers a compelling vision for why you should invest in your own personal development. Now let’s delve into the how and the what.
Prioritising your personal development
There are two points to make here
(1) how do you prioritise time for your personal development in a busy schedule, and
(2) how do you prioritise what content to fill your personal development time with.
In relation to prioritising time, I refer back to the first entry in this series on Ideation – “you become your diary” – block the time out in your diary. A time where there is no distraction and your thinking is at it’s clearest. When it comes to prioritising what your personal development goals should be, I have a couple of tips:
- “Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy” – pick a relevant and audacious goal and plot the breadcrumb trail to get to it (a similar tactic to my previous “GSD” article). This might be – “I’m going to become the most authoritive person in my workplace on AI”. The breadcrumb trail to achieve that might involve
- taking an online course in AI, to gain some practitioner experience
- reading an authoritative book on AI in your domain (for me, Deep Medicine, by Eric Topol), and
- capturing my thoughts in a concise article form, to share with others and expose yourself to their critique.
- Pick a mentor to guide you, or ideally two very different ones, who knows you well. If you are not sure where you want to aim with your personal development, ask a colleague or your boss for frank feedback on what your weakness is. Then refer back to point one to plot the breadcrumb trail to achieving it.
Don’t just read books or articles, digest them
“Why do you have to fail, to learn?”Paraphrased from Steve Hansen, All Blacks Coach.
I should point out that this is not a contradiction to the “fail fast” mentality of innovation. It is simply stating that personal failure is not the only option for learning. You will fail at some point no doubt, but why not get some things right first time (having learnt from others experiences documented in articles/books) and save your failures for the truly unchartered territory?
As part of your development plan, you are likely to have chosen some books/articles to read tailored to your development goals. These resources can offer a unique insight into immensely successful people’s wisdom that would only otherwise be accessed through years of experience, expensive/significant failures, or spending hundreds of hours of time with them. What surprises me most about people and books though, is the lack of “insight-conversion” that tends to occur. People read books, recommend them to others, and go on operating/living their life as before; very few of the highly valuable insights these books offer get converted into action despite hundreds of pages of evidence.
Why? My view on this is that an extra 10% of effort can unlock the key to increasing your “insight-conversion” rate, and accelerate your personal development compared to your peers. This extra 10% comes in the form of reflecting upon the book after reading it, and writing a concise summary (no greater than 2-pages) of:
- The key points
- The key pieces of evidence
- The key phrases or mantras
This forces you to distil the reading down to a framework which your brain can meaningfully comprehend and work with on a day-to-day basis – a framework which your brain can manipulate, combine with other frameworks already existing in your mind, and apply it to problems you encounter.
Invest disproportionately in your operating system
As you digest these resources, you should consider your balance of investment in specific vs generalist skills. My old boss, H, would often spin a metaphor here and call the latter your “operating system” skills.
He would argue that humans are a bit like smartphones. There are two things you can do with a smartphone to increase its performance.
- Upgrade general capabilities such as the operating system, storage, or memory processor, which improve the performance of it across every domain of it’s function, or…
- you can download specific apps which perform a specialised function – often these apps get neglected and uninstalled sometime later
H’s point was that this roughly translates to people as follows;
- Investing in your own operating system – your communication skills, mental models (more on this below), resilience, focus. Skills that underlie every aspect of your career/life.
- Investing time in gaining a very specific skill – i.e. a Masters Degree in x – a piece of specialists knowledge which you may rarely use.
His point was that people seem to spend disproportionate amounts of time working towards getting Masters Degrees or letters after their names – installing apps – which are rarely used, when they might be better served spending time investing in their operating system. The thing which would have a disproportionate effect of increasing their performance in almost every domain.
“developing the habit of mastering the multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do.”Charlie Munger
One of the operating system skills mentioned above, was “Mental Models”. Charlie Munger is, in the view of many, the master of these mental models – frameworks for thinking that you can apply to a wide variety of problems consistently, to solve them. He is largely credited with being a driving force behind Berkshire Hathaway’s success: a two million percent return on investment. What do I mean by a mental model? Let’s give you a simple example. One of Charlies’ favourites is a model called “inversion” which can be applied to all problems. It simply involves tackling the problem by thinking through how you would reach the opposite of the solution, then avoiding those tactics.
Let us say you want to be a better leader, but are young and perhaps it is your first time leading a team. Thinking conventionally, we might make a list of all the things which might make a good leader. Given your inexperience many of these qualities might be simply unreachable – “battle-hardened”, “widely respected”, “proven”, “experienced”.
Using inversion, we would instead think about the things that would make a poor leader, then avoid them. For example, “dishonest”, “inconsistent”, “unclear”, “immoral”. Avoiding these behaviours is eminently achievable regardless of your experience, and would likely make you a pretty reasonable leader. He gives a great example in this article where he applies some of his mental models to increasing the value of a company from two million dollars to two trillion dollars.
Hopefully the books you read and the podcasts you listen to allow you to pick up some useful mental models and frameworks with which you can upgrade your operating system to increase your performance.
I hope this article leaves you considering blocking a couple of hours a day in your diary and benefitting from the compound interest that results from investing in yourself.
Audacious development goals, perhaps chosen in consultation with a mentor, should help you take aim and focus your valuable time. Along the way, do not forget to truly digest the best of any articles or books you read and invest disproportionately in your operating system. Hopefully this 4-part article series may have been humble start to this.
If you found this article interesting, read what else James learnt at the JHub in his other articles.