Learning starts with desire
An idea from getting scammed, Leonardo da Vinci, and Kobe Bryant
I hope you’ve had a wonderful week.
If you haven’t, that’s great news. You’ll be ready to handle life’s vicissitudes. Anybody who’s getting drunk at brunch right now will simply not be prepared when life gets real. You will.
Let’s get to it!
In college, I hired a guy on Reddit to build a website for me. He turned out to be a scammer and stole my life's savings.
At the time, I was devastated. I had no money, no trust fund to fall back on, and two useless majors (economics and religious studies) I had naively chosen two years earlier. I wanted to start a tech company, but I had blown my chance — or so I thought.
A sort of primal, Darwinian energy unleashed inside of me. I said, fuck it. I’ve got some time between classes and my part-time job; I’ll just teach myself how to write code.
I locked myself in my room and watched every single programming tutorial on the Internet. I wrote code for hours each day, fueled by Red Bull, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and a burning desire to one day start my own company.
Suddenly, boring topics like iOS navigation patterns were fascinating to me. Every tiny bit of programming knowledge felt inextricably linked to my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Apple’s developer conference became my Super Bowl. My mind ran in loops like this:
“If I learn how to get this navigation bar to look good, then people will enjoy using this. If enough people enjoy using this, I will have a successful product. If I build a successful product, I’ll be a successful entrepreneur.”
[Licks Flamin’ Hot residue off fingers]
By the time I graduated, I was a decent iOS developer. Within months, I accomplished my goal. I became a founder and the CTO of a venture-backed tech startup.
To this day, I barely remember a thing from my Econ courses.
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci was the Michael Jordan of learning.
For him, learning didn’t start with the teacher nor the lesson. It started with the student — specifically, the student’s desire to learn.
From his notebooks:
“Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health, so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.”
Kobe Bryant once said you can’t improve a player by just giving them feedback on their free throw technique. Instead, you have to start somewhere else.
“What you have to do is you have to get them emotionally to want to be better. You have to get them to an emotional space where they wake up every morning driven to be the best version of themselves.”
He’d figure out which emotional buttons to press with his teammates at practice. Some players were hyper-competitive, so he’d insult them to piss them off. Others just loved the craft; for them, he’d use encouraging words.
Tying it together
No new knowledge can enter an unwilling student. To me, this has a couple of implications.
First, if we’re teaching something our first task is to get the person to want to learn.
Secondly, when we’re a student, “could I learn this?” might not be the most useful question.
Maybe it’s better to ask, “do I want to?”
Sources: My lived experience as an idiot who sent a stranger my life savings before they delivered the work,The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, and a YouTube video of Kobe Bryant.
See you next week,
"Leonardo da Vinci was the Michael Jordan of learning."..... ? That's a tough sentence to swallow! Although the quote is spot on perfect and this phrase resonates "Just as eating contrary to the inclination is injurious to the health" I'm having trouble putting a basketball player in the same league with a man who was a painter, philosopher, observer, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor, and architect.
I completely agree with your premise - if you don't want to learn - you won't learn. I hated math and all its silly numbers until one day I discovered I could manipulate numbers to do what I want, answer questions and explain phenomena.
Excellent think piece - once again!