If you want to learn something new, you can ask an expert to explain it to you. But there’s no guarantee you’ll understand, much less retain, what you hear.
Here’s a smarter way to gather new information: Unlock your curiosity. Begin with a set of questions. Then collect data that helps you build complete answers.
To wrap your mind around an unfamiliar topic, pick a handful of books or magazine articles on that topic. Browse the text, circling important terms and taking notes on key findings, definitions and instructive examples.
At first, you may grow frustrated with the material. Keep reading even if you’re initially confused. Sticking with it gives your brain a chance to recognize patterns and get accustomed to new terminology.
After completing your introductory reading, contact someone who knows more than you about the subject. Share what you’ve learned and welcome input. Experts may amplify points you’ve touched on—or provide further context that helps you digest the content.
You can also ask knowledgeable colleagues to explain perplexing aspects of what you’ve read. As long as you’re comfortable asking “stupid” questions, you can overcome obstacles and advance toward fuller comprehension of the topic.
To test to what extent you absorb the information, try to tell a story about it. Find someone who knows little or nothing about the subject and recount a compelling story based on what you’ve read. If the other person shows interest, that’s a good indication you grasp the concept and you can express it clearly.
— Adapted from “How To Learn Anything,” Steven Kotler.