Future-Proof Your Career by Mastering Difficult Skills

February 24, 2020

Book Review by Andy Ghillyer

Staying current with, or preferably ahead of, the latest technology, skills, and theories is becoming increasingly difficult. Change is occurring faster than we are able to keep up. If you aim to be a top performer in your industry, it’s time to rethink how you approach the race.

In his new book, Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career, author Scott Young argues that we cannot win this race with the same skills and learning methodologies we used in college. We must become ‘ultralearners’ who are capable of learning new subjects and languages on timelines considerably shorter than traditional learning curricula. When you consider that Young first rose to fame for completing a four-year undergraduate degree in computer science at MIT in only one year, you might think he was on to something.

Learning Mastery

Young is adamant that it is his proven methodology that enables him to learn languages and new subjects so quickly, not a savant-like genetic advantage. He offers nine principles for becoming an ultralearner that are deceptively simple to implement.

The first principle – Metalearning: establishes context for your project. Are you learning a new language to be able to converse socially or to be fluent and perhaps work as a translator? Having a clear map of how you intend to use your new skill ensures that you don’t take the ‘inch deep, mile wide’ approach. With your map in hand you can then follow Principle 2 – Focus and Principle 3 – Directness: where you immerse yourself entirely in the subject material.

Immersion will be of little value without retention. Principle 4 – Drill: demands that you “attack your weakest point,” so that you don’t skip over material or leave yourself with a distinct weakness in your skillset. Principle 5 – Retrieval: reinforces the efficacy of those drills by testing to confirm retention. Testing may provide ongoing reassurance of mastery, but without – Principle 6 – Direct Feedback from a mentor or subject matter expert (SME), your true capabilities won’t really be challenged.

Absorbing a large amount of new information in a short space of time can’t be an issue with Principle 7 – Retention. Young offers a series of mechanisms to ensure that your brain doesn’t act as a “leaky bucket,” losing old information as you introduce new material. Simples tasks such as using mnemonics (pictures, rhymes, or abbreviations), pacing your learning sessions, and even overlearning to maximize retention, have been shown to fix the leaks.

Young introduces Principle 8 – Intuition: with a profile of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. The physicist represents a level of competence with a subject that to ordinary mortals can seem like magic. In the words of mathematician Mark Kac: “Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark.” Feynman, the author argues, developed such mastery by ignoring any limits of “explanatory depth.” By continuing to dig into a subject until you are able to explain it to a layperson, you can then build on that foundation.

The 9th and Final Principle – Experimentation: serves as a valuable reminder that you must commit to constant learning by exploring outside of your comfort zone.

Ultralearning will challenge everything you know about traditional learning models and offer you a plan to learn anything deeply and quickly.


Andy Ghillyer

Andy Ghillyer is a Contributing Writer at Soundview. He lives in Tampa, FL where he specializes in writing for the B2B and academic markets while raising a growing menagerie of cats and dogs. His other reviews are here.


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