Published on

May 17, 2020

What's the best way to learn quickly about a new topic?

My approach to learning Modern Monetary Theory in a week

A few weeks ago while I was learning about Modern Monetary Theory I tried to apply the Feynmann Technique to see how quickly I could become conversant. This is my summary of the principles I applied for fast learning.

1. Find an article which is concise and clear


Before diving into the detail you want to have a broad overview of the subject matter from first principles. Try to ignore any explanations by journalists as they're more likely to be new to the subject themselves, and emphasise the wrong things.

How I did it

After some digging around, I found this brilliant article from Steven Hail.

2. Compile the authors that this article cites, or that the author recommends


Now it's time to dive in! Find a bunch of articles and start to read and take notes. Resist the temptation to draw conclusions too early. It's like seeing fuzzy picture gradually coming into focus; it may start to look like something until other features gradually emerge!

As you go, start to construct a scaffold of your own personal explanation of the topic.

How I did it

I got in contact with Steven Hail and Warwick Smith via LinkedIn and asked for recommendations on authors they believed were clear and reputable on the subject.

I didn't really need to contact them personally - their own writings will show who they refer to - but it's fun to connect with new people!

3. Write a short explainer on the topic


Try to pitch your memo to a friend who has limited or no background on the subject. Avoid jargon, explain ideas from first principles, and always challenge yourself by asking "why does this matter?" every time you introduce a new concept.

How I did it

I wrote Modern Monetary Theory in 500 Words and sent it to my friend Alex who loves learning about economics but has no formal training in the area.

4. Have your friend ask as many questions as they can about the topic


Your memo, whilst undoubtably brilliant (!), could not have covered the topic adequately. Any interested reader will have observed a ton of gaps, implications, or specific scenarios ("What about if..."). Ask him or her to write them down, and then challenge yourself to go deeper into the research to answer them as clearly as possible. Be ruthless with yourself - if you can't set down an answer clearly then you don't understand it yet!

How I did it

Alex came back with an astonishing quantity of questions, which I spent a morning researching and answering in Alex's Questions.

5. Rinse and Repeat!

Your answers will inevitably spur more questions, and uncover further lines of enquiry. Effective learning is a process of continual exploration and mapping, there are always new connections to form or principles to examine more deeply!


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© Copyright Oliver Mitchell 2019