Today’s world is dominated by people who are productive and ambitious. Some of the most successful people have distinctive approaches to life.
These approaches are more than just remaining positive through tough times or being diligent in saving money. Modern geniuses have wholly different perspectives on learning, inspiration, and creativity.
Find the Root of Your Knowledge
Elon Musk is a multi-billionaire known for his successful companies: Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX. He is a well-known engineer and entrepreneur.
One thing that sets him apart is that he deconstructs and diversifies concepts.¹
In an AMA thread on Reddit, Musk has said:
“One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”
If you look at your work or field of study as a semantic tree, you can break it down to its rudimentary parts.
This would require acknowledging concepts from other fields.
For example, to fundamentally understand artificial intelligence, one has to know about Natural Language Processing (NLP). NLP is studied by the field of linguistics, which has aspects rooted in logic. Logic is a subset of mathematics, which also covers statistics and probability. Statistics and probability are also important concepts in artificial intelligence.
Musk has done the same thing. He took foundational ideas from AI, physics, and engineering and applied it to all his companies and projects.
This is an example of learning transfer. Positive transfer happens when earlier knowledge connects to new knowledge.²
The brain works by storing base information in the long-term memory storage. When you acquire novel information, your brain associates it with the old information.³
Stronger connections are made when your brain can apply meaning to it. Think about why you’re learning and doing something. Connect it to how it fits together with related undertakings.
Keep Your Mind on Work
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook on mentioned in a Q&A that he remains focused on his mission his whole life.
The Facebook co-founder is known to have 60-hour work weeks. Thinking about being productive all the time on top of that sounds exhausting, but it is do-able.
The default mode network (DMN) of the brain is associated with “spacing out” and daydreaming. When the brain is not actively thinking about something or focusing on something mind-intensive, it reverts to this state of mind.⁴
Staying focused on a purpose sounds easy when your job brings your worth to billions of dollars, as in Zuckerberg’s case. Rather than waste his time considering breakfast choices, he chooses to spend his brainpower on improving his company.
Anyone can become as mindful with practiced meditation.
Meditation is known to reduce activity in the DMN without focusing on a particular task.⁵ Certain types of meditation can rewire your brain to make it easier to resist mind-wandering.
Think Unconventionally: Think in Opposites
Niels Bohr was the Danish physicist who came up with the model for the atom. He was able to conceptualize light as both a particle and a wave, a contradictory concept at the time.
Creative geniuses throughout history have an affinity in thinking in opposites. Albert Einstein, David Bohm, Pablo Picasso, and Niels Bohr were all able to conceive of ideas that were on opposite sides of a spectrum.
Albert Rothenberg, an American psychiatrist, calls this Janusian Thinking. He defines it as the ability to imagine two contradictory ideas simultaneously.
To apply the Janusian process⁶:
Have a drive to create
Deviate from the norm
Conceive of opposites, at the same time
Build on the theory; play and experiment with it
Take Noam Chomsky’s famous quote “colorless green ideas sleep furiously.” Colorless and green are contradictions that can’t exist physically in the real world.
Chomsky used this idea to demonstrate that syntax and semanticity are separate things. Keep an open mind and you can utilize contradictions.
The main takeaway to this article is to think outside the box. Standing out and going down your own path pays off, and guidance from other thinkers can greatly influence the next generations of thinkers.
Medeiros, J. (2019, September 5). Elon Musk’s Secret to Learning Anything Faster (And Becoming Smarter). Goalcast. https://www.goalcast.com/2018/05/16/elon-musks-secret-to-learning-anything-faster-and-becoming-smarter
Sousa, David A. (2016-12-02). How the brain learns (Fifth ed.). Thousand Oaks, California. pp. 154–186.
Liston, C., Chen, A. C., Zebley, B. D., Drysdale, A. T., Gordon, R., Leuchter, B., Voss, H. U., Casey, B. J., Etkin, A., & Dubin, M. J. (2014). Default Mode Network Mechanisms of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation in Depression. Biological Psychiatry, 76(7), 517–526. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.20101.023
Garrison, K. A., Zeffiro, T. A., Scheinost, D., Constable, R. T., & Brewer, J. A. (2015). Meditation leads to reduced default mode network activity beyond an active task. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(3), 712–720. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13415-015-0358-3
The Janusian Process in Creativity. (2015, June 25). Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/creative-explorations/201506/the-janusian-process-in-creativity