How to Learn Unknown Unknown Things

Expounding the results of my shower thoughts: “how exactly do I learn things that I don’t know that I don’t know most effectively?”

First, WHY?

Why would anyone want to learn things that they don’t know that they don’t know? Here’s my take. Over the past 2 years, I’ve amped up how much I read, how much I listen to podcast, and recently how much I talk to people that I don’t know at a more than superficial level. In the process, I’ve learned things that I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and as a result I find myself seeing life through different lenses. NEEDLESS TO SAY, this is wonderful!

For instance, I’ve subtly written about this before in Thinking Framework | 2021, and in that blog I talk about new ways to think that I’ve learned in the year 2021. One of the idea in there was looking at life through the lenses of incentives: when someone does something, I don’t ask “why did they do it?” and instead ask “what incentivized them to do it?” In a way, it takes away from the person and emphasizes external factors.

Another example: the Valuetainment Channel on Youtube released a video recently where Patrick Bet-David talks at length about the difference between “will” and “want”. Also recently, I decided to rewatch all of Naruto (only 1–2 episodes a day though!). I quickly noticed just how often Naruto and some of the key characters (like Sasuke) say “will” and the drastic difference between these main character and the side characters who almost never use “will”. Through watching this video, I discovered the depth of saying “will” instead of “want” (something I didn’t know that I didn’t know before) and now I watch Naruto and notice the patterns that subtly make the story all the more beautiful to watch.

Overall, I just love being able to see life through different lenses. With that, let’s dive into the topic!

How do you learn things you don’t know that you don’t know, effectively?

My goal is to learn those things effectively. I don’t want to learn facts that are useful to me. I want to learn things that make me see life differently, and I want to learn as many of them, as fast as possible, and ideally learn the most important ones first—the ones I would wish I learned sooner because they would have helped me make better decisions!

I found the following ways to do so (some of which come from an IG story in which I asked this very question to people):

My Instragram story asking people this question.

Reading Highly Cited or Recommended Books or Authors

In my life experience, some of the books that are super highly cited:

  • The Bible—self explanatory, though I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone to just wake up and read the Bible 😅—it’s a TOUGH read.
  • Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad—this seems to be the #1 book to begin one’s financial journey.
  • Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow—as a book on psychology and behavior, this one is often recommended to me. Even I recommend reading it!
  • Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People—this book has been selling forever.

I’m more of a non-fiction guy, thus why most of the books there are non-fiction, but at the same time there are many fiction books that are also recommended. The point is to find those books that people recommend a lot because those are the ones that a lot of people have vouched for.

The other aspect of this is to read books from highly cited authors. One such author that I found last year is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This guy kind of has a sort of cult following, and I found a lot of highly intellectual authors cite from his book The Black Swan. Everything I’ve read from him has been super eye opening and helped me discover those things that I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

Ask People What They Think You Should Know

I got this from one of the responses on the IG story. One of the reason I really like this is because I think it can be a really cool icebreaker that also has depth. I think it’s also a great way to get to know someone or catch up with friends—like “hey, tell me something you’ve learned that you think I should know?”

One way that I would optimize this is by asking people you know have a lot of experience. This can mean older people, but it can also mean people who are always learning. Essentially, find people who either know a lot of things, do a lot of things, or are exposed to a lot of things.

One thing here that is good to ask people is feedback (this was an IG answer). Ask them how you can improve and how you’ve done in the past. This can help you see something about your behavior that you didn’t know you were doing.

Listen to Podcasts

Podcasts are very versatile in that you can use them in many ways, and for me podcasts usually teach me about things that I don’t know. Within that, there are podcasts that also teach me about things that I don’t know that I don’t know, which is actually my goal. Podcasts that are effective at doing this are podcasts that invite a lot of guests of different backgrounds.

One such podcast is the PBD Podcast, which came out of the Valuetainment channel I mentioned earlier. Patrick Bet-David, the host, always brings in people from differing backgrounds, and they just hash out whatever the guest is expert on.

Say Yes

I also got this from an IG answer, and this is also something that I started doing: saying “yes” more when invited to do things. One reason I love this is because is that it’s one of the most common recommended answer to “how do I meet more people?” So, I think it helps you knock two birds with one stone: (1) meeting people and (2) learning things you don’t know that you don’t know.

One thing I said yes to recently was going to a bachata social: Bachata is a type of latin American dance, I found myself enjoying it a lot because it involves being spontaneous and being coordinated with your partner as you dance. It’s also a creative process, and it’s an active thing to do. All of those are things that I enjoy doing, and I discovered this dance that I didn’t know I didn’t know that combines all of these things together.

Travel

When you travel, you enter a place of the world where almost everything that people do is not the same as where you come from. This always begs the question, why do the people in here do things this way? And that is one way I find that leads to discovering things you don’t know that you don’t know.

With that said, the best way to optimize this is to maximize how unknown the place you’re going to is while minimizing danger.

Connect Different Ideas

This is actually the meta version of this, and it is the idea of using everything you’ve learned to create new ideas—new things that you didn’t know that you realized only after learning all the building block ideas and putting them together.

This is what I do when I write blogs—or at least strive to. If I learn something new and I connect it with other things I’ve learned before, I write a blog about it. One article where I most explicitly did that was Power = Responsibility.

Needless to say, this is hard. However, I try to always write something I would hope to read and enjoy reading, and I hope my audience enjoys this content as well. I don’t want anyone feeling like they wasted their time reading these articles I put out, and I want my readers feeling refreshed having learned something new.

What’s next?

One of the answers I got from IG was actually wild. This guy’s response to my question was to ask the following question:

How do you learn something that nobody knows?

Outside of connecting different ideas together to create an insight nobody knows and perhaps doing scientific research, I don’t know of other ways to do this. Maybe one of them is to do extreme traveling: going places where nobody has ever been. What are your thoughts to this question?

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Robert M. Vunabandi

Robert M. Vunabandi

I’m a human, living on earth, and doing Software Engineering. I enjoy reading thoughtful posts, and I like to write! So, here we are.