By most accounts, it’s safe to say that Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a pretty smart guy. A genius, even. You might also say he’s someone whose habits you’d like to emulate, whose success strategies you’d like to co-opt as your own, if only you knew how.
Thanks to the Internet (ah, what a creation!), you can.
In the last few years, Musk has hosted a few Reddit AMAs — or “ask me anything” — in which he answers questions about, well, anything and everything the platform’s users might want to know.
In one particularly memorable session, Musk is asked how he is able to learn and retain so much information at such a rapid rate. An avid reader (and, again, a genius whose companies develop automobile and space travel technology), Musk is a smart man with smart people in virtually every professional and social circle he inhabits.
Musk in his answer admits he often feels he pushes his brain further than its natural limitations, but says “I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can. They sell themselves short without trying.”
He then elaborates on how to learn more effectively:
“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.”
While the term “semantic tree” is rooted in computer science, Musk essentially suggests one seek a broad conceptual understanding of a subject — its “trunk and big branches” before learning its finer topics, or “leaves/details.” The more connections and associations you are able to make about a topic, the more easily you will be able to understand, remember and be able to explain a subject you are trying to learn.