Learning is one of the over-communicated but under-leveraged tools of the common entrepreneur. Everyone talks about methods of learning, but few people find realistic and authentic techniques that yield a net profit in the information and application categories.

Elon Musk has broken through that barrier with learning techniques that have proven successful not just once, but time and time again. A good argument could be made that Musk has leveraged his learning by becoming a disruptor.

He and his companies have shifted entire industries, including the transportation sector, the energy sector, and the space sector. Elon recently announced at a press conference that his plans for his biotech company Neuralink are progressing quite nicely, hinting at yet another sector which his hands will likely shift in the coming years.

Yes, Musk is a once in a lifetime genius. Likely on the same levels as Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton. He has a different way of viewing problems than the average entrepreneur. Of course, he reads hundreds of books. He works with top-level thinkers.

Elon has astronomical levels of funding to put towards his every whim. But that’s not what makes him a great learner. His learning methods aren’t that regal. His two rules for how to learn anything faster can be implemented by anyone at any time, including you, you too can be a rocket scientist, if you wanted. Here’s how

When it comes to learning, Musk is quick to note that he believes that most people can learn more than they currently know. When it comes to the average entrepreneur, Musk claims that they often don’t break through their perceived limits and try to learn beyond their current capacity. Or as he goes on to clarify, they don’t know how to outline their information in a way that leads to further revelation.

In a conversation, Musk discussed his approach to learning and the structure he uses as such, “one bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree- make sure you understand the fundamental principles”.

From this, we begin to see Elon Musk’s first rule of learning:

Knowledge is a tree

What does this mean for you practically? It helps the common entrepreneur understand that not everything is weighed with equal gravitas or importance. When it comes to learning, there is a difference between material that ends up hanging from a branch and the material that makes up the base of the trunk of your tree. It’s the periphery vs. the central.

Musk is a master of understanding what is at the core of each of the sectors his entrepreneurial ventures sit in. He starts there, ensuring that he has the best possible grasp on the “trunk” material before moving off into the minutiae of the branches and the leaves.

Many of us do the opposite. We load up on periphery facts while never fully understanding how or why they connect back to the trunk. This outward-facing-in method leaves many of our brains overcrowded with misidentified and, ultimately, unimportant knowledge. That’s not learning. It’s cramming.

The result of our efforts is a tree with a toothpick trunk and an overload of teeming branches, threatening to snap off as we try to cram one more idea or thought within our brains. If you want to learn anything faster, you need to start with the materials that make up the trunk. It might be a tad slower at the onset, but without a sturdy trunk, you won’t have the base to support any additional learning and skill.

Remember to connect

According to Musk, you can’t learn what you can’t connect. After all, many memory experts note that the best way to remember something is to associate it with something you already know. If there are no mental "hooks" for new knowledge to catch on, it tends to go in one ear and out the other.

This makes sense from a memorization standpoint when it comes to answering the question ‘how to learn fast?’. The creative ways students have come up today to learn the elaborate periodic table is a great example of how forming connections to something completely unrelated can make you a quick learner. 

Musk continued his advice on how to learn fast by first building a strong foundational trunk, then adding intricate details, and finally connecting these branches to expand your knowledge base! Don’t rush into the advanced material, make sure you understand the fundamentals first. Further, make interconnections to broaden your learnings.