In this episode, Steli and Hiten spark up a discussion about learning based on Hiten’s tweet “Be a student. Always”. This particular tweet received a lot of attention and with good reason—we need to discuss how comfortable we are with learning on an everyday basis. Listen in as Steli and Hiten share the ways in which they learn best, the motives behind learning something new, and tips to maximize your learning today.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:05 – Today’s episode is about Hiten’s tweet “Be a student. Always.”
  • 00:54 – The tweet had 102 retweets and 210 likes
  • 01:30 – Hiten works 14-16 hours a day—there are a lot of resources that he needs which are unavailable or hard to find; but, he is enjoying the learning process
  • 02:02 – Hiten started to play with Sketch, a designer tool he realized he could use
  • 03:20 – Hiten is not a designer but he cares greatly about design
  • 03:45 – Hiten says to learn by doing
  • 04:41 – Hiten does not like learning for the sake of learning, he likes to learn new things because he needs the knowledge and understanding
  • 05:33 – Hiten’s aspiration is to always be a student
  • 06:22 – Hiten is happiest when is he learning every single day
  • 07:06 – Steli says he learns more when he is immersed in the action rather than reading or researching about it
  • 08:09 – Steli’s knowledge about something grows deeper when he is actually DOING it
  • 08:53 – Steli knows how to play the guitar
    • 09:15 – Steli was 12 years old when he decided he wanted to learn the guitar, but he wanted to do it on his own
    • 09:43 – Steli would play his brother’s guitar when his brother was not at home
    • 10:14 – Steli eventually asked his brother for the basics and then learned everything else on his own; he would play for 9 – 10 hours a day
    • 10:52 – Steli learned by listening to songs and figuring out how to play them (playing by ear)
    • 11:34 – Steli became very good at playing complicated pieces and developed a good ear to the point where he could just listen to a piece and know how to play it
    • 12:02 – Steli felt his understanding is deeper because he spent his time working on it rather than taking an easier route
  • 13:13 – Hiten says people learn different ways
  • 13:44 – Hiten thinks learning by doing is the easiest route to learn
    • 14:19 – Learning by doing means you are bound to make mistakes as opposed to the “safer” route of reading books
  • 15:27 – Hiten’s tip: If you want to learn something, just go do it
  • 16:36 – Steli’s tip: Compare yourself now from who you were a year ago and see how you have changed
    • 17:24 – Look at the things that you were afraid of this past year and if you have outgrown it, it means you have learned from it
  • 18:16 – End of today’s episode

3 Key Points:

  1. Aim to be a life-long learner—try to incorporate learning into your everyday
  2. Learning by DOING is the easiest way to figure things out and take that learning to a deeper level.
  3. Look at the tasks you were afraid of at the beginning of the year and see just how far you’ve come, today.

Steli Efti: Hey, everybody, this is Steli Efti


Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah. On today’s episode, as a startup chat, we’re going to talk about a statement I tweeted. I don’t even remember how popular it became, and what I said was, “Be a student. Always.” Now I’m searching Twitter for it. Yeah, I just messaged it to Stelley and said, “Hey, we should talk about this.” The reason I said that is because I think we should talk about it and what it really means and because I’m sure we’ve both got something to say. By the way, I tweeted it a while ago now … Actually, no, eight, nine days ago, and obviously longer from when all of you are listening to this, but whatever, and it’s, “Be a student. Always.” It’s had a 102 retweets and 210 favorites, which is even for myself, who has a bunch of followers, it’s still pretty high number. Anything that breaks three figures in either retweets or favorites is definitely something popular, I would say, for me.


Steli Efti: I would agree. What made you tweet this? What was the impetus to write this out and publish it?


Hiten Shah: Yeah. Good question. Currently, I’m working about … Technically, I work a lot but I’m counting my hours right now just for fun, and it’s not quite counting my hours but I’m working about 14 to 16 hour days, there’s a bunch of stuff going on, a bunch of resources that are either unavailable or hard to find depending on how you slice it, and so I’ve realized there’s a few things that are going to move a few of my businesses forward that I just need to do. It’s probably going to be like this for a bit, and I’m enjoying it, but a lot of that process has to do with learning these things I don’t know. I’ll give one example just to put it out there for myself. There’s a product called Sketch, it’s a designer tool, you’re able to design nice designs in it. It’s the new Photoshop. I never learned Photoshop. It’s what all the designers would use, and it would just be over my head. I don’t understand this layers stuff and just how it works, and lately all the cool kids, so to speak, that are designers are using Sketch, and so I started getting a lot of sketch files from our designers for multiple things, and then I started opening them because I’m a tinkerer, and I realized that I can mess with the much easier than I can mess with Photoshop, much easier that I can mess with almost anything else. These are full-blown designs with shadows and all kids of cool stuff, and I can play with this. The main reason I want to play with it is I work a lot on product stuff and editing the copy and moving things around, and all this stuff, it’s pretty critical. I started playing with that, not recently but maybe two or three months ago, and then recently I’ve been in it every day. Writing specs for product is mainly my job or specs for marketing or whatever it is, and Sketch ends up being the tool of choice. I’m the one that’s in there all day compared to anybody else on the team right now, which is really weird for me because I’m not a designer, I keep saying that although I probably should top saying that, and I’m not. I really am not. I just really care about design a lot. Yeah, that’s where it came from that day, but even beyond that, there’s a ton of other things, even two or three more that I know I’m a student in right now. It’s something I would consider I’m learning. For me, learning is learning by doing. I don’t like watching videos to teach me how to do something, I don’t like hearing somebody tell me how to do something, I just like to jump right in, have no friction to me being able to do it, whatever that means, so use it, do it, have an output and just do it myself. That’s how I learn the best. I can know that about myself but it’s also how I like to learn the best compared to homework and school and things like that. That’s not my paradigm. I don’t really ask people questions, I just try to figure it out on my own, especially if it’s something digital on a computer.


Steli Efti: Was it always like that? Did you always know what the best way to learn is for you or did you try different ways and at some point discovered, “Okay, I shouldn’t read stuff. I shouldn’t watch videos. I need to go and talk to people about things. The best way for me is just to jump right in”? Or, was it just always like that and you never tried anything else?


Hiten Shah: I always found any other method a chore because what would happen is I’d be learning it before I needed it. It always felt wrong to go, “I got to learn this and then I might use it someday.” That’s a real FU moment to myself. It’s like, “Well, why am I doing this right now?” This is why school and I never really got along. I knew how to get straight As, I got more like straight Bs on purpose because I didn’t want to get the straight As, this was after high school in college, I literally just slid through it. If there’s oil on the ground, I would just be sliding the whole time and trying not to fall over or whatever, but I slid right through it, didn’t really care about my grades. It had a lot to do with this concept, which is everything I was learning for the most part, 90% of it, was things that I could not use right now and that sucks. Just this whole idea of finding a way that it can always be a student really is aspirational for me. It’s not even something I feel like I’m doing well enough right now.


Steli Efti: Are there any phases where you’re not a student and then you start becoming unhappy and then you realize part of the unhappiness or restlessness is that you’re currently not a student in anything or is that never happening?


Hiten Shah: I would say I’ve never been that conscious about it for myself, to the point where I’m like, “Oh, crap. I’m not learning.” To me, it’s only more recently that I’ve been thinking about this because for some reason I’ve decided to learn a lot of new things right now in areas that either I had a lot of support previously or I just didn’t care to learn. One or the other. Yeah, I guess, the way I think about it is that I’m happiest when I’m learning every day, like every day, and learning in this specific way, which is I’m just doing something I haven’t done before or doing something that’s somewhat challenging. Even all the rocky parts of it are … Not even in hindsight but hours later or minutes later, days later I’m like, “That was worth even though I was really angry at the moment. Totally worth it.”


Steli Efti: All right. There’s one thing that I want to is just some of my immediate thoughts when you shared that tweet, and when I retweeted it back a few days ago, which is I want to zero-in a little bit on that learning by doing, I’ll call it, the immersing yourself but learning by taking action without spending too much time on researching, reading, learning, listening, talking but really just immersing in the doing, doing as a learning channel. A lot of times when you do … Or let me say, when I learned that way, oftentimes I’ll make a few mistakes or I’ll make some stupid mistakes or some things might take me a little longer than if I had learned this thing maybe more traditionally, or if I had gone through some kind of process of “reading the manual” so to speak, very carefully before jumping into it. But I found that those kind of those difficulties or sometimes the slow way of learning that where maybe learning something simple, even taking me multiple attempts because I had to discover it versus just reading it somewhere. That has a certain quality to the learning experience and how deep my knowledge is about this new thing because I had to go trial and error and I had to experience it and I had to discover the solution myself versus just hearing it from somebody else. That is hard to replicate when I take a shortcut to learning something. I don’t know quite how to articulate this, but I’ve thought about this before and I’ll give you an example a little later but first I want to check if I’m crazy, if this is a crazy though or if this is something you’ve identified, and then I’ll share the one strongest example I have about this for myself.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, let’s do it.


Steli Efti: Does that make any sense, though? Do I make sense?


Hiten Shah: Yeah, of course.


Steli Efti: All right. There’s probably many examples, but the strongest example that I can think of was the way I learned to play the guitar. I don’t even know if you know that I know how to play the guitar, but when I was-


Hiten Shah: No idea. No, I’ve never heard anything. I’m surprised you haven’t taken a guitar up on stage and went at it.


Steli Efti: I’ve thought about it many times, but not yet don’t it, but it is surely going to happen sooner or later.


Hiten Shah: Amazing. Can’t wait.


Steli Efti: I learned to play … The guitar was the first object of my ambition in life. When I was 12 … So my older brother was playing the guitar and … I don’t know, when I was 12, 12 1/2 years old, I decided that I wanted to learn it and for whatever reason, I decided that I would learn it without anybody else knowing and then I would come just jump out of a closet and surprise everybody with how amazing I am. So any time a brother was gone I would go into his room and I would just try to figure out how to play the guitar. I did this for a few weeks semi-successfully but not as successfully as I wanted it, and this is back in the day, we didn’t have a computer or the internet back in our house. It existed already but we just didn’t have it. There was no watching YouTube or any simple way for me to learn this. Looking at books, music books, which is still not that helpful to me, so eventually I actually had him teach me some basics, just the very bare minimum, like how does this all work? What do I need to practice to be able to even understand what’s going on and have the finger coordination and all that? He spent a few weeks teaching me the bare minimum basics and then from there on, everything that I learned … And I got really obsessed for a while … well, between 13 and 17, I did nothing else than play the guitar. I’d play the guitar like 9, 10 hours a day and not go to school. From the moment I’d wake up, at home all day long and I’d just play. The way I was learning was just listening to songs and trying to play them and then listening to solos and trying to figure out what the fuck is going on and how to play them. I would spend hours and hours trying to figure things out. Sometimes things that I could’ve just read in a book, not just how to play this specific song, but certain techniques that just sound weird to the naked ear and I had to figure out how does this person make the guitar sound like … what do they do here? It took me forever to figure certain things out that I could’ve just asked somebody or just read a book, but I became very good at playing the guitar for a while at and playing very complicated solos and doing things that sounded very impressive. Beyond that, I developed an incredible ear to the point where I could just listen to almost anything, just play it, not instantly but within a few minutes, and I always had the feeling that when I was … Later on when I played in bands and when I played with other people that were really good, that I developed this ear and I developed … I had stumbled over a bunch of things because of this trial and error because of going the “difficult route”, my understanding was sometimes much deeper than if I had just asked somebody that would’ve showed it to me. I don’t know. That’s my strongest exam where really, I spent sometimes … There was one thing, I spent a whole week … Hours and hours every day trying to figure out something that today anybody, any kid that wanted to learn that technique, which is YouTube, type it in and then within five minutes know exactly how to do it. It just took me seven days of hours every day to discover how this thing happens because I just … All I had was a song and a sound and then trial and error, trial and error, trying to re-create this and I just couldn’t figure it out. Yeah, that’s my example of learning by extreme-doing without a lot of help along the way, and I always wondered if learning it that way, which sometimes I think took me longer to get to the end result, that journey I had to take that, if that … I don’t know, if it has a certain quality, a certain depth to it in terms of understanding, that’s hard to re-create when you take the shortcut or the direct route, I don’t know.


Hiten Shah: I mean … I don’t know, people learn in different ways in what I’ve learned, some people are visual, some people are auditory, some people really need … Auditory meaning audiobooks, and some people really need other people to teach them just because that’s how they learn the best, like a teacher. But it sounds like you just literally practiced by watching videos of other people doing it, which is as close to learning by doing as I can imagine. To me, that looks … You probably have a similar model to myself. I think a lot of founders or entrepreneurs figure out how to learn by doing, and I think learning by doing is probably the easiest one to learn compared to thinking to yourself, that you’re a visual person or a person who loves audio. The reason I say that is as I’ve been thinking about this and you’ve been explaining your approach and your thinking on it, it just dawned on me that it’s … The best way to learn how to swim is to get thrown in the pool, right?


Steli Efti: Yeah, but I think that maybe a reason why oftentimes we want to learn by first reading a book or by asking people for advice or by observing others doing things, it’s because learning by doing implies that you’re going to mistakes. You’re going to do the wrong thing versus if you read a bunch of books, if you listen to a bunch of things, that’s still a much safer space, “safer”, you can enjoy theoretically understanding more about the subject without the risk of stumbling or doing something wrong or getting frustrated. Maybe, learning by doing might also just require a higher level of being okay with looking stupid in the name of progress and just making mistakes and not doing something well, and maybe a lot of entrepreneurs are good at learning by doing because you have to be okay with making mistakes anyways.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I couldn’t argue with that. I mean, after seeing so many people pretty simple, like how you’re describing it where if you think you have a requirement to learn that requires you to spend all this time doing something, like watching a video or listening to somebody or asking for advice, which is probably one that I find really fascinating, which I’m sure is a whole other upset, it’s like just go do it. You want to learn something? Just go do it. Just try it. I’m not saying you should go use a recipe book if you want to learn how to cook, it’s just do the least amount of effort, least amount of time required to go do the thing that you’re trying to learn how to do. If it’s cooking, don’t worry too much about videos or anything, just get a recipe book or look up a recipe online and just go add it. Make sure, obviously, you have all the right ingredients. But even shopping at the grocery store or on Amazon Pantry, or whatever they call it, all that stuff, that’s a process in itself of doing the thing, of cooking, and you have to learn how to do that too. To me, it’s just about going and doing. I’m going to make that my tip is instead of worrying about trying to learn and spending a lot of time learning, spend the least amount of time you can learn and just get doing when you’re trying to learn something new. To me, that’s really what being a student is all about from my perspective.


Steli Efti: I love it. All right, my tip is going to be a little different. The thing that I like to do once, and I’ll share this as my tip, is that there’s a particular time in the year where I like to sit down and actually try to compare my current self with myself a year ago, and the question that I ask are not how have I learned or how have I grown or why am I more successful than I used to be, but the framing that I have for that reflection is that I ask myself what is something I did a year ago, I thought a year ago or I was capable of a year ago that today seems stupid to me or today seems wrong to me or today I’m surprised about that that was something I thought or that was something I was challenged by because now it’s easy. I’m trying to figure out how have I changed. To me, that dealt of change means that I’ve grown and learned. There’s not much that I thought a year ago that … If I don’t think that a year ago I was stupid in a number of ways or I was silly in a number of ways or I was wrong in a number of ways, and if I don’t feel like a year ago I was challenged by problems that now seem easy, then that scares the living hell out of me. That is something that makes me go, “Holy shit, did I waste a year? Did I just waste a year on this planet without learning anything?” To me, I found that that’s a useful framing to look into myself and go, “Is there anything that I thought a year ago that now I think is stupid or that I thought was really difficult that now is easy?” If I don’t have good answers to this, it’s usually an indication that I’m not learning enough. That fires me up and it gives me a kick in the butt to make sure that I now learn more and make the next year count.


Hiten Shah: Love it.


Steli Efti: Right. That’s it from us, for this episode. Soon.