Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting the Fingernails Dirty

Once in a while, a friend will come to me with a complaint, "I doing get how this [insert complicated classroom topic] works. The professor is doing a terrible job explaining it." Then there's often a tirade about how the person is paying thousands of dollars for an education and blah blah blah . . . but I digress.

My first response to that person usually has nothing to do with the professor. I ask if they have worked through any problems related to the topic. Almost all of the time, the answer is "no."

No wonder my friend doesn't understand.

Complicated topics like mathematics, economics, finance, accounting, marketing and programming require effort. They are not topics where you can listen to a lecture and immediately understand all of their nuance and subtlety.

Rather, you learn the material when you dig in to it. Do the problems. If you get a problem wrong, try to figure out why before talking to somebody who knows the answer. Test your assumptions - are they correct? Test your logic - is it correct?

Get your fingers dirty with the details. That's the way to learn the complicated stuff.