You can learn anything, but you can’t learn everything. Be careful what you take into your brain-attic, since there’s only so much room up there. Pick your subjects with a sense of purpose.

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For example, if your goal is to bring a cinematic quality to video games, you should stuff your brain with the history of film, graphic novels, and representational art. You should pay attention to dance, sports, and music. You should master the digital tools of your trade, and take a strong interest in emerging technology. While you can certainly take up dog training on the side, starting a whole second career in dental hygiene would probably slow your progress.

It’s a competitive world, and the best way to outrun your competitors is to outlearn them. This doesn’t mean burning the midnight oil week after week, month after month, head buried in books or eyes glued to various screens. It’s not about the quantity of your knowledge. It’s about strategic alignment. Does your learning line up with your goals? Will it lead to fresh insights or deeper understanding? There’s plenty of time to learn everything you need to know, as long as you learn strategically and not randomly.

Over the long haul, how you learn is more important than what you learn. When you know how to learn, you start to use the most powerful metaskill of all. It’s the self-awareness that comes from observing what you think while you’re thinking it. “Metacognition” tells you when and how to use a particular strategy to get the most useful knowledge, right when you need it. It saves time and energy, which you can then apply to more learning, which in turn saves more time and energy. Great for you, great for your dog.

Next week: Shore up your weaknesses.
You don’t need perfect skills to let your genius soar.

The Rules of Genius is now a book with a bonus section called “How can I matter?” that includes 10 essential rules.  Buy here.