Teach to Learn

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

There are many ways to learn new things, and each of them resonates differently for each of us.  Here’s one method that has worked for me possibly better than any other – and it’s one that most of us rarely think about: teaching.

Who's Learning?

Who’s Learning Here? (Image via Wikipedia cc)


In grad school, my math professor said “I don’t feel like I really understand something until I can teach it to an 8 year old.”  Does he routinely teach to 8 year olds?  Nope.  And am I regularly in a classic teaching environment? No.  But that’s not what he was saying.  What do you think he was saying instead?  I wanna hear your ideas here….


I’ve found that one of the most powerful and effective ways for me to learn something is to prepare to teach the material to someone I know.  Most of the time this is just done as a thought experiment: I don’t really teach them.  But as I work through the material — how I would present it to them, how I would connect it to things they already know, what questions I could draw from them, what questions and answers they might ask (and how I would respond), etc. — that’s how I really get to know the material well.  And that’s one of the best ways I’ve found to learn such material.


Think of the next thing you’re likely to learn about, or the next thing you’d like to learn about.  As you go about learning it, ask yourself if there’s someone you’d like to teach it to (even if just in your head)?  How would you teach them?  Try this experiment, and let us know how it goes for you.  Teach to learn.


I’m offering you your money back guarantee that it you’ll learn better if you try that.  Take me up on it!

Recognizing Ignorance: Pascal’s Circle

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

We are ignorant of things outside our circle.

photo credit: las – initially via photopin cc

Blaise Pascal has an analogy for ignorance, presented with a circle: what he knows is inside the circle, what he doesn’t know is outside the circle — and the more he learns then the more he realizes that he doesn’t know (because the perimeter of the circle gets bigger). As his circle grows, the more he discovers and recognizes that he doesn’t know.

For me, the circle is more like a living amoeba: some things I have to relearn a few times, some things I forget,  I’m always hungry, and perhaps I cause some people a little indigestion sometimes.  But the circle’s a good enough analogy for today, so let’s stick with that.

On the surface, the analogy is simple.  But just under the hood are a few important points we should not miss:

  • Sometimes people who know very little (tiny circles) have no idea how ignorant they really are.  I think we’ve all met this person, the one that always talks like they know stuff and yet everyone else knows that this person is clueless.  But, almost by definition, it’s hard for us to see to what extent we are that person.
  • People who know a lot are people who are very aware of how much they do not know.  The connection here is a lot stronger then first appears: Humility is a key element of learning.  To learn, we must respect the truth and we must recognize and respect our lack of knowledge.  People who think they know already, don’t learn.

and now I’ll talk about Fertility?

When I started my PhD, everything I read about this one relatively new and fertile research area was exciting, cool, and powerful. I decided to make this my area of research, become an expert in the area, contribute to the field and expand the body of knowledge in this area. I did: published a fair bit, contributed, got my PhD, etc. Yay!

But towards the end of the experience I learned something: to those in the know, “a fertile field” is code for “there may be  lots of weeds.” When I first entered that field, everything I read was great. By the time I left, I recognized most of it as weak and at least somewhat erroneous. I had learned more, and as a consequence I realized that my original impressions were somewhat a function of being naive and ignorant.

I was reminded of this just this last week: I started reading and researching a new topic that I’ve been interested in and wanted to research for some time. As I did so, I was impressed that all the material I came across was so good and exciting etc. And yet this time a little red flag went off in my head: “that probably means you’re ignorant – I’ll bet most of what these folks are saying is rubbish and you’re just too ignorant to be able to sort it out.” Little flags like that make me smile.

Flagging my Ignorance

A really powerful and tremendous asset is the ability to distinguish between what we know and what we just think we know. But, only knowing what’s inside our circle, that can be a tough call to make.  So, we should look for little red flags to help clue us in.  So here are two of my personal flags:

  • When you think you know it all, you definitely don’t (small circle syndrome).
  • If you think everything that everyone’s saying on the topic is right, then you probably have no clue.

So here’s the question: what are flags for you? What are flags that help you identify and distinguish between things you really know and things you think you know but maybe don’t?

The languages of your intelligence

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

Ever thought much about what language your intelligence is made of?  I sure haven’t.  Someone pointed me to this little curiosity a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about it since.   While the author states matter-of-fact-ly a few points that I’m not sure I buy, there’s still some rich food for thought buried in there.  Executive Summary: the languages we know and use are the languages that our experiences get formulated into, our creativity comes out in, and after a while result in us being shaped by the language we use.  Interesting thought.

I don’t know French

I have good friends whom have learned various other languages, and I’ve always been a little jealous.  I took some French as a youngster, but honestly: my jealousy was not enough of a motivation for me to learn a new language.  So, am I missing out?  Yea, probably.  But I think that article just tips on an iceberg much bigger than it intimated, and there’s a much bigger piece here.  There are more languages than just spoken languages, and yes indeed, the languages we use shape our intelligence.

one language of some sort of intelligence

When I was working on my PhD, my advisor kept trying to get me to write more, “it helps you formulate your thinking.”  He’s right, and I’m glad I listened to him.  While I think I’m a decent writer, I’d really like to write more and improve it. The primary reason is: I want to better formulate my thoughts.  But let’s leave spoken/written languages there and go somewhere else (comparable, but still else).

I know a handful of programming languages.  Have they shaped my thinking and who I am?  I’d never thought to ask the question until I read that article, but as soon as I’d asked it I knew the answer: Yes, for sure.  The time I spent in Prolog while in high school totally reshaped the way I thought about problem solving.  The first time I sat down and learned a functional programming language (e.g. Lisp or Scheme at the time) it totally changed the way I thought about things – and not just computing problems, but things around me and the workings of the universe around me.

Is Math even a language?

“What’s the purpose of learning Math?” my elementary aged children ask me.  The answer is very well put in math with bad drawings:

[Math] teaches how to solve problems through abstraction. You learn how to spot good puzzles; how to frame them; how to uncover patterns, to advance by logical steps, and to strain towards higher levels of generality, until the problem at hand becomes as simple and automatic as tying your shoes. It teaches the superpower of logical, abstract thinking.

Well, now I have another answer: because it shapes who I am.  The language of Math shapes how I perceive, how I create, and how I understand.  Programming languages do that too.  And so does Photography, English, and walking in the woods on a snowy evening.  My closest friends know that Math shapes how I interact with religion.  Other friends have seen how my computer program debugging skills come to full demonstration when I encounter a news article.  The formulations in which information and experiences enter my existence, and the formulations of my interactions with the universe, those are what we’re talking about here.  And they very strongly influence me, my intelligence, and the very nature of who I am.

 But now I realize that I know even more languages than that.  The French like the “language of love” and that’s great.  There are also languages of interpersonal communication.  Yea, body language, the eyes, etc.  Yep.  Learning to read people is such a tremendous skill.  Learning to speak “people” is a ninja skill I wish I had more of.  The photographer speaks, the poet sees, the musician connects.  I’m in love with these languages, but there are too many languages for me to be able to master in a lifetime.  Still, the reality remains: my intelligence is a function of the languages I know and use.

What are some other languages that shape our intelligence?  Should some be prioritized above others?

The Intelligent Life: a Practical Study

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

enYouVen: like “enlighten” or “enliven”

— except all about You.

We’re billing this blog as: “The Intelligent Life: a Practical Study.”  So obviously: “well what does that mean?” – so let’s start there. We as humans are more intelligent than rocks will ever be – there’s something about being us, something distinguishing, and I’m calling that something: “intelligence.”   I want more of it.  But I suspect that what I think it looks like in my life is different than what you think it looks like in your life.  So today we’re talking about me, intelligence, enYouVen, and you.

Building the intelligent life starts with what you've got.

Building the intelligent life starts with what you’ve got.

Would I consider myself an intelligent person? Sure, but I also sure wish I had more of it and applied it better. I’m living a somewhat intelligent life – and I want to live a more intelligent life. I’m going to accomplish that by learning from others, studying, seeking, and looking anywhere I can find more truth and understanding. But also crucial: I need to figure out how to incorporate it into my life. This is a practical study. This blog is for anyone wanting to live a more intelligent life, or live their life more intelligently (those two aren’t quite the same thing).

In the end though, this blog will probably carry some of my own flavors. So then: who am I?

I hope you’ll find me open and willing to have serious discussions about anything brought up here – I promise to do my best. I’m no classic business PR person (obviously I use unconventional grammatical constructions sometimes, and I’m not afraid to hit on curious topics, and I’m always going to write “being myself” in my own “voice”). What you’re going to get on this blog is me, the real me. You’ll also see me trying to become a better me, and you’ll see others here doing the same, and hopefully you’ll join us.

What’s a better me look like? What’s a more intelligent me look like? And what do I look like when I’m living more intelligently? Obviously (though perhaps incorrectly, we’ll discuss that one soon also), this starts with: who is this “me” we’re talking about? For starters:

  • I’m way awesome
  • I’m funny and I like to make people laugh
  • I’m smart, bright, intelligent, quick witted, and other awesome descriptive words
  • I’m hard working
  • I’m well educated
  • I prioritize how I spend my time in a way that aligns with my priorties
  • I’m happy, confident, at peace with myself, etc.
  • … and so on.

Except of course: I’m not.

Those are actually a few of the pieces of someone that I sometimes like to think that I am. But I’m not nearly as awesome as all that (and there are days when it’s all too painfully clear).

Some of those points about myself are kinda generic (e.g. many people want to be happy), but in reality, my internal picture of the best me is a picture that’s very personal. Both personal because it’s intimately a part of me, and personal because it’s shaped by my own experiences and personal uniqueness. Seque enYouVen:  like “enlighten” or “enliven” — except all about You Putting more of you, into you. We aim to better enable you to become the best you — as defined by you.

My vision of me is different from your vision of you, and should be. Each of us should have a unique picture of our best self, and it’s ok for that picture to be personal. enYouVen is about supporting you in your quest to be your best you. You’ll see we have a lot of great tools up our sleeves (and coming down the pike) that we hope you’ll find to be your go-to toolbox. Hammers, wrenches, glue guns, bobby pins, etc. All just tools. Use them in ways they weren’t intended. Use them for your life, to make your life The Intelligent Life, for real.