Sunday, February 10, 2008

knowledge acquisition

Recently I was asked how I went about learning new things. The question was in the context of my usual role of "go figure this out" at Linden, where I tended to draw the short straw and thus ended up researching -- among other topics -- intellectual property law, economics, learning theory, and philanthropy. I created a specific approach that served me well.

  1. Identify knowledgeable academics/experts in your field of interest. Games and virtual worlds make this is particularly easy, but a bit of time with Google and social networking and you can usual find a set.
  2. Reach out to them, preferably via mutual acquaintances, but otherwise with a direct, brief email. Explain what you are working on and why you are trying to better understand their field. Ask them for relevant books or articles that would help a motivated lay person understand their domain of expertise.
  3. Collect the list of reaching material from each source, then pick the 4 or 5 most popular and read them. More than that, study them, reading critically and for understanding. Take notes and generate questions from the readings.
  4. When you are done, write back to the people you asked for help. Thank them again, explain that you have read some of their recommended materials, and layout the questions and comments your studying generated.
At that point, you will have demonstrated that you are serious about your research and are willing to think hard about the subject. For most academics, researchers, and experts, having somebody do that much work to learn about their field is a pleasant surprise and, in my experience, they are more often than not willing to help you out with follow on questions, as well as introduce you to students who might be good fits for internships or open job positions.

Plus, you got to read about a new subject and come away with your mind stretched a bit. It is a win-win! You never will know enough to solve all the challenges you face starting businesses and creating new product, so having a network of smart people outside your domain can be an wonderful asset. It certainly was for Second Life development.

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