This is the Secret to Learning More Effectively in Business & in Life

by | BiggerPockets.com

Last week, I discussed why using the retrieval-practice method is such an effective learning method, especially for newbies trying to get into real estate—who are often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information there is out there. Today I will discuss a few more techniques from the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Reedier, and Mark McDaniel. Incorporating these techniques can seriously aid any newbie (or seasoned investor for that matter) master what they need to know about real estate investing faster and more effectively.

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Mix It Up

Is it better to just plow through something for hours on end? Or mix up different approaches and topics when trying to master something? Well, it turns out that it’s not just a “different strokes for different folks” situation. There is a right answer to this question, and we can turn to baseball to find it:

“Part of the Cal Poly team practiced in the standard way. They practiced hitting forty-five pitches, evenly divided into three sets. Each set consisted of one type of pitch thrown fifteen times. For example, the first set would be 15 fastballs, the second set 15 curveballs, and the third set 15 changeups. This was a form of massed practice. For each set of 15 pitches, as the batter saw more of that type, he got gratifyingly better at anticipating the balls, timing his swings, and connecting. Learning seemed easy.

“The rest of the team were given a more difficult practice regimen: The three types of pitches were randomly interspersed across the block of 45 throws. For each pitch, the batter had no idea which type to expect. At the end of the 45 swings, he was still struggling somewhat to connect with the ball. These players didn’t seem to be developing the proficiency their teammates were showing. The interleaving and spacing of different pitches made learning more arduous and feel slower.

“The extra practice sessions continued twice weekly for six weeks. At the end, when the players’ hitting was assessed, the two groups had clearly benefited differently from the extra practice, and not in the way the players expected. Those who had practiced on the randomly interspersed pitches now displayed markedly better hitting relative to those who practiced on one type of pitch thrown over and over. These results are all the more interesting when you consider that these players were already skilled hitters prior to the extra training” (Brown 80-81).

Related: How to Steadily Learn Real Estate Investing (Without Lulling Yourself Into Inaction)

The Key is Interleaving

They call this process interleaving. Basically, practicing one thing over and over again and then moving on to the next is less effective than practicing one thing, then practicing another, then coming back, and so on. One example they give of a company that does this well is Farmers Insurance with its week-long training program:

“The learning unfolds through a series of exercises that cycle through the principal topics of sales, marketing systems, business planning, and advocacy of the company’s values and its brand, returning time and time again to each, requiring that participants recall what they have learned earlier and apply it in a new, enlarged context” (242).

If you have any employees and want to provide some training for them, this would be a good thing to keep in mind.

It’s important to note that this technique also plays hand-in-hand with the retrieval practice I discussed in my previous article. By leaving one topic for another, only to come back to it, it forces you to retrieve that information again. And each time you retrieve it, you cement it deeper and deeper in your long-term memory. So instead of focusing solely on learning about valuing real estate, start there and then go on to learning about mailing campaigns—then come back to learning about valuing real estate. After that, go on to learning about budgeting rehabs—then come back to valuing real estate. Next, move onto mailing campaigns again before digging into screening potential tenants, and so on and so forth.

Embrace Difficulty

The class that gives out easy A’s may be tempting, but you should take the more difficult class instead. Don’t take the path of least resistance; life is meaningless without at least some struggle. And it turns out that your memory is also all but useless without some struggle.

The authors note that the brain learns by first “encoding,” or converting “your perceptions into chemical and electrical changes that form a mental representation of the patterns you’ve observed.” Then it goes onto “consolidation.” In other words, the “brain reorganizes and stabilizes the memory traces.” Consolidation is done much more effectively if you have to really work to understand the problem at hand. This is one reason that passive learning (i.e. watching TV, at its best) is inferior to active learning (i.e. a discussion or test).

Related: Stop Dreaming & Start Doing: How to Turn Big Real Estate Goals Into Actionable Steps

The baseball example noted above is actually an example of both interleaving and embracing difficulty. It’s much more difficult to hit a pitch when you don’t know what that pitch is going to be. But this more difficult practice is also far more effective. It also ties into the retrieval-practice method. It’s easier to sit in a class listening to a lecture than it is when an exam will be at the end. But those who have an exam at the end of the lecture will remember more than those who don’t. As the authors put it, “It’s the effortful process of reconstructing the knowledge that triggers reconsolidation and deeper learning.”

So while it may be tempting to simply sit back and listen to a podcast and hope that expertise will enter your mind through osmosis, to really learn a subject you need to embrace its difficulties. Don’t worry if you can’t understand something. If you have to struggle to understand it, in all likelihood, that means that when you finally do understand it, it will actually stick. The more active and challenging the approach you take to learning, the faster you will learn.

Learning harder is learning smarter!

Do you have any experience with this type of learning?

I’d love to hear from you below!

About Author

Andrew Syrios

Andrew Syrios is a real estate investor in Kansas City and a partner in Stewardship Properties along with his brother and father. Their company owns just over 500 units in four states.

5 Comments

  1. Darin Anderson

    Hi Andrew,

    I wonder if the baseball example isn’t a bit cherry picked for this case. Would it not depend more on the type of situation you would face in a real world situation? If we compare it to say basketball we can examine what Steph Curry does as the best 3 point shooter in the game. Every day he shoots 3 pointers until he makes 500 of them. To my knowledge he doesn’t randomly interleave those with free throws and layups, even though he shoots both of those in games as well. But his specialty is 3 pointers so he just hammers those until he can do them in his sleep. The key difference here is that the game of basketball allows him to do that. He can come down the court, get a screen and a pass and shoot a 3 pointer, almost every time. The opponents do not get to decide which type of shot he shoots. They can try to take away the 3 pointer but that just allows him and his team to do more practice on opening him up for the 3 pointer, or shooting deeper 3 pointers which is what the game is going to (Anyone what the March Madness Final Four and all the crazy deep 3 pointers? Clearly those guys practice shooting 3 pointers a lot because they can drain them from anywhere.)

    In baseball however the pitcher decides what pitch you have to swing at. You have no choice in what pitch is coming. You also have no idea which pitch is coming. So the practice sessions for the baseball players that didn’t know the pitch mirrored what they would face in the game.

    I suspect that is the key reason why they eventually performed better. They were practicing what they would actually face. I coach baseball and I tell our guys all the time, you need to practice like you play or you will play like you practice.

    I wonder if that isn’t really the key. What situation will you face in a real life situation. If you face things that you are in control of choosing and which you can tee up repetitively, then perhaps interleaving will actually be counter productive for you. However if you are not in control of what situations you will face with different unexpected things thrown at you all the time then interleaving them will give you practice at adapting on the fly.

    What are you thoughts on whether interleaving is always better or if it depends on the randomness of the situations you will face in the real world?

  2. Christy Browning

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for posting this article, it’s an interesting read. As a former (competitive) athlete the example you illustrate resonates with me, and I found similar results in my own performance variations by changing things up more frequently or from my coach, unexpectedly.

    I had not considered using this tactic in expanding my understanding of real estate investing, and the different types. I have been focused on buy and hold rentals, and multifamily syndication investing as an equity partner. Changing it up a bit may be helpful!

    Thanks again and take care!

  3. John Murray

    The entrepreneur business world is like batting practice. You find out where your wheelhouse is and keep fouling off the bad pitches until the pitch that looks as big as a beach ball. Mine is low and away, I connect and the ball leaves the park and hits the apartment building across the street. Go Cubs!

  4. James Dujardin

    I find it interesting being a new investor, training to be a certified crane operator, and being a single parent of 2 that the diverse studies of real estate, my specific trade, and parenting dynamics has allowed me to grow exponentially. I use to focus on one thing in my life because I thought I went further that way.
    But this baseball example makes me think of being able to handle a situation as it comes my way and being prepared for any “change up” that that may come.
    Thanks for the article!

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