I was watching this fantastic interview of two living legends Bill Gates and Elon Musk, facilitated by Baidu CEO Robin Li.
There were many insightful things they said which I took note of, but in this particular post I want to focus on a concept touched upon by Elon Musk that has really stuck with me and given me a clear way to express a vague notion I’ve had all this while.
In the interview Musk was asked about the different path trajectories between Gates and his life.
Elon replied by saying:
But my life kind of took me in a different direction. I focused most of my career on software. And then I said, well it seems like people really aren’t solving the electric car, or the space thing. So I thought I’d give it a try. I’d probably lose the money that I’d put into it. But I thought it was worth giving it a try. That was really the only thing.
And then I had to learn how you make hardware. I didn’t even know about – I’ve never seen a CNC machine, or laid-out carbon fiber. I didn’t know any of these things.
But you know, if you read books and talk to experts, you can pick it up pretty quickly. In fact, I think people self-limit their ability to learn. It’s really pretty straightforward. Just read books, and talk to people. Particularly books. The data rate of reading is much greater than when somebody is talking. What’s the output rate of speech? It’s like, a couple hundred bits per second? Maybe a few thousand bits per second, if you’re really going full tilt? You can do several times that by reading.
The main reason I didn’t go to lectures in college was because the data rate was too slow. [Laughing] It was like why are they reading the textbook to me? This is like a bedtime story or something! Ridiculous.
How good is that? I am fascinated by the way he thinks and views learning.
You can watch that specific part of the interview here, or feel free to watch the entire interview.
The analogy to downloading data
When you download something from the internet, the speed depends on the bit rate.
This I have always understood, but I only just saw the connection between between this and reading.
Learning is like you trying to download information into your brain. So whenever we are talking about downloading something there is always a download rate.
This has given me a way to express this concept now.
All this while I have found that I usually learned the most through reading. But I guess I didn’t really stop to ask WHY have I learned the most through reading? But now this makes sense. The reason I have found reading so effective is simply because it has a much higher data rate.
It is just like having a faster internet connection. Of course you will be able to see more, do more and learn more. Because speed matters.