Learn Like a Baby

Several readers recently forwarded me this video. Not only because it’s deadly cute (man oh man, is it ever), but also because it provides valuable insights into increasing our learning velocity. There’s more learning per second going on here than almost anything I’ve ever come across.

On the surface, Li’l Edward tumbles around like a dervish, creating a perfect chaos. Beneath that chaos, however, there’s a pattern worth noting — a clinic on how our brains learn best and fastest. Since after all, evolution has built to learn by playing.

Three things Edward does that might be worth copying:

  • 1) Create lots of pure action. This kid is firing his circuitry. He’s not interested in observing or communicating — he’s all about doing, firing an action and experiencing the response. It’s pure action-feedback loops, with brief pauses for orientation. Watching it reminds me of being in Brazil, watching a futbol de salao game — which is essentially the same thing, lots of neural action in a tiny space.
  • 2) Zoom in and out. Edward has a pattern — he checks out a toy, then he rolls on his back to check it out in a deeper way (he even tries to do it to the big tricycle). It’s probing; he’s zooming in and out, from the small details to the big ones. This reminds me of watching good musicians practice, as they hone home in on a few notes, then step back to see where those fit in the big picture.
  • 3) Get totally absorbed. There are lots of names for good practice mindsets — “Flow,” “Relaxed Focus” — but I’m going to go with a new one: “The Baby.” This kid is open to new things, investigatory, and resilient. His emotional thermostat is not too hot, not too cold.  He shows us that all good practice is a kind of exploration. In short, Edward is learning because he’s not caught up in himself, but utterly caught up in his world.

(Well, at least until the end of the video, when he gets stuck under a chair.)

So the question becomes: how do we create more moments like this in our own lives? What kinds of “skill playpens” can we build?

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