Today we finish the remaining five elements of learning to Think like Einstein.
The first post of this two-part series discussed general principles of building one’s mind. This second part gives a step-by-step approach to developing a powerful understanding of a great many subjects. Each of the five remaining elements may appear complex, but they make a lot of sense to the discerning reader.
We Only Have “So Much” Time for Building Our Knowledge
They are built on my insight a few years back that each of us have time in life to read only “x number” of books and none of us are getting any younger. So whatever our plan, we better get “on it” if we are serious about learning and growing intellectually. Think of it this way, the average person reads almost nothing or at least nothing of real intellectual value. Of those who do read important things, their primary mistake (in my opinion) is that the read (a) the wrong things, (b) do so in the wrong order, and (c) exhaust the number of books they can realistically read before they know all they should-could have known.
So, let’s assume you can consistently read 12 serious books a year. If you live another 20 years, that’s 240 books. See what I mean? 240 books is about what you can get on a bookshelf. That’s it! My point is that with all of the books available, you must be unusually judicious on what you spend your time reading—otherwise, you’ll burn through your 240 books and have wasted (not invested) much of your reading time on trivial tripe.
Where Do I Start?
So, where do you start? Well, it’s not where you think.
Most people would assume “Oh, so I should go to the great classics and just read the top 100 or 200 or 300 classics of all time…,” and that’s what is called a “great books” approach. I think this is a healthy approach, but not the best one.
Below is my suggestion.
Summary Thus Far (Steps 1-5)
If you follow my advice, by this point (using steps 1-5) you will have:
1. Developed a commitment to really KNOWING and learning, not just “being familiar” with lots of things.
2. Identified the major area(s) you are interested in knowing about
3. Discovered the best resources in each area(s) of knowledge you want to discover or master
4. Studied the “large general fields of study” from a Christian perspective. Meaning, instead of studying “details about” or “different disciplines within the major area of knowledge” you begin to study summaries of the entire body of knowledge in that area… LIKE “theology” ITSELF (summaries of what ‘theology’ is) and LIKE “philosophy” ITSELF… NOT areas WITHIN theology or philosophy or what have you.
5. You then, having a good Christian perspective (if you are a Christian and, in fact, if you aren’t I’d still suggest it), study these topics broadly through other authors.
Now What? (Steps 6-10)
6. Begin Studying the Major Areas Within Each Area of Knowledge. Now that you’re “beginning” to understand each major subject area (theology, philosophy, history, leadership, management, psychology, whatever), now (since you actually understand what these subjects ARE), begin to study each major secondary area or “sub-set” of these subjects. For example, in Philosophy—you’d only now begin to really study the major areas within philosophy, such as: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. In Theology, you’d begin to study those major areas, like Biblical, Historical, Philosophical, Systematic, and Practical Theology. And so on. Of course, you might ask—how would I even know these major areas within my fields of study? Well, if you have done steps 4 and 5, you will already have an intimate knowledge that these are the major areas of study within that discipline. But, if you don’t take this approach, you could read 40 books and maybe never realize these truths. See what I mean?
I know… this isn’t for the faint of heart, but for those who are serious about knowledge at a high level, keep reading.
7. Now Focus Your Study on Each of Those Primary Branches “In Detail.” Meaning, take your growing understanding of each of these individual fields (like biblical, historical, systematic theology… and so on, or metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and so on) and CRUCIAL, begin to identify the major movements, power brokers/idea makers/books & eras/time periods of those branches. In fact, why not work to memorize these—commit them to memory? Need an example? OK, let’s take Existentialism. Here, you might study each of the major Existentialists and their works—like Jeremy Bentham, Soren Kierkegaard, John Stuart Mills, Friedrich Nietzsche, Jean Paul Sartre, and what each wrote.
8. Now Begin to Focus on Each of Those Fields and Think About The Differences Between The Major Thinkers, Books, and Movements. For example—If you were studying the philosophical area of Existentialism, ask yourself—among those major players (identified in #7 above), what were the major differences between each of their works? Let’s say that they all agreed on 90% of their ideas—but what distinguished them from one another? That’s what I mean. And you could do that for each of the major areas that interest YOU and that YOU really want to learn about in detail.
9. Now, Finally, Begin to Read Individual Books Written By Specific Authors of Interest. Now, think of it… after all this, you have a SIGNIFICANT BREADTH AND DEPTH of understanding of all areas of your field of study… and know you are getting into the nitty-gritty of these areas.
10. Document Your Knowledge. Now, having invested this time—do whatever it takes to help others understand what you know. Make and record, in retrievable form, summaries of these ideas and people and books –record insights, draw images with diagrams and tables and graphs, then identify and record relationships between and across fields of knowledge.
Finally, most important in all of this is an often-forgotten idea: Slow Down – and THINK more than you read. Most people spend all their time READING and little or no time THINKING.
The result of all of this?
You will develop profound and intimate knowledge into the deep nuances of your field of study—you are becoming an EXPERT… because you have done what others have not done.
One of the greatest elements of personal impact and success is the importance of developing your mind.
But how do you do it?
In my two part series, I’ll give a total of 10 key ideas to enhance your thinking as you build your mind and learn to think like Einstein.
Here we go!
1. Redefine your understanding of “knowledge.” Knowledge is not what you happen to remember, true knowledge is that which you will never forget. Here’s my point: This is an area where so many people make mistakes… They assume they know more than they actually do. But, truth told, they cannot command their knowledge and their memory of specifics (facts, details, comprehensive understandings of things, how these things relate to other areas of knowledge, etc.) is actually quite shallow. Let’s face it, if you don’t remember it, you don’t know it. So don’t over-estimate your knowledge. Adopt a higher standard of what true knowledge is.
2. Identify the major or primary areas of knowledge you want to build. You can’t know everything. You can and should, in time, develop broad understandings of multiple areas– but you won’t be equally interested in everything. So identify a subject/subjects, and begin to drive deeper.
3. Identify the best, most reliable sources for mastering the big picture of your topics/areas. In other words, you need to begin studying a subject by learning about it “as a whole” and not piecemeal in small bits. It’s hard to understand a subject if you start by trying to understand one tiny piece of the subject then try to go broader. Instead, start by trying to develop a truly comprehensive, general understanding of the subject.
4. Start with secondary Christian sources if/when possible (of large general areas). Some won’t agree with this- so they can write their own blog. I understand that perspective, but generally disagree. From a Christian perspective, after one understands the big picture and broad understanding of something (astronomy or civlization or evolution or higher criticism), I think ‘most’ could benefit from reading about that broad subject from a Christian perspective– not so they can be indoctrinated, but because a Christian perspective will at least give them some perspectives and hot button issues of which to be aware. Without this, I’ve seen lots of Christians lose their way because they stumble into dangers unawares, simply because their minds haven’t been properly trained to think critically and biblically just yet.
5. Then move to secondary “secular” sources of those large general areas. Now is the time to move into the deep. Now that you have a general understanding of the topic– and at least some biblical-Christian perspective, you’re ready to learn about the topic from other perspectives. Keep your head on straight and go for it.
OK, so that’s a start… tune in next post for part 2 of this two-part series.
Understanding the Importance of Communication Savvy
Perhaps the two most important aspects of most information-laden professions and leadership in general are (1) becoming a strong writer and (2) becoming a strong speaker. This is because of the importance and priority of communication and its central role in leadership and life.
Today I want to share what a power communicator must have. There was a resource offered a number of years ago that referenced this concept, but I’d like to unpack these ideas a little more here.
Those of us who put food on the table through our teaching/preaching/speaking think a lot about communication. And as an educator, I spend time considering how to help undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral pastoral and ministry students become the best communicators they can possibly be. I want to bring balance to the issue by highlighting three enormously important issues for communicators and those who train them.
Three Components of Power Communicators
To become a power communicator capable of shaking the earth, three power principles must be mastered:
There are those who sometimes teach or speak who are entertaining to hear, but who fail to deliver the goods. When life (or people, time, resources, business, money, influence, whatever your thing) is on the line, the one thing you must do is put the cookies on the bottom shelf. Meaning, you MUST bring home the bacon; you MUST ring the bell; you must shuck the corn. Whatever analogy you want to employ, it’s crucial that if you’re going to speak, you have something to say. Some people don’t. Others think they do, but can’t produce. Content is an enormous priority for the speaker– in many ways THE priority. Don’t neglect the content. Don’t abuse the message. It’s the only reason you’re really speaking in the first place.
In addition to WHAT one says, however, is HOW one says it. A really common and unfortunate mistake that many ineffective communicators make is to assume that CONTENT (substance) is all that really matters in speaking. This could be a painful statement, but the people who make that false assumption are generally poor communicators. Any strong communicator knows that connecting with an audience is by no means restricted to the substance of the talk.
So, in addition to substance is SOUL. “Soul” has to do with the communicator’s inner man. His or her inner self. The best communicators are able to transcend the limits of language and place their very hearts on display. They reveal primal emotions, potent convictions, and powerful attitudes. They can release the best of their personhood and vitality in the moment of truth. They have such a command of their ‘selfhood’ and security in their identity that they are able to project whatever their subject calls for: authority, passion, motivation, intimacy, compassion, angst, inspiration, humor, gratitude– whatever it may be, to their listeners– making them feel and think and want to do the same thing. Without soul, we’re only talking heads. Without soul, we have no heart. Without soul, we’re old news– we’re just another tired talker, but not a power communicator. Release the fullness of your best self when you step onto the platform or when you stand in that sacred desk.
Substance is a must. Soul is indispensable. But your speech must also sizzle. After you’ve done the hard work of study, reflection, hermeneutics, exegesis, research, thought, meditation and speaking prep, if you are incapable of bringing the heat, you will likely lose many of your listeners. So it’s not only what you say, but how you say it. It’s not just being an effective speaker and having a handle on grammar and syntax. It’s also making sure that you have a powerful command on vocabulary that you can draw from at a moment’s notice in order to paint a masterpiece to your audience or the congregation.
Can you make it “SING?” Can you allow the Spirit of God to breathe life into that dry manuscript and make the bones live? When you speak, does it pop? Does it happen? Does it thrill and excite and stimulate the learner. Does it force the listener to think, feel, and act? The best speakers have a near hypnotic command of their audience in such a way that the person loses all track of time and, as you speak, their hearts burn within them. Though, in Christian speaking, the power of God sometimes falls on a situation, to be sure– but do not confuse that supernatural act with the need for personal effort in selling what you say with a little sizzle.
For a living, I am primarily a seminary professor. There are lots of different types of professors and it’s easy to misunderstand the nature of this kind of a position. For example, there are Old Testament professors and New Testament professors; Theology and History professors– and, ironically, Historical Theology professors (go figure); there are Apologetic (defending the faith) Professors and Homiletic (preaching) Professors… and Christian Education professors (that’s me).
Seminary Profs generally do one of two things: They provide (a) theological and biblical education and (b) ministerial preparation. Theological and Biblical Education is primarily about biblical content (what the Bible teaches). Ministerial Preparation is primarily about equipping people to use that information (what to do with the Bible and how to do the job of ministry– and what THAT means is “helping people cultivate a relationship with God”).
And because there is so much content that is taught in a seminary or divinity school, so many subdisciplines in seminaries, people often assume that “every” seminary professor is a biblical scholar.. but that’s not really the case.
A Biblical Scholar? Not me.
Take me, for example. I am not (SAY “NOT”) a biblical scholar… not in the least. Now, I DO have a working knowledge of theology and a more expansive knowledge of the Bible than some people– but it’s nothing (SAY “NOTHING”) compared to many of my colleagues. Each of us has our specialty.
Two Sides of the Seminary: Arts and Divinity
Seminaries have two primary areas– arts and divinity. Divinity is about “what.” Arts is about “how.” That’s a horrible oversimplification and not even completely accurate– but it’s a fair approximation and generally holds to be true.
So seminaries offer those types of degrees– Master of ARTS and Master of DIVINITY.
Divinity Degrees are generally related to biblical content areas (knowing). Arts degrees are typically related to practical ministry areas (doing). Again– this is a terribly shallow representation, but it’s got a lot of truth to it, and for our purposes here– it’s a valid description of how to understand what I’m saying.
The Liberal Arts: Practical Living and Practical Ministry
I teach in the Arts side of the school, but do very little in the Divinity side. So, I know and can do a little in the area of Education (such as leadership principles, leadership theory, organizational management and process, educational theory, educational psychology, motivation theory, educational philosophy, learning theory, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.). So my job is primarily helping future ministers and missionaries know how to help people find God and get to know Him. And I do that by teaching them how to construct, lead, and run ministries that can help reach, teach, and spiritually feed and nourish preschoolers, children, youth, adults, senior adults, special needs people, and help those leaders know how to help people find their way spiritually, so they can become all God has made them to be. And because it’s liberal arts, I also help my students understand how other disciplines and subjects integrate and fit into one another: like how politics and faith work together– or how Christians should think about and deal with practical areas of life as a believer– medicine, justice, morality, meaning, economics, choices, etc. That’s, again, a major simplification of my job, but it’s the gist of what I do.
Divinity Studies: Classical Learning in Bible, Theology, Philosophy, etc.
And just like I have an expertise– each of my colleagues has his own emphases. Whereas I work on the Arts side of the school, most others work on the Divinity side of the school.
Some of them are theologians. A theologian often has a good working knowledge of the Bible, but his primary emphasis is, well, “theology.” That means that he primarily works with SYSTEMS of THOUGHT and DOCTRINAL FORMULATIONS. And each theologian has certain strengths and weaknesses. Some theologians are very strong in, say, what the Bible says about God, Salvation, and Meaning– but may not be near as strong in details about specific Bible books, such as the individual cities the Apostle Paul visited on his various missionary journeys. In fact, a theologian may not know that much at all about some of those more ‘textual’ areas of scripture. What’s more, theologians may specialize in a given area like systematic theology, or philosophical theology, or historical theology, etc.
Other professors are biblicists or biblical professors— biblical theologians. Among them are New Testament Profs or Old Testament Profs, and the like. Some of these may specialize in the Old Testament– but not have a great handle on ALL of it (since it’s a big book). For example, I have a good friend who is an Old Testament professor but who doesn’t feel like the Hebrew language of the Old Testament is his strong suit. (What??!!!??). It’s really not that far fetched, though, if you know much about how it all works. An Old Testament (OT) Prof may be a specialist on the Ancient Near East or the Pentateuch, or Early Monarchial History or Post-Exilic Prophetic Literature… and feel somewhat weak in other parts of the Old Testament.
The discussion goes on… endlessly.
What This is All About
I say all that to make a point and to ask for a little slack for a liberty that I am going to take in some future upcoming posts.
Like I said earlier, I’m personally NOT a biblical scholar… but here’s what I am: I’m a Christian believer who tries to think deeply about key issues and phenomena (cultural, social, philosophical, biblical, etc.) [or, in other words, LIFE] and who likes to try to produce thought-provoking ideas to help people understand those things AT A STREET LEVEL– because that’s where most of us live. I try to make God and life from His perspective UNDERSTANDABLE as much as possible.
But sometimes I like to think about and dialogue on questions that I’m not a specialist on– on things that perhaps others should address… but they’re not here!!! And one other thing– just because a person (me) isn’t a world-renowned expert on everything I talk about doesn’t mean my perspectives are useless or dangerous. It just means that they are limited in their perspective (but I can deal with that, if you can). Hey~ if I waited until I knew something before ever saying anything, I’d never feel the freedom to even write one post on my blog!
So, that’s why when a friend asks a question that stimulates me to think, I can either SAY NOTHING… OR I can try to provide a reasonable answer, on the street level, though it may lack the specificity or technical accuracy or breadth or depth that a formal specialist in that theological or biblical area would prefer.
That’s my way of saying that, although other people could often do a better job answering certain things than I, I’m going to “take a stab” at some issues from time to time that interest me (and some of you)– even though my knowledge is sometimes a little sophomoric.
That way, even though it’s not the final word and even though it could make me the source of criticism by some more informed specialists, many of them aren’t taking the time to write to the average person about these issues. And if no one answers people’s questions, then what?
What To Look For In Some (Not All) Future Posts
So that’s my REALLY LONG disclaimer.
In the future, I’m going to take the liberty of answering questions that, maybe, I have no business trying to answer. And if someone reads a post and thinks he or she could answer it better or more accurately– I’d be happy to give those people “props” and let them write their own piece, so I can link my post with theirs.
But for now, I’m excited to give at least elementary answers to at least a few questions that people have or that people ask me to address. It’ll be fun.