Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What We Really Need To Learn To Be Successful In Life - Part I

If there were no schools and traditional academic curriculums, and one had the option to question and rethink a human being learning curriculum what would be in it?

Photo credit: Clever pupil boy by Shutterstock

If we suspend momentarily the reasoning and goals that went into the creation of the present educational system, what would be the key things that an individual would really benefit to know in order to survive, be independent, self-sufficient and to live a meaningful life in the 21st century?

In 2006 I published on MasterNewMedia How To Be Successful, a very instructive guide originally written by Stephen Downes and which was originally published as Things You Really Need To Learn.

Today, eight years after, I have decided to go back to that guide and dissected it, updated it, curated it and expanded on it as to further broaden up its scope and usefulness.

What I have done is the following. I have:

  1. first re-read corrected, edited and improved the original text, by making several improvements to it.
  2. applied a simple content structure to each learning topic as to have an easier to scan information setup, transforming what was basically a normal article, into a set of information cards.
  3. added my own content contributions in many different parts, by introducing new text and relevant additions.
  4. added to each learning point relevant definitions, suggested readings, video clips, books and tools or resources when available.
  5. added custom images to each one
  6. expanded the original ten points into thirty and structured them into a three-part guide.

Here follows Part I with the first ten points, originally identified by Stephen Downes, curated and presented into this new updated edition:

1) How To Predict Consequences

2) How To Read

3) How To Distinguish Truth from Fiction

4) How To Empathize

5) How To Be Creative

6) How To Communicate Clearly and Effectively

7) How To Learn

8) How To Stay Healthy

9) How To Value Yourself

10) How To Live Meaningfully

1) How To Predict Consequences



"...the effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier"

Source: Dictionary.Reference

"something that happens as a result of a particular action or set of conditions"

Source: Merriam Webster


People don't think ahead.

The most common utterance at the scene of a disaster is, "I never thought..." The fact is, most people are very bad at predicting consequences, and schools never seem to think to teach them how to improve.

The prediction of consequences is part science, part mathematics, and part visualization. It is essentially the ability to create a mental model imaging the service of events that would follow, "what would likely happen if...?"

The danger in such situations is focusing on what you want to happen rather than what might happen instead. When preparing to jump across a gap, for example, you may visualize yourself landing on the other side. This is good; it leads to successful jumping. But you need also to visualize not landing on the other side.

What would happen then? Have you even contemplated the likely outcome of a 40 meters fall?


You should always be taking the opportunity to ask yourself, "what will happen next?" Watch situations and interactions unfold in the environment around you and try to predict the outcome.

To learn how to predict consequences you need to compare the current situation with your past experience and calculate the probabilities of different outcomes. If, for example, you are looking at a five meter gap, you should be asking, "How many times have I successfully jumped five meters? How many times have I failed?" If you don't know, you should know enough to attempt a test jump over level ground.

Write down or blog your predictions.

With practice, you will become expert at predicting consequences.

Even more interestingly, over time, you will begin to observe patterns and generalities, things that make consequences even easier to predict. Things fall, for example. Glass breaks. People get mad when you insult them. Hot things will be dropped. Dogs sometimes bite. The bus (or train) is sometimes late. These sorts of generalizations - often known as 'common sense' - will help you avoid unexpected, and sometimes damaging, consequences.

Suggested Readings:

The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future-Just Enough by Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney, 2011

2) How To Read



"to look at carefully so as to understand the meaning of (something written, printed, etc.)"

Source: Dictionary.Reference

"to look at and understand the meaning of letters, words, symbols, etc."

Source: Merriam Webster

"how to look at some text and to understand, in a deep way, what is being asserted (this also applies to audio and video)."

Source: Stephen Downes


A lot of writing is fill - wasted words intended to make the author look good, to distract your attention, or to simply fill more space. Being able to cut through the crap and get straight to what is actually being said, without being distracted, is an important skill.

Though your school will never teach you this, find a basic book on informal logic (it will have a title like "critical thinking" or something like that). Look in the book for argument forms and indicator words (most of these books don't cover the other three types of writing) and practice spotting these words in text and in what the teacher says in class. Every day, focus on a specific indicator word and watch how it is used in practice.


The four major types of writing are: description, argument, explanation and definition. You should learn to recognize these different types of writing by learning to watch for indicators or keywords.

Then, you should learn how sentences are joined together to form these types of writing. For example, an argument will have two major parts, a premise and a conclusion. The conclusion is the point the author is trying to make, and it should be identified with an indicator (such as the words "therefore", "so", or "consequently", for example).

Suggested Readings / Videos:

Video: How To Read A Book For Maximum Learning by Matt Morris
Duration: 6':25''

3) How To Distinguish Truth from Fiction



"How to tell accurate information from inaccurate information, misinformation, and disinformation."

Source: Howard Rheingold

"The process of inspection, analysis and verification used to understand the truthfulness, objectivity and bias of any information, news or story."

Source: Robin Good


Unfortunately this is an area largely forgotten by classical education.

One of the reasons for this is likely due to teachers feeling their students must absorb knowledge uncritically. Their pedagogical assumptions include such as myths as the one that if students question everything the teacher says, then they cannot really learn anything. That is, unless they memorize without questioning, learning, in their view, is not achieved.

But one of the first and most important elements of good learning is the ability to question what is given for granted and the one to verify and check where assumptions or data are actually failing.


The first thing to learn, to become capable of detecting crap or false information is to actually question:

  • what you are told,
  • what you read,
  • what you see on television and in general,
  • what others would seem to take for obvious or granted.

Do not simply accept what you are told.

Always ask, how can I verify that this is true?
What evidence would be needed to make me believe that this is false?

Every day, subject at least one piece of information (a newspaper column, a blog post, a classroom lecture) to thorough scrutiny. Analyze each sentence, analyze every word, and ask yourself what you are expected to believe and how you are expected to feel.

Then ask whether you have sufficient reason to believe and feel this way, or whether you are being manipulated.

Suggested Readings / Videos:

Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, 2012

Tools, Resources:

4) How To Empathize



"Empathy is a genuine feeling in yourself that operates in synch with another person. Empathy is a way of accessing another person inner mental states through the sympathetic operation of your own mental states."

Source: Stephen Downes

"Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being."

Source: Wikipedia


Every person on this planet has his own distinct view of life, reality and on how things work and on what is really important.

To assume that since we are all human beings we are all alike and we think, see and evaluate things in the same way is a very crass mistake.

No-one is exactly like you. We are all different, not just in the way we look, but also and more importantly, in the way we perceive and think. Everyone lives in his own customized "realized" and has its own view of life and on how things work.

Understanding this fact, will save you from the error of assuming that everyone else is like you. And even more importantly, this will allow other people to become a surprising new source of knowledge and insight for you.

Part of this process involves seeing things through someone else's eyes. A person may be, quite literally, in a different place. They might not see what you see, and may have seen things you didn't see. Being able to understand how this change in perspective may change what they believe is important.

When you are empathetic you will begin to seek out and understand ways that help bridge the gap between you and other people.

Being polite and considerate, for example, will become more important to you. You will be able to feel someone's hurt if you are rude to them. In the same way, it will become more important to be honest, because you will begin to see how transparent your lies are, and how offensive it feels to be thought of as someone who is that easily fooled.


To learn how to empathize you need to be able to imagine how other people feel. The better you become at this, the easier it will become for you to understand more rapidly the situation while being able to establish more effective communication channels.

This means that you have to create a mental model of the other person's thoughts and feelings in your own mind, and to place yourself in that model.

This is best done by imagining that you are the other person, and then placing yourself into a specific situation.

An excellent approach to master how to immerse yourself in the character of another person is to study drama (learning how to act in plays) or by spending some time in different role-playing games (RPGs) and practicing being someone else, with different beliefs and motivations.

Suggested Readings / Videos:

Video: What is empathy?
Duration: 3':31"

5) How To Be Creative



"the ability to make new things or think of new ideas."

Source: Stephen Downes

"Creativity is the ability to recognize patterns, and to use individual elements from them to remix, recombine and mash-up apparently unrelated ideas, concepts and approaches, into new ones."

Source: Robin Good

Facts / Backgrounder:

Contrary to popular belief:

  • Everybody can be creative.
  • Humans have a natural capacity to be creative, because that's how our minds work.
  • With systematic practice anyone can become very good at it.
  • The trick to learn creativity is to understand how creativity works.

Many people think that creative ideas spring out of nothing, but creativity is in fact the result of using and manipulating your knowledge in certain ways.

Genuine creativity is almost always a response to something. This article, for example, was written in response to an article on the same subject that I thought was not well thought out.

You could say in fact, that creativity blooms in situations where there's a need to face an issue, a problem or a difficult situation.


In order to train oneself to be more creative, here is where you need to look:

  • problems to solve,
  • things that merit a response,
  • needs that need to be filled.

This takes practice (try writing it down, or blogging it, every time you see a problem or need).

In addition, creativity involves a transfer of knowledge from one domain to another domain, and sometimes a manipulation of that knowledge. When you see a gap in real life, how did you cross a similar gap in an online game?

Creativity, in other words, often operates by metaphor, which means you need to learn how to find things in common between the current situation and other things you know.

This is what is typically meant by "thinking outside the box" - you want to go to outside the domain of the current problem. And the particular skill involved is pattern recognition.

Pattern recognition is a hard skill to learn, and it requires a lot of practice. This is one of the reasons why it takes time to and parctice to become more creative.


Learn to collect, curate and recognize similar works in:

  • in music
  • in photography
  • in paintings
  • in poetry
  • in movies
  • in books

Develop a true passion / interest for one of the creative arts and immense yourself periodically into it, so that you can absorb enough different materials to be able to start noticing patterns.

Suggested Readings / Videos:

Video: How schools kill creativity by Ken Robinson
Duration: 19':25"

6) How To Communicate Clearly and Effectively



"Communicating clearly is most of all a matter of knowing what you want to say, and then employing some simple tools in order to say it. Hardest part: knowing what you want to say."

Source: Stephen Downes

"Communicating effectively means to be able to convey a specific message using the minimum amount of words, while achieving the maximum level of comprehension on the part of the listener/viewer/receiver."

Source: Robin Good

Facts / Backgrounder:

To communicate effectively has nothing to do with the ability to speak, or to articulate words or sentences comprehensibly and accent-free in a specific language.

Effective communication is listener-driven. It cannot be self-directed by the communicator without full awareness and understanding of the receiver needs and available reception apparatus.

Perfect communication is the result of a very high level of empathy, affinity and understanding of the receiving end language, terminology, education, background and expectations.

Good, clear and effective communication is often recognizable by its simplicity, straightforwardness and conciseness.

Key elements that also contribute to higher levels of communication effectiveness include:

  • language and terminology,
  • empathy,
  • affinity, shared reality and
  • structure.

For example, professional writers employ a small set of fairly standard structures. Other writers prefer articles (or even whole books) consisting of a list of points, like this article. Another structure, often called "pyramid style", is employed by journalists - the entire story is told in the first paragraph, and each paragraph thereafter offers less and less important details.

Inside this overall structure, writers provide arguments, explanations, descriptions or definitions, sometimes in combination. Each of these has a distinctive structure. An argument, for example, will have a conclusion, a point the writer wants you to believe. The conclusion will be supported by a set of premises. Linking the premises and the conclusion will be a set of indicators. The word "therefore", for example, points to the conclusion.

Becoming familiar with such structures and with the elements that compose them can prove very useful in acquiring greater awareness of the communication devices at one's own disposal.

 Robin Good -
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posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, April 29 2014, updated on Friday, August 1 2014

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