Learning is useless, validated learning is everything

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Knowledge is not power. Applying knowledge is power. Learning is useless. Validated learning is everything. If there is a single skill you have to learn to be massively successful in the 21st century, it’s validated learning. It’s the only way to build a superior life strategy.

The concept of validated learning comes from the lean startup. The validated learning loop helps quickly validate or reject core business hypotheses. Instead of blindly trusting your business idea, you build a minimum viable product and then use a special set of metrics to validate the effect. You build a feature, you measure the results and so you learn what to do next – persevere or pivot.

The same process of learning can be extremely useful in personal life. I use it all the time, to learn extremely fast and to get insights into what works for me and what doesn’t.

Validated learning

Validated learning in personal life

Validated learning in personal life is a process of acquiring a new chunk of knowledge, immediately putting it into practice and then measuring results to validate the effects – if there is any value or not.

What you learn in the process should also lead you to the next step, to the next chunk of knowledge to acquire and test. It’s a loop that enables you extremely fast personal growth and progress towards your goals.

The process or the personal validated learning loop consists of three steps:

  1. Acquiring knowledge chunks
  2. Immediate implementation
  3. Validated learning based on metrics

Here’s a table defining all three categories in more detail (with examples):

Knowledge chunks Immediate implementation Validated learning
Creative ideas Self-reflection and analysis Life metrics
Listening to lectures Engaging discussion Superior insights
Listening to audio books Scenario-based thinking Works
Reading Changing behavior Doesn’t work
Watching educational videos Performing an experiment Makes me happy
Witnessing a demonstration Trying something new Doesn’t make me happy
Observing Changing values or angle Leads me towards my goals
Doing research Teaching others Distracts me from my goals

Now let’s dive deeper into each of the three categories to explore why they’re important.

Acquiring knowledge chunks

The scientifically proven best way to learn is to use the chunking strategy. Chunks are small units of knowledge that go logically together and that you can easily practice, revise and remember. You break larger pieces of knowledge you want to learn into small chunks.

By mastering each chunk separately, you can effectively learn the whole body of knowledge without feeling overwhelmed or losing comprehension.

There are many ways how you can acquire knowledge chunks. I often call this “downloading” knowledge. You can listen to lectures or audio books, you can read books or articles, you might watch educational videos or even be present at a live demonstration of how to do something. You can also gain knowledge by observing, doing research and let’s add your own creative ideas into the knowledge chunks family.

Here’s the important part. If you stop at this point, you only learn. And that’s more or less useless. You have to take a step further to turn knowledge into real power. You have to implement it and measure where the new knowledge is leading you.

Immediate implementation

When you acquire a new chuck of knowledge, you want to put it to the test as quickly as possible. But you want to do implementation in a smart way. Thus the first next step after “downloading” knowledge is to process it.

You process knowledge by connecting a new chunk to whatever you already know, with self-reflection, by starting a discussion, analyzing how the new knowledge can be used or applied, and so on. The bottom line of processing knowledge is the strategy of how to best put the knowledge to practice.

Then comes the most important part – actually applying knowledge to practice. When it comes to applying knowledge to practice, there is a simple rule. If you don’t change your thoughts, words and actions or, in other words, behavior, you haven’t learned anything new.

If you don’t change your behavior, you haven’t learned anything new.

Well, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, because you should permanently change your behavior only after validated learning. First you have to see if the new chunk of knowledge is useful in any way.

You put new knowledge to the test by conducting controllable experiments. You try a new behavior, a way to look at things or you put knowledge to practice and then observe and measure the results. You gather internal and external feedback. Let’s look at a few examples (from my own life).

Practical examples
  • You read an article on how to write effective headlines. You immediately apply it to your articles and measure click-through rates.
  • In a psychology book, you read about an exercise on how to talk back to your inner critic. You immediately take a piece of paper and do the exercise. Then you measure how good do you feel.
  • You learn a new coding thing you can do in CSS or Python and you immediately try it on one of your landing pages. You brainstorm where and when you can use the same feature.
  • You get an idea for how to improve your relationship with your spouse with an active constrictive response and you immediately start practicing it in communication and measure the relationship index.
  • You read relationship advice that when meeting new people “there is no ice to break”, we’re all already connected, and so you never look at unknown people the same again. You immediately see every person like there is already an existing connection so you can easily talk to them.
  • You do research on intermittent fasting and how it can help you lose weight, and you immediately try it for 14 days to see the results. You measure your body fat percentage etc.
  • You read an idea about how to measure relationship drama and immediately develop the idea much further in a blog post. You do an immediate assessment for your key relationships.

you have to try

Validated learning based on metrics

The process doesn’t yet end with applying knowledge. When you change your behavior, you have to measure if applying knowledge makes sense and if it works for you as a unique individual. Be aware that many times it doesn’t and you have to revert back to old patterns or try new things.

There’s nothing wrong if things don’t work as planned, that’s also part of validated learning. Every small failure leads you one step closer to success. Actually you never fail, you just find a way that doesn’t work. That means you’re a step closer to the right solution that will work.

The point is, if you want to do validated learning, you have to measure where applying new knowledge is leading you. Based on that, you decide whether to pivot or not. There are two types of feedback you can lean on:

  • External feedback
  • Internal feedback

Internal feedback is all the feedback that you gather with self-reflection and it comes from within, from yourself. These are metrics that show your happiness levels (happiness index, for example), your changes in competence levels, whether you’re getting closer to your personal goals, and we can also include feedback from your body and many other personal life metrics.

External feedback is all the feedback you gather from your environment; from the people you work with to how your changes are related to environmental paradigms. You want to make sure that your environment supports you and that you adjust your strategy and tactics to the point where they enable you to achieve your goals as smoothly as possible.

You measure your feedback based on different metrics. Metrics can be qualitative or quantitative, but they show you real progress and the direction you’re going to. Below are some examples of life metrics you can measure. The best way is to analyze all the feedback you gather regularly during bi-weekly self-reflection intervals.

Health Money
  • Exercise frequency
  • Potential progress of illness
  • Managing your body weak points
  • Regular blood test
  • Body composition (% of fat, muscle size)
  • Aerobic endurance (run a mile, VO2 max)
  • Muscular endurance (push-up test, plank test)
  • Muscular strength (one-rep max)
  • Flexibility (yoga poses)
  • Personal income statement
    • Earned income
    • Passive income
    • Portfolio income
  • Expenses
  • Taxes
  • Monthly plus/minus
  • Net-worth
    • Assets
    • Doodads
    • Liabilities (Debt)
Career Relationships
  • Your company position (employment contract vs. organizational chart)
  • Public influence (number of interviews, public ratings)
  • Social media influence (Klout score)
  • Work enjoyment (from 1 to 10)
  • Professional connections
  • Your legacy (number of positive ideas that influenced local/global society)
  • Number of close friends you have
  • Time spent with the people you love
  • How much you do for your partner (massage, dinner, etc.)
  • How much you get out of a relationship (giving and receiving must be in balance)
  • How often you say I love you
  • How often you give a compliment to your partner
  • How often you make love
Competences Mind/Emotions
  • Number of books you read
  • Number of seminars you visit
  • Domain knowledge you possess
  • Number of skills you master
  • Number of tech skills
  • Number of creative ideas you have
  • Your IQ
  • Your EQ
  • How well you are able to control your mind (your maximum meditating time)
  • Your daily Happiness index
  • Number of negative thoughts daily (with use of emotional accounting)
  • Dominating cognitive distortions
  • Number of new things you tried in life
  • Number of breathtaking experiences you have encountered etc.
  • Other metrics as part of your life strategy (countries you traveled to, number of languages you speak etc.)

How you should measure your success in life? Compare…

  • Your current metrics on different life areas
  • Your past metrics on different life areas (past month, year etc.)
  • Don’t compare yourself to others too much (only healthy competition is okay I guess)

Besides gaining superior insights about yourself and your environment, effective learning also has to always result in permanent changes in your behavior; of course if the new change works for you and you don’t decide to revert or pivot.

After every experiment, you have to consciously decide and draw the bottom line of validated learning in terms like: it works for me, it doesn’t work, it makes me happy, it doesn’t make me happy, it leads me towards my goals, it distracts me from my goals, it’s something I really want, it’s something that I only thought I will like but I don’t, it gives results, it doesn’t give results.

You can make these final bottom line decisions on the “knowledge chunk” retrospection when you do self-reflections. You answer a few basic, but very hard questions:

  • What can I do or what do I know that I didn’t know before and what was the best way to apply it?
  • What went well using the new chunk of knowledge?
  • What didn’t go as well as expected?
  • What is the next thing I have to learn or how should I improve my “knowledge chunk”?

Based on that, you should make three final decisions and stick to them:

  • What will I start doing based on the new knowledge acquired?
  • What will I stop doing based on the new knowledge acquired?
  • What will I continue doing based on the new knowledge acquired?

You can do this really fast in a few minutes, you don’t have to do a whole dissertation out of every small new thing that you learn. The whole point is to apply knowledge as quickly as possible and then measure its effect and analyze if the change works for you or not.

If we go to the cases I previously mentioned, I kept the exercise of how to talk to the inner critic and I do it on a regular basis, I always immediately use new coding knowledge (and forget what I don’t reuse), I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for months now, and I broke off all relationships with too much drama.

The “there is no ice” thing only works for me in certain situations, since I’m an introvert and mostly prefer to spend time alone or with carefully selected people. So I often prefer to shy away rather than open a conversation with a stranger.

And I still have a problem with headlines, because there are competing commitments (two contrary goals you want to achieve) behind, so I have to resolve some emotional issues before permanently implementing the knowledge.

You learn so much about yourself, the world and how to use new knowledge if you do regular reflections and commit to validated learning.

Theory into practice

Implementing effective validated learning and a learning queue

I’ve mentioned chunking as an important learning strategy. When you do validated learning, you want to make sure you’re learning as effectively as possible.

You want to learn fast, but you also want to make sure that you really acquire knowledge and put it to the test, that you don’t lose comprehension when you are learning, and that you strategically decide what to learn next. You have to be a proactive learner with a strong attention span, not a reactive one.

Skimming articles, superficial speed reading and being anxious when learning are the opposite of what you want to achieve with validated learning.

In the same way, you don’t want to use learning as a handy excuse for failing. Oh I failed, but I learned a lot. Really, what did you learn? I don’t know. You want to be a really good strategic learner that knows how to transform knowledge into power. You want to learn from your failures and wrong assumptions. You want to be an effective validated learner.

There are many concepts that can help you with that. From employing different learning styles and challenging yourself with tests to preparing a very well prioritized learning queue, using the just-in-time learning concept, helping yourself with flash cards and much more. We’ll talk about all these different learning techniques in the following blog posts.

Until then make sure you are constantly improving and learning. Just make sure you aren’t only learning, but that you are really doing validated learning. Now you know how!


By reading this article you downloaded a new chunk of knowledge, so the next step you must take is to process it, apply it and then measure the results.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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