Taxonomy of wisdom: three levels of skills

We build our skills as a pyramid. There are fundamental skills, the skills that allow us to get things done, and advanced skills. Each set of skills is profoundly different, and we need all of them/

Fundamental skills

Trying to build more advanced skills without good fundamental capabilities simply does not work. Memory and visualization are some of the most basic skills that we use. I could probably add a healthy lifestyle to the list: to sleep well, eat healthily, and vent off.

The main difference between our method and everything else: we focus on fundamentals. If the memory is not sufficiently fast, speedreading will fail. When you cannot diffuse and anchor, productivity will suffer. Once your lifestyle is bad, you will have issues with everything you do.

If your fundamentals are strong you will be successful. Maybe it will take you a lot of effort and grit, and possibly your goals will not be smart. That can be worked with later. At least with good fundamentals, you will see healthy progress.

There are relatively few fundamental skills, but they require a lot of practice.

Getting things done

Once we have a strong fundament, we can build on it. Speedreading is a great skill to have for many reasons:

  1. Speedreading is a vivid demonstration of productivity in action, clear, and measurable.
  2. We need to read and learn anyway to get knowledge and advanced tools.
  3. Everybody reads similar stuff, at least at school. For example, we all can read some basic history and business literature.

Of course, if you do not have a reasonable memory technique you will immediately forget what you read. So make sure to practice fundamental skills first.

Immediately with speedreading, we start practicing productivity. We understand the meaning of Pomodory breaks, but we also start getting into the flow state, and organize activities into pipelines.

Of course, if we did not learn some anchoring and diffusion, the emotional overload will hinder your progress. And if you do not sleep, you will make stupid mistakes.


The fundamental skills are prerequisites and getting things done has an immediate return on investment. Up to a point. Then we start seeing diminishing returns. Suddenly we are the most effective employee in the company, yet somebody else is promoted. Or we work hard to clear the table for some cool activities, and everybody keeps piling their mess on it.

Wisdom goes beyond the tactical aspects into strategic issues. Here you will need some tools to analyze information, deal with anxieties, and motivate people. Once again we use a totally different set of tools.

You can combine the math of quantitative analysis and the psychology of qualitative analysis. Or just use one of these branches. The relevant tools are more structured and at the same time, less scientific.

You may say that this is not yet mastery or wisdom, but a stage of proficiency. This is an interesting argument for another time. However, if you consider for example Bloom’s taxonomy, these are high-level cognitive functions.

Guitar as a metaphor

When a person learns to play guitar he starts from the basics: where are the frets, how to hold the tool properly, and how to learn a new song. The fundamental skills are pretty boring but without them, everything else fails.

Next, the guitar player gets reasonably good equipment, learns to play various scales and chord progressions. With these, tools he can play pretty much everything. He learns some simple improvisation and a small number of songs to play really well.

At this point, he is a guitar player, but not a musician. A good musician needs to understand the musical theory and how to construct melody and harmony. He also needs to understand the guitar’s role in the band. A rhythm guitar learns to lock with the singer or with the drummer. The lead guitar learns cool riffs and licks and some fancy showmanship.

This is still very far from becoming a guitar got. However, I may argue that if you are a smart musician and keep practicing. at least you have a fighting chance.

Programming diversity

There are many kinds of programmers. Backend and frontend programmers are very different people with very different techniques. QA or algorithm engineers use code to do something very different. Yet all of them use the same building blocks.

Newbies think that the syntaxis of a new language is a huge limitation. Professionals learn a new language in a couple of weeks. The main limitation is a very different way of doing things. Proper programmers work very hierarchically with well-defined architecture documents. They often start from the tests and then build code that passes all tests.

Algorithm engineers try different things and build a solution. An algorithm engineer needs to implement and test his idea, and only then he may be able to supply the architecture documents. And even then, they might change everything for some minor optimization.

People dealing with QA and datasets start from the data. They collect and sort data, and then the code almost builds itself based on the data collected.

All of these methods are valid with different strengths and weaknesses. All the professions and approaches are required in a well-balanced team. If you ask me how to learn programming, I will tell you to choose your project first. Then the methodology will be built in a very different way per project.


One of the things I choose not to do is teaching expertise. To become a true master, one needs to repeat the cycle iteratively. Learn the basics, get effective, understand the wisdom involved. Then choose a project where these skills can be applied, and repeat the process. Possibly fail and choose a smaller project and repeat the process. Succeed and choose a more complex project, and repeat everything.

Mastery is usually acquired after multiple iterations. At some point, the basic tools of the trade become so familiar that we stop noticing them. We start asking deeper questions about what it means to be human, and how other experts handle similar questions. At that point, the questions are so fundamental that a nerdy programmer and a rock star musician can understand each other extremely well.

At this point, synesthesia finally kicks in. We can be born with it, or acquire it later. It will be there. We will be creative, but we will not use our brains holistically. And then with mastery, we experience a breakthrough. Kandinsky painted musical compositions and Ramanujan heard the voice of the goddess. True mastery is very different from a normal existence. It is pretty MINDBLOWING.

Return on investment

While true mastery is definitely a magical experience, most of us do not really need it. We may find it by mistake, but will it make us happy? What makes us happy are small things. An interesting job, nice coworkers, loving family, cool hobbies. To enjoy them we may need some social status, financial stability, and reduced stress.

These things are simple and relatively easy to achieve. Practice the basic skills, consider the return on investment for every activity, and make sure your values and actions are aligned. This is almost a fool-proof recipe for a comfortable life. Call it Epicurean wisdom. If you try to get much more, you will increase the risks and may hate the outcome.

How do I practice everything?

There is no single practice guide for everybody. Maybe you will need very specific coaching. This is a service Anna and I often provide to our students.

The first steps are easy: practice memory exercises and visualization. Already at speedreading, we need to make tough choices, for example, balancing speed vs retention. Then what? Probably speedwriting or teaching. It is definitely more fun than spaced repetition.

Once we get to productivity the tuning becomes very specific. You can probably plan some theoretical issues or deal with theoretical problems, like public speaking. However, this does not immediately transfer to your actual tasks.

So for now, start with superlearning practice. I will try to become more resourceful and generate other sorts of training too. If you do not see thane in your exemplary schedule, this only means that my schedule needs to change.


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