Greg Brockman is the co-founder and President of OpenAI, and one of the visionaries behind ChatGPT.
For the first three years of his OpenAI career, Brockman wasn’t a machine learning expert despite being heavily involved in development (and despite wanting to learn). Then in 2018, he set his mind to mastering machine learning and did so in nine months. He wrote about his journey in a blog titled: “How I became a machine learning practitioner”.
Here are 6 ways that Greg Brockman used to learn machine learning quickly, which you can employ in your own life – especially if you are trying to learn something late in your career.
1. Embrace the Beginner’s Mindset: The Mental Barrier to Learning Anything New
This sentiment resonates with many of us, whether we’re diving into a new programming language, picking up a musical instrument, or venturing into the world of entrepreneurship. The mental hurdle of accepting our beginner status (especially if we’ve already crossed 30 or 40) often overshadows the technical challenges we face.
So, how can we overcome this mental barrier and truly learn anything we set our minds to?
Here are some books we suggest to learn more about this concept:
|Book Title||Author||Concise Description|
|Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success||Carol Dweck||This book explores the concept of a growth mindset, emphasizing that our abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.|
|Novice to Expert: 6 Steps to Learn Anything, Increase Your Knowledge, and Master New Skills||S.J. Scott||Offering a practical approach, this book presents six steps to progress from a beginner to an expert in any field by focusing on deliberate practice and continuous learning.|
|Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning||Tom Vanderbilt||Addressing the fear and stigma associated with being a beginner, this book celebrates the process of lifelong learning and highlights the transformative power it holds.|
2. The Power of Purpose-Driven Learning: Building What You Love
This nugget of wisdom is more than just a personal preference; it’s a universal key to unlocking the joy and effectiveness of the learning process. Let’s delve into why learning with a specific goal in mind—especially one that aligns with your interests—can be a game-changer.
The Pitfall of Disconnected Learning
Imagine you’re passionate about football and you want to learn programming. You enroll in a course that focuses on financial analysis examples. While the coding skills are transferable, the subject matter feels like a chore. You’re not excited about stock trends or balance sheets; you’re excited about player stats and game strategies. The disconnection between what you’re learning and what you’re passionate about can lead to dwindling interest, reduced motivation, and eventually, giving up.
The Magic of Aligned Interests
But what if you loved football and you were building a football data analysis program? Every line of code you write brings you closer to understanding your favorite sport on a deeper level. You’re not just learning; you’re creating something that excites you. This alignment between your learning project and your interests can be the fuel that drives you through challenges and complexities. You’re not just studying to pass a test; you’re studying to build something meaningful to you.
Here are some books (aside from Robert Greene’s infamous Mastery) we suggest to help you develop and stick to your passion:
|“The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything“||Sir Ken Robinson||This book explores the concept of finding your true passion and how it can transform your life. It provides practical advice and inspiring stories to help readers discover their own passion and live a fulfilling life.|
|“Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance“||Angela Duckworth||In this book, Angela Duckworth emphasizes the importance of perseverance and resilience in achieving long-term goals. It offers insights on how to cultivate passion and develop the grit needed to overcome obstacles and stay committed to your passions.|
|“The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles“||Steven Pressfield||This book delves into the challenges faced by creatives and provides strategies to overcome self-doubt, procrastination, and resistance. It offers valuable insights and practical techniques to help individuals pursue their passions with confidence and consistency.|
3. The Drive to See the Whole Picture: Overcoming Self-Doubt in Learning
The key lesson here is the importance of having a broader vision that fuels your perseverance, even when you’re plagued by self-doubt.
The Struggle with Self-Doubt
We’ve all been there—staring at a textbook or a blank screen, wondering if we’ll ever grasp the subject matter. Self-doubt is a common companion on any learning journey. It whispers in your ear, telling you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to master the new skill or subject you’re tackling.
The Importance of a Broader Vision
Greg Brockman’s motivator was his broader vision: he didn’t want to be a specialist trapped in a silo; he wanted to be a polymath with a panoramic view. When you aim to see the “whole picture clearly,” each piece of knowledge becomes a part of a larger, more meaningful puzzle.
Here are some books we suggest to help you understand these dynamics:
|Book Title||Author||Concise Description|
|“The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self-Doubt”||Russ Harris||This self-help guide, based on acceptance and commitment therapy and mindfulness practices, provides insights and techniques for managing self-doubt and building confidence.|
|“The Gifts of Imperfection”||Brené Brown||In this book, Brené Brown explores the concept of embracing imperfections and cultivating self-compassion to overcome self-doubt and lead a wholehearted life.|
|“You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life“||Jen Sincero||Jen Sincero offers practical advice and exercises to help readers overcome self-doubt, tap into their inner power, and live a life they love.|
4. The Power of Support: How an Accountability Buddy Can Transform Your Learning Journey
The key lesson here is the transformative power of having a supportive figure in your life—an accountability buddy—when you’re on a challenging learning journey. Not everyone can rely on a figure in a romantic relationship, but all of us have the capacity to link up with someone to act as an accountability buddy.
The Emotional Toll of Learning
Learning something new is not just a cognitive challenge; it’s an emotional one as well. The fear of failure, self-doubt, and the sheer frustration of not “getting it” can be draining. At times like these, having someone who supports you emotionally can make all the difference. They don’t have to understand the intricacies of machine learning or whatever you’re studying; they just have to understand you.
The Role of an Accountability Buddy
An accountability buddy is more than just a cheerleader. This person helps you stay on track, providing both emotional support and a gentle nudge when you’re slacking off. They celebrate your wins, however small, and help you navigate through your failures without losing self-esteem.
In Greg Brockman’s case, his significant other played this role, making him feel that it was okay to fail, thereby freeing him from one of the most paralyzing fears learners face.
Here are some books we suggest to help you:
|“Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”||James Clear||James Clear explores the power of small habits and incremental changes in achieving personal growth and success. This book can help you understand how to utilize support systems, including accountability buddies, to transform your learning journey.|
|“The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)”||Gretchen Rubin||In this book, Gretchen Rubin introduces her framework of the “Four Tendencies” to understand how individuals respond to expectations. By identifying your tendency, you can harness the power of accountability and support to better navigate your learning journey.|
|“Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”||Carol S. Dweck||Carol S. Dweck explores the concept of growth mindset versus fixed mindset and how it impacts our ability to learn and grow. This book provides insights on how to cultivate a supportive mindset and leverage accountability to transform your learning journey.|
5. The Superpower of Asking “Dumb” Questions: Accelerating Your Learning Curve
The key takeaway here is that the willingness to ask questions, even those that may seem “dumb,” is not a sign of weakness but a powerful tool for accelerated learning.
The Fear of Asking Questions
Let’s face it, nobody wants to look uninformed or naive, especially when entering a new domain. This fear often holds us back from asking questions that could clarify our understanding. We’d rather struggle in silence than risk appearing ignorant. But this hesitation can slow down our learning process and even lead to misunderstandings that could have been easily avoided.
The Benefits of Asking “Dumb” Questions
As Greg Brockman points out, asking questions is often the fastest way to get oriented in a new field. It cuts through the ambiguity and gets you the specific information you need. Moreover, experts usually appreciate genuine curiosity. When you ask questions, you’re not just gaining new insights; you’re also building relationships with people who can guide you further in your learning journey.
6. The Wisdom of Knowing When to Step Back
This statement packs a powerful lesson: sometimes what you’re trying to learn—or implement in the case of companies—may not be the right fit, and that’s okay.
The Importance of Self-Awareness and Alignment
The engineers who succeed in making the leap to AI, according to Brockman, are those who are “happy to be wrong” and “aren’t afraid not to know something.” This speaks volumes about the importance of aligning your learning journey with your innate qualities and interests. If you find that you’re forcing yourself to adapt to a field that doesn’t resonate with you, it might be time to reconsider.
The Illusion of Universal Applicability
With the buzz around AI reaching a fever pitch, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it’s the magic bullet for every problem or the must-learn skill for every engineer. Companies are scrambling to integrate AI into their operations, often without a clear understanding of its relevance or applicability to their specific industry. Similarly, engineers and professionals are diving headfirst into learning AI, sometimes without the passion or the “technical humility” that Brockman mentions.
Here are some books we suggest to help you remain true to you
|“The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”||Brené Brown||Brené Brown explores the importance of embracing imperfections, cultivating self-compassion, and aligning your life with your authentic self.|
|“Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life”||Bill Burnett, Dave Evans||This book offers a framework for designing a life aligned with your values, interests, and strengths, helping you make informed decisions about your learning journey.|
|“The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose”||Oprah Winfrey||Oprah Winfrey shares insights from various thought leaders, guiding readers to explore their passions and align their lives with their true purpose and self-awareness.|