Generative Learning

Generative learning is when you generate your own solutions to a problem or challenge, get feedback from reality, and learn from your mistakes.

This is similar to the evolutionary development model of software development, whereby you do some coding, play around with your app, and then evolve it some more.

Contrast this with learning solutions from other people. The limitation here is that other people’s solved problems probably don’t perfectly match your current problems.

When I was building my computer games business, I often came up short when trying to apply other people’s advice. They didn’t know my skills and talents. They didn’t know my concerns and limitations. Consequently, their advice would often land flat with me.

I had a similar experience when I was in a $30K per year business mastermind group in 2018. We’d do some masterminding sessions, and I’d often walk away with a collection of advice from other people that made little sense for my situation. People shared what worked for them, not what would work for me. What others advised usually didn’t align with my values, skills, customers, business model, or much else about my business. I often found it more practical to bounce ideas around with my wife.

It’s still nice to mastermind with other people, but not because their ready-made solutions will work. Masterminding is good for stimulating you to do your own experiments and explorations. I found it better for the vibe and the encouragement. The actual business advice was weak and misguided.

Where I tend to get the best results in life is from generative learning. It’s basically trial and error with a fancier name. As simple and effective as this is, people still don’t do enough of it.

It’s hard to come up with good business models that check all the boxes: lucrative, sustainable, personally fulfilling, purposeful, achievable, ambitious, fun, etc. If you apply someone else’s ready-made business model, you’ll probably feel some resistance in applying it to your own life. I think that’s because deep down, you know it’s a bit off. It’s a mismatch for you. Some people can do it, but you have to be really obedient, and many people just aren’t.

Someone else’s model can serve as a starting point for exploration, but there’s no substitute for doing the actual exploration work. Keep generating and testing your own solutions to problems.

When I look at advice on diet and nutrition, I can’t find anyone who teaches how I actually eat.

When I look at other people’s businesses, I can’t find anyone who teaches how to build and run a business like mine.

In all the relationship books I’ve read, I haven’t found any that describe how I relate to people.

I don’t know of anyone else teaching the philosophy of life that actually works for me.

There are lots of people teaching lifestyle design, but none of them teach the lifestyle that works for me.

I like being very organized, but I don’t do organizing like anyone else does. People sometimes ask me if I use some particular system. I can only do my system, not anyone else’s.

I sometimes pick up ideas from other people, but I haven’t allowed anyone to collect me as their protégé. My solutions were all arrived at through generative learning. I experimented till I found what works.

I’m actually pretty happy in my life these days. Even with the coronavirus situation, this has actually been an incredible year for me. One reason is that I’ve been moving quickly through my own forms of generative learning. For instance, the daily blogging serves as a new generative learning experience every day of the year, so my writing can evolve faster. Readers are telling me that I’m doing some of my best work ever this year, but I also think I’m doing some of my worst writing this year. I’m making more mistakes to learn faster.

If I try to directly apply what I’ve learned from other people, it always falls flat. I can’t get myself to do it. It’s always flawed. It’s always missing some key elements that would actually make it work for me.

But generative learning – good old trial and error – that’s been the most reliable path to finding solutions.

The “error” part sucks because who wants to fail? But if we can embrace the suckiness of that and know that it leads to more personalized, effective solutions, it’s easier to stomach it.

How are you personally responding to the coronavirus situation? Are you handling this situation as someone else taught you? Or are you finding your own way through this? I’ll bet you’ll get the best results by figuring out your own approach. Who else is capable to telling you how to intelligently reshape your life during these times? Only you can do that.

Let reality be the judge. Reality will show you whether your solutions are effective or not. If your solutions fall flat, accept that. I hate it when a solution that looks beautiful in the planning phase gets a failing grade from the real world. But I also know that it’s just feedback. It’s part of the learning process. And so I go back to the drawing board and try something else, just as optimistic as the previous time. I’m optimistic because I know that generative learning works in the long run.

What would happen if you embraced personal responsibility for generating your own solutions to life’s problems instead of trying to learn solutions from others? What if devising and testing solutions was 100% on you? What if no one would ever give you any advice? What if you couldn’t read or research to find any solutions?

How would you go about solving some of your problems, relying only on your existing knowledge and skills and good old trial and error? What if your only main problem solving tool was generative learning?

I’d bet that if you leaned more heavily on this tool, you could go faster. You’d stop waiting for other people to teach you things, and you’d come up with your own solutions. Some of your ideas won’t work, and you’ll learn from them. The more you explore and experiment, the sooner you’ll find what does work – for you.

Other people won’t solve your problems for you, but social support is still immensely valuable. Social support is good for generating ideas for experiments to do. It’s good for emotional encouragement. It’s good for pushing you to think bigger and to amp up your ambition. It’s good for pointing out shortcomings in your approaches. It’s good for opportunity abundance. But don’t regard other people as a pathways to fast and easy, ready-made solutions. You’re the ultimate problem solver in your life.

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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