Learning by Watching Others

In my previous post, I mentioned that we don’t do most of our learning in formal settings like classrooms. So, how can we ensure we’re learning effectively outside of such settings?

Watch others

One of the best ways to learn is by watching those who’ve already mastered the skills you’re trying to learn (or at least, are on a higher level).

Seeing them in action can give you insight into their thought processes. And it’s particularly useful when they voice their thought process: their objectives, the steps they took to get there, and their past trials and errors.
But the real learning goldmine is watching them struggle. It’s in those moments where the real magic lies. Watching them try to identify what’s the underlying problem and brainstorm solutions is where you’ll get the most out of it.

This is why good employee onboarding programs involve not just training, but also following them around to see how they work (AKA “shadowing”).

Kathy Sierra calls this “Perceptual Learning“. In her book “Badass“, she says that those who become experts often get to see a lot of high-quality examples of the skills they want to master. This explains why top companies are filled with high performers, why children of elite athletes or musicians often end up just as good, and why talent hotbeds exist.


A good example of this learning approach can be found in some YouTube’s ‘watch me take notes’ videos. Here are two I’ve watched several times because they always give me new insights. They show real-time use of note-taking apps to develop their ideas and process their thoughts.

  1. Andy Matuschak Note-writing Livestream: Andy Matuschak streamed his note-taking process. You see him working through issues, asking himself questions
  2. How to turn your notes into published articles and books using the Obsidian app with Eleanor Konik: Eleanor Konik’s session with Linking Your Thinking is another gem. I love how she gets super excited while taking notes and coming up with ideas on the spot

How to do it

So, how can you put this into practice? While I don’t have the ultimate solution, here’s the process I’d suggest:

  1. Pick a skill you want to improve
  2. Find people who are proficient in that skill:
    • If you’re running a business, chat with other business owners or listen to their interviews
    • If you’re a new employee, find someone who’s done the work before
    • If you’re a content creator, look out for those creating great content.
      Surely someone in your field will come to mind. If you’re struggling, you can ask for recommendations in communities or listen to podcasts.
  3. Learn by watching them work. This might be the most challenging part. Here are a few things you could try:
    • Check if they offer courses where they walk you through their process
    • Look for their live streams or videos on Twitch or YouTube
    • See if they offer any form of mentorship
    • Ask if they’d be willing to do a recorded working session

I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever learned something new by watching someone else? How did you go about it? What strategies did you use to make the most out of it? Feel free to share your experiences and tips in the comment box below.

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