One question that gets asked most often by Safal Niveshak readers is — As a new investor, where should I begin learning about investing?
In fact, it’s the most common question by people who are getting started with a new skill or new body of knowledge — Where should I begin? Which books to read first? Which online courses/blogs/websites should I start with?
Do you remember how you learned to walk? Probably you don’t.
Most babies take their first steps sometime between 9 and 12 months and are walking well by the time they’re 14 or 15 months old. When a child learns to walk, does it matter which leg was used first? How important is it that the toddler takes help of a wall or a walker? Whether she looks up, down, or forward while taking the first step?
My point is this — when it comes to picking up a skill or gaining knowledge about a new field, there’s no 100 percent foolproof step by step plan. What matters the most is how curious you are, and why do you want to learn.
If your curiosity is short-lived, the world’s most structured and efficient plan for learning will be useless because you would give up soon anyways. But for those who are determined to learn, they will eventually (and inevitably) become expert and knowledgeable.
How do we learn in our schools and colleges? The topics are laid out in monotonic sequence. Students are supposed to study those topics in a linear order. And I don’t think there’s any disagreement about how well the real world has rewarded our school/college education.
Don’t you see that this axiomatic method (despite looking elegant and rigorous) corrupts our knowledge-acquisition habits?
We’ve become so accustomed to this spoon-fed style of learning that the moment we want to learn something new, we start wondering — where should I begin?
Begin anywhere. It doesn’t matter.
In his fantastic piece on the subject of learning, Physicist John Denker, writes —
It is absolutely not necessary to master things at one level before moving on to the next level. Any topic of real importance will come up again and again, in various natural contexts, so there will be lots of opportunities to refine the ideas. This is sometimes called successive refinement. It is also called the spiral approach.
I often extend this idea — any topic of real importance will come up again and again — to how I select books to read. I notice that a book that’s worth reading usually comes as recommendations from multiple sources.
Anyway, what is a spiral approach? Denker explains —
Learn a few rough ideas, then spiral back, making connections between the ideas. Then keep spiraling back again and again, gradually adding new ideas, refining the ideas, and making more connections, checking to see in what ways each idea is consistent (or inconsistent!) with the others…starting-point doesn’t matter very much. After a few trips around the spiral, nobody knows or cares where it started.
I apply this spiral approach to how I read books. When I begin reading a book, I don’t intend to read it cover to cover. Sometimes I may, but it’s rare. I know I’ll have to come back to the book again and I always do.
Quite a few new investors remain stuck like the proverbial Buridan’s Donkey, thinking that they have to finish reading Warren Buffett’s letters, Benjamin Graham’s Intelligent Investors, and Peter Lynch’s books before picking up their first annual report. If you do that, remember, you anyway have to circle back to these investing super texts later. So don’t try to master everything before taking the next step.
The maze in the above image is an excellent metaphor for how real learning happens. A lot of attempts lead to dead ends but those detours are not wasted efforts. They’re the ones responsible for a deeper understanding.
As the travel guidebooks say, reminds Denker, “When planning a trip to the big city, do not plan on seeing every single museum on your first trip. Assume you will come back. Assume your first trip is not the only trip.”
That’s the same with learning how to invest as well. Begin anywhere. It doesn’t matter. Because if you are curious and determined to learn, you will circle back to the books and resources that matter the most.
And, by the way, if you still want to know where you may start learning about investing, our Guide to Reading and Learning for Investors may help you. Check it out.
That’s about it from us for today.