Steve Gordon:Welcome to the Unstoppable CEO podcast. I’m your host, Steve, and today we’ve got a really special interview for you. Today we’re talking with Jonathan, and he’s a serial entrepreneur. He’s a published author, a podcaster who was born and raised in Silicon Valley. And Jonathan is the face of such products and brands as the award winning Superhuman Academy podcast, the bestselling Become a Super Learner series. And most recently his new venture, Superhuman Academy and his media products have been enjoyed by over a quarter million people in 205 countries and territories. Jonathan, you’re making a heck of an impact in the world and thanks for being here with us today.
Jonathan Levi:Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here.
Steve: Yeah, this is going to be fun. I think this is a topic that’s very important for all the entrepreneurs who are listening, talking about the idea of accelerated learning. And before we dive into the specifics of that, I’d love for you to give everyone a little bit of a background so that they kind of understand where you’re coming from.
Turning Side Hustles Into Big Businesses
Jonathan:So I’m a lifelong entrepreneur, probably like many of your audience. I always like to say I’m unemployable. I started out with entrepreneurship really before I even knew what I was doing. Most of the adults in my life were entrepreneurs and that was a really good thing because I didn’t fit in so well in the academic system and I didn’t do so well and I definitely struggled quite a bit for many, many years to learn as quickly as other people did. And you know, I always say you don’t start a podcast called Superhuman Academy because you grew up being happy with who you are and content.
Fast forward, I was very lucky, you know, after so many different trials and tribulations and almost getting held back in school and then being medicated for most of my adolescence, I was really lucky to run into two mentors who actually taught me accelerated learning, speed reading and memory. And it just changed my life. I graduated business school, which was the reason why I invested in this tutoring and this mentoring and thought to myself, “Well this could be a really interesting business.” I saw that online courses were starting to take off. I’d taken one or two myself and I thought this could be a great side hustle.
For some reason all of my businesses that succeed start as side hustles and all the ones that I say, “This is a billion dollar opportunity”, they go nowhere. And so I didn’t know anything at all about creating online courses, about online marketing, about recording videos, about teaching. But I applied this skillset and within a pretty short amount of time we had one of the top accelerated learning courses on the web. Pretty soon after that I came back and came back and came back and figured out how to podcast, then figured out how to write books, then figured out how to build membership sites, and throughout the whole journey it’s just been a matter of, “Well I don’t know how to do that and no one on my team knows how to do that. So what do I need to learn to achieve?”
Steve:So in, in listening to your story, you are what we would describe as an Unstoppable CEO. You start something, you’re not sure exactly what’s going to work. You maybe start multiple things and every time you’re presented with an opportunity or an obstacle, you just figure it out and you keep pressing forward and you stay unstoppable as we like to say. Which, that’s really one of the reasons I love having these conversations, and getting to record them and share them with the world, because what I found over the years is that nobody has a straight line path to success. There’s all these roadblocks in the way that you have to figure out how to get around. So as you’ve come across these things, as you’ve hit these, these different challenges in life and in business, what keeps you moving forward?
Jonathan: Whoa, that’s a great question. You know, because I was going to say, it doesn’t always feel like I’m unstoppable and I think that’s probably the biggest thing that your audience can resonate with, is sometimes it is really, really hard to be an entrepreneur. What keeps me going forward is I don’t know any other way on, on point number one, it’s really the only thing I know is being an entrepreneur. The only way I know how to solve problems is to innovate and create. And the other thing is, you know, the bigger picture and the bigger mission obviously is very impactful. I sold my last business in 2011. It was a luxury car parts online retailer and I built it from age 16 to 22, and then decided, you know, we’re not really saving the whales here selling luxury car parts and it was a seven figure business, and doing pretty well. But I realized, you know, I could probably build a business doing anything and why not build a business that first, I’m still passionate about because I think after seven years of making every possible mistake in that business, I was pretty ready to be done. But also I wanted my next business to be something that really impacted people. I wanted the normal, everyday functioning of the business to be a social good as opposed to doing social good with the fruits of the business.
Helping People Without Sacrificing Profits
Steve: That’s, you know, we see that more and more, where people are becoming, I think open to the idea that the business is more than just an economic engine, that there’s a potential for impact beyond it. I think that’s becoming more and more important. And it’s a, a dramatic change. So when I first came into business was just before 1995 and so relatively early ’90s, and you know, I was exposed to most of the older business leaders that, that were around, kind of grew up in the ’70s and the ’80s in business and it was very competitive and there wasn’t sort of this greater good that was necessarily being served. I think it’s actually a very good thing for, for business and for entrepreneurship, overall. As you’ve thought about your business in that way, how has it, how has it informed the decisions that you’ve made?
Jonathan: In which way? I’m sorry.
Steve:Well, I mean, so as you’ve, as you’ve thought about, “Okay, I’m going to build this business, it’s going to have this impact.” At the same time you’ve got the demands of building a business, you have to make a profit to make it sustainable.
Steve:How do you balance those, sometimes those seeming tradeoffs?
Jonathan: Yeah. Well, I don’t think there as much of a trade off as you think because I really fundamentally believe that doing good is good for business, and you know perhaps a short term trade off makes for a long term gain. So I’ll give you an example. We sell a lot of our courses or light versions, kind of stripped down versions of our courses, on Udemy. Obviously we make money doing that, but one of the reasons that we continue to do it, even though it may cannibalize purchases of our three and $400 courses is because it’s kind of the right thing to do. I mean a lot of our students on You to Me are from brick countries, a lot of that, for a lot of them, even $10 to purchase the course on You To Me is a pretty considerable investment.
But if we weren’t going for impact on any level, then we would just keep all our content behind the highest possible paywall. But here’s the thing. Doing that builds up our YouTube audience, and builds up our podcast audience, and builds up so many different things, in addition again to driving us revenue. So it’s like, yeah, we’re doing the right thing. We’re also, it’s doing right by us. So I, you know, I don’t think, I don’t look at it as us having made a lot of different sacrifices to do good. I think the way to think about it is does your product actually help people? Because if your product is actually helps people, then just by delivering that product, you’re doing good in the world. And then when you have a product that helps people, you can always find innovative ways like we have, you know, selling a $10 version of it or publishing selected pieces of it for free on YouTube. You can always find these ways to give as a part of your business model.
And for us all that giving, all that every week doing a free podcast, doing a free YouTube channel, that’s driving business for us. So I look at it not only as social good but also as lead gen.
Steve: Well, and you’ve approached it very creatively so that that you’re accomplishing both with the same activity. So I want to pause just for a second and we’re going to come back with more from Jonathan. And Jonathan, when we come back, I want to dive into this idea of accelerated learning and I want to learn more about the book that you’ve got coming out. We’ll be right back.
Welcome back everybody. This is Steve and I’m talking with Jonathan and Jonathan, you have kind of built your company around the idea of accelerated learning, and as you shared with us in the first part of the interview, you’ve used this idea of accelerated learning really to fuel your, your own personal growth and development. So can you give us sort of a 10000-foot view of what you mean by accelerated learning and what maybe some of the different components of it are?
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. So when I talk about accelerated learning, I mean the name kind of says it all. It’s, you’re learning how to learn, it’s this meta skill, but doing so faster. Because a lot of the ways that we learned Steve are, are really kind of broken and no one ever teaches us how to learn. When you buy even the simplest refrigerator, it comes with a 40-page manual. When you’re given the most complex object in the known universe, which is the human brain, no one ever teaches you how to use it. And it turns out that the way that we learn is, is really set up for kind of an entirely different set of goals.
Overcoming a Broken Education System
One, you know, schools serve a lot of very important functions and one of them is just keeping kids busy so that parents can be productive members of the workforce. Another is scale. How do we educate as many children as possible with as few teachers as possible? And by the way, pay them as little as possible, which is a whole different issue. There are all these different issues with the way that we learn. And then when you dig deeper into how do I learn more effectively, you realize that there are essentially cheat codes for the way the human brain works. And I’ll give you an example. No one ever teaches us how to memorize information, but if they did it, would be so easy to do something like memorize all 50 US Presidents backwards and forwards, and you would be able to do it in about 10 minutes.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I was in school learning a piece of information like that, for example, the multiplication tables, and even if you’re anti-memorization, there are things that students need to memorize. For example, you would like to have a really good healthy vocabulary in at least one language, and as we become a more global economy, more than one language. So memory is still this huge component. If you learn how to memorize information correctly, you can do it extremely quickly, with very little effort and you can learn how to act actively maintain your memories so that you don’t lose them.
Steve: Yeah, and it’s interesting that you brought back these memories of grade school for me, trying to memorize all of those things. And as you look at these different skills, I imagine memorization is one. I would guess reading is probably another big component of this. If there were some building blocks of accelerated learning, what have you identified as being sort of the base level that people need to be working on?
Jonathan: Yeah, that’s a great question. So the first thing is memory. Memory gets a really, really bad rap, but there’s no learning without memory. And no matter what it is, even if you are, say working on your golf swing, right we’re all CEOs. And you learn a valuable piece of information or you’re exposed to a valuable tip one way or another, you’re going to have to store that somewhere in your mind. So memory is the foundation of learning. And it’s really gotten a bad rap because of rote memorization and mindless memorization.
So the first thing that we teach in all of our programs is how to functionally upgrade your memory. And the way that you do that, Steve, as you tap into the evolutionary advantages that we have from millions and millions of years of roaming the savanna, and what that really means is tapping into your visual memory. So learning how to memorize visual information, learning how to connect memories so that they’re highly, highly kind of interconnected, and there’s a huge importance placed on them by the brain, which prevents you from forgetting so easily. And then at the most advanced levels, what you’re learning to do is store these visual memories that you’ve created in structures such as memory palaces, so that you can do really what seems like superhuman feats of memory.
You know, memorize a deck of cards in 30 seconds or memorize 50 digits backwards and forwards, or go to your next conference where you’re meeting other potential clients and learn the names of all 150 people in the room before the conference even starts just scrolling through the app of the conference. And these things anyone can do, and it takes a minimal amount of training and practice, and you will discover that you actually have essentially a limitless memory.
Steve:That’s so counter to what, you know, what I think all of us have experienced with that. You know? You mentioned earlier the memorization of all the presidents, I can remember just that being a struggle or the state capitals, you know, in the US, that it, you know, it was really such a struggle. So is it just a matter of technique?
Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. I mean there are, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve interviewed on my show, Superhuman Academy, who one year heard about this thing, the World Memory Championship, the next year decided that they would train, and within a few years won the championship either in their country or at the global level. Joshua Foer famously did this, I think it was in 2004 where he decided he was going to write about the memory competition for a publication and then kind of got sucked in, and a year later he won.
Jonathan: Most of these people who are winning competitions, all I should say, there is one person who is a world record holder who claims to have had a brain defect and so he has like a super human memory. The rest of the 500 people who are competing every single year, including the Mongolian kid who just memorized the deck of cards in under 13 seconds, they will all tell you, “I actually don’t have a naturally gifted memory. I had a pretty average or below average memory before learning these techniques.” And what’s crazy is Dr Boris Nikolai Conrad did some incredible research at Radboud University in the Netherlands and they figured out that after just four weeks of training at about 20 minutes a day, four to five times a week, people’s memories increased six-fold. And after six weeks of not practicing the techniques, when they called them back in, the change was still there.
Steve: Wow. I wished that worked at the gym.
Jonathan:I know, right? Wouldn’t that be great? Just work out for a few short weeks and forever you’ll be like Arnold.
Reading at the Speed Limit
Steve: That would be fantastic. So if memory is sort of the one of the foundations, once someone has worked on that, do you layer anything on top or is that everything that that you need?
Jonathan: No, no, there’s quite a bit. After you’ve established this memory skill, you have a couple of different schools that you want to establish first, improving your reading. Not only speed, but comprehension. There’s a lot of ways and strategies that you do that, but it all comes down to how efficiently and how quickly are you taking in information in the eyes. How much are you reviewing? Because first off, anyone who tells you you can read something once and remember it forever is selling you snake oil, but also anyone who tells you, you know you can read a page a second is selling you snake oil.
So it’s all about how can you optimize the movements of the eyes within the limits of what the human brain and what the eyes can do, and then how do you build in repetition and recall so that you actually remember what you’re learning? Another really important thing is preparation. How do you prime the brain for learning? How do you make even boring subjects into very interesting ones? And how do you structure out and plan your learning so you’re learning the right things, to the right extent, in the right way, at the right time, in the right order. And I can’t tell you, I mean, I’ll give you an example of, of why that’s important.
Even after I’d published my first book on accelerated learning and it was all about memory and speed reading, I decided I was going to kind of prove how powerful these skills were by learning Russian. So my fourth language. And so I downloaded a whole deck of Russian words and I imported it into this software, which would do all this space repetition. And pretty quickly I’d memorized something like 1100 words in Russian and it was fantastic. And then I get to Russia and the first thing I see on the train is an ad from Citibank. And they, the slogan of Citibank at the time was always with you, always for you, except they’d use two different words for you. And I had this moment of, “Oh my goodness, I don’t know the grammatical system.” I know all these words and I literally couldn’t string them together because the Russian grammatical case system is so much more challenging than English.
And, and it was like, “Wow, what a, what an oversight.” I knew a little bit about how the grammar worked and I knew that it was flexible in some ways, but I didn’t know that there were six different words for you. So it really, really matters in what order you learn things and that you have a structured plan for learning.
Steve:Yeah, I can imagine. And I actually took Russian in college. I will tell you it is the most challenging thing I’ve ever tried to do from a learning perspective. And I have an engineering background, so.
Steve: Quite a task there. So is there anything else? So we’ve talked about memory, we’ve talked about, you know, reading and then how to structure the learning and all that. Just really quickly, is there anything else? I want to make sure we spend a little bit of time talking about your new book, The Only Skill That Matters, as well.
Our Most Undervalued Resource for Self-Improvement
Jonathan: Yeah, I mean that’s the majority of it. There are a lot of other things and powerful hacks that you can use. For example, self-testing is a really, really important thing, but pre-reading is another one. You know, are you kind of scanning the texts before you read it to increase your focus and also build curiosity and generate questions? But that’s the majority of it. It’s easier said than done, of course, especially on the speed reading side. It does take quite some time to, to develop some of these skills, but the memory ones are very quick to develop.
Steve: Well and I, the payoff I think is, is huge. I’ve always been a big believer that books, particularly in the business context, books are sort of the one of the undervalued resources that we all have. But I’ve written several books. You’ve written books. I know that authors put their greatest ideas in these books.
Steve: And to the extent that you can get through them and find the things that are going to move you forward and, and do that quickly, you’re likely going to come across ideas that will move your business forward.
Steve: And so I think there’s value in doing it. So speaking of books, tell us about The Only Skill That Matters, your new book that’s coming out.
Jonathan:Yeah, so this is my third book and I often joke, but I think it’s true, it’s the first one that I’m really, truly, genuinely proud of. My past two books were, were really courses in book format. This is really an entertaining read, an engaging read that tells a lot of stories, not just of my journey, but of students that I’ve worked with. And the course lays out in a very easy and approachable fashion, how you can actually implement these skills, why they’re important, gives you examples. It gives you illustrations and really makes it fun for anyone to learn these skills. I really, I wrote the book and tried to get the language as simple as possible because I want young people reading it, I want adults reading it, I want CEOs reading it and anyone really who, who can benefit from the skills, which, you know, everyone can benefit from these skills. I recently had a 74 year old woman who enrolled in our programs because she’s starting to experience memory decline and wants to use these techniques to hang on to her memory.
Steve: Yeah. And I think for, for all of us seeing these things, we’re all living longer, you know, and we’re asked to process and sort through far more information than we ever have in the past as humans. And you know the ability to do that successfully to me is a critical advantage if you can, if you can do that.
Steve: And I think that requires not only speed and capacity, but it also requires discernment in terms of what, what’s really important and what should you focus on.
Becoming a Lifelong Accelerated Learner
Jonathan: Oh, that’s, that’s a very important skill as well. Yeah. And you know, I guess I’ll just say that at every juncture in my business, every time I have an issue, the solution, and I think, I think most CEOs will realize this, is not to work harder, right? Joe Polish, I mean Joe Polish’s Genius Network, and one of the things on the wall is the time to quit working is when working stops working. Instead when you get stuck in that hard place and you know your advertising is no longer converting, or you’re not sure how to open up this new division, or whatever it may be, the solution is learning. And I found that time and time again, no matter what we want to do, I mean right now I’m working on acquiring an apartment building, which I know nothing about, but it’s essentially acquiring an all new business and I’ve had to learn how to do that. We’re launching a certified coaching program, which I knew nothing about, but I’ve had to learn how to do that.
So I mean at every turn in my personal and professional life learning has really been the answer.
Steve:Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think this is a huge skill, and it’s when we don’t pay near enough attention to. I think we, you know, particularly in the US I think the feeling is you go to school, for most of us in business, you’ve probably gone to college and at least achieved a bachelor’s degree and the formal learning tends to end. And every entrepreneur I know that is successful will continue and they are lifelong learners but, but there’s not always a great structure to it and it’s often reactive. And so I love the fact that you’re giving us a way to structure this process, which I think can be a huge leverage point for, for business owners. So Jonathan, where can folks find out more about the book?
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. They can check it out on Amazon after September 3rd or go to superhumanacademy.com/book, and that should take them there and then they can check out absolutely everything that I do pretty much, from the podcast, to the online courses and everything in between, at superhumanacademy.com
Steve: If somebody wants to really dive into this and they get the book and then they’re looking at all of the different courses you offer because you have a real breadth of material on this, where would be the best place for them to start?
Jonathan: Yeah, well we actually have a five day memory program that’s really super affordable, which will teach you a ton. I mean really just a ton of what you need to know, but I will say for the price of that, we actually give access. We have a subscription program where you can start with all of our courses and do whatever you want and it’s going to depend for each person, but that’s only 49 bucks a month.
And as soon as you join that, we do an analysis for you of where are you right now? If for example, you’re a CEO, you don’t have 20 minutes a day to devote to learning these memory techniques. Well, we have a course that’s guaranteed to give you an hour or two back a day and that would be the right place to start. If you have plenty of free time because you’ve, you know, done the e-myth and all your employees are running your business and you’re running traction and your integrator is awesome, then you can dive right into our super learner masterclass, which is a comprehensive 10 week program. You spend about 20 minutes a day, four times a week, just like in scientific research and the majority of the course is done in six weeks, and that will take you from zero to super learner hero.
Steve: Wow. Well that’s great advice and folks, Jonathan’s stuff is the real deal. Go check it out. Definitely get a copy of the book, The Only Skill That Matters. And Jonathan, if you’d give us the website one more time, just so everybody has it.
Jonathan: Yeah, absolutely. superhumanacademy.com/book.
Steve: Awesome. And we’ll have that in the show notes as well. So if you’re driving, don’t worry about writing it down. And Jonathan, thanks for investing a little bit of time with me today. This has been fun.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Thanks for having me, Steve.