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Priorities on Polymath Learning

I want to learn a lot of things, but I am leaning to things that is considered as too hardcore by the broader society instead of easier to learn, softer skills. These hardcore things, such as data science, pure math, theoretical physics, quantitative trading, programming, classical Islamic texts, etc take a long time to learn. Furthermore, it’s a bit of binary either-you-can-or-you-can’t thing. Contrast this with softer skills like communication, leadership, etc where there is a more reasonable, gradual improvement that can be seen right away.
But anyway, let’s structure my learning priorities. I will sort my priorities by two metrics: utility and time-value-of-knowledge (taking inspiration from time value of money, a time-adjusted utility for money). Using these metrics, the structure of the priorities would be base case, better case, then best case.
Let’s start with base case.
First, classical Islamic texts. As Quran mentioned, this world is nothing but play and amusement, and the hereafter is the true life. This implies I need to get my Islamic knowledge in this world as provision for the hereafter. Most texts are only available in Arabic, so I have to learn the tools first: nahwu, sharaf, balaghoh, etc. I don’t want to be the half-assed religious floating mass that cannot progress beyond Islamic-reminders-on-tumblr thing because of their Arabic illiteracy (by illiterate I don’t mean it like cannot read Quran, but more like cannot read “naked” Arabic texts and effectively extract its meaning). This is non-negotiable, lest I risk eternal damnation.
Second, career-related skills. Although the hereafter is the ultimate destination, I still need money to continue living in this world. I was quite lucky to have the privilege of working at an elite firm. There are three possible career path I can think of:
  • Partner Path – Work myself up to Partner level
  • Executive Path – Lateral hire to become executive in a blue-chip company or startup. More power and more money
  • Entrepreneur Path – Creating and running my own business. Theoretically infinite upside but has significantly more risk
For the Partner Path, I will need to learn how to pass performance feedbacks with flying colours and, in mid-career, how to bring business to the firm.
For the Executive Path, I need to find out how to be hired to other companies. Then, I have to learn how to adapt to PnL responsibilities and leading large teams.
For the Entrepreneur Path, I need to be observant about market opportunities and competent in bootstrapping my own organisation. This path is more complex, so I imagine there are a lot of unknown unknowns left to be explored.
Let’s continue with better case
Third, business school. This is a logical next step that is feasible to achieve from management consulting background. I have about 2 years to build my profile as the strong prospective student. I am targeting M7 school (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Columbia, Kellog, Booth). I need to learn GMAT, rake up interesting experiences, shows faster-than-average career advancements, etc. While career advancement in consulting *might* be possible without MBA, but the experience in top school might lead to interesting opportunity later on, such as meeting a potential startup co-founder, etc.
Fourth, finance. I want to establish a Sharia-compliant financial institution, be it investment bank, wealth management firm, private equity, venture capital, hedge fund, etc. So learning finance is a must. I can start by taking the CFA.
Fifth, quantitative trading. The sophistication of finance in Indonesia is still to simple, and there are still too few people exploiting quantitative and algorithmic method in trading public securities. This means green pasture to secure first-mover advantage in this area and take all the benefits for myself.
Sixth, programming and computer science. I need a tool to model my abstract thinking fired by all of my neurons to concrete, testable, iterative construct. Programming is the easiest and fastest method to realise it. I don’t want a low-level job at elite tech companies like Facebook or Google, but I like to have my ability at a level that will pass their interview. Included here are:
  • “Normal” programming such as C++, Python, R
  • Web development
  • Data science
  • Blockchain (?)
  • Figuring out system architecture, database management, etc
  • Figuring out the hardware stuffs
  • Cutting edge cool stuffs such as VR, AR, NLP, computer vision, self-driving cars, drones and flying cars.
Seventh, law. I need to have Indonesia transformed from ruling oligarchy to civil oligarchy. First I need to be able to protect myself while I am accumulating capital and resource. Then I need to strengthen the law to keep other players in check. I have two option in mind:
  • Be rich and hire my own lawyer
  • Go to law school, maybe joint degree with MBA in HBS-HLS. I also need to read some books to familiarise myself and start to build my profile in the same way as my MBA profile was built. But earning JD is not very useful in Indonesia (?), more so if I don’t intend to practice law as a career in the first place. Therefore this has a high actual and opportunity cost for a fraction of its full benefit. Need more thinking on this.
Finally, let’s finish with best case
Eight, history. History is full of lessons in all aspects of life, from micro, minutiae detail of personal lives to the macro factors in state organisation. Learning history has the best benefit/effort ratio by going wide at first and only then we can choose in which area we wish to study further.
Ninth, politics. Humans are social creatures and we create structure to govern ourselves. I need to learn this to be able to advance to the top of the pyramid and gain access to vast resources to create changes.
Tenth, policy. Once I have the vast resource required, the actual deployment will need carefully crafted policies to realise it maximum effectiveness.
Eleventh, geopolitics and foreign policy. World order will chance and no entity, be it nation-states, empires, or anything, can be entirely self-dependent. Only by carefully navigating the anarchy of the world order, and deliberately forming alliances and selectively picking your battles can a state survive.
Twelfth, military. As Clausewitz said, war is just a continuation of politics by other means. I need to understand how to recruit, mobilise, organise, and reform battle capabilities, just in case. Not coming from military background is not an excuse not to learn. I have to understand from bottom to top, from small unit tactics to grand strategy.
Wait, actually let’s add the perfect case.
Thirteenth, complexity. This includes economics and biology. Can help me understand more about the non-linear aspects of this world, including complex system dynamics such as economic activity, the biological ecosystem, and also the sociological human communities.
Fourteenth, math. The queen of all science. Math can teach me practical tools as well as wisdom in understanding the universe in its purest form that is otherwise unattainable in other area.
Fifteenth, physics. If math is the description of all possible universe, physics is the representation of the most relevant universe, which is this particular universe. As physics give rise to all observable phenomena, there might be some surprising useful insights in system-building.
I can see a pattern in these four layers of scenarios. In the base case, I am just following the path of least resistance, to save myself in the world and the hereafter. In the better case, I am trying to lead multiple organisations that serve one or other purposes. I still got some private compensation and I start to benefit other people. In the best case, the learning needs are starting to revolve on taking over the state apparatus to serve as tools to achieve some goals relating to public benefits. In the perfect case, I have faith in that learning the basic sciences will yield benefits that will trickle down in the form of insights in augmenting my system-building skills.
I think this design is good. I have four layers of cascading safety nets in which I can safely fallback into in case I fail at the higher scenario. My initial hypothesis: this is beyond what is humanly possible within a single lifetime. But at least I try to set my priorities right. At the minimum, I don’t want to be royally screwed in eternal damnation. But if opportunity presents itself, I will also be ready to fully exploit it by already having plans of its exploitation upfront.

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