How to learn: Specific to Generic

I specialize in teaching people how to learn. Here is one powerful method which is simple to grasp and utilize: Specific to Generic. Spend few minutes to understand this concept and experience its power.

 How to learn Microsoft Office -- Dr. Nitin Paranjape

The Concept

When we learn new things – especially technology related things – most of them can be features and functionality. While each feature and the ability to use it can be called knowledge – it is a specific piece of knowledge.

The idea is NOT to stop learning even after you have got specific benefit or value from the feature. Continue thinking and exploring further and check if there is another larger thing to learn. Convert the specific feature or scenario to a more general one.

You will be surprised to know that you often arrive at some extremely generic thought – which applicable to many other scenarios as well (including the current one).


You must read this blog article in order to understand this example. This article explains how to draw a Pareto chart using Pivot Tables in Excel 2013 or above.

Now that we know about the specifics – continue on the generic path. And this is what you get – additional learning of generic concepts which will help you get even more benefit rather than just knowing the specifics (how to draw a Pareto chart).

The generic learning

Well, there is more to learn – beyond Histograms and Pareto Charts.

While analyzing data, also look at:

  1. various forms of sorting
  2. consider cumulative numbers, over bins, categories or time
  3. consider looking at cumulative summary as a percentage of grand total
  4. Correlate the sorted version with the cumulative percentage (this is the obvious one. but this leads to another generic thought)
  5. Correlating two things which are difficult or impossible to do numerically – use a combo chart
  6. For any column or bar chart, consider whether gaps in the bars are required or not
  7. For any series of data, consider whether it needs to have data labels.
    For example, in our Pareto charts, bars did not need data labels whereas the cumulative percentage was meaningless unless the percentages were shown
  8. Data labels in cumulative series are more useful than non-cumulative ones

Try it out

Even though you now know the concept and an example, you need to try it to your own context and learn to learn Generic from Specifics. Try it out and post your learning as well as experience here.


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