We learn by developing mental models. And, a technique to fast track the creation of mental models is to move from summaries to synthesis.
When we write a good summary, we ask ourselves the question – what were the main points of what I read/heard/saw? A good summary boils what we read, heard or saw into a few bullet points that outline the central thesis.
A good synthesis, instead, involves asking the question – how do I make sense of what I read/heard/saw? This is a fundamentally different exercise because a good synthesis involves combining ideas to form a theory or point of view. The ideas you drawn on for synthesis need not even be from the from the material you are synthesizing and could be from prior experiences or lessons.
As you can imagine, summarizing is easy. It is like riding a bike on training wheels. It takes all the risk away. But, in doing so, it takes away all the reward as well.
So, how do we move from summaries to synthesis? Just like we move from riding a bike with training wheels to riding without – ditch summaries. Synthesis takes effort and requires us to pause, reflect and bring together ideas in our heads. It is, by nature, risky.
But, it is only when we take that risk do we allow ourselves to fall and learn.