How many times have you heard someone mention a learning curve? It seems like I hear or come across learning curve mentioned maybe once a month. I think the chances are pretty good that discussions of it have been incorrect.

There are two closely related basic dimensions of a learning curve: its steepness and length. The first error is in thinking a steep learning curve is worse than a shallow learning curve. After all, who wants to ride a bike up a steep hill—and isn’t the deep end of a pool more dangerous?

In fact, as the crude illustration below illustrates, you should prefer a steeper learning curve, as it gets one to mastery of a concept or skill more quickly. A shallow learning curve, by contrast, takes longer to produce mastery, which leads to our next dimension of learning curves.

This one makes more intuitive sense and probably doesn’t get butchered as often. One should prefer a shorter learning curve to a longer learning curve, as it takes less time to master.