Part of it, at any rate.
1. Put in a lot of disparate info
2. Spread it around or otherwise do something with it, after extracting the most salient and/or interesting stuff
3. Try to encourage other people to go consume info
Two items made me think about this recently. First was a conversation I had on Thursday, with a co-worker. I told him about some of the online courses I was taking, and while they're all interesting, my favorite is the CS101 course at Udacity. He asked me whether any of the stuff I've been learning would help me on the job. I kind of looked puzzled for a moment, and then I said, "That's not why I'm doing it. Think of it as a hobby."
Now, that's not totally true. It's not exactly a hobby. It's the way I deal with life in general -- I'm always seeking out new stuff to learn, whether new skills or new (to me) information. Yes, I do this as a form of entertainment - and why I pick particular TV shows over others (when Project Runway was more about the design, I learned alot about design/fashion construction techniques, styling, etc. ... and, believe it or not, there was a time I learned some interesting stuff about composition from America's Next Top Model. I don't watch either show any more.... oh well.)
There are aspects of what I'm learning that may ultimately be helpful to me one day. But I don't worry about that when I'm learning the stuff. I use all sorts of things to gain new angles and new perspectives on things I've seen before as well as trying out new things.
While I love having the opportunity to learn how to do something new for work, most of the time, I'm just wandering around in the world of information, not necessarily with a goal, and just entertaining myself and enjoying it. If it bores me, then I just move on.
I have noticed that Maureen has picked up this proclivity of mine to a certain extent. Girl is extremely undiscriminating when it comes to her reading material. She, like me, will reread stuff she likes, but she also picks up some of the most unlikely, detail-packed books (and then spit out random facts at me later). One particular tome that was her fave for a while was an Army Survival Manual. I remember sitting there while she's explaining to me the various treatments for snakebite.
And that's part two of how my brain works -- most of what I ingest, info-wise, is not exactly practical. I listen to about 13-ish hours of lectures per week, mainly stuff on the humanities - linguistics, history, literature, religion - those sorts of thing. These aren't directly applicable to anything I do (even the linguistics - which gives me some insight into how language works and changes... but doesn't so much help me be a better writer, alas.)
I have found a lot to be "useful" in the humanities, to cast a problem or situation in a different light. In a way that Star Trek could take a contemporary problem (say: racism) and then put it in a literally alien setting, it helps let you see issues from different perspectives without getting your default modes of thought and emotion engaged. Similarly, good fantasy novels have tended to be a lot more helpful in thinking through issues of identity, death, and meaning than do most "realistic" modern award-winning novels.
Likewise, in thinking through issues of persuasion and leadership, I find works such as Plutarch's Lives or Suetonius's Twelve Caesars to be helpful in a way that regular mainstream business books are not. Because it's from such a different culture, I'm not personally invested in the actions and people being described. I stand way outside their sphere. But the issues they faced, in terms of trying to get particular things done, or trying to hold onto power, and running up against the limits of their power (...and think - theoretically, these guys were IT. They held the power of life and death... again, theoretically. But Caligula was assassinated when people couldn't take much more, and Nero had a hell of a time trying to kill off his own mother, even when he had other enemies killed without worrying about the obviousness of it all.) No, I can't call out the Praetorian Guards to have my will done, but I do have spheres of influence, and I have to think about how I operate in those.
The issue with the humanities and my approach to knowledge in general is that it does take a lot of time to amass. There's no clean "system" as with math. Or maybe even music. Science is a bit messy, but a lot of it has been organized, and you don't necessarily have to recapitulate the entirety of scientific discovery to be able to enjoy the fruits of the labors of millennia.
But it's not entirely without form, in the Western tradition. At least with regards to older stuff, there is the concept of "canon" - but "canon" wasn't totally arbitrary. Some works we don't have available to us, simply due to the accidents of history. Many great works have probably been lost, just because stuff like papyrus doesn't last well (in addition to various library and monastery destructions, fuck you very much piggy-faced Henry and your assholic ways. "Church of the Fat Bastard", indeed. Oh, and fuck you, too, Vikings, though you did make our language a lot easier to speak for foreigners.)
But of those works that did survive and continue to be published - that's not a complete accident. There is a reason that Shakespeare is still produced 400 years later, while Ben Jonson is looked at only by academics. There's a reason that Austen keeps getting remade into movies and is cooed over in book clubs still, while Radcliffe gets minor interest. There's a reason we go look at the Rembrandts, but many other daubs of the time are ignored by all but a few. Yes, some of it is marketing, but the truth is that some works of art, literature, history, etc. are better than others. Some people are better teachers than others. And it's a good idea to check out the good stuff.
So that's my last part. I spread some of the stuff I've found out for myself, partly just because of the long-standing teaching impulse that exists in my wider family. But partly to encourage others to go explore for themselves. The stuff I'm talking about - it's not esoteric. There's a really accessible version of Suetonius, for example -- just get the old BBC (or whatever) production of I, Claudius with Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed, and a panoply of Brits pretending to be Romans, and you will get most of what you need to know (but you can also go back to a nice English translation to learn =even=more=gossip= ... and the official stuff, too. My fave bits, though, are the bits on the oratorical styles of the different emperors as well as what they thought of the linguistic changes in Latin itself. Yes, that stuff is in there.)
Do not worry that you will run out of brain space should you learn new stuff. That's not how it works (unless you do, actually, have particular kinds of brain damage... but then, you find you can't learn anything new at all, which includes such simple things as new faces). I have found it even easier to learn and remember stuff the more I learn, just because now I have so many more associations between things. If I forget one connection, I have 10 more to back it up.
Similarly, I listen to a series of lectures about how the various Pharoahs operated - I can compare/contrast against Roman emperors. In Plutarch's case, he paired up particular famous Greeks and Romans to do a compare/contrast. If you're more familiar with one history or figure, it gives you a handle on the others.
So go forth, various people. If you want to learn something for free, here is the latest roundup of free sources to try out (includes some oldies):
Udacity -- udacity.com - mainly computer-science-related courses (next round starting in April)
MITx -- mitx.mit.edu - only one class (electronics) for now, which ends in June. Should be new classes later this year
Coursera -- coursera.org - mostly math/compsci for now.
History According to Bob -- not an online class, just a long-running history podcast. One of the most painless ways to amass history knowledge. Has several threads going on simultaneously
Non-free stuff (though lots of libraries have them):
The Teaching Company - thegreatcourses.com - I recommend a lot (but not all) of these. I recommend all of John McWhorter's stuff. I just finished listening to a different series on the history of Western medicine through doctors' biographies. Short, and excellent.
Modern Scholar - recordedbooks.com - I recommend everything from Timothy Shutt (I even listened to his series on the history of baseball... and I'm not even interested in sports) and Michael Drout (esp. the one on the Anglo-Saxons).