The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. – Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
What do you do when you realise you don’t know something?
All study is self-study
There is an Indian story of a forest hunter called Ekalavya.
He wanted to study archery but the best teacher in the land, Dronacharya, who taught the royal princes, refused to take him as a student.
So Ekalavya built a mud statue of Dronacharya, literally modelling him out of clay, and taught himself, practising every day in front of his teacher until he became a great archer.
The story doesn’t end well for Ekalavya – but that’s in another time and place.
The main lesson – that you can teach yourself anything you want – is one we should take to heart.
Once upon a time you needed to be apprenticed, you needed a teacher.
And then we had books that distilled the knowledge of experienced people into packages that anyone could take up and learn from.
And now we have YouTube, where we can see how others do it and learn anything we want, from how to teach better to how to replace a broken door frame.
You have everything you need to learn anything you want – we all have access to more opportunity than anyone before in history.
But how do we go about using it successfully, rather than drowning in a flood of knowledge.
Focus on relevant, useful information
When information is everywhere you no longer need to absorb it all.
You can access it on a just-in-time basis rather than a just-in-case basis.
Rather than trying to learn everything about a subject, focus on the outcome you want and identify the things you need to know to make that outcome happen.
That list of things becomes what you need to know.
For example, to build your personal brand, you need to be clear about what you want to get across – what is it that you want to be seen as an expert on?
How will you showcase that content – will you write, create a podcast, create video, or do all three and more?
Will you do it yourself or get someone else to do it and manage the process?
How will you get people to come and look at your material – how will you get the word out?
When you are clear that the outcome is a enhanced personal brand, what you need to do will become obvious very quickly.
You have to ask yourself how you will do these things and how much it will cost you and how you can do them well.
And if you don’t already know how you are going to do this you should spend some time watching you other people do it well.
Learning through modelling
On my Twitter feed one of the posts said that you shouldn’t pay people to tell you how to get rich.
After all, if they were already rich, they wouldn’t need your money.
Paul Graham, the founder of YCombinator, responded by saying that they would often tell you how to do that for free.
Now, being rich isn’t the only outcome that matters – and you will find examples of all kinds of people who have created outcomes that are relevant and useful to you.
Some of them will share their story and what they’ve learned and when you come across them you have an amazing opportunity to learn because they are modelling how to do something and giving you the opportunity to watch and learn.
But you have to be careful.
With every person you watch, read or listen to, ask yourself how they make their money.
Most of the ads you see on YouTube for people who are offering you a course on how to be successful have no useful content.
You will often find a detailed breakdown of the flaws with their programmes if you do a search, but what most of them boil down to is that you make money by selling their programme.
It’s a network marketing strategy, where you create something that has little intrinsic value, but you persuade other people to join you in selling it and make money off the membership fees they pay.
You should ignore all these entirely.
Then you have a category of “personalities” who have strong opinions and are entertaining.
Many of the big names in self-help will fall into this category – they are inspiring, articulate performers who can make you think you can do anything if you have the will and the grit and the ability to outwork everyone else.
You should be careful with these people. Some of what they say is useful but most of it is entertainment.
If they make most of their money through speeches, courses, books, conferences – then you know that it’s the performance and the thrills they’re selling rather than the content.
Most of the content is folk-lore – common sense repackaged for your viewing pleasure.
But their main measure of success is eyeballs watching their content – eyeballs they can monetise.
And then you have people who show you how they do things – in an authentic and transparent way.
What you’re looking for here are real people – the ones that show it as it is.
Perhaps the best example here is Warren Buffett and his shareholder letters.
They articulate what he has thought and learned over decades of investing and if you’re interested in that field they are required reading.
People like this use their ability to create content as a way to showcase what they are interested in, what they do and the products and services they have to offer.
They make money either through the businesses and assets they have which they’re talking to you about, or they have created products that you can buy from them – but the products are how they make their money not by monetising you as their audience.
But, there aren’t that many examples of people doing this intentionally, but what’s interesting is that you can find better examples as you look into the early days of what people did.
When I come across someone on YouTube whose channel I like and find useful I often view their earliest videos – because that gives me a sense of where they started, and how their approach and message has changed over time.
Many develop their craft and ability to tell a story over time and it’s fascinating to see how they balance content and presentation.
For example, some focus on enhancing their content and teaching style while others improve their lighting, camera setup and on-screen presence with hair and makeup.
And when you come to their latest content you can tell whether they have a product to sell you or whether you are the product that they’re trying to sell to advertisers.
You also need to appreciate that you can learn different things from different people at different times in your career – and the best thing you can do is be intentional in who you follow and why.
Modelling over time
Different people will show you different approaches and you can learn different things from them.
The test is how relevant they are to you and what you want to get out of things.
If you want to learn about developing your screen presence, your ability to speak into a camera and be persuasive – then the big personalities of the Internet are where you go looking.
If you want to build a sustainable business then you might want to look elsewhere, to people who have found a niche and developed their business to fit into and dominate that little patch of cyberspace.
That’s certainly how I progressed over time – starting with persuasive speakers who told you to do things like write affirmations.
I still have books filled with daily writing somewhere – based on people saying that if you just wrote down what you wanted every day the universe would come along and give it to you.
The thing that changed the way I looked at these things was when I was introduced to the idea of thinking critically.
Critical thinking is not a negative thing – it’s not about criticising.
It is, instead, about taking in information and sifting it, evaluating it, and looking beyond the rhetoric, questioning tradition, not accepting authority unthinkingly and always being conscious of the objectivity of the people involved.
People will say things for many reasons.
You need to be careful to learn things for the right reasons, as best as you can given the situation you are in.
The test of knowledge for you is whether it is useful, whether it can help you take the next step you need to take.
And taking a series of steps will get you to where you want to be.
We’ll talk about that next.