Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young. – Henry Ford
There will come a point, my dad once said, when you will work for someone younger than you – and how will that make you feel?
The point to ponder, I suppose, is where does your sense of self-worth come from?
Is it from your job, from your role, your title, your seniority, your pay?
All those can be stripped away from you, taken by someone else leaving you with nothing.
What’s left is what’s in your head – the ideas you have stored, and the stuff in your body – the skills you’ve gained over time.
So, how do you make sure you have the right stuff in there?
Select people who model the right things for you
We learn from others and who you choose to learn from is going to make a huge difference to what happens to you over time,
We live in a world where the network effect means that you have a winner take all situation.
What that means is that if someone becomes popular they’re going to become even more well-known as the viral effects of exposure kick in.
It’s easy to assume that because a particular person is popular and visible, that means they’re also right about the things they say.
That’s where you have to be careful and develop the capability to tell who is the right influence for you.
Anyone can sell you an idea.
You, as the buyer, must learn to tell which ones are quality merchandise and which ones are not.
So how do you go about doing that?
What’s on the surface?
If you’re investing your money it’s hard to tell the difference between a bubble and a trend.
They can look the same – a novel proposition, a changing situation, an emerging need.
There might be warning signs along the way.
For example, if you find it increasingly hard to explain why this thing that has an increasing valuation is actually that valuable, then there might be an issue.
Then again, you might just not be as smart as the ones who are piling into the opportunity.
Remember the dot com or the housing bubbles?
People who sell you ideas can be just as hard to figure out.
What you see on social media is an algorithmic assessment of relevance and value – the computer is trying to get you the good stuff based on what it calculates you think good stuff looks like.
So, what you choose to look at matters.
For example, if you watch and entertaining and persuasive speaker’s video all the way through your feed will start to light up with similar stuff.
So, you have to get good at abandoning stuff quickly if you don’t want to be inundated by that kind of material.
And you have to do that, quite often, based on what you see first, on surface impressions.
So how do you go about doing that?
Telling versus showing
One good filter for separating the useful from the rest is to look at what the person is doing with their content.
Some people will tell you what to do – tell you their ideas and why you should believe what they say.
These can be entertaining, inspiring, passionate people who have a message that resonates with you, that feels like it can take you anywhere.
There must be people like this you’ve come across – people like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracey, Gary Vaynerchuck more recently.
The basic message is something on the lines of believe in yourself, work hard, have a vision and goals and you can make anything happen.
Most self-help books come down to some kind of variation on that kind of message.
A different kind of message comes from people who show you what they’ve done, who give you a window into the way in which they think about things and the way in which they go about doing things.
And they do this in a way that shows you how you can do it as well, how you can “model” them – act in the way they act so that you can act yourself into doing the kinds of things they do.
It’s a little ironic that the first kind of message works on your mind to try and make you change what you do while the second method shows you what to do and changes your mind in the process.
The second kind of approach, in my view, is more likely to help you actually change and improve your situation.
But it depends on finding people who are right for you in your situation to model.
And you don’t need to put people into such rigid teach/show baskets – you can still take away useful tips from anyone.
Just make sure that you’re balancing the ones who tell you what to do with the ones that show you how to do it so that you can actually make something happen.
How do you find these people?
We are lucky these days because these people are all around you and their body of work is accessible on the Internet.
I spent years reading Warren Buffett’s work, for example.
His essays are on the Internet, the previous letters he wrote are floating out there somewhere.
You can read the work of a lifetime of investing and travel the path he did, learn the lessons he did.
These days, investment comes down to finding a low-cost tracker and sticking your money in there while you get on with the day job – but learning that can be an expensive process.
Doing the day job well is what you need to learn about now – so who can you find in your industry who does that well?
Who writes well, creates good content, shows good work?
These are probably not the superstars or the viral videos or the things that “blow up” on YouTube.
They’re the thoughtful, reflective pieces that people put out there, showing their real world and real practice.
And what surprises me is how few views they have – but then again I think every one of those views is someone who really wants to learn what’s in that content – rather than the entertainment that you get from something that goes viral.
It actually shouldn’t surprise you that you’re in the minority when you look for content that you can learn from rather than content that tells you something.
Being told is easier, it’s passive, you don’t have to do anything at the end and you can always go back for more when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere.
Being asked to learn is harder – you can pick up what you need to know pretty quickly – the challenge is taking the time to practise and fail and reflect and try again and learn and go round the loop again.
But if you can do that you will get better – it’s impossible not to, and things will change – it’s impossible for them not to.
They will change because of the actions you are taking and the practise you are doing and the way in which you are learning.
Change needs action.
They won’t change however many videos you watch about how to reprogram your mind.
And action needs you to know what actions are good ones to take.
And you learn that by finding good people to show you how to do it – good people that you can model and learn from.
So spend some time finding people who are right for you in your situation, people who have put their work out there and talked and written about why they do what they do to help others like you learn.
Watch videos, read interviews with successful people in your field, sift through and comb the material for ideas that you can test and practise with and make your own.
Pull out what seem like the main points, the critical success factors and make them part of your own process, your way of thinking and living and acting.
Because any change you make, anything you improve will only come from the actions you take.
And that’s where the profession of acting may have something to teach you.
We’ll look at that in the next post.