We live in a time when we can access information more easily, and more quickly than ever before. Name any topic – any topic at all – and we can find information about it with just a few mouse clicks. Most of the time those few clicks will be enough to satisfy our curiosity, or the need for a basic outline of a subject. We don’t feel the need to go any deeper, and a three minute YouTube tutorial will usually be enough to help us feel informed.
Information is not knowledge however, and while we are drowning in information, knowledge is getting rarer. Knowledge comes from real experience, and our putting the work into truly learning about a subject. We expect professionals – for example doctors – to have studied their subject in great depth, over a long period of time. A three minute YouTube info video on brain surgery isn’t going to make the grade! And yet, in the world of the entrepreneur and new businesses, I am often surprised to find that people don’t put in the time to actually learn. Rather, the YouTube generation of new entrepreneurs seems happy to skim the surface of opinion pieces on social media.
Don’t get me wrong, social media is a great tool! I use the various platforms myself, on a daily basis. I promote their use to all my clients. But social media is not university, and it’s not about digging deep into a subject. With all forms of social media and information-gathering on the web, the temptation is to read it, file it… and forget it. So the question is, how can we make our learning ‘stick’?
The answer is an invention which has been around in its modern form since the mid-1400s, and as hand-made versions for hundreds of years before that. I’m talking about books. Books are the place to go if you’re looking for knowledge, and particularly if you’re searching for entrepreneurial knowledge.
When someone sits down to write a book, they pour a lifetime of experience into it. The nature and structure of a book provides chapters which reflect episodes in the life of a business: How it begins, grows, the difficulties faced, and the eventual success (or even failure). A book lays it all out for you. If you’re an avid reader like me, you can also annotate the book yourself, adding reminders and notes along the way, and providing places you can return to in future. That’s another quality of books: the great ones will invite you to return to them again and again, to review and re-process the knowledge they contain.
An early example for me was the ground-breaking book by Napoleon Hill, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, published in 1937, following twenty five years of research and experience on the part of the author. I first read the book when my own business career had not even started, and yet there was a book – written during the Great Depression – which could tell me so much about ways of being entrepreneurial. OK, so I could have spent twenty five years of my own time coming to similar conclusions, but Hill’s work gave me a jump start into my career, and it’s a book that I still return to.
I came across Think and Grow Rich because I was consciously searching for knowledge, and this is what I advise everyone to do. Do not rely on chance to find the books that will influence your career, but rather, have a plan. I work in approximately six-month cycles where I look ahead and identify which books I will need to read to refresh my knowledge and open new horizons. I read reviews of books, ask colleagues to recommend their own reading, and then strategically plan what I will read. Usually I will then carefully check the book description on Amazon to ensure that the book fits the criteria for my six month plan. The most important feature in assessing a book is this: “Will this book support my future?” If it does, I’ll order it, and it then becomes part of my reading plan.
Does this all seem way too serious – that I plan my reading schedule six months ahead? Well what I can tell you is that it works. I have goals which I need to reach, and an important part of that comes from executing my learning program, of which reading is an essential ingredient. I need to be clear about my plans in every part of my business, so naturally this also applies to my acquisition of knowledge. Information is easy to access, but getting knowledge requires commitment and clarity.
I recommend that you start the habit of reading to learn, with the application of a clear and serious strategy.
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