Acquiring Knowledge

Last week, I shared a few thoughts about knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of a topic or of how something works. Today I want to talk about a few ways people acquire knowledge:

  • Others’ experience – As I said last week, people still actively working to achieve their goals are unlikely to share their knowledge and give up their advantage absent a preexisting relationship or some commonality. Those who have achieved their goals are more likely to share their knowledge. For example, a young entrepreneur building his empire will be more guarded, when asked by a stranger to share what he’s learned, than someone who’s thinking about legacy at the tail end of their career. The good news is that the learnings of highly successful entrepreneurs are readily available in biographies and autobiographies. These books often result from reflection by these individuals and contain the key learnings that allowed them to succeed (or that caused early failures).
  • Your experience – It’s often said that experience is the best teacher. You gain experience by acting. As you make mistakes or have success, you learn from experience and your knowledge grows.
  • Your insights – This one is tougher to describe, but I’ll try. Sometimes no one understands a subject, or the few who do are inaccessible. In these situations, to understand something, you may have to look for insights. This involves taking in information from various (credible) sources, digesting it and thinking about it in different ways, and finding nonobvious connections between seemingly unrelated bits of information that others have overlooked. These connections are your insights, which can lead to a superior understanding of a situation or topic. This approach isn’t easy, and it’s the least-often-chosen path. But it’s the approach that allows people to spurn consensus and act with the conviction that leads to outsize outcomes.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but I believe these are three effective ways that people can acquire knowledge today. Combining the knowledge gained from these three approaches with execution can be a winning formula for success.