in Productivity

The Power and Danger of Information

There was a time (2010) where I consumed vast amounts of information on a wide spread of topics, thinking that the knowledge would somehow translate magically into results.  While I gained a lot of insight on a broad range of topics, the knowledge didn’t do much for me in the way of results in the real world.

Here are just some of the topics I studied in 2010:

  • Game theory
  • Residential and commercial real estate
  • Drumming
  • Figure drawing
  • Surfing
  • Skateboarding
  • Physics
  • Night Photography
  • Traveled to Japan
  • Read countless books, articles, and listened to dozens of TED talks and lectures

And the list goes on.  When I say I studied these topics, I mean I really studied them.  I surfed for 3-4 hours per day for a month straight.  I played drums for 3-4 hours a day.  I would go out for hours at night and take photographs to get better at long exposure photography.

While 2010 wasn’t all fun and games, I’m very fortunate to have had the savings to afford spending a year pursuing whatever interested me.

The Good

Having the luxury of spending a year of my life like this is something that a lot of people dream of.  I know plenty of people who would have loved to do the same, but needed to pay down school debt or get started in a career.  I thought I should get started in a career…but with money in the bank and a stubbornly curious mind, I couldn’t pull the trigger on that just yet.

In my opinion, one of the marks of a good entrepreneur is the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas together to form something new and of value.

Viewed in this light, 2010 was a smashing success.  If you take a gravestone outlook on your life, the type of growth that I achieved in 2010 will undoubtedly set me up for future successes.

There are plenty of examples of people who changed the world who were seemingly wasting their lives in their earlier years.

Steve Jobs floundered around after dropping out of college, auditing classes that interested him.  Among them was a class in calligraphy, which only years later he used to create the first beautiful typefaces for the computer.

Paul Graham founded Y Combinator at age 41, and only got “serious” about a single topic (his startup) when he turned 30.

I can’t be too harsh about the way I chose to spend 2010 if I take an extremely long term view of my life, which is something that I’m working on.

The Bad

I think it’s obvious what the problem is.  The best way I can describe it is by referencing a great book called The Dip by Seth Godin.  I didn’t stumble across the book until 2011, but once I read it I was able to immediately diagnose why I wasn’t hitting the longer-term goals that I set for myself in years past.

The basic premise of The Dip is this: when you’re learning a new skill, you make rapid improvements at the start.  After this is a prolonged dip – the struggle and battle for minor improvements.  If you can make it through the dip, you’re rewarded with a high level of mastery and success.

What I was doing in 2010 was blasting through the first phase in a wide range of projects.  I am addicted to learning and am intensely curious about how and why things work, so it’s no surprise that I could get hooked on the introductory phase of any skillset.

The Dip

Only pursuing projects until the learning curve drops = bad

By quitting right as I hit the dip, I was guaranteeing that I didn’t make it further into any particular skillset – but that was OK, because I didn’t want to!  I wanted to move onto something new and exciting.  That’s all well and good, except for that I started to be a jack of all trades and master of none.  I could play music, was athletic, artsy, and knowledgeable about a wide variety of scientific disciplines.

I had no specialty and no ability to offer HUGE value in one area.

Back to Information

Fortunately I was able to diagnose this problem a couple years ago and make some steps to address it so I can actually get shit done in the real world.  However, even in my main business as an online marketing consultant there is the tendency to delve deeply into the various disciplines – like email marketing, conversion rate optimization, search engine optimization, social media, and pay per click.

I again found myself devouring article after article, blog post after blog post, video after video…and overwhelming my mind with information that I wasn’t putting to good enough use.

Consider What You Are Spending Time Learning

Information holds tremendous power.  With it, you can quite literally change the world.  Used in the wrong way, you can fill your mind with a bunch of wonderful ideas, skillsets, and knowledge but struggle to use it in a way that helps you achieve what you want to in this life and help people around you.

Be careful what you put in your head – choose it consciously and remember to ask yourself why you are consuming a particular piece of information, or spending time on a particular skillset.