How I managed to out-learn the competition

In my family, people read a lot. While my mother reads fiction (mostly thrillers), my father reads business books (lots of them).

Growing up, I was always fascinated by the effort and energy that my father put into underlining anything in books, reports or magazines that could be relevant to his work. It’s hard to imagine how much work that is but, to give a rough estimate, their basement is nothing but bookshelves, boxes and filing cabinets filled with knowledge.

While fascinated by the process, I was also very skeptical. Not only was it taking the fun out of reading, it was also taking him a good hour everytime he wanted to show you something…

As my father kept underlining (and still does), I joined the workforce, had ups and downs for years until I decided to quit and start my own thing.

Now, with starting your own business comes the opportunity to create your own rules and experiments. So, to address this problem, here’s what I did:

  1. I realized that de-centralized nuggets of knowledge weren’t searchable or worth maintaining.
  2. I created a simple Word document (probably works with another text processor ;).
  3. I systematically took note of every new thing that I learned.
  4. I reviewed the list every month. Combining, improving and adding elements as I went through it.

Simple no? Here’s what it did:

  • It created a repository of knowledge that freed me to learn, knowing that I’m building on something solid.
  • It created a list of objective insights that I could revisit, learning new things at every read.
  • It allowed me to monitor my evolution and find out when I’m learning and when I’m not (gotta keep learning!).
  • It allowed me to keep track of who taught me what at what time.

Learning by Sharing

I started this experiment 3 years ago. Over these 3 years, the list grew quite a bit with now close to 500 insights on topics as varied as business financing and relationships. It’s not only a who’s who list of famous insights; it also contains original thoughts and things everyday people have taught me.

Sitting on so much information led me to start blogging again. Through blogging, I’ve come to realize that, not only can we learn through peoples’ interpretations of our writing but, the process of thinking through these simple insights generated many many new ideas.

Out-Learning the Competition

It’s very easy to buy all the bestselling business books and read everything novel that comes up on Twitter or your favorite blogs but, your competitors probably do the same and… this will only lead to information overload.

The real goal with knowledge – and where you can out-learn your competitors – is to internalize learnings and let things you learn change you. After all, you can know the name of all the tools in the shed but, if you’ve never learned to use any of them, your knowledge isn’t worth very much.

By actively seeking opportunities to learn, absorb and reinterpret knowledge, you build the thinking that will allow you to out-learn and, eventually, out-teach your competitors.

Make sure you have the best learning process in your market. Reading is only half the battle.

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