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How To Learn What You Don’t Know

How To Learn What You Don’t Know


    I once knew a small company CEO who controversially brought three former accountants onto his management team. “It’s accountant overload,” one employee complained. “And what does accounting have to do with marketing and client relationship management anyway?”

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    The new leaders had other expertise besides accounting, but that’s not my point. When I spoke to the CEO, I learned that he surrounded himself with financial prowess because he considered this to be his personal area of weakness.  “I don’t have a strong accounting background, and yet finance plays a major role in every area of our business.   Issues are inevitably going to come up that I need solid and informed advice handling, even if I can’t identify those issues yet,” he told me.

    Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several CEOs. The one thing they all have in common is self-awareness. People who have gotten to the level of chief executive officer, whether at a large or small organization, are there because they know they don’t have all the answers and are receptive to continuous learning and improvement. They know what they don’t know.

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    In order to reach the next level of success in your career, it’s worth making an effort to uncover what you don’t know and/or what you may not do as well compared to others. I guarantee there’s something even if your job appears to be going smoothly. Here are four ideas to get you started:

    Inventory Sub-Optimal Situations

    The best way to uncover knowledge gaps is to closely examine your current work and identify areas where you are not succeeding as much as you wish you were, as well as the negative or unproductive scenarios that keep cropping up over and over again. For instance, this year I observed that I was able to score a lot of introductory meetings with potential new clients, but that I rarely converted those meetings into actual business. I eventually chalked it up to a deficit in sales skills and sought immediate mentorship on the subject.

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    Take an Assessment

    Many written and online surveys are available to help you identify both your strengths and weaknesses. BestUniversities.com has a nice roster of free tools. Because online surveys are not particularly reliable, I recommend taking several and trying to identify a pattern of similar results. Note that popular assessments like StrengthsFinder are not as useful in this capacity because they focus on capitalizing on your strengths and gloss over areas for improvement.

    Ask Colleagues Anonymously

    It’s important to regularly solicit 360 degree feedback on your performance even if you aren’t a manager. Devise specific questions like: “What is one thing I could do more effectively to make your job easier?” and “If I could take one professional development course this year, what do you think would be most helpful for me?” and survey everyone who has worked with you recently. Make sure that colleagues and reports know that they can respond anonymously, because all-positive feedback given under duress won’t do you any good.  If you don’t have a tool to do this in-house, Rypple is a terrific option.

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    Work with a Coach

    You can often learn a lot by talking with an objective third-party who is not personally invested in your work.  Career coaches are wonderful at sizing up your situation and recommending growth opportunities. For a recommendation, either ask a trusted colleague, friend, or expert, or consult an organization like the International Coaching Federation. Select someone who makes you feel comfortable, but who will also challenge you.

    If the acknowledgement of your imperfections makes you feel insecure, take heart. The first step to remedying any deficiency is to acknowledge it, and by admitting you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ve made a powerful proclamation about your future potential.

    (Photo credit: Businessman in Lotus Pose via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on February 21, 2019

    How to Stop Information Overload

    How to Stop Information Overload

    Information overload is a creature that has been growing on the Internet’s back since its beginnings. The bigger the Internet gets, the more information there is. The more quality information we see, the more we want to consume it. The more we want to consume it, the more overloaded we feel.

    This has to stop somewhere. And it can.

    As the year comes to a close, there’s no time like the present to make the overloading stop.

    But before I explain exactly what I mean, let’s discuss information overload in general.

    How Serious Is Information Overload?

    The sole fact that there’s more and more information published online every single day is not the actual problem. Only the quality information becomes the problem.

    This sounds kind of strange…but bear with me.

    When we see some half-baked blog posts we don’t even consider reading, we just skip to the next thing. But when we see something truly interesting — maybe even epic — we want to consume it.

    We even feel like we have to consume it. And that’s the real problem.

    No matter what topic we’re interested in, there are always hundreds of quality blogs publishing entries every single day (or every other day). Not to mention all the forums, message boards, social news sites, and so on.

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    The amount of epic content on the Internet these days is so big that it’s virtually impossible for us to digest it all. But we try anyway.

    That’s when we feel overloaded. If you’re not careful, one day you’ll find yourself reading the 15th blog post in a row on some nice WordPress tweaking techniques because you feel that for some reason, “you need to know this.”

    Information overload is a plague. There’s no vaccine, there’s no cure. The only thing you have is self-control.

    Luckily, you’re not on your own. There are some tips you can follow to protect yourself from information overload and, ultimately, fight it.

    But first, admit that information overload is really bad for you.

    Why Information Overload Is Bad for You

    Information overload stops you from taking action. That’s the biggest problem here.

    When you try to consume more and more information every day, you start to notice that even though you’ve been reading tons of articles, watching tons of videos and listening to tons of podcasts, the stream of incoming information seems to be infinite.

    Therefore, you convince yourself that you need to be on a constant lookout for new information if you want to be able to accomplish anything in your life, work and/or passion. The final result is that you are consuming way too much information, and taking way too little action because you don’t have enough time for it.

    The belief that you need to be on this constant lookout for information is just not true.

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    You don’t need every piece of advice possible to live your life, do your work or enjoy your passion.

    How to Stop Information Overload (And Start to Achieve More)

    So how to recognize the portion of information that you really need? Start with setting goals.

    1. Set Your Goals

    If you don’t have your goals put in place, you’ll be just running around grabbing every possible advice and thinking that it’s “just what you’ve been looking for.”

    Setting goals is a much more profound task than just a way to get rid of information overload. Now by “goals” I don’t mean things like “get rich, have kids, and live a good life”. I mean something much more within your immediate grasp. Something that can be achieved in the near future — like within a month (or a year) at most.

    Basically, something that you want to attract to your life, and you already have some plan on how you’re going to make it happen. So no hopes and dreams, just actionable, precise goals.

    Then once you have your goals, they become a set of strategies and tactics you need to act upon.

    2. Know What to Skip When Facing New Information

    Once you have your goals, plans, strategies and tasks, you can use them to decide what information is really crucial.

    First of all, if the information you’re about to read has nothing to do with your current goals and plans, then skip it. You don’t need it.

    If it does, then ask yourself these questions:

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    • Will you be able to put this information into action immediately?
    • Does it have the potential to maybe alter your nearest actions/tasks?
    • Is it so incredible that you absolutely need to take action on it right away?

    If the information is not actionable in a day or two, then skip it.

    (You’ll forget about it anyway.)

    And that’s basically it. Digest only what can be used immediately. If you have a task that you need to do, consume only the information necessary for getting this one task done, nothing more.

    You need to be focused in order to have clear judgment, and be able to decide whether some piece of information is mandatory or redundant.

    Self-control comes handy too. It’s quite easy to convince yourself that you really need something just because of poor self-control. Try to fight this temptation, and be as ruthless about it as possible – if the information is not matching your goals and plans, and you can’t take action on it in the near future, then SKIP IT.

    3. Be Aware of the Minimal Effective Dose

    There’s a thing called the MED – Minimal Effective Dose. I was first introduced to this idea by Tim Ferriss. In his book The 4-Hour BodyTim illustrates the minimal effective dose by talking about medical drugs.

    Everybody knows that every pill has a MED, and after that specific dose, no other positive effects occur, only some negative side effects if you overdose big.

    Consuming information is somewhat similar. You need just a precise amount of it to help you to achieve your goals and put your plans into life.

    Everything more than that amount won’t improve your results any further. And if you try to consume too much of it, it will eventually stop you from taking any action altogether.

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    4. Don’t Procrastinate by Consuming More Information

    Probably one of the most common causes of consuming ridiculous amounts of information is the need to procrastinate. By reading yet another article, we often feel that we are indeed working, and that we’re doing something good – we’re learning, which in result will make us a more complete and educated person.

    This is just self-deception. The truth is we’re simply procrastinating. We don’t feel like doing what really needs to be done – the important stuff – so instead we find something else, and convince ourselves that “that thing” is equally important. Which is just not true.

    Don’t consume information just for the sake of it. It gets you nowhere.

    The focus of this article is not on how to stop procrastinating, but if you’re having such issue, I recommend you read this:

    Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

    Summing It Up

    As you can see, information overload can be a real problem and it can have a sever impact on your productivity and overall performance.

    I know I have had my share of problems with it (and probably still have from time to time). But creating this simple set of rules helps me to fight it, and to keep my lizard brain from taking over.

    I hope it helps you too, especially as we head into a new year with a new chance at setting ourselves up for success.

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    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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