Seth’s latest post, You don’t know Lefsetz?, was coming from the right place, but as I read it, I had a strong sense that it would shut down a lot of people.
Here’s the ending:
If you don’t know who the must-reads in your field are, find out before your customers and competitors do.
Too much doing, not enough knowing.
Yes, I have a bias toward action, but being on the other side of success and fame, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of over-researching what everyone else is doing, to the point that you don’t actually get started. (I did this with the Productive Flourishing podcast and the book I’m finishing.) And to be fair, Seth didn’t say stop doing to focus on more knowing, but I “heard” quite a few people have their fears validated that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing because they don’t know what they’re doing. Legions of people went to Google to type in “best [profession title]” to get their “more knowing” on.
Knowing the top players and trends in your industry is always good, but delaying your work because there just might be someone you don’t know about that you need to find out about can be just as bad as being unprepared. Better to err on the side of doing something and being educated about what you don’t know than to stay perennially stuck either researching (as a way of hiding) or getting caught in compare and despair land. (Doctors, engineers, generals, etc. are exceptions.)
Go for the middle path here:
- Before you start doing something new, plan on at least 4-6 hours of research so you get the lay of the land.
- Read 3-5 of the most popular books relevant to what you’re doing — no matter what you’re doing, there will be 3-5 books that will get you in the know.
- Make notes on what you need to learn for deeper diving, but at this point, you should have enough knowledge to start swimming.
- Once you’re swimming, bake in some routine time to go back to shore to go over those notes for deeper diving, and pay attention to how other people are swimming.
You’re always going to be surprised by something you didn’t know or somebody you didn’t know about and this is only going to happen more frequently in the future. There are simply too many people creating a bunch of stuff for most of us to keep up.
It’s absolutely right that there are people you should be familiar with in your industry. If you’re a business coach or consultant and don’t know who Peter Drucker is or what the Lean Startup trend is about, you’ve got some learning to do. Similarly, if you help people with productivity and aren’t familiar with David Allen and Stephen Covey, it’s time to hit the books. Anyone interested in business or productivity who followed the steps above would’ve come across those names and trends in about 15 minutes of research. Make necessary modifications for whatever you’re doing.
But please use the knowledge you gain to create and share something, rather than as an excuse to stay on the bench while others are playing.