The challenge in life is not to learn new things. It is learning what you must learn to be the best at what you do.
The traditional idea of gaining new knowledge is that you pick a topic, find experts, and download as much as possible from that person or forum. It is a linear progression that begins with knowing what you do not know and knowing who and how to fill the knowledge gap.
There are two problems with this model:
By definition, we don’t know what we don’t know
Because we don’t know what we’re ignorant about, we don’t know in advance what the right sources are to educate us.
As a founder, it is extremely important that I first learn what I need to learn in order to stay on top of my game. Identifying my biggest knowledge gap doesn’t mean buying a book about a topic I find interesting. It means surrounding myself with a group of voices who have knowledge and experience that I do not have (and vice versa) and who are working for me in small, large, and equal circles.
How founders can position themselves for greater learning opportunities:
1. For subtle awareness, talk to early stage founders. I love talking to early stage founders because we have a very clear value exchange. Third Love is in a more mature position than their companies, so I am able to provide them with insight into the scalping journey.
In turn, I get a vision of what that means today: what tech platforms are driving business forward, which social movements are most relevant to our world, how novel team configurations work in my world. Can do. Early-stage companies are essentially testing the groundwork for new ways of doing business. Talking to their founders gives me a front row seat to see how the experiments are going.
I was recently talking to an early stage founder who had a lot of organic brand success on TikTok. I learned who was on her social team, how she structured it, and her broader philosophies on social media. I’m more likely to get meaningful insight into leading-edge trends from early-stage organizations than from legacy companies.
2. For macro-awareness, follow eminent, leading voices. The early-stage founders give me a window into the nuts-and-bolts results of what’s working on the front lines of the business and what not—an extreme closeup, if you will. Conversely, the macro-side, I need to find a way to broaden the lens, to stay abreast of the broader trends that are guiding our industries and the overall economy.
For this, I follow the CEOs of both the big companies and subscribe to the Daily News Digest. While we all know how controversial some news sources have become, the flip side is that there are more reputable news sources and viewpoints than ever before. All you have to do is curate it for yourself. Your News Feed is what you make of it – and hearing from others whose perspectives differ most from mine makes me think more deeply about the issues and opportunities I face.
I don’t read every word of the digest everyday. But having information available gives me an opportunity to opt out of influential events, rather than passively influence them.
For example, the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about how dire the situation in Sri Lanka had become. Well, we have production facilities in Sri Lanka. Staying current on global geopolitical dynamics has allowed me to make proactive decisions about how to proceed and the kind of conversations I have with my partners.
3. For grassroots awareness, talk to peers. Early-stage founders provide me with micro-awareness – information in a smaller scope than the one I work with. Reputable voices from major news outlets and large companies give me macro-awareness – information across a broad spectrum of what I’m working on. For that middle ground, information at my exact level, I rely on teammates.
When I talk with people working in a comparable scope, we compare notes on topics that are important to both of us. What’s up with paid marketing? What supply chain challenges are we both dealing with? The solutions they have may be beneficial to me; The solutions I have can inform their strategy.
The perception of some founders is that they don’t have time to talk to people like this. They are too busy running their business; They cannot afford to allocate energy to conversations whose value is not already clear.
But really, they can’t afford not to have these conversations. And you can do this at any level or function – for example, if you lead the supply chain, you want to have a good group of peers that you can touch on a regular basis.
Keeping your worlds the same size carries the same risk as keeping yours at the same level of influence. This may work for a while, but as the world goes about its natural growth and development, you inevitably become a much smaller intellectual fish over time.