By Spencer Thompson
People that know me well know that I love to preach about the virtues of reading. It has single-handedly done more for my personal development than anything else I’ve done. It has affected my personal relationships, my business relationships and my ability to make decisions. Almost all great leaders have the same feeling - that reading has changed their life. Why is this?
Life is like a giant snowball. When we are young, we spend our time cultivating this snowball. We pack it tightly with the bias that our parents, family and friends give us. We take in experiences, changing our brain - and use this change to pack the snowball even tighter. And then we add the “education” we receive - school-based or otherwise.
Most people form this snowball by the time they are 18, and it forms the base of what they believe for the rest of their life. Very few people take the time to add to the snowball, cultivating it for the future. And fewer still focus on pushing that snowball down the hill so it can start to build itself.
Of course this is a metaphor for acquiring knowledge, but it is my favourite one. Our knowledge bases are truly like a snowball - we add to it all the time but very often the size varies amongst people. The reason is simple - some people are better at acquiring knowledge than others.
To acquire knowledge means to take in signal from all of the noise around us, and apply it to the mastery of your craft or your life. When you read articles on the internet, watch TV or check Facebook, you are receiving information. The question is - is that information useful to you? Can you apply it towards something to make you a better and more successful person?
Very often the answer to that is no. The amount of
noise we receive on a daily basis FAR outweighs the useful signal. This is a problem if you want to build a competitive advantage for yourself in life.
Those who are masters at filtering this knowledge learn to build a self-perpetuating snowball. Each meeting they have, each show they watch and each book they read adds to this war chest. What most people don’t realize is that while the the world is incredibly complex, many subjects that appear to be different intertwine in ways we would never expect. Psychology greatly affects business, physics influences biology, technology disrupts most industries, economics affects nearly everything we do, etc…
Meeting people is one of the greatest ways to acquire knowledge. You will soon realize that one of the great quotes - “people lead to people” is very true. Each deep interpersonal relationship you build does not only increase your personal knowledge (and hopefully theirs) but it also creates a network effect for your personal network. With focus on getting signal out of a meeting, it is amazing to see the resulting relationships that are built out of a simple conversation. Soon you will begin to realize that because you have been cultivating relationships over a while, your network is vastly larger than you would have expected.
Ultimately the acquisition of knowledge is useful for one task - making decisions. Whether an investment decision, a personal decision or deciding which car to buy - your snowball influences the speed and accuracy of that decision. Your various “touchpoints” of knowledge all cross and allow you to build an amazing filter in which you process decisions. Looking to download a piece of software? Your snowball tells you what a sketchy spamware site looks like, and that you shouldn’t click download. It tells you that even though the person you are talking to is really nice, they aren’t worth continuing a relationship with (or they are!). And on a simple level - it helps you understand why gas prices at the pump are so expensive.
The most successful people in the world do not have some kind of secret that the rest of us do not posess. Most of them were not born into opportunity like we fantasize that they are. (another post - why we create success bias in our minds in order to make ourselves feel better) They just understand the power of their brain - and how to use it as an effective weapon in the game of life.
Going back to the beginning - it is my opinion that books are the single greatest way to build the base of the snowball (and add to it at a rapid pace). Why is this?
Books are usually the culmination of a life of research and thought (the good ones anyway). When someone at the top of their field spends 25+ years thinking about a topic, then decides to put their life’s work into a bound format that is 300 pages and costs under $30, think about it. The fact that you WON’T read that is pathetic. The gains are exponential. Secondly - a book forces your brain to create visual representations of what it is processing. Unlike images that are fed to us through a TV, a book leaves the pathway from the back to the front of the brain open to intepretation.
In conclusion, spend the time cultivating your personal knowledge snowball. The payoff is not linear, it is exponential. The number of connections you are gaining with each piece of signal is amazing. If you can imagine your life 40 years from now with a self-perpetuating snowball, the results are incredible. There is no bigger competitive advantage you can give yourself.