By Bob Bly
Years ago, a famous rock star – I recall it being either Madonna or Cyndi Lauper – returned to her high school to speak at an assembly.
Although she had not graduated, she told the kids: Stay in school.
“The more you learn, the more you earn,” she said.
Nowhere is this truer than in the business world.
Your success is likely to be directly proportional to the amount of knowledge you possess.
Knowledge about your products … technology … market … and your profession – i.e., copywriting, Web site design, engineering.
Yet, even though we live in a knowledge-based economy, most of us graduate school knowing relatively little of what there is to know of the world – or even about our college major.
And with the dizzying pace at which new knowledge is created, the gap between what we know and what there is to know seems to grow exponentially with each passing day.
Professor Richard Dawkins said in an interview with Scientific American magazine (7/07, p. 89): “All of us are ignorant of most of what there is to know.”
So, with all of us knowing next to nothing … what can we do to learn – and thereby earn – more?
First, find a niche – an area of specialization – and concentrate your efforts within that niche.
The narrower the area of your specialization, the better your chances of at least keeping reasonably up to date in the field.
Second, become an “information junkie.”
I recommend every person seeking success in some area of business read:
The leading trade magazines in their industry.
A daily newspaper.
A weekly news magazine such as Newsweek, Time, or U.S. News & World Report.
One or two of the top e-newsletters or blogs covering your area of interest.
Third, read widely.
Even though you are a specialist, you need to acquire a solid base of knowledge outside your field.
Of course, your time is limited, so even here, you must choose your course of study carefully.
So what should you read … and why?
MU, a Ph.D. candidate and consultant in the science of innovation, says that to be more innovative and creative you must read in “adjacent areas.”
An adjacent area is something different from but at least peripherally related to your major field.
Example: a systems analyst might read in architecture, because both deal with designing systems (the former a computer application, the latter a building).
Why do you need to read in adjacent areas?
Research shows that the ability to be innovative is dependent on possessing a wide storehouse of knowledge from which ideas can be generated.
People who are not well read have a limited store of knowledge, and therefore are hampered in their ability to come up with new solutions.
Of course, reading is not the only way to learn. Doing things is equally or in some cases even more valuable as a learning tool.
According to an article in Prevention magazine (10/07, p. 175), new experiences – doing new things — stimulates production of dopamine, a chemical involved in learning and memory.
In addition, new experiences build brain mass and increase mental agility, while the absence of novelty causes the brain to shrink.
Solution: take up a new language, hobby, sport, musical instrument, or any other activity that offers continual fresh challenges.
When does all this learning stop?
“School is never out for the pro” is old advice and still true today.
You might protest: “But I am too busy putting out fires at work for all this study and learning!”
Then do it after hours.
In his book “212: The Extra Degree,” S.L. Parker advises:
“Add a few hours each month to your professional development outside of the work day.”
By doing so, you can add the equivalent of a full week of work on your most valuable asset: you.
Bob Bly is a legendary copywriter, online marketing consultant and strategist.
(Wikipedia Commons Photo by George Joch / courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)