Don’t die of consumption, Learn by Writing
The web is absolutely inundated with content of all types. It seems to be the new “currency of the realm.” Depending on what vertical you are in (there are some worse than others) there can be upwards of 10-15 blogs you are told you should read, 200-400 people you are told that are “must follows” on twitter and the like, a few companies that host regularly scheduled webinars and podcasts, and tons of slideshare decks from conferences that might have such high up information (C-level) that it’s not but common sense to you.
Don’t get me wrong, 60-70% of this content might be bang-on wonderful. But the chances are 80% of it won’t apply to you directly. You might get 20% of worth from 80% of the posts you read, and if you run your productivity off of the Pareto’s Law like I do, you will know that’s just not very efficient.
There is an echo chamber of information in nearly every vertical and if you subscribe to it, you’re going to be heading no-where fast.
“Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.” - Albert Einstein
Obligatory list time. A few problems I’ve found with subscribing to too much content:
- none of it sticks
- your filter of signals versus noise dilutes
- creative ability of lateral thinking diminishes as you start trying to apply actions only from the database of “what you’ve read”
- you stop asking questions
- it’s downright addicting
Consuming so much content that none of it sticks
Basically unless you are creating very strong neural pathways with each piece of content you read, and applying it directly to a given situation, you aren’t going to get jack out of it.
“Neural pathways” are basically like the links in your brain that you pull information through on various subjects. The more associations you have on a certain subject, the stronger that neural pathway becomes.
If you are actively looking for information about a certain topic you already have a neural pathway started, an association with that topic. Once you find the information you are looking for you create another neural pathway, where it is that you found the information. Now you know where to reference the information. Once you apply what you learned you create another pathway, knowing how it worked, what it felt like, what it looked like etc. The more pathways you create, the more alive the memory will be.
What this means is, don’t scan through everything that pops up on your feed. Ask questions and search for answers. If you can’t find the answers you seek, that’s a beautiful opportunity to fill in the gap.
Your filter of signals versus noise dilutes
By subscribing to too much content you will find yourself starting to agree with everything you read, instead of radically questioning it. Question everything. Test it, break it, apply the same ideals to different problems. See what works and what is irrelevant.
If you accept everything without question you are tumbling down a lubed up slope. Soon you will not be thinking for yourself, but blindly following what others have to say. Those people didn’t get to where they are by blindly following someone else. They had a question, a hunch, an idea, tested it, activated on it and had a result. They learned by doing.
side note: 37signals has such a beautifully apt name for their blog, “Signal vs Noise.” One of the few content sources I actually subscribe to. Reason being? They post great shit. Shit that is actually interesting, real, of worth, and promotes creative thinking.
Creative ability of lateral thinking diminishes as you start trying to apply actions only from the database of “what you’ve read”
Lateral thinking is absolutely vital to success in a world where being unique means being recognized. Standing out, mixing things up and making waves can mean the difference between your marketing success or failure.
Dont let yourself be caught thinking only in the bounds of what you know. Applying things that may seem unorthodox can lead to the standard of tomorrow.
You stop asking questions
Don’t do this. Asking questions is vital to growth. If you look back on your early school days there was always a kid in class that questioned everything. Check and see where that kid is today. People have a social stigma where they feel that asking questions = non-intelligence. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.
Asking questions means you are thirsty for knowledge. You want to know the ins-and-outs, and you’re genuinely interested. I hope that you were the kid in class that questioned everything, and even though you may have had a rough rap with it at the time, I bet you’re glad you did today. You have to seek information to fully grasp it, if you’re just taking in information because it’s a social norm or expected of you.. what are you really getting from it?
It’s downright addicting
Yes, blindly following something is far easier than actively searching for answers and defining questions to ask. If given a choice between the hard path and the easy path 9/10 people will take the easy path, but once that 1 person reachs the end he or she will be stronger for it.
The addictive nature of somewhat mindlessly trecking through information is really under-acknowledged. Why do you think Fox news and NBC etc. have such a large following? They picked a direct opinionated side, constantly put out content aligning with those principles, their user-base polarized against one another, and thus believe everything their side has to say on any given matter.
Obviously this is a pretty blanket statement, but I would wager that it’s mostly correct. (One reason why I stopped watching larger news sources all-together.. you’re going to hear about it somewhere anyways, then you can form your own opinion)
Learning through writing
I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to really concrete a subject in my memory is to write on it. It’s a very good way to culminate numerous neural pathways on any subject.
- Defining a question
- Gaining perspective
- Doing research
- Asking people’s opinions
- Applying what you learned
- Testing, breaking and reiterating
- Forming your own conclusion
- Writing what you found
- Responding to comments and debating responses
After this many associations are made you will never forget what you learned.
I really learned the effectiveness of writing to learn while writing my “Optimizing Routines and Automating Success” post on my personal blog.
I was writing about how negative routines can hinder your success while positive routines can exponentially increase your chance of success and I needed examples. I researched the effects that long-term smoking has on your health, life expectancy and quality of life. I’m not even joking when I say that I learned more in that half hour of research than I did in the 2 years of health class that I was required to sit through in high school.
I have more recallable information stored from the posts that I’ve personally written than the thousands I’ve read over the past year. Why? Because they matter enough to me for me to sit down and write about them. You aren’t alone, if it matters to you the chances are that it will matter to someone else.
George R. R. Martin, the writer of A Song of Ice and Fire (which was turned into the HBO series Game of Thrones) has said in an interview that he can remember every single tiny detail of any character he mentions, even if the character is completely insignificant to the overall storyline and 3 books back. While at the same time he forgets people’s names 5 minutes after meeting them.
It just goes to show how effective we are at memorizing what we put down in ink and parchment, or in this case 0's and 1's.
If there is a general principle I would like you to take away from this post, it would be to absorb what will help embrace your own creativity. Dont subscribe to fluff. Absorb content that will make you think laterally, or information that answers a direct question. Write content that will help you learn and that you’re genuinely interested in, not just to have another topic under your belt.
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.” - Bruce Lee
Happy writing chaps!