Most people believe knowledge is power and that success depends on how much a person knows. Knowledge is power but knowledge without action can be useless. Professors and academics of the world, in spite of possessing a great deal of education and knowledge, are not the millionaires of today’s world. You also see people like Steve Jobs who in spite of dropping out of college make it really big in life. Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile and the founder of the Ford Motor Company had only but a few years of schooling. How did these men become successful and do better than other educated men of their time?
Knowing Is Not Understanding
Imagine you had a bucket. If every time you tried to fill this bucket, 90% of the water leaked out, you probably would not fill this bucket until the leak is fixed. All the reading that you do, is like filling a bucket which leaks 90% of the water. You only retain 10% of what you read after a 24 hour period. Knowledge is power but you are wasting time acquiring it if you retain very little of it. This the key finding behind the study that produced the learning pyramid seen in the below picture.
The National Training Laboratories in Bethel Maine measured the retention rate after 24 hours for different types of learning. People retained 90% when they taught someone because when they teach, they instantly make mistakes and see gaps in what they know. By teaching they began to understand.
If you had to extend this to beyond the 24 hour period, you will have to apply what you learn. By applying you will run into difficulty, make mistakes and see gaps in what you know the same way you would if you taught someone. No matter how good the original explanation is in the book or lecture, you will retain very little of it, if you do not understand it through application. Your interpretation of the concept will always be different from that of the speaker/author, because there is a very big difference between knowing something and understanding it. Knowledge is power only when you truly understand it. Understanding something involves internalizing a concept. In the movie Karate Kid, the character Jackie Chan plays has understood Kung Fu and has internalized it which makes him see Kung Fu in everything.
Kung Fu lives in everything we do, Xiao Dre! It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people! Everything is Kung Fu.
– Jackie Chan (The Karate Kid)
All the reading you do will only have entertainment value if it does not change your behaviour and the way you think. Understanding something brings this change in the way you think and behave, where as merely knowing something makes no difference to your life. Knowledge is power only when it changes your life. To truly understand what you learn, you must apply. A friend of mine wanted to know how I form and stick to new habits so well. When I sent him articles which helped me, he told me he had read the same ideas in a book before. Though he knew the idea behind making and forming new habits, I understood the idea and applied it to my life which has made all the difference. In the second section of this post, we will look at a system to acquire and apply information you consume, so all the learning you do automatically transforms your life.
The Curse of Knowledge
We spend a lot of our time acquiring knowledge and information that we don’t need. When I wanted to build an online business, I spent two years consuming information on making a website and running a business online. I was an expert in everything from social Media to copywriting. Take a guess on how much money I made by becoming an expert over the course of two years?
Not even a single penny. I didn’t make any money because I never created anything. How much I knew did not matter because I never applied what I learnt. Knowledge is power only when you take action. All the knowledge without action only left me overwhelmed. I had been accumulating information without applying and when I wanted to apply there was so much information that I did not know where to begin.
We spend so much time, money and energy acquiring knowledge that we will not use and that will leave us paralyzed from taking any action. We do it through our reading and online consumption. Knowledge is power but time is money. I later discovered something about how successful people acquire knowledge that changed my own personal mindset about learning.
Knowledge Is Power?
Have you ever felt the constant need to consume more information because it feels like you don’t know enough yet to take action? Successful people start before they are ready, with incomplete information. They succeed in spite of lacking advanced degrees and skills by using the knowledge of other men and directing it to a definite purpose. Knowledge is power but by itself it cannot help anybody become successful. It is only potential power which has to be organized and directed to a definite end result, using practical plans of action. A person doing this doesn’t have to possess this knowledge in his own mind. He just has to acquire this knowledge when he needs it or intelligently organize the knowledge of others. We will see how to do this.
One of my favourite movie scenes is the one in Good Will Hunting shown in the above picture. To acquire the knowledge that you need, you just have to use the internet these days. Reading books, using the advice of experts in the field, or in some cases going to a college/university will also help. But most information is free and can be easily acquired online. Even advanced concepts like machine learning is available for free in places like Coursera. MIT and Stanford professors post videos of their lectures in YouTube. Highly recommend watching the TEDx video “Can you get an MIT education for $2,000?” by Scott Young. The internet will be able to teach you everything and anything. Knowledge is power that can be easily acquired by trading your time, but does that mean you should invest your time acquiring it?
It is natural to feel the need to acquire more and more information because you think you don’t know enough to get started. But as seen in the learning pyramid, the knowledge that you acquire and don’t use will fade away with time. How fast and how much you lose will depend on how much time you take to apply it. To avoid this you should either learn things only when you need it or start applying what you learn as soon as you can. Remember you do not need to know everything to take action, but you need to be taking action every time you learn something new. Winners are taking imperfect action while losers are still tweaking their plan. Knowledge is power that will quickly fade away if you don’t use it.
Using Knowledge You Don’t Have
You don’t always have to possess the knowledge yourself to use it. You might not understand how a plane works, but that doesn’t mean you cannot use it. You indirectly use the knowledge of others when you fly on a plane. In a similar way, you can use the knowledge of others to help you achieve the end that you desire. Knowledge is power even if you don’t have it in your own mind. Many times this is actually a smarter thing to do. When I wanted to build a website, I thought I had to learn HTML, CSS and PHP. Building a membership website like Ofpad would have taken a lot longer if I had to learn to code. But through my research, I discovered a Content Management System (CMS) called WordPress and I purchased and installed plugins to go along with it. I was able to setup everything in under 30 minutes. This helped me make Ofpad a reality because I built on the work done by others, instead of spending my time acquiring knowledge on how to code.
The other way you can achieve your end result without possessing the knowledge yourself, is by surrounding yourself with men who can get the job done. You simply have to direct them to a definite end or seek out their help when you need their knowledge. By doing this you achieve what you want without possessing the knowledge yourself. If you know where you can get the knowledge you want, when you want it, you are just as smart as someone who has the knowledge to begin with. I used the knowledge and skills of a designer when I wanted to make a logo for my website. It cost $20 and took 24 hours to make. If I had to do all this myself, it would have taken me a year just to make my website’s logo.
Knowledge Without Action is Useless
Knowledge is power but without action is useless. There is no point being a genius if you don’t use your intelligence and knowledge for something. Knowledge is like bullets and action is like a gun. If you don’t have a gun (action), you can’t do much with the bullets (knowledge). But if you don’t have bullets (knowledge), you can still hit your target by throwing the gun (action). So action without knowledge is better than knowledge without action. This is however easier said than done.
It is not easy to take action on everything you read. You have read this post but it is unlikely you will apply the information that you have read so far. To avoid this, every post in Ofpad is split into two sections, where the first part has the idea and the second part has a system to apply the idea. We have come to the second half of this post where we will look at a step by step system to acquire and apply any information you consume. Using this system will ensure that any learning you do transforms your life because you are automatically applying what you learn.
Where to Go From Here
Knowledge is power but what is the point of learning, if it does not change the way you act, think or live your life. Realize that you don’t always have to know everything all the time. Knowledge is power even if you don’t possess it in your own mind. You can build on the work done by others and don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You can also intelligently direct people who possess the knowledge you need, to achieve what you want. When you do acquire knowledge or learn something new, keep in mind that knowledge is power only when you apply it. Use the system covered in the second half to effectively acquire knowledge and apply it. Check out the post Create More Than You Consume next. It will change your mind set of consumption and you will end up building a fulfilling life without thinking about it.