And Why You Should, Too
There’s an undeniable shift in our culture and economy towards what has been termed “knowledge work.” If you’re in the workforce today, chances are your job revolves around what you know rather than merely what you do.
These skills require knowledge, and if we want to thrive in today’s work environment, we must continuously be acquiring more knowledge each day. If we’re going to survive in today’s fast-paced, competitive, knowledge-based working world, we’ve got to keep up.
The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation is changing the very nature of jobs in our economy. Many vibrant discussions are occurring around what work will look like in the future, if automation is killing jobs, and what the proper role of artificial intelligence in the workplace will be in the future.
These are all crucially important questions (that deserve discussion and debate), but we’re faced with a critical problem each day of our working lives:
If we find ourselves in this knowledge-based economy, how can we stay sharp?
Knowledge work can take on a variety of flavors. Some of us use our knowledge at work for big companies where our value comes from the contributions we make to one organization; others (like me) have multiple clients that we report to and work for on a variety of different projects. Regardless of the tangible manifestation of our work, we’re all knowledge workers.
At its essence, what knowledge work really means is that we’re paid for our knowledge and insight as well as our execution. If we want to thrive, we must continually increase our knowledge, skills, and competencies. To remain stagnant is to fall behind; to grow complacent in our understanding is to die.
So the question becomes, why are we not actively increasing our knowledge?
As Cal Newport, author of the bestselling book Deep Work notes:
“Though an increasing number of people will lose in this new economy as their skill becomes automatable or easily outsourced, there are others who will not only survive, but thrive — becoming more valued (and therefore more rewarded) than before.”
“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
Deep down, we understand this, and we desire to develop our skills and capabilities to thrive.
But how to find the time? Life is busy, and between personal and professional commitments, spending time with our families, finding time for side projects, our days quickly fill up. It seems impossible to find the time for in-depth personal and professional development.
And yet, broad personal and professional development is vital — it’s the one thing that will set us apart in a world addicted to shallow thought and work.
We do this by making knowledge a priority in our lives. If we desire to thrive in a changing environment, we must continually stay ahead of the curve: continually learning, steadily growing.
If we want to succeed both personally and professionally, the active cultivation of knowledge across a broad variety of topics is of utmost importance.
Charlie Munger, a self-made billionaire and business partner of legendary investor Warren Buffett, realized this at a young age. Early in his career, when he was working as an attorney, he took a look at his list of clients and billable hours and came to a realization:
He was his own most important client.
When he realized this, he started treating himself like a client, and he began “selling” himself one hour of time each day. This time was solely devoted to increasing his knowledge in the areas he saw as essential; most of it occurred through reading.
There’s a high correlation between the development of personal knowledge and the success one will experience in their lifetime. In fact, the active cultivation of knowledge is one of the traits shared by most self-made billionaires; it is the activity that most correlated with success.
Warren Buffett famously spends 80% of his time on any given day reading. Everybody knows about Bill Gates’ “think weeks,” which are devoted to poring over countless articles, research papers, and books in search of the next big idea. Oprah credits much of her personal and professional success to reading. Elon Musk reportedly read as many as two books per day when he was a child.
What’s common among all of these mega-successful people (who, by the way, attained their wealth and success in markedly different ways)?
They all understand the value of compound knowledge.
Yes, most of these examples spend an outsize amount of time on reading, but education comes in a variety of different forms and can compound in different ways. For some, learning a new skill or spending time in intentional deep thought on complex issues works just as well.
Building knowledge takes time. The operative word in “compound knowledge” is compound. To see real gains from the cultivation of knowledge, you have to give yourself time for it to compound.
A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein (perhaps apocryphal) reflects the power of compounding: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it gains it; he who doesn’t pays it.”
This doesn’t just relate to money. It works for knowledge, skills, and wisdom, too.
But what to choose? How should you invest your time cultivating knowledge that will compound over the long run?
Truth be told, it doesn’t matter. Pick something — anything — that you find interesting and important to work on and grow in. This could be a skill that has an actual application for your career. It could be a side project, a skill you want to develop, a specialized talent you desire to cultivate. It could be a more in-depth knowledge and understanding of the way the world works. Just pick something and dive in.
So begin by asking yourself a few questions:
- What do I find interesting and want to learn more about?
- What knowledge will be a crucial element of my professional success?
- What significant problems exist in these areas?
- How can I use that knowledge to help solve these problems?
Once you have answers to these questions (or at least an idea of what you want to learn more about), set aside 1 hour every day to learning more about these areas and growing in your knowledge about them. If you can’t do that, start with 30 minutes a day.
Although it seems like a trivial amount, remember the power of compounding:
30 minutes of learning today may not seem like much, but the power of 30 minutes of learning every day over a 40-year long career is undeniable.