The Most Valuable Pursuit in the 21st Century

I was going through my Evernote this morning. I went through my old notes and realized how much I learned about blogging in the last few months.

When I looked at those notes, I realized how little I knew about blogging. I had no idea how to come up with compelling titles, how to format my posts, and how to promote them.

I learned all of that and more in the last six months. I learned some of that from blog posts and email newsletters, and others through trial and error.

That knowledge got me from the novice level to the beginner level at blogging. There is still a lot to learn to get to the intermediate and mastery level.

I wish someone handed me that knowledge so that all I had to do was to follow the instructions in a book. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that.

You have to find out what works for you. No one’s going to do that for you.

We have to go through all the information ourselves, try it out, and find out what works and what doesn’t. Discerning the truth is a core skill for success, if not the only skill. Yet, it might be the hardest one to develop.

The Age of Abundant Information

We live in the age of abundance. A wealth of information is freely and cheaply available. That has its advantages as well as its disadvantages.

A mass of information is useless unless it’s organized into knowledge. That’s why Google is one of the most valuable companies today.

That’s also why data science is such a hot topic. Even results of elections can be influenced using data science.

The Biggest Challenge in the Age of Abundant Information

Our biggest challenge in the age of abundant information is to separate the signal from noise. Which information is the most valuable among all the information available on the Internet?

I’m sure there’s some life-changing information out there for all of us. How do we find out that information? That’s the biggest challenge of our times.

We aren’t looking for a gold mine anymore. Knowledge is the new gold in the 21st century. We are looking for life-changing knowledge.

Finding Life-Changing Knowledge

I honestly believe that there’s life-changing knowledge for each of us out there. I experienced it in the first hand. Our task is to go out there and find it.

There’s a lot of free content out there, and some of it is useful and valuable. I learned a lot from blog posts, podcasts, and YouTube videos.

There’s also a lot of premium content that is cheaply available. I like Kindle and Audible books. I receive a lot of value from them for a low price.

The primary value of paid content for me is that it is in a condensed form. I can’t listen to every podcast of Gary Vaynerchuk or read every blog post of Seth Godin. But I can purchase their books and audiobooks and learn their most valuable ideas.

Converting Information to Knowledge

When we come across valuable information, we must make it a part of our functional knowledge. The first step to do that is to decide how often we’re going to use it.

If we’re going to use it on a daily basis, we need to learn and internalize it. If we’re going to use it occasionally, we need to add it to our knowledge base. Let me explain each option with an example.

Learning for Every Day Use

Let’s say I have a distraction problem. I distract myself often with my smartphone. My solution to that challenge is to visualize the consequences of my self-distraction habit.

When I get into the feeling of those adverse consequences, checking my smartphone isn’t that fun anymore.

This is a habit I need to learn and apply every day, every time I feel like checking my phone. I need to go through the four levels of learning with this new practice.

The Four Levels of Learning

On the level of unconscious incompetence, I’m unaware that I can cure my distraction habit with a visualization practice.

On the level of conscious incompetence, I’m aware of the visualization practice, but I don’t succeed at using it to overcome my distraction habit.

On the level of conscious competence, I make conscious effort to use the visualization practice to overcome my distraction habit.

On the level of unconscious competence, the visualization practice happens automatically. I get into the feeling of adverse consequences every time I feel the urge of distracting myself. I don’t need to make any conscious effort to carry out the visualization practice.

The Path to the Highest Level of Learning

Getting from the first level to the fourth level takes time and effort. On the first level, you need to become aware that you have a problem. Then, you need to find a solution.

Most of the time, that solution is in the domain of what you don’t know you don’t know. You find it either by reading a blog post, listening to a podcast, or from another source.

Now, you’re on the level of conscious incompetence. You have the knowledge, but you can’t use it in your daily life.

It takes repetition until you internalize that knowledge. Don’t expect your life to change just because you read a blog post. Sometimes, it does, but most of the time, it doesn’t.

The Spaced Repetition Method

You need to repeat what you learned over and over with some time in between until you make it a part of your functional knowledge.

You need to practice what you learn. Only then, it adds any value to your life. But when it does, it makes a huge difference in your life.

Build a Knowledge Base

The second type of knowledge is the one that you use occasionally. That doesn’t mean that this type of knowledge is less important. It can be as important as the knowledge that you use it on a daily basis.

I recommend that you maintain a knowledge base to save and organize such knowledge. I use Evernote for that purpose.

There are some procedures that I have to carry out once in a while. For example, I have to collect a bunch of documents for income tax return once a year.

There’s no way I can keep all the steps of those procedures in my mind. I can’t risk missing a step. I write all those steps in an Evernote note and tag them.

When the time comes to execute those steps, I search that note and carry those steps out. I don’t need to think hard to remember all the steps. I’m also confident that I haven’t forgotten a step in between.

In essence, the idea is to either internalize a piece of knowledge if you’ll use it frequently, or record it somewhere if you’ll use it occasionally. That approach saves me a lot of time and headache.

The Sad State of Formal Education

Unfortunately, the majority of the information taught me during my K-12 education is not only useless, but it can easily be googled.

Sadly, some college curricula are just a continuation of that type of education. That’s why college education has such a bad rep nowadays.

The Significance of Theoretical Knowledge

Theoretical knowledge is misunderstood nowadays. As a software programmer, I’m a practitioner. Yet, I guarantee you that you’ll fail miserably without a theoretical foundation. You’ll hit a wall and be squashed like a mosquito. In my 15 years of experience, I witnessed it over and over.

Value practice, but never underestimate theory. Keep a balance between both.

What Does Theory Actually Mean?

Theory isn’t a collection of information in some books in a library. Theory is the essential knowledge that you have internalized over years of deliberate practice. This is precisely what Robert Greene explains in his book Mastery.

An estimated 10,000 hours of intentional practice is required to reach that kind of mastery. Sure, that number varies among different domains, but it gives a good idea of what it takes to reach the level of proficiency.

That’s why time management crucial. You have to invest most of your time and energy into learning.

The good news is that knowledge is non-taxable. No one can come and tax all the knowledge you have accumulated over the years. It’s all yours, and you can use it to create the life you want.

Conclusion

Accumulating theoretical and practical knowledge is the most valuable pursuit in the 21st Century. You need to learn how to learn.

In some cases, you need to record information in a knowledge base and be able to find it quickly. In other cases, you need to internalize the knowledge by repetition and practice.

If you do that, your knowledge will pay its dividends in return.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.