We live in the age of answers. Google has brought limitless access to the collective intelligence of the world into a device that fits neatly into your pocket. Silicon Valley, with its abundance of website development tools, has made it easy to promote yourself
The result is that it’s become too easy to do a bad job – to haphazardly set up a website and post on social media and call it work.
Worst of all, there’s always somebody or something else to blame like the algorithm or the software. Failure is at an all-time high and ownership of that failure is at an all-time low.
The Internet can make us feel omniscient but, at the same time, it removes all levels of differentiation. There is no competitive advantage to obtaining information anymore.
I love this bit by the comedian Aziz Ansari where he talks about buying a toothbrush. It goes something like this:
“Why do we always want the best? I had to get a toothbrush the other day. Before I left my house, I searched “best toothbrush.” It seemed like the sensible thing to do.
As I typed in the searchbox, the auto-fill completed the thought immediately. I wasn’t alone in my toothbrush purchase insecurity. A flurry of articles came up with conflicting opinions and, for a moment, I felt stupid.
Every toothbrush I bought on a hunch has been fine. I’ve never been disappointed in a toothbrush. Why waste my time trying to find the best? Have you ever run into someone with no teeth and asked, “What happened?”
And they replied, “Bought the wrong toothbrush. Should have done more research.”
Call me an anti-dentite if you must, but I don’t care about having the best toothbrush and my guess is that you don’t either.
Whatever toothbrush happens to be in the store will do a good enough job and, in this case and so many others, good enough is fine. If a toothbrush that does the job is good enough, then a software that does the job is also good enough. But software, just like a toothbrush, is useless if you haven’t thought about the problem that you need solved.
Perhaps this is why Picasso, in a 1964 interview when asked about electronic calculating machines, said that “they are useless. They can only give you answers.”
The writer Kevin Kelly succinctly defines it thusly,
“Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.”
–Any machine, even the best machine, is useless if the human doesn’t precede its use with a good question.
Your advantage isn’t better software – it’s searching better and being more creative.
According to the author Ian Leslie,
“The Internet has the potential to be the greatest tool for intellectual exploration ever invented, but only if it is treated as a complement to our talent for inquiry rather than a replacement for it. In a world awash in ready-made answers, the ability to pose difficult, even unanswerable questions is more important than ever.”
What matters is the question; the thought. This is the work. This is what takes time. This is what most people won’t do.
Technology has made our business lives so easy that we’ve become worse at business. In the words of the advertising man Rory Sutherland, it makes us come up with “narrowly efficient solutions to completely the wrong problem.”
I don’t have a neatly-packaged step-by-step solution to this problem for you. It doesn’t exist.
Winning is hard. It’s always been hard and always will be hard. The difference today is that you’re often convinced that it should be easy or that there’s a shortcut or hack.
The business theorist Arie de Geus, in a 1988 article in the Harvard Business Review, said that,
“The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”
While still true, the competitive advantage today isn’t knowing more information, it’s being able to make more connections between the information that you know and the problem that you want to solve. Consider this thought experiment from Ian Leslie,
“Knowledge doesn’t just fill the brain up; it makes it work better. To see what I mean, try memorizing the following string of fourteen digits in five seconds:
Hard, isn’t it? Virtually impossible. Now try memorizing this string of fourteen letters:
lucy in the sky with diamonds
This time, you barely needed a second. The contrast is so striking that it seems like a completely different problem, but fundamentally, it’s the same. The only difference is that one string of symbols triggers a set of associations with knowledge you have stored deep in your memory.
Without thinking, you can group the letters into words, the words into a sentence you understand as grammatical — and the sentence is one you recognize as the title of a song by the Beatles. The knowledge you’ve gathered over years has made your brain’s central processing unit more powerful.
–You win by collecting skills and filling your brain with useful information.
There’s no shortcut. It’s harder than ever because of the overwhelming distractions that exist. Those that find the right information and set aside the time, devoid of distraction, to understand it, will win.
It used to be hard to find information – now it’s hard to find out which information is worth your time to consume.
What if I told you that instead of spending thousands of dollars and hours, you could invest under $100 and less than 3 hours a month to have the precise information you need, curated from the world’s best, delivered via priority mail to your doorstep each month? This is everything that you need to get ahead and nothing that you don’t, served up on a golden platter.
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I won’t sugarcoat it and say that it’s going to be easy of that FMM contains some secret of “hack”. That would be doing you a disservice. If you want to win you need to put in the work and acquire the skills because then, and only then, will you be able to ask the right questions to win with the abundance of tools available to you.
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