Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Think and Grow Rich by the use of specialized knowledge Part 6

(Napoleon Hill) 

Hi there! Today I am looking at my favourite chapter of Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich.  This is the chapter on specialized knowledge. Hill tells us that in order to build wealth one needs to ACQUIRE and APPLY specialized knowledge.

Hill contrasts specialized knowledge with general knowledge. General knowledge, as Hill explains it, is worthless to the pursuit of wealth.  In essence, building wealth requires specialized knowledge on the "profession, merchandize, or service" your are going to give in return for your financial well being (Hill).

However, what Hill is talking about is not about becoming more specialized in your field of study, even though that does have merit in some situations.  The specialized knowledge Hill is talking about refers to the ability to apply the knowledge you have towards a specific goal.

Some writers call this WISDOM; explaining that knowledge refers to knowing something, while wisdom refers to the ability to apply what you know for benefit. Obtaining wealth requires wisdom not general knowledge.

Since a very young age, I have always been fascinated with learning and the process of gaining knowledge. 

Being a very curious person I often read about various topics; Aircraft, space, time-travel, quantum physics, robotics, psychology, to mention just a few.  I am sure that I have a pretty decent general knowledge base. After school I completed a BA and an Honours degree at University.  Presently I am studying toward am MBA degree.  

Yet, I often feel that all this knowledge has not really helped me. For example, I knew a lot about marketing, but still felt unable to market.  Why is that?

Maybe it has something to do with our present education system. A system that present much information to students, but often neglects to show us how to do something with that information... at least in my experience.

I think the problem may be one of perspective.  We live in a world where you are able to access almost any type of knowledge through a keyboard and a computer screen.  We are able to study many, many fields of study in modern educational institutions.  We are able to access volumes of data, but as the guys in the computer sciences will tell us, data without proper organisation, is only NOISE.

Wisdom, on the other hand, requires information to be organised, integrated into life-experiences, and then used for benefit. Information, that does not change you for the better, is also worthless.

Knowledge must be directed by purpose:

In this chapter, Hill again emphasizes the importance of setting definite, written, plans for success.  Being successful will require specialized knowledge on a topic. But very importantly, It is our goals that gives direction to the knowledge we must acquire! 

I wish I knew this before I started spending thousands of Rand on formal education.  Like many of my peers, I kind of fell into a study field after some trial and error.  This was unfortunate.

Don't get me wrong.  I loved what I studied.  I am only suggesting that if I knew that my studies and the acquisition of knowledge has to be explicitly guided by one's major life purpose, I would have chosen more focused courses.

I may also have focused my attention to certain categories of books.  I may also have cultivated partnerships with people experienced in certain fields of knowledge.

The point is: don't just learn anything, your learning must be directed by and toward definite goals.

I am using 'learning' as a broad term in this context which includes formal studies, correspondence courses, reading, and any other avenue that leads to one gaining usable knowledge.  

How to acquire specialized  knowledge: 

From my personal experience I am suggesting the following recommendations:

1. Be very clear on what you want to know, and why you want to know it!

With easy access to mountains of information, it is important to develop a 'study plan' guiding your searches for knowledge.  Nowadays, it is indeed possible to teach yourself almost anything, but without a plan you will most likely be overcome by information overload.  Essentially access to information is not the problem, but organisation of information is.  A study plan must give you an outline of how to study a topic.

The knowledge you plan to acquire should align with your major life goal. Asking the following questions may help you to guide your plan:

What do I want to know? 
Why do I have to know this?
How will this help me to achieve my life's goal?
Where should I be looking for this information?
Whom do I know that has such information? 

2. Don't neglect the value of experience

From experience we know that life does not always keep to the theory as suggested by the textbooks. A sad fact for the academically inclined, such as I!  Knowledge that is usable may often be found in the experience of those who have been able to put the textbook into practice.

This includes your own experience and the experiences of those who achieved success in a field. This again highlights the importance of building a network of acquaintances (called your 'mastermind group' by Napoleon Hill) who can assist you through their knowledge and experience to achieve your goals. More about this at a later chapter.

3. Identify sound sources of knowledge

Modern society often leaves one inundated with volumes and volumes of books, websites, video clips, audio programs (etc.), covering almost any topic you can think of. Knowing which sources are good and which are bad is not always obvious.

Good information sources are typically: objective, fair, balanced, founded in research, and published by a reputable author.

See Evaluating Internet Research Sources and Evaluating web pages checklist for more info.

Personally, I have had good success with google scholar when needing to locate free academic sources for projects in the past.  It's worthwhile to check it out.

Another helpful tip is to also look at the article references at the end of Wikipedia articles for example. I have often found these to be helpful for gaining additional sources on topics in order to develop a broader perspective. A references list is by its nature an organized list of articles and sources on a topic. And organisation of knowledge as said previously  is the key.

Public libraries, academic journals and study courses also gives one access to very good information sources. Some academics suggest us to considering these sources first before using the internet. I think that it is best to balance online sources with hardcopy sources (such books and titles).

Adding the experience and insights of subject matter experts in the applicable field will also add much to the value of the information you acquire. This should help you to build much needed practicality into the knowledge you are acquiring.

Also, lets not forget the librarians.  Librarians trained professionals and they are very good at identifying the right sources and information on topics.  Consulting a librarian in your searches for knowledge is a very good idea.  Yet, during all of my studies I have not once consulted one of them.  This is a mistake I will not repeat in future, nor should you.

4. Only use the internet with a definite search plan

Most people surfing the web can testify that it is easy to get lost in a myriad of topics and web pages; thereby wasting much time.  It is useless to just surf the web for knowledge, one must search the internet with a guided search plan.

My recommendations for guided internet searches:

Step 1: First identify your topic, e.g. building a helicopter. Your topic may also consist of sub topics, e.g. helicopter engines, blades, and navigation. Write down specific keywords on these topics
Step 2: Read offline sources first, moving from the broad topics (helicopters) to the specifics (helicopter blades). This should to give you broad perspective on the topic you are researching,
Step 3: Search for information on the definite topics, by using search engines and keywords. Evaluate the information  you obtain for quality, credibility, applicability (as was said in point 3). Also try to read articles reflecting different perspective trying to obtain a balanced view on the topic.

A final thought ...

Napoleon Hill also tells us in Think and Grow Rich that you don't actually have to have the required knowledge in your own head.  Achieving success in life is a team sport.  Some of the most successful people in the world were those who were able to access, organize and apply the knowledge of  many people toward a definite goal.  This is becoming even more important in the modern information economy.

That's it for today, please feel free to add your comments and personal insight in the comment boxes below.

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