In my experience, knowledge is essential to your plan for success, but you can have too much of a good thing.
Even if your success is all about gaining knowledge itself, for example getting a PhD or becoming a professor, you will need additional supporting knowledge to help you get there.
You really do need a plan and you need knowledge
For a predictable success outcome, you need a plan and that plan requires you have knowledge about your route to success and the mechanisms you’ll use to achieve it.
This article is the sixth part in my Success Formula series. Make sure you check out part one here if you have not already read it.
The fifth element in my success formula is, as you might have already known, termed knowledge.
Imagine trying to complete a complicated and intricate jigsaw puzzle. Now imagine trying to complete that puzzle with no box lid picture to help you. Go further still and imagine trying to complete that puzzle in the dark. Try to imagine doing all this wearing boxing gloves in a high wind with rain pelting down whilst surrounded by ravenous wolves.
Okay, perhaps I went a bit far there. My point is, whenever you try and accomplish something you have limited knowledge about it the road to achieving success can feel just like the jigsaw scenario above.
Knowledge scares away the wolves and shields you from the wind and rain. It allows your fingers to feel and move the pieces. Having knowledge is like having light to illuminate the darkness. Knowledge can help you create your own “box lid” guide and to direct your completion of your own jigsaw. Am I waxing a little too lyrical? I don’t think so, because the importance of having enough knowledge cannot be overestimated.
I’m not here to tell you how to gain the knowledge you need. That is up to you as an individual. You will have your preferred methods for learning the things you need to learn.
What I want to talk about is the amount of knowledge you might need to feel comfortable and a workable plan to establish what that amount might be.
So, how much knowledge do you need to have to feel confident when approaching a project?
How do you know what you don’t know?
This can of course be a real stumbling block. How do you know what you don’t know?
You can try to stumble along and find the knowledge gaps as you go. This can be a frustrating and dis-heartening way of working. You can play catch-up for a while but sooner or later you hit a real show-stopping knowledge gap. The gumption and passion you had for your project simply drains away. I have tried this approach and I don’t recommend it.
You can also try and analyse every element of your proposed journey in advance and see exactly what you need to cover. You can then learn everything you need to know before you start. The problem with this plan is you will never actually start anything because there will always be something to learn. It is the route of the perfectionist and perfection does not exist in any practical sense. I have tried this approach too and I don’t recommend it either. If I’m hones, I love learning and must force myself not to go down this rabbit hole. I have a tendency to try and learn everything about everything and my poor old brain simply isn’t up to the task.
What about dumb luck?
I can almost hear people screaming at me through the internet, “What about dumb luck? I know loads of stupid people, with no apparent knowledge of anything, who are successful through sheer dumb luck.” I’ll have plenty to say about luck in a later article but as far as I am concerned it does not exist.
It is true, some people do well by dint of making a series of seemingly random choices which led them to become, at least in other people’s eyes, successful. Bear in mind we often judge others by our own criteria and not theirs. Who are we to say who is stupid or not. There are many kinds of intelligence which we will never understand ourselves but that does not mean the other person does not apply that intelligence to their success. They may also have simply operated in a genuinely random fashion throughout their lives.
What cannot be disputed is that, for whatever reason, they did make a series of good choices. Perhaps they chose to be in certain key places at certain critical times and they also chose to embrace the opportunities which were then presented to them. Because of their choices they became successful.
You could try the same approach. It may work well for you but, because you are you and not them, the odds are against it.
Find the big gaps and fill them in
Knowing too little in advance is obviously a problem and knowing everything in advance is impractical. The key is finding a happy medium. To hit the sweet spot, I do recommend a “find the big gaps and deal with them” method.
One excellent way of seeing the big gaps when planning is to map out as many of the higher levels of the project as you can reasonably do using the mission, strategy and tactics approach which I covered in article 5 – read or revisit “Strategy And Why You Need One” before proceeding. Putting in some time and effort at the start will more than repay you in terms of output and results.
Using this straightforward approach and will allow you to identify your mission, choose your best strategies then outline your favoured tactics. Are there any obvious weak points or significant knowledge gaps in either your strategies or tactics?
Here’s how the options pan out
Based on the scenario, context, timescale and budget, you can then choose to go one of several ways:
- Fill in your knowledge gaps through study or experimentation and tackle the weak elements yourself. Assuming you have an aptitude and an interest this solution can work well. It takes most effort on your part. It is most likely the cheapest solution but will probably take the longest time to complete.
- Learn just enough about the weak element topic to get yourself started then use expert assistance as and when required. This is a compromise solution. You can gain enough knowledge to help you understand and work successfully with your expert and you will also increase your skillset and knowledge as the project progresses. It takes less effort on your part. You will likely get a shorter delivery time, but the overall cost will probably rise.
- Outsource the complete task element to a third party. This is the hands-off approach and takes least effort on your part. The upside is, it should be the quickest route. The downsides are you generally don’t know what they are up to and things can go wrong because of your complete lack of information. It can also be very expensive, and you will learn little for next time. You might even become tightly tied in with and reliant on that third party due to your lack of knowledge.
Complete your due diligence
These routes all have pros and cons associated with them so always complete due diligence before any major decision as you would normally do. How critical is the project or plan? How much time and money do you have available? How much do you like learning new skills? How good are you at learning new skills? These are all important questions you must consider.
Using an example from my own business life, I taught myself to use the Adobe Muse web design package sufficiently well, via several Lynda.com courses, to create some working sites. What I don’t know much about is clever design and, much as I’d like to, I don’t have the time to become adept at design. It was a knowledge gap however, so I went for the middle option and paid for templates and design elements from professional online Muse developers. It’s a great compromise for me. I have what I need, and I can still learn as I go along.
It’s a Goldilocks scenario where knowledge is concerned. Not too little and not too much. Aim for just right and you’ll do fine.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful. If you did then please like it and share it. Every little bit helps in internet land.
Why not check out the other Success Formula series posts?
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