1. BASIC TOOLS AND FUNDAMENTAL STEPS
There are two basic tools and three fundamental steps involved in achieving success in any particular endeavour. The basic tools are knowledge and skills, and the three fundamental steps are
• identifying the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the success you are seeking;
• realistically assessing the level of knowledge and array of skills you already possess;
• acquiring the knowledge and developing the skills that you lack.
Let’s begin with the first of those two basic tools: knowledge. You acquire knowledge through study, experience, and being around people who know more about something than you do. All three methods are useful, but the one that’s most efficient, and most under your control, is study.
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. People who don’t read are no better off than people who can’t read. When he was a young man, even though he had to walk many miles to and from the nearest library, and had to read by candlelight when it was dark, Abraham Lincoln stayed up late reading every night. When asked why he went to so much trouble to read so many books, his reply was, “I will study and get ready; perhaps my chance will come.” Even as a very young man, the future president instinctively knew that one of the key elements in achieving success is the acquisition of knowledge.
At least one-quarter of your reading should be outside your field of work. This will broaden your horizons and make you a better-informed and more interesting person. Knowledge is rarely wasted. If nothing else, the more you know, the less you’ll be surprised. Sometimes it’s the things you don’t know that keep you from being successful, and sometimes it’s thinking you know something when you really don’t that’s the problem. The more you read, the less you’ll encounter these problems. It’s also useful to remember that the next best thing to knowing the solution to a problem is knowing where to find it. A few years ago my firm wanted to put on a business development seminar for partners and senior staff. We were a bunch of accountants and consultants, not salespeople, and this was back before professional services firms had sales and marketing departments. We didn’t even know what aspects of sales and marketing the seminar should cover, let alone who should lead it. But I remembered a book I had read a couple of years before entitled The 5 Great Rules of Selling.
By referring back to this book I was able to determine a general idea of what we needed and was able to contact the author.
And since you can’t learn everything in the library or on the Internet, try to learn something from every experience, keeping an eye open for better ways to do things and always considering why particular results, either good or bad, occur. If you aren’t already an observant person you need to become one. By paying attention to everything that’s going on around you, you’ll soon discover that there’s really no such thing as an uninteresting subject, just uninterested people. Until you fully understand something that may be important to your success, be completely open-minded about it; become interested before you become judgmental. The person who knows how
something is done may get a job, but the person who knows why
it’s done in a particular way will be the boss.
The most overlooked method of gaining knowledge is taking advantage of being around people who know more about something than you do. Pay attention to what they do and say. Although you should do more listening than talking, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Even though there are sometimes stupid answers, there actually is no such thing as a stupid question. Never put a limit on your curiosity; when you’re curious, ask.
An excellent way to combine both study and being around people who know more about something than you do is to take courses dealing with subjects that will be useful in reaching your potential. But don’t just be a passive auditor of a course. Get involved. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Even if you have to stay late to discuss it with your instructor, try not leave a session unclear about anything that was covered.
When pursuing any of these means of gaining knowledge, it’s important to take notes of interesting observations, facts, and statistics. It’s equally important to develop a filing system that will allow you to refer to them easily. Don’t be too quick to throw away any of these notes and observations. Even in this age of instant Internet data access, because you made your notes in a particular, and probably personal, context they will likely be more useful to you than generic information on the Web.
Two areas of knowledge that you should never stop developing are your vocabulary and your grasp of grammar. Being able to find the precise words, and being able to use them correctly, will always give you an advantage over others and will enhance your reputation as a person to whom attention should be paid. Any time you encounter a word that you don’t know the meaning or pronunciation of, look it up in the dictionary at your first opportunity. You should take note of the various meanings, synonyms and antonyms listed for the word. Many dictionaries are now available online, so for ease of access you could build your personal list of new words right on your computer. The next step is to make the new word part of your vocabulary by using it in conversation and writing. But always make sure your use of the word is appropriate; you don’t want to come across as a pompous wordsmith. Doing crossword puzzles is another way to improve your vocabulary, as well as being a great way to relax.
Now let’s turn our attention to the second basic tool of success: skills.
There’s an adage that says, “Knowledge is power,” the implication being that knowledge breeds success. The adage is wrong. It’s not knowledge that’s power; it’s the application
of knowledge that provides the power, which contributes to success. You’ve no doubt encountered knowledgeable, well-educated people who are not nearly as successful as they should be. The likely reason that these people haven’t reached their potential is that they haven’t acquired the necessary skills with which to successfully apply their knowledge.
A variety of skills is needed to apply knowledge in an effective, successful manner. For example, even after many years of university and medical school, well-educated, extremely knowledgeable graduates must still serve long and rigorous internships and residencies before they’re allowed to practise on their own. The same holds true for lawyers and public accountants. Would you ever consider going up in an airplane with a pilot who had studied all the textbooks and manuals, and even passed all the written examinations, but who had never actually flown a plane? Of course you wouldn’t.
You must continually hone your existing skills by using them, while at the same time acquiring new skills that will be useful to you. Just as there are three ways to obtain knowledge, there are three ways to identify the skills you already possess (they may be latent, so you may not realize you have them) and to determine the skills that you need to acquire.
The first method is to objectively assess the things that you do well and also the things that you don’t do well. But sometimes it’s hard to be completely objective, so the second method is to ask others, such as colleagues, bosses, and mentors, for their assessments. Finally, and this is the method most often overlooked, you have to try new things and try doing old things in new ways.
The skills you need to acquire and develop are often evident in your surroundings. Ask yourself which skills would help you enhance the application of your knowledge, whatever you’re going to be doing and wherever you’re going to be doing it. For example, an engineer who has designed a new product and wants to get into sales in order to exploit it will need to take some sales training and improve his presentation skills.
But sometimes it’s difficult to be objective about yourself and sometimes you simply won’t know which particular skills you lack, so don’t hesitate to ask successful people in your field to recommend areas for improvement. Your enquiries shouldn’t be restricted to people with whom you work. An excellent way to meet more people from whom you can seek advice, as well as to broaden your horizons within your particular field, is to join trade and industry associations and to attend their conventions and training seminars.
Putting a limit on what you will
do inevitably puts a limit on what you can
do, so never put limits on trying new things or on doing old things in new ways. Not only might you discover one of those latent skills that you didn’t realize you had, you also might identify a skill that you should, or would simply like to, develop. Every now and then, go somewhere you’ve never been before – especially in your imagination, by thinking about things you would like to try and places where you would like to go.
When you aren’t improving, someone else is, and when you come up against that person, you will lose. Opportunities are never missed; the ones that you don’t take advantage of, someone else will.
1. Success requires a combination of knowledge and the skills required to effectively apply the knowledge.
2. The three main ways to acquire knowledge are study, experience, and being around people who know more about something than you do.
3. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Those who don’t read are no better off than those who can’t read.
4. The next best thing to knowing the solution to a problem is to know where to find the solution.
5. There’s no such thing as an uninteresting subject; just uninterested people.
6. The adage “knowledge is power” is wrong; it’s the application of knowledge that is power.
7. Putting a limit on what you will do puts a limit on what you can do.
8. When you aren’t improving, someone else is, and when you come up against that person, you will lose.
9. Opportunities are never missed; the ones that you don’t take advantage of, someone else will.
1. Read. And be sure that at least one-quarter of your reading is outside your field of work.
2. Maintain your curiosity, and when you’re curious about something, ask.
3. Be observant; try to learn something from everything that goes on around you.
4. Be open-minded; become interested before you become judgmental.
5. Make notes and develop a filing system that will allow you to easily refer to them.
6. Continue developing your vocabulary and grammar.
7. Identify the skills you need to apply your knowledge.
8. Hone the skills you have and develop the skills you lack.
9. Try doing new things and doing old things in new ways.
10. Every now and then, go somewhere where you’ve never been before – especially in your imagination.
11. Ask successful people in your particular field to recommend areas for improvement.
12. Join relevant industry and trade associations and attend their conventions and training seminars.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from How to Succeed in Anything by Really Trying by Lyman MacInnis. Copyright © 2008 by Lyman MacInnis. Excerpted by permission of Vintage Canada, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.