Knowledge and Action: Getting the Mix Right


“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” – Douglas Adams

After 30 years of starting businesses and taking account of which failed right away, which lingered and then failed, which puttered along, and which soared, I have come to the conclusion that to be successful, you need a combination of 10% knowledge and 90% action.

Let me give you a few examples.

About a year ago, I told you I was going into the rental-real-estate business. At that time, I had no knowledge of how it works — although I did have a basic understanding of real estate, having bought and sold properties before, and I had my common sense, such as it is.

I spent about 40 hours learning about the business. I skimmed a few books. I read a half-dozen articles. And I talked to people. Actually, I had been talking to real-estate tycoons for many years. Whenever I meet anyone who is good at anything, I make it a policy to ask as many questions as the person will tolerate. Mostly from those conversations, but also from some of what I read, I was ready to start.

In the course of two months, I bought three properties. All three seemed good on paper. In reality, they were a mixed bag. I made several mistakes in assessing their value that were big mistakes (that I won’t make again).

I also learned things that I’ll never forget about how to write a contract and how to screen rental applications. What I learned from books and conversations was enough to get me started. But what I learned from experience was the good stuff — the true inside stuff that has already made me better at this business and will assure my success in the future.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: The most important knowledge about any individual business is invisible to outsiders. You can pick it up only when you are actively involved in the business on a day-to-day basis. You can’t know it any other way.

That kind of knowledge (the ordinarily invisible kind) will determine your ultimate success — whether you keep going and become rich or stop where you are and do no more.

That’s why I advise getting a job working for a successful company (or person) that does what you want to do. Getting paid to discover a business’s hidden secrets is having your cake and eating it too.

I didn’t get a job working for a real-estate rental business. I simply gathered what advice and information I could and — when I felt I had a good basic idea of it from the outside perspective — plunged in. I knew that I’d learn the good stuff soon enough. I didn’t want to wait till I was truly and completely “ready,” because I understood from my other business experience that such a day would never come.

That’s the paradox: The knowledge you need to be successful will come to you only after you’ve started. Thus, you must be prepared to start before you are ready. Or, as I have put it in several earlier ETR messages: Ready. Fire. Aim.

I had the same experience when we launched Early to Rise. I didn’t know exactly how I could make any money sending it out, but I wanted to do it and people were telling me to do it … so, one day, I just plunged in. I knew then about one-tenth of what I do now, but, fortunately, it was just enough to get started. Since then, the ETR team and I have made a thousand changes and improvements as we’ve learned this “business.” Those improvements have made our work easier and more profitable. The future for ETR is very promising.

But if I had waited until I had “enough knowledge,” I’d still be waiting.

A third example: I’ve been wanting to launch an e-zine for men over the age of 40. It will be about … I’m not even sure what … things that would interest men of my age … things about men in a world of men and women.

I’ve spent about six months fooling around with the idea and trying to get it right. So far, nothing that we’ve done seems to be working. Just yesterday, I decided enough was enough. We are launching it two weeks from today.

We’ll just start with what we have and make improvements as we go. Although I had been feeling pretty frustrated with the process all along, I’m feeling optimistic now that I’ve made the decision to get going. I know that we will learn what we have to learn as we go.

So the formula is this: Spend a reasonable but limited amount of time and money acquiring knowledge — and then jump in. 10% knowledge. 90% action.

Whenever I see a business-learning program that is good — one that is written by someone who knows those inside (hidden) secrets — I’ll recommend it to you. When we can’t find one that is good, we’ll create one ourselves.

Find a business that is fun and for which you feel you have an affinity. Study it intensely — but not for too long — and then get to it.

Where are you with your great moneymaking idea? Have you identified it? Have you studied it? Have you gotten started?

The best time to act is today. The sooner you get going, the sooner you’ll succeed.