A lot of people talk about information overload. Around the blog-o-sphere you often read complaints along these lines:
- “I’ll never learn everything I need to know. I’m overwhelmed.”
- “There’s too much to know. How will I ever figure it all out?”
- “I’m tired of trying to keep up. Stop the world; I want to get off!”
Common suggestions you often hear for dealing with information overload include:
- Get tough. Don’t be a wimp. Keep learning.
- Stick to one niche. Don’t waver in your focus.
- Outsource everything, except whatever you are “brilliant” at doing.
Although I agree that there’s a whole lot to learn, I think that a lot of people use information overload as an excuse for not getting anything done. You can remain in the learning phase forever, if you’re not careful.
Once you accept the reality that you can’t know it all, and that trying is a losing battle, what do you do?
As you learn about a given subject, eventually you reach a plateau. I call that point “information saturation.”
What is Information Saturation?
Here’s how it works. When you decide to learn about a subject, you go through several phases.
1. Totally Clueless Newbie. Everything is new and you don’t know what you don’t know.
2. Struggling Novice. You’re starting to pick up the lingo and figure out the scope of what you need to learn.
3. Competent Amateur. At this point, you are seeing patterns and repeated information. It’s not that nothing is new anymore, but you know enough to be considered “smart” about the topic. You have reached information saturation.
By the time you reach step three, learning more doesn’t necessarily make you more capable.
For example, if you set out to learn about dog training, at first everything is new. You’ll encounter key terms like “positive reinforcement,” “nothing in life is free,” “leadership,” “pack theory,” and “clicker training.”
In phase two, you start honing in on the topics you find most relevant or that happen to work best with your dog.
By phase three, you may have experimented with a few dog training methods, figured out what worked for you, and can talk intelligently to others about dog training.
You haven’t magically become a professional dog trainer, but you know enough to do a decent job of training your own dog.
At this point, it’s time to stop learning and start doing. Get the dog, get out there, and start training Rover.
Don’t Get Caught in the Information Quagmire
When you reach information saturation, you know enough to take action. In fact, you may even know enough to get started when you’re still in the Struggling Novice phase, but you’re more likely to make mistakes that need to be fixed later.
Once you’ve learned enough to become a Competent Amateur, the only thing stopping you from taking action is you.
To go beyond Competent Amateur and reach the point of becoming an Experienced Professional, you have to do something. Whether it’s training dogs or writing and publishing books, eventually you have to get off your duff and get some practical experience to understand how it really works.
People have often asked how I published so many books so quickly and completely transformed my business from Web design to book publishing. I went through the process I described here. I learned everything I could about book publishing. Then I simply went out and did it. Now, ten books later, I have learned a lot more and have no qualms about saying I’m an experienced book publishing professional.
Everyone keeps learning for a lifetime. But if you really want to make strides in business or other areas of your life, at some point you need to stop learning and start doing.