I often hear the same complaint from students and others that often consume educational content. It goes along the lines of “that lecture wasn’t that useful” or “I only learned a few things at that workshop, I really wish they covered…” Sure, sometimes the speaker, workshop, conference, book, whatever, really is bad, but most of the time it’s the student’s approach / expectation that is off. People want content that is custom tailored to them, but that almost never happens. Nearly always, the content creator is making something that their past self would have found useful. So how do you get the most out of something made for someone else?
When consuming content – lets use the example of a book – we often (wrongly) expect that the majority of it will be really useful. If we read the whole thing we’ll come away enlightened, armed with a wealth of information to apply to our work. At least that’s the dream. I don’t know about you, but that has never happened to me. We also assume that by simply reading all of it, we will magically imbibe all of the information.
In reality, a very small amount of the information you consume will ever be useful to you. I’m talking about really useful – something that will transform how you work or look at things, not just interesting facts. As a result, it’s important to train yourself to recognize ideas that apply to you and your work. When I’d tell my dad about some non-fiction book I was reading, he would flat out ask me – “so how can you apply this to your own business?” Or, “How can you use this in your day to day life?” At first I was stumped by this, it didn’t even cross my mind to ask myself those questions while consuming the information. Isn’t just reading enough? However, as time went on and he asked more and more, I started to think about this earlier and earlier into books. Now it has become second nature, as I read I pick out bits and pieces that apply to me – I usually underline them or write them down in my notebook.
It’s difficult to assign value to information – you never know what will be useful down the road. However, if you approach consuming information, whatever form it takes, by looking for things you can use instead of expecting everything to be useful to you, you will come away much satisfied and probably much smarter.
Image by la Ville d’Arles.